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Report on equal opportunities 2002

1) OBJECTIVE

To present an overview of the main developments and achievements in the field of equal opportunities in 2002, both at European and at national level, and to describe the outlook for 2003.

2) ACT

Communication from the Commission, of 5 March 2003, to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Annual Report on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the European Union in 2002 [COM(2003) 98 Final - Not published in the Official Journal].

3) SUMMARY

ENLARGEMENT

2002 was an historic year in the European Union (EU) enlargement process as it saw the conclusion of accession negotiations with 10 candidate countries. The period leading up to their entry into the EU on 1 May 2004 will therefore be an opportunity to step up monitoring and support for these countries in the final stages of their preparation for full membership. In this context the action programme for equal opportunities was opened up to candidate countries in 2002.

Legal Transposition

In the field of equal opportunities nine European Directives had to be transposed. The majority of accession countries, in particular Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, are fairly well advanced in the process of alignment with this acquis. Cooperation will continue with Romania and Bulgaria who have made significant progress towards alignment with Community law.

Implementing structures

Transposing the law is not enough in itself. It is equally important to establish adequate institutional and administrative structures, in particular equality organisations and mediators as well as independent advisory bodies. Several countries, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Poland have already set up structures of this nature. In both Cyprus and Malta the administrative capacities needed to transpose the Community acquis are in place but need to be further strengthened.

The socio-economic dimension

There is a marked contrast between the current Member States and the accession countries in socio-economic terms. For many years there was a strong presence of women on the labour market in the accession countries, but their numbers fell significantly during the early years of the transition. Levels of unemployment are high among both women and men, particularly in Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and the Slovak Republic. Moreover, men's participation in the labour market is lower than the EU average and therefore the gender gap in terms of both employment and unemployment is narrower than in the EU. However, as in the Member States, labour markets in the accession countries are strongly gender segregated and the salary gap is wider still. There is a general recognition of the need for a gender mainstreaming policy and strategy but the necessary tools are lacking. Furthermore, beyond the basic provisions for maternity and parental leave, there have been very few developments in terms of family-friendly working-time arrangements.

Cooperation in the field of social inclusion mainly consists of preparing Joint Inclusion Memoranda, the aim of which is to prepare the accession countries for full participation in the European Social Inclusion Process from the date of accession. The memoranda will be finalised by the end of 2003 and, for accession countries, represent a major step towards establishing their first National Action Plans in 2005 to combat poverty and social exclusion.

As regards the role of women in decision-making, it is important that women in accession countries are able to reap the benefits of existing Community law on male-female equality. When European elections are held in June 2004 women will have to be in a position to take on their role, equal to that of men, in decision-making and political life. In 2003 the Commission will concentrate its activities on the promotion of gender balance in decision-making which will provide a basis for action and exchange on this theme between accession countries and Member States.

FRAMEWORK STRATEGY FOR GENDER EQUALITY

The strategy for gender mainstreaming has proved an efficient tool in the promotion of equality between men and women. Gender mainstreaming combined with specific actions, legislation and financing programmes in particular, constitutes the dual approach covered by the framework strategy for gender equality.

The European Employment Strategy

In 2002 the Commission carried out an evaluation of the European Employment Strategy which revealed that more emphasis is being put on the gender equality issue, even in the Member States that were "lagging behind", and the gap between the sexes has narrowed in terms of employment and unemployment rates. Nevertheless these inequalities are still too marked and a lot remains to be done in order to overcome them. Furthermore, substantial progress still has to be made in the development of child-care facilities.

The Structural Funds

In this area gender equality policy is also based on the dual approach of specific measures along with gender mainstreaming across all Structural Fund operations. This dual approach is most advanced in the European Social Fund (ESF), the EU's main financial support tool for the European Employment Strategy. Most of the initiatives aimed at reducing gender inequalities focus on employment and are funded by the ESF. Gender mainstreaming has proved more difficult in other Structural Fund areas such as transport, the environment and rural development.

As regards improving the promotion of gender equality through the Structural Funds, only a few programmes using the funds in the Member States have adopted a global gender mainstreaming strategy. Moreover, the majority of these programmes lack clear targets and monitoring in terms of gender equality.

The Social Inclusion Process

The European Social Inclusion Process has been developed to support Member States in their fight against poverty and social exclusion. The Member States draw up National Action Plans on the basis of the common objectives set out by the Council of Ministers. They have also been asked to include gender mainstreaming in all their strategies for combating poverty and social exclusion.

The gender dimension did not feature strongly in the first National Action Plans submitted in 2001, but in July 2002 the Ministers agreed to enhance this aspect of the plans which added great impetus to successful gender mainstreaming. In the next round, due in July 2003, the National Action Plans are expected to put more emphasis on specific actions on gender and demonstrate gender mainstreaming throughout.

The gender dimension in the national strategies on pension

Although women are in the majority amongst old people, most pension schemes have traditionally been designed for men who support a family and work full time without taking a career break. The first national reports, submitted in September 2002, show that many pension systems still reflect these basic principles. In many countries, in fact, women's pensions remain, on average, significantly lower than men's. However, there is some evidence that the Member States are gradually adapting their systems in line with developments in the social and economic role of women and men, although the effects of such changes are not likely to be felt for some time.

