Gender inequalities in employment


23 Mar 2015 24 Apr 2017

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In this essay I shall discuss the progress of the European Union's attempt to dismantle gender inequality in employment. In addition to this, I shall examine current EU legislation, policy issues, social and economic challenges faced by both men and women. Finally, I shall then comment on EU solutions and further developments that can help alleviate the gap in inequalities in employment.

The European Union is also referred to as the European Economic Community (EEC) it is a union consisting of 27 member states; the EU was created by theTreaty of Maastrichton 1st November 1993 upon the foundations of theEuropean Economic Community (cited in Wikipedia) this union is merged together to improve the economical, political and social cohesion amongst people who reside in these countries.

After the 2nd World War, many women were required to fulfil the spaces of men, who had lost their lives in battle or were unable to work and thus there was a 'gap' in the labour force. Women were therefore recruited and thus introduced in to employment to strengthen and maintain the fragile economy at the time. However, on contrary to popular belief women continued to work even after the economic situation improved, the Suffragettes movement was extremely notable in women fighting for recognition. From the beginning women were treated unfairly in regards to poor pay, however some were happy to have some economic independence from men and thus accepted demeaning jobs. (Cited in Euro culture master)

Cockburn (1991) comments that the relationship between capitalism and labour is shared between bosses and men, and thus neglects the gender relationships of work and home. Much of the theory regarding women and employment is largely based on patriarchal theories. Duncombe and Marsden (1995) argue that women are subjected to 'triple shifts' this involves paid labour, domestic labour and emotional labour. The emotional labour refers to the care and attentiveness of the family unit, i.e. the social role of the woman being a wife and a mother towards the children and husband. Due to such challenges the notion of protective legislation was introduced. (Cited in Sociology: An interactive approach p189)

Much treaties and directive were introduced in to some EU countries in attempt to dismantle gender inequality. The EEC established the principle of 'fair pay' for men and women in Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. However this was extremely complicated to practice in all members of states. This was simply due to the notion of "equal pay for equal work" but it was very rare that both sexes performed the same type of work. It was also noted that typically male jobs were much better paid then female jobs. Hence, it was apparent that the socially existing norm of male 'power' was more important than female qualities.

In 1975 the EU introduced directives to further empower women in the field of employment; the council directive of 75/117/EEC further supported the treaty of Rome on equal pay. Since 1975 there have been many key directives in aiding women's role in employment, some of the directives have focused on equal treatment of women in regards of promotion, social security, during pregnancy, and sex discrimination. (Cited in Women Lobby)

During the 1990s the EU began to realize the significance of gender equality and how it impacted the employment sector. In 1997 the EU introduced the European Employment Strategy (EES) which recognized equal opportunities amongst men and women. The treaty of Amsterdam was also introduced in 1997 this treaty was combination of past directives and further introduced positive action to combat equal pay and discrimination amongst men and women in employment. (Cited in Union History).However, there were criticisms of these policies which only ensured that more women were in work and did not focus on the quality of the jobs they were in. This view is further supported in the following quotation:

"In practice, more attention has been paid to raising the female employment rate than to generating the better jobs for women that are essential for narrowing the gender pay gap"

(in Union History)

Sadly the EU has failed to fully implement gender equality in employment, since it still persists despite the introduction of the above directives and treaties. The EU has therefore proposed six key objectives within the Road map for gender equality (2006-2010). These include equal economic independence for men and women, reconciliation of private and professional life, equal representation in decision making; the eradication of all forms of gender based violence, the elimination of gender based stereotypes, and finally the promotion of gender equality in external and development policies. (cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2006)

The inequality of gender gaps is the first key objective of fulfilling EU goals in employment and social cohesion. The demand for increased participation of women in the labour market provides a marked contribution to economic development and in turn 'economic independence for women'. According to the above article, women still face more risk of poverty due to being over represented in the secondary labour market.

