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Gender equality

‘Domestic violence is the shadow pandemic’ Jacinda Ardern



To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March), the European Parliament is underlining the crucial role of women during the COVID-19 crisis. New Zealand is among the most successful in fighting the spread of the virus - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern applied an elimination, rather than the suppression strategy adopted widely in Europe.

‘Go hard and go early’

In New Zealand, life has almost returned to normal for its five million citizens. Bars, restaurants, sports and concert venues are open and the prime minister hopes to vaccinate the entire population before border controls are relaxed. 


The economy has fared better than elsewhere, demonstrating that rather than a careful trade-off between economic and health measures, effective management of the virus has been a pre-requisite for a thriving economy. Ardern's leadership has been widely praised for her leadership and her  'Go hard and go early' message that has meant very low infection levels and fewer than 30 deaths.

Addressing the European Parliament, Ardern said: “In New Zealand, our approach in battling COVID-19 has been one of inclusivity the idea that everyone needs to do their bit to protect one another, especially our most vulnerable. I often talk about our population is a team of 5 million. As we move to a phase of vaccination, we are not a team of 5 million, but we are a team of 7.8 billion. The success of individual countries or regions means little unless we are all successful.”

Ardern also pointed out how women have borne the brunt of this crisis: “Women are at the forefront of fighting the COVID crisis. They are amongst the doctors, nurses, scientists, communicators, caregivers and frontline workers who face the devastation and challenges of this virus every day. Along with being directly affected by the virus itself and its immediate impacts on our livelihoods. We’re also the subjects of intensified domestic violence. This is being reported as the shadow pandemic in all corners of the world.”

The parliament argues that women have been at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, partly because of their predominant role in the healthcare sector. Many have also been hard hit as they are in insecure or precarious jobs, which have disappeared or changed with the crisis. In addition, the continuing lock-downs have led to an increase in domestic violence. Parliament has called for these inequalities to be addressed.

Women on the COVID-19 frontline

Of the 49 million care workers in the EU, who have been most exposed to the virus, around 76% are women.

Women are over-represented in essential services ranging from sales to childcare places, which remained open during the pandemic. In the EU, women account for 82% of all cashiers and represent 95% of workers in domestic cleaning and home help fields.

Lower levels of job security for women

Around 84% of the working women aged 15-64 are employed in services, including in the main Covid-hit sectors that are facing job losses. Quarantine has also affected sectors of the economy where traditionally more women have been employed, including nursery, secretarial and domestic work.

More than 30% of women in the EU work part-time and occupy a large share of jobs in the informal economy, which tend to have fewer labour rights as well as less health protection and other fundamental benefits. They are also much more likely to take time off to care for children and relatives and during lockdowns often had to combine teleworking and child care.

Escalation of violence against women

Around 50 women lose their lives to domestic violence every week in the EU and this has increased during lockdown. The restrictions have also made it harder for victims to get help.

European Parliament

Understanding the gender pay gap: Definition and causes



Working women in the EU earn on average 14% less per hour than men. Find out how this gender pay gap is calculated and the reasons behind it. Although the equal pay for equal work principle was already introduced in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the so-called gender pay gap stubbornly persists with only marginal improvements being achieved in recent years. Society 

What is the gender pay gap and how is it calculated?

The gender pay gap is the difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men. It is based on salaries paid directly to employees before income tax and social security contributions are deducted. Only companies of ten or more employees are taken into account in the calculations. The EU average gender pay gap was 14.1% in 2019.


Some of the reasons for the gender pay gap are structural and are related to differences in employment, level of education and work experience. If we remove this part, what remains is known as the adjusted gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap in the EU

Across the EU, the pay gap differs widely, being the highest in the following countries in 2019: Estonia (21.7%), Latvia (21.2%), Germany (19.2%), the Czech Republic (18.9%), Slovakia (18.4%) and Hungary (18.2%). The lowest numbers in 2019 can be found in Poland (8.5%), Slovenia (7.9%), Belgium (5.8%), Italy (4.7%), Romania (3.3%) and Luxembourg (1.3%).