Other policies

In the field of research and development the Commission intends to create a European Platform for women scientists aimed at promoting female scientists and involving them more actively in shaping the science policy debate at national and European level. Furthermore, in December 2002 the Commission published its first calls for proposals under the 6th Community Research Framework Programme among which was a call for proposals concerning women and scientific activities.

In May 2002, in response to the Commission's Communication entitled "Making a European area of lifelong learning a reality", the Council adopted a Resolution which recognises equal opportunities as one of the fundamental principles behind the concept of lifelong learning. It also views ongoing training for women, particularly within companies, as an essential goal.

The Commission's Directorate-General (DG) Environment included gender mainstreaming in its Management Plan. Significant progress has been made in the field of waste, water, marine and soil management in which gender impact studies have been undertaken.

POLICIES AND SPECIFIC ACTIONS FOR GENDER EQUALITY

Legislation

Directive 76/207/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards employment, professional training and promotion and working conditions was amended in September 2002. One of the key amendments dealt with sexual harassment at work. For the first time at European level a binding law now defines sexual harassment and prohibits it as a form of discrimination based on sex. Although the Member States have until 2005 to conform to the Directive's new provisions, the majority of them have already adopted measures aimed at combating sexual harassment, particularly Belgium, France, Finland and Ireland.

Several national courts have been called on to pass judgement on the issue of equal pay. In the Netherlands, for example, a court has ruled in favour of a care worker who brought a claim over equal pay.

In 2002 several Member States took initiatives to facilitate the reconciliation of work with family life. Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Catalonia and Germany have actually adopted measures along these lines.

The action programme

Equality of pay between women and men was the main theme in 2001, the first year of the programme, because the salary gap between men and women is one of the most striking inequalities that women face in their professional lives. The majority of the projects chosen in the framework of the Action Programme dealt with issues of equal pay. The results are due in 2003 but, since the projects run for 15 months, several conferences on the subject were held in 2002 and provided an opportunity to underline the persistence of the equal pay issue.

The reconciliation of work and family life was the priority in 2002. This is an essential part of the gender dimension in the European employment strategy and in the social inclusion process. It aims to ensure favourable conditions for women and men for entering, returning to and remaining on the job market. This includes access to quality, affordable childcare services, an equal division of childcare and domestic responsibilities, encouraging fathers to take parental leave and the possibility of flexible working arrangements both for men and women. In response to the calls for proposals under the Gender Equality Programme, 18 projects on this theme were selected in 2002 under the action programme.

In 2003 the emphasis will be on women in decision-making. Attaining political parity remains a concern both at Member State and European level. Although several Member States have introduced legislation in this field, the results of recent national elections failed to live up to expectations. In France, for example, the equality law did not have the desired effect of balancing representation either in the local or parliamentary elections. Several Member States such as Belgium, Ireland, Spain and the UK are now tackling the issue of gender-balanced political representation.

In 2004-2005 priority will be given to the theme of male and female stereotypes.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Trafficking in human beings

The fight against trafficking in human beings is one of the EU's political priorities. In 1996 the EU launched the STOP programme in support of actions aimed at combating the trafficking of human beings and the sexual exploitation of children. In September 2002, the European conference "Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings - Global challenge for the 21st century" took place in Brussels. The conference was a Commission initiative in the framework of the STOP II programme and was organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with the European Parliament and the Commission. It resulted most significantly in the Brussels Declaration aimed at developing European and international cooperation and encouraging the adoption of concrete measures, norms, good practices and mechanisms to combat and prevent trafficking in human beings. With this aim in mind, the Brussels Declaration makes recommendations on the prevention of trafficking, assisting and protecting victims and police and judicial cooperation.

Domestic violence

Community action to prevent violence against children, young people and women and to protect victims and groups at risk is brought together under the DAPHNE programme. Early in 2003 the Commission issued a proposal on the second phase of Community action, DAPHNE II (2004-2008). This proposal is similar in structure to that of the initial DAPHNE programme (2000-2003) and draws on the experience gained through the first programme.

Other initiatives

Serious attention has also been paid to a number of worrying situations, including the condition of women in Afghanistan, the stoning of women and the integration of Muslim women into European society.

OUTLOOK FOR 2003

The Commission's work programme for 2003 will include the following horizontal priorities for all its services:

  • gender impact assessment will be incorporated into the overall impact assessment of new proposals and gender mainstreaming will continue in new areas;
  • each service will increase its efforts to obtain gender-specific data, to systematically break down all related statistics by gender and to establish gender equality indicators;
  • each DG and service will incorporate gender mainstreaming modules into their training plans for all staff, particularly those at management level.

The Commission will launch an open consultation on possible guidelines for the recasting of existing Directives in the field of equal treatment. Furthermore, in 2003 the Commission intends to present a report on the implementation of the Directive on parental leave, looking in particular at the reasons why fathers fail to exercise this right. Lastly, the Greek and Italian presidencies will prepare an analysis, including indicators, of women in decision-making.

4) IMPLEMENTING MEASURES

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5) FOLLOW-UP WORK

 
Last updated: 23.01.2007
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