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International Women’s Day 2017: Gender Equality – a European export

The Commission is marking International Women’s Day with the publication of a new report on equality between men and women, which shows that EU legislation, guidelines, actions and funding possibilities are supporting noticeable but uneven progress in EU Member States.

Sixty years ago, equality between women and men was embedded in the Rome Treaty as one of the European Union’s fundamental values. Fast forward to today and women’s employment rate has reached an all-time high level. However, the gender pay gap remains stubborn with women still earning 16.3% less than men across Europe. Women also continue to face a glass ceiling in reaching management and leadership positions, even if the Commission is well on track to meet its own target of 40% female representation in senior and middle management positions by 2019. Today the Commission makes a renewed call to ensure equality for women at home and around the world.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Europe is a pioneer of gender equality and that is something we should be proud of. Be it in employment and occupation, vocational training, social security or access to goods and services: women and men have to be treated equally. That is the law. Unfortunately the road to effective equality still has some bumps ahead. That is why we cannot let up. I made equality a cornerstone of the administration I lead and I am proud that two years on we have made enormous strides in reaching the 40% female management target. But if intolerance and chauvinism start to proliferate inside or outside our borders we have to push back twice as hard with a simple and thoroughly European message: gender equality is not an aspirational goal. It is a fundamental right.

The report published today provides an overview of the main EU policy and legal developments in gender equality during the last year, as well as examples of policies and actions in Member States. The 2017 Gender Equality report shows that women still face challenges in different areas:

  • Women’s unemployment rate remains very high in southern countries in particular, compared to men’s unemployment rate.
  • Women still earn on average 40% less than men on average in all EU countries and the gender pay gap in pensions is stable at 38%. At this rate of change, it would however take another century to close the overall gender earnings gap.
  • The glass ceiling still exists with only four countries (France, Italy, Finland and Sweden) have at least 30 % women in the boards of large companies.
  • Women are still underrepresented in politics. In eight countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Malta and Romania) women accounted for less than 20 % of members.

Within the European Commission, the 40% target of female representation in senior and middle management positions by 2019 set by President Juncker is almost reached with nearly 35% of middle managers being women just two years into the mandate. Women make up for 32% of all senior managers (Director level and above). In particular, in the last two years, the Commission appointed several women to top management – Director-General or their deputies – thus increasing the representation of women at that level to 29%, up from 13% in November 2014.


Equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union and one that has been enshrined in the Treaty from the very beginning, as the Rome Treaty included a provision on equal pay. The ‘Strategic engagement for gender equality’ work programme for the period 2016-2019 was adopted in December 2015 and reflects the Commission’s commitment to step up its activities in the field of gender equality.

Several activities are taking place to mark International Women’s day this year: High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini will be in Rome to speak at the Celebration of the International Women’s Day organised by the Presidency of the Italian Republic. Commissioner Jourová will welcome three female role models at the Commission, she will also speak with Peter Agnefjall, CEO of IKEA, to discuss the role of women in companies, and meet with a group of teenage girls active in technology. Commissioner Oettinger will participate in a panel on “women@work”, and Commissioner Vestager will speak about the importance of a European society of fairness and equal opportunities. Commissioner Moedas will be in the European Parliament to award the Prize for Women Innovators 2017 to four outstanding entrepreneurs. Commissioner Malmström will be in Singapore to strengthen EU-Singapore trade ties, where she will also announce the first ever International Forum on Gender and Trade, to be organised by the Commission on 20 June. The event will look at how trade policy can advance women’s empowerment – from antidiscrimination clauses to helping small businesses.

Published by the European Commission