Gender equality

Gender equality
Introduction & opportunities: 

Employment and gender policies cut across all three DRIVERS areas and are in many ways linked. Gender equality is a fundamental principle of the European Union and mainstreaming equality between men and women in all its activities is a specific mission.

The provision of childcare is frequently linked to employment and gender equality policies often act as a mean of supporting women to return to the labour market following the birth of a child, and therefore trying to diminish the gender pay gap and reconcile private, family and working life. At the same time, supporting women to enter and return to the labour market is a key strand of employment policy. In relation to female participation in the economy, arguments are mostly made in economic terms.

The Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 sets out the European Commission’s work programme on gender equality, and its contribution to Europe 2020. It highlights efforts to promote reconciliation between work and family life, in particular entitlements to family-related leave, but also access to childcare. Several initiatives have been taken up including agreement of quantitative targets for childcare placements, and recommendations from the European Commission Childcare Network to establish criteria for assessing progress and targets for attainment by publicly funded services.

Ensuring suitable childcare provision enhances equal opportunities in employment between women and men. At the 2002 Barcelona European Council meeting, member states agreed to provide childcare to at least 90 per cent of children aged between three and compulsory school age, and to at least 33 per cent of children under three by 2010. These are often referred to as the ‘Barcelona targets’. In 2009, education ministers reinforced this approach by setting a new European benchmark for at least 95 per cent of children between age four and the start of compulsory education to participate in ECEC by 2020. The Commission report on the Barcelona objectives published in June 2013 showed that only eight member states were able to meet the targets for both age categories in 2010, and it concluded that significant improvements still needed to be made to achieve a satisfactory level of availability, especially for children under the age of three. High costs incurred by parents and the opening hours of facilities, which are incompatible with full-time work remain challenging. The report demonstrates that investment in high-quality services must be continued.

The revised framework agreement on parental leave concluded between the European social partners (BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP, ETUC, and the liaison committee Eurocadres/CEC) applies to all workers regardless of their type of contract. It increases parental leave from three to four months for each parent. One of the four months shall be non-transferrable between the parents. It also gives parents the right to request flexible working conditions when returning from parental leave.

The EU Pregnant Workers Directive (Directive 92/85/EEC) on the introduction of measures to improve health and safety at work of pregnant workers and mothers, who have recently given birth, set minimum provisions for maternity leave of 14 weeks at the level of sick pay. The European Commission proposed to extend maternity leave to 18 weeks, while the European Parliament report proposed a leave of 20 weeks. However, in the end the revised Directive was blocked in the Council of the European Union and has been returned to the European Commission for further consideration. While it currently looks likely to be dropped due to continued opposition from member states, the new European Commissioner in charge of the dossier has indicated an interest in keeping the revised Directive on the political agenda and re-opening discussions on the issue.

Potential avenues of influence: 

A broad range of actors are involved in developing and delivering employment, gender equity as well as reconciliation policies. There might be opportunities to tie in with different advocacy perspectives if the expected result is increased participation and productivity in the labour market, better provision of quality childcare services and improved health outcomes.