According to Barren and Norris (1976) women are employed in unstable employment that is based on short term contracts, lower pay and entail unskilled work with fewer prospects , they are therefore more likely to be made redundant and thus suffer from a decline in the labour market. (in Jorgensen et al,1997 pg p192).In Addition Bruegal (1976) comments from a Marxist feminist perspective, states that such workers are used to keep costs at minimum by replacing more highly skilled and demanding workers i.e. men. (Cited Jorgensen et al,1997 pg p129)

Women are therefore literally restricted in their opportunities to work further due to their domestic and emotional responsibility. In addition, women entrepreneurs are faced with more difficulties then male counterparts in building up their own business, in attempt to dismantle the structural inequalities and discrimination the EU has recommended the Entrepreneurship Action Plan to help support women in developing such projects. Women who also belong to ethnic minority groups suffer from twice as much discrimination and challenge's, in order to fight such multiple discrimination the EU has proposed the Framework for the Integration of Third Country Nationals. This framework provides the promotion of migration and integration policies in order to guarantee women's rights and civil participation. In doing so, women from all backgrounds, can use their full economic potential and have the equal opportunity to education and prosperity. (Cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2006)

The second key objective of the EU is of the reconciliation of private and professional life for both men and women. According to the (Commission of the European Communities Report 2007) women face more challenges than men when it comes to handling work and private life, consequently this affects their career choices. Statistics suggest that more women than men work on part time basis and thus take more career breaks than men, which clearly has a harmful impact on their careers. Also, women are more subjected than men, to take on domestic and emotional labour in addition to taking parental leave and looking after children and other dependent family members. The 2007 EU Commission report concludes that due to the lack of accessible and affordable childcare, women face more inequality in employment. The overall result of this is that women are placed in unstable jobs with lower pay, which makes them more vulnerable to the larger risk of poverty. The matter is made worse for single parent families who have dependents.

On the other hand, according to the Lisbon treaty, women's employment in the EU is close to meeting its goal of 60% by 2010.(cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2009,pg5) However, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done to accomplish satisfactory levels of childcare provisions (according to the Barcelona objectives) in order for both parents to combine work and private life. The European Union has also reflected further funding targeted at improving equal opportunities, for instance the European Social Fund(ESF) which caters for women projects in regards to vocational training in alliance with the NOW community Initiative.(cited in europrofem)The EU has also established initiatives in 2008 to support better work life balance by making amendments to directive 92/85/EEC on maternity protection. The changes introduce changing the minimum maternity leave from 14 to 18weeks without the loss of earning.(cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2009,pg 6) Furthermore, this idea has also been developed in regards to 'family related leave' in regards to family policies and work life reconciliation issues for men. For instance, legislation on improved leave arrangements for fathers is already incorporated in countries such as Sweden, Germany, Greece, Lithuania and Spain.

The third EU key objective in the roadmap proposes the need for the equal representation of women in decision making posts. The unequal division of domestic labour and caring responsibilities has clearly been a barrier in the advancement of women in employment, there has therefore been a need to amend and create policies to encourage women's participation in the labour market. The Commission of the European Communities Report 2007 noted that women predominated jobs were undervalued in comparison to male counterparts. Findings suggested that such jobs had lower rates of pay. For instance almost 40% of women were employed in the health, education and public administration sector in comparison to only 20% of men.(pg 3). In defence of this argument, men also face discrimination in accessing non traditional employment. For instance the notion of a male carer or nurse is seen with disgusts or caution due to gender stereotypes formed by society according to Acker (1989) (cited in Theory and Practice of nursing: an integrated approach to caring practices By Lynn Basford, Oliver Slevin). This suggested a 'segregation of the labour market' which was being reinforced by traditional and social stereotypes which further influenced people in to gender roles. The EU has since implemented a:

" to promote women in economic and political decision-making positions which was launched in 2008 to provide a platform for exchange of good practices between existing networks at EU level" (Commission of the European Communities Report 2009,pg 6)

In attempt to dismantle the inequality of gender in employment the fourth EU key objective is in regards to the eradication of gender based violence. The EU has established the Daphne programme which supports women and children who have suffered as a result of domestic abuse.(cited in europrofem) The commission has also encouraged the criminalisation of trafficking women and children through exploitation. The EU proposes under new directives to reintegrate such vulnerable groups in to the labour market. It also proposes the support of member states to encourage awareness raising campaigns, support networks both for the perpetrators of violence and the victims of abuse.

The fifth EU key objective as described in the roadmap is the notion of gender based stereotypes. At present there is still a major problem in regards to inequality in employment. The EUC has identified a gender pay gap has one of the major concern for the European commission according to The Road Map for Gender Equality 2006-2010. In order to improve the present dilemma, there have been many legislative and non legislative developments to combat the challenges of discrimination and encourage gender equality in employment. Furthermore, despite the previously mentioned interventions above, there still persists a major gender 'pay gap' which reflects on the overall factors of inequalities and thus discrimination in employment. On average women were earning on average 15% less than men in the European Union in 2005. (Cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2007, pg 2) It was found that the gender pay gap still exists due to direct and indirect discrimination factors. It can also be attributed to social and economic factors. In regards to dismantling gender stereotypes the EU recommend 'gender mainstreaming' and encourage ESF, ICT programmes in education and culture programmes in schools through media tools.

