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Report on equality between men and women, 2004

The European Commission is presenting its first annual report for the Spring European Council on the progress made in mainstreaming the gender dimension in various strategic areas. The slow rate of progress threatens to jeopardise the achievement of the Lisbon objectives.

ACT

Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 19 February 2004, "Report on equality between women and men, 2004" [COM(2004) 115 - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

In response to the request of the 2003 Spring European Council, the Commission has drafted, in collaboration with the Member States, an annual report to the Spring European Council on the progress achieved in promoting equality between women and men and on the approaches taken with a view to mainstreaming the gender dimension into the various policies.

EQUALITY BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN: STATE OF PLAY

The Member States and accession countries have undoubtedly made progress towards greater equality between women and men. The Commission report confirms a positive trend towards reducing inequalities between the sexes in several strategic fields.

For example, in most of Europe there are more females than males in secondary and higher education. Today, the majority of graduates are women, even if they are still in a minority at the highest level of education. Moreover, use of the Structural Funds, in particular the European Social Fund, has been found to have a catalyser effect on national gender equality policies.

However, the rate of progress observed tends to vary over time and from one Member State to another. Inequalities persist in most of the strategic areas, and slow progress is jeopardising Europe's competitiveness. According to the objective set at Lisbon, the European Union has committed itself to becoming, by 2010, the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. The active participation of women on the labour market and reducing the gap between the sexes in the various fields are vital if this objective is to be achieved.

The Commission therefore calls on the Member States, via the European Council, to redouble their efforts to promote equality between men and women in all areas of society and draws their attention to certain challenges.

THE CHALLENGES

Effectiveness of the Community's gender equality policy

The Commission emphasises the need to guarantee the rapid implementation in the Member States of recently adopted legislation and the correct transposition of EU law in the area of equal treatment in the accession countries.

For reasons of simplicity and legal certainty, and in the context of enlargement, the Commission plans to replace the existing legal texts with a single directive on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women in work and employment. The Commission also wishes to see the adoption, before March 2005, of the proposal for a directive extending the scope of equal treatment legislation beyond the labour market, to include, in particular, access to goods and services and the provision of goods and services.

Reducing inequalities on the labour market in employment and pay

The Commission notes that, although it has definitely narrowed, the gap between women and men in employment and unemployment rates remains considerable. However, they should be less pronounced after the enlargement of the Union. The pay gap between women and men is still wide, more so in the private sector than in the public sector. Women are still particularly vulnerable to poverty, especially when they are less well educated, suffering domestic violence, older or living alone with children.

It is vital for Member States to pursue their efforts to ensure equal treatment for men and women on the labour market and to meet the Lisbon objective of a female employment rate of 60% by 2010. The Commission would like to draw their attention to certain priorities: promoting the quality of employment, making work pay, combating pay cuts in occupations where the number of women is starting to rise and obtaining a real commitment from the social partners.

Work/home life balance

The opportunities for women and men to balance their career with their home life has a decisive impact on the success of strategies for increasing employment rates. The report shows that women perform the majority of domestic and family tasks. The Commission recommends the promotion of parental leave systems shared by both parents, particularly in order to ward off the negative impact of long-term maternity leave on women's employment. In order to allow women and men to continue to work, Member States should improve the supply of childcare services and care for other dependants, using sufficient, appropriate structures. It is also important to encourage men to shoulder a more equal burden of family responsibilities.

Promoting the balanced participation of men and women in decision-making

Women are still under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes, at European and national levels. Governments, political parties and all the social partners should therefore be mobilised in order to ensure balanced representation of men and women in decision-making in all areas of society. The Commission is also promoting a balanced representation of men and women in the elections to the European Parliament in 2004.

Implementation of gender mainstreaming

The Commission emphasises the need to step up the implementation of gender mainstreaming in all the relevant strategic areas, both in the Member States and at EU level. Moreover, equality between men and women must remain a priority in the use of all the Structural Funds, especially in the context of the new programming period for the Structural Funds. It is also important to strive for equality between men and women in the European Research Area.

Combating violence against women and the trafficking of women

The Commission is in favour of moving beyond the mere political recognition of the need to eliminate violence against women and the trafficking of women. The Member States and the accession countries must step up and broaden their efforts, formulate benchmarks and measure progress against them. Preventing and combating violence in the home is essentially a local and national matter, but may also come within the framework of the new programme Daphné II. The trafficking of women must be combated using a global approach which includes prosecution, victim protection and assistance, as well as preventive measures based on campaigns and cross-border and international cooperation.

Last updated: 25.02.2004
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