Gender equality in the labour market

The objective of this Directive is to consolidate several directives on gender equality by simplifying, modernising and improving EU legislation in the area of equal treatment for men and women in employment.

Equality between men and women is a fundamental principle of EU law which applies to all aspects of life in society, including to the world of work.

Equality in employment and working conditions

This Directive prohibits direct* or indirect discrimination* between men and women concerning the conditions of:

recruitment, access to employment and self-employment;
vocational training and promotion;
membership of workers’ or employers’ organisations.

In addition, Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex on matters of pay for the same work or work of equal value. This principle also applies to job classification systems used for determining pay.

However, different treatment for men and women may be justified by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activity, if the measures taken are legitimate and proportionate.

EU countries must encourage employers and vocational trainers to act against discrimination (both direct and indirect) on grounds of sex, and particularly against harassment* and sexual harassment*.

Equality in social protection

Women and men are treated equally under occupational social security schemes, particularly concerning:

the scope and conditions of access to the schemes;
the contributions;
the calculation of benefits, including supplementary benefits, and the conditions governing the duration and retention of entitlement.

This principle applies to the whole working population, including:

self-employed workers, however for this category EU countries may provide for different treatment, in particular concerning the age of retirement;
workers whose activity is interrupted by illness, maternity, accident or involuntary unemployment;
persons seeking employment, retired and disabled workers, and those claiming under them.
Maternal, paternal and adoption leave

At the end of maternal, paternal or adoption leave, employees have the right to:

return to their jobs or to equivalent posts on conditions which are no less favourable to them;
benefit from any improvement in working conditions to which they would have been entitled during their absence.

Defence of rights

EU countries must put in place remedies for employees who have been victims of discrimination, such as conciliation and judicial procedures. In addition, they shall take the necessary measures to protect employees and their representatives against adverse treatment as a reaction to a complaint within the company or to any legal proceedings.

Lastly, they shall establish penalties and reparation or compensation possibilities in relation to the damage sustained.

In the case of legal proceedings, the burden of proof is on the party accused of discrimination who must prove that there has been no breach of the principle of equal treatment.

Promoting equal treatment

EU countries appoint bodies whose role it is to promote, analyse and monitor equal treatment, to ensure that the legislation is followed and also to provide independent support to victims of discrimination.

In addition, enterprises must promote the principle of gender equality and strengthen the role of social partners and non-governmental organisations.


Direct discrimination: where one person is treated less favourably on grounds of sex than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation.

* Indirect discrimination: where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of the other sex, unless that provision, criterion or practice 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 a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

* Sexual harassment: where any form of 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.


Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast) (OJ L 204, 26.7.2006, pp. 23–36)

European Institute for Gender Equality

The European Institute for Gender Equality assists the European institutions and the EU countries with integrating the principle of equality into their policies and with combating discrimination based on sex. The Institute also informs European Union (EU) citizens about this issue.

Gender equality is a fundamental right under the Treaty of Lisbon and a priority policy of the European Union (EU). However, further progress must be made in order to achieve real gender equality in the spheres of both professional and private life.

In this respect, the European Institute for Gender Equality plays a significant role in providing the expertise needed to develop gender equality policies across the EU.

Aims of the Institute

The Institute brings its technical expertise to the European institutions and the EU countries in order to help to:

promote and strengthen gender equality;
include gender mainstreaming in all EU policies and resulting national policies;
fight discrimination based on sex;
raise EU citizens’ awareness, specifically through conferences and publicity campaigns.

The Institute bases its work on objective, comparable and reliable data at European level. It is responsible for collecting, analysing and disseminating this information.

It also analyses information collected from international organisations and non-EU countries. Lastly, it contributes to integrating the principle of gender equality into European external policy.

The Institute promotes the exchange of experience and dialogue between all relevant stakeholders, specifically the social partners, non-governmental organisations and research centres.


The Institute performs its tasks in an independent and transparent manner. It is led by a Management Board, with the support of a Director and is assisted by an Experts’ advisory forum. Its seat is in Vilnius (Lithuania).

In particular, it cooperates with the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.

It entered into force on 19 January 2007.


Regulation (EC) No 1922/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on establishing a European Institute for Gender Equality (OJ L 403, 30.12.2006, pp. 9–17)

The successive amendments to Regulation (EC) No 1922/2006 have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women

Establishment of the EU’s Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men — Decision 2008/590/EC

It sets up a committee to ensure regular consultations and exchanges between bodies and institutions that promote equal opportunities between women and men in EU countries.


The Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is intended to help the European Commission formulate and implement measures to promote equal opportunities for women and men. It does this by encouraging the exchange of relevant experience, policies and practices between EU countries and the various parties involved.

The Committee has 70 members with a 3-year renewable term of office comprising:

— 1 representative from each EU country appointed by its government from a ministry or government department responsible for promoting equal opportunities,
— 1 representative from each EU country appointed by the Commission from among the members of a national committee or body responsible for equal opportunities upon a proposal from the organisation concerned,
— 7 members representing employers’ organisations at EU level, and
— 7 members representing employees’ organisations at EU level.

The European Women’s Lobby is represented at committee meetings by 2 members as observers. Representatives of international, professional and membership organisations may also be admitted as observers following a reasoned request made to the Commission.

The Committee elects a Chairperson and 2 Vice-Chairpersons from among its members for a period of 1 year.

The Chairperson may invite any person who is specially qualified in a particular subject on the agenda to take part in the work of the Committee as an expert.

The Committee is brought together by the Commission and meets at least twice a year at the Commission’s headquarters. The Committee’s discussions are based on requests for opinions made by the Commission and on those delivered on its own initiative. They are not followed by a vote.


Commission Decision 2008/590/EC of 16 June 2008 relating to the setting up of an Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men (Codified version) (OJ L 190, 18.7.2008, pp. 17–21)

Successive amendments to Decision 2008/590/EC have been incorporated into the basic text. This consolidated version is for reference only.

Share this article