What, if anything, has the EU done for gender equality? Please give us your views

(44 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 27-Feb-13 14:07:11

Justine has been asked to speak at an event next week discussing issues around the EU and gender equality. It's part of a series of events marking 40 years since the UK joined what was then the European Community.

The questions the event aims to discuss are: What role has the EU played in shaping gender equality for women in Europe and in the UK? And what opportunities and dangers might arise in this field from any renegotiation and repatriation of powers by a UK government in the years to come?

As ever, we'd love to know what you think. What are your thoughts about the effects on women and gender equality of legislation and directives that have originated in the EU? Is it your impression that these measures have helped or hindered British women in their working and domestic lives? For example: measures like the Social Chapter are thought by some to have contributed to women's welfare by improving their working conditions and bargaining rights; others see them as having made it expensive and difficult for small businesses in a way that has impacted negatively on employees.

You can see some information on this page about specific European initiatives on gender over the years.

The panel debate will be held on March 7, and as well as having your views beforehand, you're welcome to use this thread or the Twitter hashtag #UK40 on the night to put questions to the panel members or relay your thoughts.

Thanks,
MNHQ

Tee2072 Wed 27-Feb-13 14:19:54

Anyone else read that # as UB40? Just me then?

Sorry, I'll go away and try to come back with something useful to say. I promise.

TheFallenNinja Wed 27-Feb-13 14:38:02

Well, it's stiffed women on car insurance.

msrisotto Wed 27-Feb-13 14:55:05

I came on to say the same thing as thefallenninja! It decided to defy fact and rule to increase womens car insurance. Thanks for that.

Apart from that, I can't think of anything they have done to positively impact gender equality.

AliceWChild Wed 27-Feb-13 15:26:47

Was going to say the same. Remarkable how quickly the boys sorted out the car insurance anomaly but yet seem to be stalling on the old pay gap, women on boards, political representation of women etc. Funny that.

PhyllisDoris Wed 27-Feb-13 15:34:42

Was/is gender equality one of the EU's aims then? They haven't publicised that very well.
I can't think of ANYTHING the EU has done to promote gender equality, other than the insurance debacle already mentioned.

How about you give us some examples of what the EU thinks it's done, and we can tell you how effective those initiatives have been to the man/woman on the street.

nailak Wed 27-Feb-13 17:28:09

wasnt there that video about scientists in pink lab coats or something....

drwitch Wed 27-Feb-13 17:48:09

Equal pay, before 1984 it only applied to men and women in the same job at the same firm, the equal value act (bought in to comply with EU legislation) means it now applies to men and women doing similar jobs, there was no leap to equality but successive test cases have I think reduced the pay gap within firms and within the public sector

trockodile Wed 27-Feb-13 18:30:30

As far as I know it is because of EU legislation that pregnant women were allowed to remain in the Armed Forces and given good maternity packages (and were allowed to rejoin if they had been forced to leave). Not sure if it is relevant but they were also instrumental in allowing lesbian(and gay) servicemen/women to serve openly. Huge difference to the make up of the services.

Crumblemum Wed 27-Feb-13 19:32:41

Poor JustineMumsnet, what has she done in a past life to deserve this? Seriously though, with current coalition looking ready to start trimming maternity and general workers' rights, I'm pleased the the EU makes this harder.

As an institution I'd say just as sexist as the next undemocratic, self important and over staffed bureaucracy.

crochetcircle Wed 27-Feb-13 21:04:04

How about parental leave/transferable maternity leave. That was an eu directive that many countries implemented some time ago. Not long enough to say what the impact was, but for me it was a very important step to acknowledge that fathers should have the same protection as mothers if the couple decides the father will take time off in the first year of a child's life.

gallicgirl Wed 27-Feb-13 21:11:54

Equal pay for equal work, pension rights, maternity leave, promotion of educationfor all...I'll think of more but its years since I did my degree.

PhyllisDoris Wed 27-Feb-13 21:30:09

Crochet - that's something the EU has done for men, not women.

mercibucket Wed 27-Feb-13 21:57:39

most of the legislation on maternity pay was driven by the eu. we would have naff all if it was down to uk politicians.

Hullygully Wed 27-Feb-13 22:26:43

Apart fromn aqueducts?

crochetcircle Wed 27-Feb-13 23:16:39

Phyllis, not really. Direct and indirect benefits fit women I think.

