EU Treaties

Equality between men and women

Equality between women and men is one of the fundamental principles of Community law. The European Union's (EU) objectives on gender equality are to ensure equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women and to combat any form of discrimination on the grounds of gender. The EU has adopted a two-pronged approach to this issue, combining specific measures with gender mainstreaming. The issue also has a strong international dimension with regard to the fight against poverty, access to education and health services, taking part in the economy and in the decision-making process, women's rights and human rights.

EU Treaties, Directives, Legal Regulations 

Treaty of Rome

Treaty of Amsterdam

EU Draft Constitution Treaty

Treaty of Lisbon

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

Women’s Charter

Directives on Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination

Treaty of Rome (1957)

The principle of equal pay for men and women was initially introduced in 1957 as an article within the Treaty of Rome.  Within the scope of the following steps on the  road to European integration, additional treaty provisions further consolidated and expanded the basis for a European approach.

EUR-Lex Treaties

Treaty of Amsterdam (1997)  

In relation to gender equality, the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam took a further important step by declaring the advancement of equality between women and men to be a fundamental task of the EU. The Treaty also obliged Member States to eliminate inequality and promote equality between women and men in all areas of activity. Finally, it also introduced a new article empowering the EU to take action against all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender or other attributes.

The Amsterdam treaty: A comprehensive guide

Treaty of Lisbon (2007/2009) 

The Treaty of Lisbon finally entered into effect on 1 December 2009 (following delays with ratification in Ireland and the Czech Republic). The Treaty provided for reform of the EU institutions and improvements to its working methods – moves that had become necessary in light of EU expansion. Important changes are the strengthening of the EU Parliament and national parliaments, introduction of the EU citizens’ initiative, enhanced decision-making with qualified majority voting, creation of the position of EU President and introduction of the office of a High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as well as a European External Action Service.

A significant result of the Lisbon Treaty is also the strengthening of common EU values and the rights of EU citizens. Incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights means that it is now legally binding as primary European law. In the paragraphs on values and objectives preceding the Treaty, explicit reference is also made to equality between women and men and to the furtherance of such by the EU.

EUROPA – Treaty of Lisbon

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000)
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights signed in 2000 once again reinforces the prohibition of discrimination and the obligation to ensure equality between women and men in all areas.

The Treaty of Lisbon explicitly refers to the Charter and the basic rights deemed inalienable by the EU which are afforded to European citizens vis-à-vis EU institutions and under Community law. As such, the rights stated in the Charter have binding legal authority in the EU. Accordingly, the institutions, organs and agencies of the EU are required to observe the rights set out under the Charter. This same obligation also applies for member states in their implementation of European legal provisions. The Court of Justice is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Charter. Incorporation of the Charter does not alter the competence of the EU, but does provide citizens with greater rights and freedoms.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The Court of Justice of the European Union

 Women’s Charter (2010)
In March 2010, under the guidance of Madame Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, the EU Commission presented a ‘Women’s Charter’ in the form of a policy declaration. In taking this step, the Commission expressed its increased commitment to gender equality over the next five years. The Charter reinforces the Commission’s obligation to gender mainstreaming; namely, consideration and targeted support for equality between women and men in all policy areas. In particular, the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy aims to give full consideration to aspects of equality. Overall, the Charter is the Commission’s response to calls by the European Parliament for increased action to combat violence against women.

The Charter states five key areas for action over the next five years:

• the promotion of equal economic independence through more equality in the labour market,
• equal pay for equal work and work of equal value,
• the promotion of equality in decision-making,
• a comprehensive policy to protect human dignity and eradicate violence against women, and
• the promotion of gender equality beyond the EU to other countries and international organisations.

In substantiating the Charter and as an update to the Roadmap for equality between women and men, in September 2010 the Commission presented a new equality strategy (Strategy for equality between women and men 2010–2015) aimed at providing a coordinated framework for action throughout all EU policy areas.

 A Women's Charter Declaration by the European Commission


Further links:

Equality between men and women (summary of EU legislation on equality between women and men)

Gender equality law in 33 European countries’ (report by the European Network of Legal Experts in the Field of Gender Equality, Update 2011)

European Union Equality Directives