European policy

Although the principle of gender equality is well established in the legislation and fundamental principles of European countries and that citizens acknowledge it as one of Europe's basic values equality of the sexes has still not been achieved on the old continent.

Hence women continue to earn 15% less than men on average. The most recent Eurostat statistics in March also show that women represent one third of entrepreneurs and 55% of university degree holders. Paradoxically women are always the most affected by unemployment to a level of 9.6% in comparison with 7.6% amongst men. Moreover they work more hours per day than men and more of them work part time. At the same time men continue to dominate in science, technical areas and decision making positions.

The European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Spidla also notes :
"Women in the EU still do not enjoy equal treatment, notably in the work place. One working woman in three is confined to part time work. Gender equality is not just a good idea but it is the means to free human potential and to play a key role in the building of a more competitive EU. Not only do we have to create better quality jobs and help women access them we also have to ensure that both women and men succeed in reconciling their professional and private lives."

Although the European Commission had few prerogatives to fight inequality between men and women because it is an area that is closely linked to social policy, a prerogative that is exclusive to the Member States - it only had article 3 and article 119 (which then became article 141) that proclaim equality of remuneration between men and women as the legal base for legislative proposals - it has established several initiatives in this area.

Two aspects are the point of particular focus: ensuring equality of treatment between men and women, notably in terms of employment and fighting against all types of discrimination. Hence a series of directives adopted in the 1970's try to guarantee the rapprochement of national legislation with regard to equal pay, access to training and employment, working conditions and even the definition of sexual harassment.

Hence the 1975 directive (75/117) on equal pay introduces the principle of equal salaries between men and women for work of equal value thereby confirming and extending the measures included in article 119 (transformed into article 141). The 1976 Directive (76/207) guarantees equal treatment between men and women with regard to access to employment, vocational training and working conditions. In all the EU has produced seven directives totally based on article 119 which have been simplified and included in the 2006/54 directive of 26th July 2006.
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