In our case it meant one parent could care for baby the whole first year, and the higher earner (me) could go back sooner.

More widely, if the first year's maternity allowance is split more often across society the there would be no difference for an employer between women and men, and jobs might change so that careers commonly feature gaps. Thus would help women - longer term obviously.

josiejay Wed 27-Feb-13 23:53:59

Equal rights for part time workers, improved maternity leave, the right to paid time off for antenatal appointments, to name a few. Many of the employment rights that we have come to take for granted have come from the EU.

KatieMiddleton Thu 28-Feb-13 00:11:05

EU directives and rulings around equality have had some positive impacts around employment. If it were not for European Directives I think I'm right in saying there would not have been political appetite for the shared leave after the birth of a baby that's due to come into force in 2015.

From memory EU rulings around pregnancy and maternity discrimination have managed to establish case law precedents in the UK that have enabled women to fight discrimination. I'll need to have a look for some specific examples.

The Equality Act 2010 came from an EU Directive and it gave women rights not to be discriminated against for pregnancy/maternity. In England and Wales those rights have given protection to women wanting to breastfeed their babies in public (Scotland already had legislation).

The Working Time Directive that became The Working Time Regulations 1998 (I think it was 98?!) and the subsequent amendments have given women taking maternity leave the right to acrue holiday during that leave.

But... it's late and I've still got baby brain so will need to check that out in the morning.

One other half thought: aren't there a greater proportion of women MEPs than MPs? Not sure MEPs are much cop but still, it's something.

KatieMiddleton Thu 28-Feb-13 00:15:11

Some EU Directives that have not been taken up full in the UK but have elsewhere in Europe have led to working examples we benefit from indirectly in changing mindsets. When studying employment practices we spent a lot of time looking at what the Scandis are doing.

Not sure that's much help either but poor old Justine is going to need something!

sis Thu 28-Feb-13 09:49:10

Sex Discrimination Act, Equal pay Act, Part-Time Workers Regulations, all as a direct result of the EU. Also the interpretation of the legislation by the European Courts have helped the cause of gender in the UK equality enormously. Also current protection for pregnany workers is a direct result of EU legislation.

Meringue33 Thu 28-Feb-13 09:50:21

Social programmes funded via EU eg the EQUAL programme and some Structural Fund programmes that had equality as a cross cutting theme. Sorry I can't link as on phone but there will be more info on web.

sis Thu 28-Feb-13 09:51:52

As a woman, I am hugely grateful for the changes imposed on the UK by the EU in the area of equality as the courts and governments have shown a worrying reluctance to implement and apply any legislation to further the cause of gender equality in without being pushed to do so by the EU.

sis Thu 28-Feb-13 09:56:35

There was a thread recently where people were saying how shocked they were that their mothers, as recently as the 1970s, were dismissed as soon as they announced their engagement/got married and for the slightly more fortunate, who were 'allowed' to work after marriage, they were dismissed as soon as the employer found out that they were pregnant. The huge changes in the workplace and society's expectations since this time is largely due to the equality legislation imposed by the EU.

Xiaoxiong Thu 28-Feb-13 10:01:57

Gender diversity pages from the EU here and full list of documents, reports and legislation here.

Recent mandatory actions include:
- action plan on European company law and corporate governance, including a proposed directive which would force companies to increase the proportion of women on boards after they found that voluntary actions did absolutely nothing to improve gender equality (Dec 2012)
- gender equality strategy (series of actions based around five priorities: the economy and labour market, equal pay, equality in senior positions, tackling gender violence, promoting equality beyond the EU) (Sept 2010)

Xiaoxiong Thu 28-Feb-13 10:03:18

Oh duh you've got that first link already.

Anyway I think the main advantage is their willingness to use directives to push this forward rather than relying on voluntary pledges. The most recent directive for women on boards being just one example.

RedToothBrush Thu 28-Feb-13 10:21:49

I think its actually done quite a lot, but I don't think its always terribly well publicised and not always immediately obvious what impact even small things can have and how they can benefit us.

In general, the Human Rights Act does cover quite a bit in terms of discrimination and was a direct result of the EU. It gets a great deal of stick for being used to aid groups like terrorists but it actually does a great deal to help women.