Interpreting the numbers is not as simple as it seems, as a smaller gender pay gap in a specific country does not necessarily mean more gender equality. In some EU countries lower pay gaps tend to be because of women having fewer paid jobs. High gaps tend to be related to a high proportion of women working part time or being concentrated in a restricted number of professions. Still, some structural causes of the gender pay gap can be identified.

Causes of the gender pay gap

On average, women do more hours of unpaid work,  such as childcare or housework. Such a gender gap in unpaid working hours can be found in all EU countries, although it varies from six to eight hours per week in the Nordic countries to more than 15 hours in Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Malta, Greece and Cyprus, according to 2015 figures.

This leaves less time for paid work: according to 2018 figures, almost one-third of women (30%) work part-time, while only 8% of men work part-time. When both unpaid and paid work are considered, women work more hours per week than men.

Women are also much more likely to be the ones who have career breaks and some of their career choices are influenced by care and family responsibilities.

About 30% of the total gender pay gap can be explained by an overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors such as care, sales or education. There are still sectors such as the science, technology and engineering sectors where the proportion of male employees is very high (with more than 80%).

Women also hold fewer executive positions: less than 10% of top companies’ CEOs are women. If we look at the gap in different occupations, female managers are at the greatest disadvantage: they earn 23% less per hour than male managers.

But women also still face discrimination in the workplace, such as being paid less than male colleagues having the same qualifications and working within the same conditions and occupational categories or being demoted after returning from maternity leave.

So, women do not only earn less per hour, but they also perform more unpaid work as well as fewer paid hours and are more likely to be unemployed than men. All these factors combined bring the difference in overall earnings between men and women to almost 37% in the EU (in 2018).

Closing the gap: Fighting poverty and strengthening the economy

Reducing the gender pay gap creates greater gender equality while reducing poverty and stimulating the economy.

The gender pay gap is widening with age - along the career and alongside increasing family demands, while it is rather low when women enter the labour market. With less money to save and invest, these gaps accumulate and women are consequently at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion at an older age. The gender pension gap was about 29% in the EU in 2019.

Equal pay is not just a matter of justice, but would also boost the economy as women would get more to spend more. This would increase the tax base and would relieve some of the burden on welfare systems. Assessments show that reducing the gender pay gap by one percentage point would increase the gross domestic product by 0.1%.

Parliament's actions against the gender pay gap

On 21 January 2021, MEPs adopted a resolution on the EU Strategy for Gender Equality, calling on the Commission to draw up an ambitious new gender pay gap action plan, which should set clear targets for EU countries to reduce the gender pay gap over the next five years.

In addition, Parliament wants to make it easier for women and girls to study and work in male-dominated sectors, to have flexible working time arrangements and also to improve wages, salaries and working conditions in strongly female-dominated sectors.

Find out more about what the Parliament does to tackle the gender pay gap and to promote gender equality in general.

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Equal opportunities

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work



The European Commission has presented a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men in the EU get equal pay for equal work. A political priority of President von der Leyen, the proposal sets out pay transparency measures, such as pay information for job seekers, a right to know the pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. The proposal also strengthens the tools for workers to claim their rights and facilitates access to justice. Employers will not be allowed to ask job seekers for their pay history and they will have to provide pay related anonymised data upon employee request. Employees will also have the right to compensation for discrimination in pay.  

New measures, which take into account the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on both, employers but also on women, who have been hit in particular hard, will increase awareness about pay conditions within the company and give more tools to employers and workers to address the pay discrimination at work. This will address a number of substantial factors contributing to the existing pay gap and is particularly relevant during COVID-19 pandemic, which is reinforcing gender inequalities and puts women into greater risk of poverty exposure.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.”


Values and Transparency Vice President Vera Jourová said: “It is high-time both women and men are empowered to claim their right. We want to empower job seekers and workers with tools to demand fair salary and to know and claim their rights. This is also why employers must become more transparent about their pay policies. No more double standards, no more excuses.”