In regards to the sixth and final key objective illustrated in the roadmap for equality in employment, the EU has proposed the development and amendment of policies extending to external neighbouring countries. The EU adheres to recognised values of the Millennium Development Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). The recent EU strategy for Africa is also committed to encouraging gender equality in external countries. The EU commits to promoting the need for education and freedom of opportunity and health and safety. Above all, it welcomes the participation of all women in the sphere of economic and political life in decision making.

Four priority areas have been identified by the Commission these include, that pre-existing legal framework is fully applied and utilised whilst identifying areas for improvement. The active participation of all parties is also to be promoted in all Members of State. In addition to this, the European Strategy for Growth and Jobs should be applied in full to all employers. Above all the notion of good practice at all levels is to be stressed to overcome traditional stereotypes and discriminatory practices.

The European Pact for Gender Equality 2006 stresses the importance of the commitments of the Member of states to take critical action in this area. Furthermore, several members of states have reunited to take prominent action regarding the labour market, education, training, and the balance of work and private life. Unfortunately there has been little progress in regards to commitments from the other member of states to take action addressing this issue according to the Commissions annual report on growth and jobs 2006.( cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2007,pg 8)

In defence of the above the Commission in 2007 vowed to improve the quality of statistics used in regards to the gender pay gap, in addition they have also promised to encourage all member of states to set key targets and limits for reducing the pay gap between man and women on the basis of data and findings gathered by the annual reports issued. The Commission is also in progress of setting up action programmes on equal opportunities for its own staff, it is apparent that within public administration there is a major pay gap which is directly influenced by the presence of occupational segregation and the small presence of women in decision making posts. Despite the overwhelming evidence that an increased amount of women are becoming more highly qualified, there is still a persistent fact they are still outnumbered by men in higher positions of hierarchy and importance, both in politics and business.(cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2009,pg 5)

According to the European Alliance on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the notion of equality also poses as a 'competitive advantage' as it utilises the staff's full productive potential. It encourages incentives to support good practice to tackle the inequalities in the pay. Currently the Commission already promotes good practice by raising awareness through the PROGRESS programme. (cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2007,pg 9)

In addition to the above, the Commission also proposes to introduce gender equality policies, to eradicate structural inequalities within the workplace in regards to improving the profile of occupations which are paid less. For instance, the Framework of actions on gender equality 2007, proposes awareness-raising and training measures in addition to the growth of wage comparison tools and strategies to decrease the pay gap. (cited in Commission of the European Communities Report 2007,pg10)


To conclude this assignment the notion of 'equality' is integral to the values of the European Union. Despite the European Union making significant progress over time, in regards to developing directives, treaties and legislation. In addition to, the EU has reinforced gender mainstreaming via training and capacity building for those involved in policy making.

Statistics indicate that gender inequality still persists in employment. The European Union have a long way in fulfilling key targets in dismantling gender inequality. In my personal opinion the EU key objectives need to be more transparent to the public in terms of setting realistic targets to strengthen gender mainstreaming across all member states in order to achieve change.


    Commission of the European Communities Report 2006

  • Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions(2006), A Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010,Brussels,(Online) Available at: (Accessed 20/11/2009)
  • Commission of the European Communities Report 2007

  • Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council,, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions(2007). Tackling the pay gap between women and men, Brussels,(Online) (Accessed 21/11/2009)
  • Commission of the European Communities Report 2009

  • Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Brussels,(2009) Equality between women and men-2009 Brussels,(Online) (Accessed 21/11/2009)
  • European Union

  • (Accessed 10/11/2009)
  • Euro culture master

  • (Accessed 12/11/2009)
  • Europrofem

  • (accessed 23/11/2009) Jorgensen,N.,Bird,J.,Heyhoe,A.,Russell,B.,Savvas,M.,(1997).Sociology:An Interactive Approach,Collins Educational
  • Union History

  • (Accessed 15/11/2009)
  • Women Lobby

  • (Accessyoutubeed 14/11/2009)


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