For example in terms of getting women rights over their own body, (which I do feel falls under gender equality) you could look at Ternovszky vs Hungary where a mother took her country to the European court of human rights as its laws compromised her desire to birth at home because the rules were ambiguous and could have left her midwife facing legal action. The Court, ruled in her favour and decided that meaningful choice in childbirth is a human rights issue. It would not have been possible without the EU.

This might not mean anything directly in this country at present as we don't have the same issue that existed in Hungry, but it does in effect protect homebirths in the UK and it does create precedence in law so that if someone were to have an issue that might be similar or related they would be able to see they had a potential case to answer. In which case we could use EU law for that too.

And I do I think that its not just about what happens to women in this country, but also to women in the rest of Europe. Being part of Europe might bring us benefits, but I also thinks it helps us to influence decisions elsewhere in Europe which is of benefit to other women. Its not necessarily just about what we get out of it, but also about what we can offer to other women.

It also means that we are all freer and more able to work in Europe and will face less discrimination in other countries should we choose to move there and not be so disadvantaged when compared to men who choose to work abroad.

I think a lot of changes are subtule and small, so have gone past relatively unnoticed but as a cumulative effect, they are in fact huge.

drwitch Thu 28-Feb-13 10:24:03

I think what comes over quite strongly is that it is really only those of us who work int he area OR who have studied this issue that really know about what EU directives have and can have done. This is interesting, if the beneficiaries of an institution remain ignorant of what it has done then democracy cannot work. Lots of women may for example vote NO in any future referendum but would vote YES if they knew that lots of the policies they are in favour of are coming from the EU.

drwitch Thu 28-Feb-13 10:26:38

btw i hope this did not sound patronising, the fault lies solely with the channels of information we get, it is interesting that such a media and politically aware group as MUMSNET is so ignorant

CoalDustWoman Thu 28-Feb-13 10:27:35

The European Court of Human Rights also ensured that "man" and "woman" are defined by feelings, though. Give with one hand and take away with the other.

RedToothBrush Thu 28-Feb-13 10:47:39

CoalDustWoman Thu 28-Feb-13 10:27:35
The European Court of Human Rights also ensured that "man" and "woman" are defined by feelings, though. Give with one hand and take away with the other.

THAT depends on your POV though... many people would support that decision...

Lostonthemoors Thu 28-Feb-13 20:28:00

Equal pay legislation - very important smile

Tee2072 Fri 01-Mar-13 12:12:56

"The European Court of Human Rights also ensured that "man" and "woman" are defined by feelings, though. Give with one hand and take away with the other."

I don't even know what that means. As in trans* is considered? And that's a bad thing?

SolomanDaisy Fri 01-Mar-13 12:31:33

Criticising the ruling on car insurance is hardly fair when it also equalised pension annuities, massively to the benefit of women.

The fairly recent ruling on increasing maternity leave to 20 weeks will have a positive benefit for lots of European women.

every time i see this on active i hear: 'what did the romans ever do for us?' grin

i have recently become aware how important it is that we stay in europe. the sudden announcement that if re-elected they'll give a referendum from the tories made me cotton onto the fact that actually a lot of our human rights, stuff to do with living conditions, work conditions etc etc are driven by europe now. if the tories want out it's so they can fuck us over more royally (excuse my language but it's the most succinct way to put it).

sadly most will knee jerk vote for us to leave without realising what they'd be paving the way for in doing so.

jkklpu Mon 04-Mar-13 19:13:04

To continue RedToothbrush's point, it's also about what the EU does for women outside Europe. As one of the biggest international aid donors in the world, there have been huge numbers of programmes to improve conditions for women in developing countries, e.g. education for girls, ante-/post-natal healthcare, fight against sexual violence, support for micro-credit. Given all the evidence that shows how important education for women is for economic development, this is part of a really significant push to help countries lift themselves out of poverty.

not to mention we may need a massive bail out from europe very soon.

Johnatdadbloguk Tue 05-Mar-13 10:01:37

I'm going to play Devil's Advocate and answer that question with a question; does the EU actually have a role to promote gender equality? The question assumes it does when I'd argue that it doesn't - to this day it's largely concerned with trade and finance.