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said: “The pay transparency proposal is a major step toward the enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between women and men. It will empower workers to enforce their right to equal pay and lead to an end to gender bias in pay. It will also allow for the detection, acknowledgment and addressing of an issue that we wanted to eradicate since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Women deserve due recognition, equal treatment and value for their work and the Commission is committed to ensuring that workplaces meet this objective.”

Pay transparency and better enforcement of equal pay

The legislative proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay: measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers as well as better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination.

Pay transparency measures

  • Pay transparency for job-seekers – Employers will have to provide information about the initial pay level or its range in the job vacancy notice or before the job interview. Employers will not be allowed to ask prospective workers about their pay history.
  • Right to information for employees – Workers will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by sex, for categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
  • Reporting on gender pay gap – Employers with at least 250 employees must publish information on the pay gap between female and male workers in their organisation. For internal purposes, they should also provide information on the pay gap between female and male employees by categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
  • Joint pay assessment – Where pay reporting reveals a gender pay gap of at least 5% and when the employer cannot justify the gap on objective gender neutral factors, employers will have to carry out a pay assessment, in cooperation with workers' representatives.

Better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination

  • Compensation for workers – workers who suffered gender pay discrimination can get compensation, including full recovery of back pay and related bonuses or payments in kind.
  • Burden of proof on employer – it will be by default for the employer, not the worker, to prove that there was no discrimination in relation to pay.
  • Sanctions to include fines – Member States should establish specific penalties for infringements of the equal pay rule, including a minimum level of fines.
  • Equality bodies and workers' representatives may act in legal or administrative proceedings on behalf of workers as well as lead on collective claims on equal pay.

The proposal takes into account the current difficult situation of employers , in particular in private sector, and maintains proportionality of measures while providing flexibility for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and encouraging Member States to use available resources for reporting of data. The annual costs of pay reporting for the employers are estimated to be from €379 to €890 or companies with 250+ employees.

Next steps

Today's proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law and communicate the relevant texts to the Commission. The Commission will carry out an evaluation of the proposed Directive after eight years.


The right to equal pay between women and men for equal work or work of equal value has been a founding principle of the European Union since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The requirement to ensure equal pay is set out in Article 157 TFEU and in Directive on the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

The European Commission adopted a Recommendation on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency in March 2014. Despite this, the effective implementation and enforcement of this principle in practice remains a major challenge in the European Union. The European Parliament and the Council have repeatedly called for action in this area. In June 2019, the Council called on the Commission to develop concrete measures to increase pay transparency.

President von der Leyen announced binding pay transparency measures as one of her political priorities for this Commission. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and today the Commission is presenting a proposal to that end.

More information

Questions & Answers - Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

Proposal for a directive on pay transparency to strengthen the principle of equal pay

Impact Assessment

Executive summary – Impact Assessment

Factsheet – Pay transparency: equal pay for women and men for equal work

EU action for equal pay

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Gender equality: Commission ensures excellence and improves gender balance in trade and investment arbitration



The European Commission has set in place a new system for the appointment of arbitrators, also referred to as adjudicators, to handle disputes under the EU's trade and investment agreements. With this new system we seek to step up enforcement of our trade agreements and to address the lack of gender balance in the EU's existing pool of arbitrators, while ensuring that all arbitrators meet the highest professional and ethical standards.

In addition to these efforts, the Commission has signed up to the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge, which aims to increase the representation of women in international dispute settlement. “We are seeking outstanding and highly-qualified candidates to settle trade disputes. As part of today's call, we have also pledged to improve gender balance in the arbitration community. This Pledge is part of the European Commission's long-standing commitment to gender balance in all areas of work and life – one of our most firmly held values. We will also pay close attention to geographic balance,” said Executive Vice President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. “Securing excellent arbitrators for disputes is part of our overall process of upgrading our trade enforcement tools and mechanisms.” A press release is available online.

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