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Social security: equal treatment for men and women

The European Union (EU) contributes towards the elimination of inequality between people, and the promotion of equality for men and women. This Directive aims to implement the principle of equal treatment in matters of social security.


Council Directive 79/7/EEC of 19 December 1978 on the progressive implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security.


European legislation ensures respect for the principle of equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security.

This Directive applies to:

  • statutory social security schemes which provide protection against sickness, invalidity, accidents at work and occupational diseases, unemployment and risks related to old age;
  • social assistance which supplements or replaces the basic schemes.

It does not apply to survivors' benefits and family benefits schemes.

Principle of equal treatment

This principle protects European citizens against discrimination on grounds of sex, whether direct * or indirect *, as regards:

  • the scope of the schemes and the conditions of access thereto;
  • the obligation to contribute and the calculation of contributions;
  • the calculation of benefits and the conditions governing the duration and retention of entitlement to benefit.

Specific provisions may be made in order to ensure the protection of pregnant women.

Retirement pensions

Member States may exclude from the scope of the Directive:

  • the determination of pensionable age;
  • advantages granted to retired persons who have brought up children, specifically concerning periods of interruption of employment;
  • old-age or invalidity benefit entitlement connected with the derived entitlements of a spouse;
  • long-term benefits accorded to a spouse connected with the invalidity, old-age, accidents at work or the occupational disease of their spouse;
  • a right of option before the adoption of the Directive, specifically the option not to acquire rights or incur obligations under a statutory scheme.

The Member States periodically examine the necessity to exclude these categories in the light of social developments.

Key terms
  • Direct discrimination: discrimination caused when one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation;
  • Indirect discrimination: discrimination caused when an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.


ActEntry into forceDeadline for transpositionOfficial Journal

Directive 79/7/EEC



OJ L 6 of 10.1.1979

Last updated: 24.10.2011
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