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Self-employed workers: equal treatment between men and women

The principle of equal treatment between men and women applies to self-employed workers *. Compliance with this principle shall enable the number of women practising this type of activity to increase. This principle shall also bring greater recognition to the work carried out by spouses * assisting self-employed workers. This Directive sets out new provisions on combating discrimination, and concerning business creation, social protection and maternity.


Directive 2010/41/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 July 2010 on the application of the principle of equal treatment between men and women engaged in an activity in a self-employed capacity and repealing Council Directive 86/613/EEC.


The principle of equal treatment between men and women prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sex, whether direct * or indirect * discrimination. This principle must be complied with when establishing, equipping or extending a business, as well as when launching or extending any other form of self-employed activity.

Harassment * and sexual harassment * are deemed to be discrimination on grounds of sex.

This Directive enables European Union (EU) countries to adopt positive action measures. Such public measures are aimed at ensuring full equality between men and women in working life, for example by promoting business creation by women.

Couples with a joint business

In this area, the principle of equal treatment between men and women means that spouses or life partners who establish a business together, shall be treated under the same conditions as other persons.

In addition, where a national social protection system exists for self-employed workers, the spouses or life partners who participate in the activities of the self-employed worker have the right to social protection in their own name. Member States may decide whether the social protection is implemented on a mandatory or voluntary basis.

Maternity rights

Self-employed women, and female spouses or life partners who contribute to the activity of self-employed workers shall be entitled to a maternity allowance for at least 14 weeks. This allowance shall be sufficient to enable them to interrupt their activities if they wish to do so. This allocation shall therefore be equivalent to:

  • the average loss of income or profit. This amount may however be subject to a ceiling limit; and/or
  • the allowance provided at national level in the event of an interruption in activities on health grounds; and/or
  • any other family-related allowance provided for and determined by the EU country.

During the interruption in their activities due to maternity, women shall have access to replacement services and national social services. The provision of these services may replace all or a part of the maternity allowance.


The former Directive 86/613/EEC shall be repealed on 5 August 2012. The current Directive shall have been transposed in all EU countries by this date.

Other directives protect the equal treatment of self-employed workers, such as Directive 2006/54/EC applicable to working life, Directive 79/7/EEC applicable to social security matters and Directive 2004/113/EC which covers access to private/public goods and services.

Key terms
  • Self-employed workers: all persons pursuing a gainful activity for their own account, under the conditions laid down by national law, including farmers and the professions.
  • Spouses of self-employed workers or, when and in so far as recognised by national law, the life partners of self-employed workers, not being employees or business partners, where they habitually, under the conditions laid down by national law, participate in the activities of the self-employed worker and perform the same tasks or ancillary tasks.
  • Direct discrimination: where one person is treated less favourably on grounds of sex.
  • Indirect discrimination: where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage. Unless the difference in treatment is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.
  • Harassment: where unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person occurs with the purpose, or effect, of violating the dignity of that person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
  • Sexual harassment: where unwanted verbal, non-verbal, or physical, conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.


ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Directive 2010/41/EU



OJ L 180 of 15.7.2010

Last updated: 15.09.2010
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