Gender equality is among the fundamental principles and the common values of the European Union. In the 2nd Article of the Treaty of the European Community, it is even mentioned as a task to perform for the Community, and again in Article 3(2) TEC. But two questions already appear: what can the European Community do exactly? And is the task performed well, is the goal achieved? Equality between men and women can concern several fields, but we shall focus here on the working conditions and incentives to work for women, in other words gender equality at work. Why is it a topic very much tackled during the recent years? The Lisbon Summit in 2000 underlined the question of women labour force, as a source of growth that the EU strongly needs, as a purpose in itself, but also in order to achieve other economic goals like full employment or European competitiveness in the world. The year 2007 is for the European Commission the European Year of equal opportunities. In this framework many surveys have been made and the Commission itself has broadly and deeply stated on the situation of women and employment in the EU. When studying the issue of gender equality at work, one would not avoid dealing with other issues as reconciliation of family and work life and family policies in general, but also the questions of gender pay gap or women and their access to top-management positions. The challenges faced by women are very well summed up in the Commission's Road map for equality between men and women 2006-20101: Many women have attained the highest levels of education, entered the labour market and become important players in public life.
[...] Depending on the level and the quantity of measures favouring gender equality in the various countries, it can be concluded that there is a positive relationship between fertility rate and employment rate when those measures taken (Commission, September 2005). The best example remains Denmark, with the third best birth rate in Europe and the best rate of women in participating to the labour market (more than 70 France, that very recently hit the jackpot and took the lead of the EU with two children per woman, also knows an employment rate for women lower than, but not far from the Lisbon target. [...]
[...] Gender pay gap and few top positions taken by women can often go against even the strongest ambitions Gender pay gap and decision-making positions The persistent gender pay gap The persistent gender pay gap is regularly pointed at by the European Commission, as equal pay is among the fundamental principles (Article-141 EC Treaty), interpreted broadly by the European Court of Justice and integrated in the European legislation since the mid-1970s. Although women are outperforming men in education achievement and boosting EU employment rate, they are still earning on average less than men, even on average in the private sector, for every hour worked. [...]
[...] The European Commission regularly drafts reports about these different issues (incentives to work, family and work reconciliation, gender pay gap, women and decision-making jobs) that are all components of the situation of gender equality at work in the EU. At this stage, an obvious statement is that, although most challenges are common to all member states, the problems and solutions differ greatly from a European country to another. Not only the situations but also the policy responses are different, reflecting different social models that exist in the EU. [...]
[...] Although as we saw, gender equality is a common value and a fundamental right, mentioned as a task in the Treaty, there is not so much that the Commission can initiate on, as it is often closely related to employment policies or family policies, for which member states still exercise their sovereignty. Yet the EU level, meaning the European Council but also the European Commission, is taking over on the topic. How did it gradually take over? Since the European Employment Strategy in 1999, the employment has gradually become an EU common matter. [...]
[...] At the same time, a new reform of local employment policy was just put in place last January, and we will see how this and the decrease of influence of labour market parties will influence gender equality. Finally, it remains to be observed how exactly flexibility (functional and work-time flexibilities) affects men and women, in a different way or not Improvements in France The French situation is really a medium one, with a women employment rate really close to the European average (56,3 but as we saw with among the highest birth rates in Europe. [...]
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