Oh, and as a man I can't think of anything the EU has done to promote equality for men as fathers.

littlehalo Tue 05-Mar-13 11:13:58

It has given us the convention on action against trafficking in human beings, plus the associated directives. Great for both trafficked men and women.

so paternity leave did nothing for fathers then john?

olgaga Wed 06-Mar-13 07:55:30

You can find a handy summary of the influence of the EU on our discrimination laws here:

UK law relating to sex discrimination has been influenced by a number of EU developments including:

- Equal Pay Directive 1975 (75/117)

- Equal Treatment Directive 1976 (76/207, as amended by 2002/73) Moreover, the principle of equal pay is enshrined in the Treaty of Rome itself (article 141). There has also been a flow of significant cases from the ECJ. Seven EU sex equality directives have been combined into one, 2006/54, for implementation by member states by 15 August 2008.

- The EU's race directive of 2000 (2000/43)has principle of equal treatment irrespective of race or ethnic origin is found in it. A general framework directive (2000/78) aims to eliminate inequalities based on religion, belief, disability, age and sexual orientation

This site is also useful.

zipzap Wed 06-Mar-13 14:54:58

straightened cucumbers? grin

<slinks off whistling nonchalantly before being booted out for not being serious on a serious thread>

Oh and yes - ignoring the huge very reliable stats about the differing risks of males and females having accidents in cars - to the computers working out the risks they were just another set of variables that provided a reliable indicator. Insurance companies must have been rubbing their hands in glee at the thought that they could raise their female prices to the same as their male prices and make significant profits from them.

Shame they didn't legislate that they could only make the same amount of profit from males and females, rather than charge them the same!

Suttyshotty Wed 06-Mar-13 19:39:02

You can't blame the EU for car insurance, blame the insurers! The EU said insurers had to have equality so did they reduce men's premiums and not make quite such massive profits, no they increased women's premiums, and thus their obscene profits yet further. They are just as big crooks as banks but as they fund the Tory party, it goes unnoticed hmm

The EU does a good job, despite this governments best efforts to avoid implementing any policies which might actually help British people.....ooo I've proper got my dander up!

zipzap Thu 07-Mar-13 00:41:24

shureshotty we can blame the EU for saying that we had to have 'equality' for the car insurance though.

The thing is - the insurers didn't just pluck a number out of the air when we needed a quote and decide that 'ooh she's a pretty wee female so I'll give her a good quote'. They have huge data sets on which they run massive analyses of loads of different variables - of which gender is one, but also include where we live, how old we are, our occupation, what sort of car we drive and so on. The evidence very clearly shows that, as a group, young male drivers are significantly more dangerous on the road (and therefore cost them more in insurance payouts). As it shows that young drivers are more dangerous on the roads than older drivers.

As it is, this has made things unequal for females paying for car insurance. We now get a quote for insurance that is based on all our major risk factors, bar one that insurers has a significant impact on the likelihood of us needing to claim on insurance. Why didn't the EU go the whole hog and say that they can't use age in their risk assessments either? Why not say that they just have to charge everybody a flat fee regardless of whether or not they are a high risk driver? It's just extrapolating the same principle (and isn't age discrimination also illegal in the EU?) and yet most people would think it was an absurd thing to do. There would be a few winners (think boy racers...) and a lot of losers (pretty much everybody else, especially if you are older and/or female).

Looking at the amount paid by men and women and saying that equality in this case is that they pay the same amount for their car insurance is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at an issue that shows no understanding of true equality. What has actually happened is that equality in this case means that women have to pay a higher percentage premium for their insurance cover when compared to their known risks as a group when compared with an equivalent group of males with the same risk factors (apart from the male/female one obviously).

And yes, I know it works in reverse for women's annuity rates but again, I don't think that is discriminating against women per se, it's making an informed judgement on the risks faced by the different groups that is backed up with lots of data. And yes, I do think that they should charge/payout men and women differently - even though I'd lose out on that one.

EmmelineGoulden Thu 07-Mar-13 09:39:50

Sex is one of the things insurance companies use, and there is a correlation, but that doesn't make it a causal or fair risk factor. It might be that different races or ethnic backgrounds are also associated with higher or lower insurance claims, but we don't as a society allow insurance companies to use that. Why do we let them use sex?

Equally with annuities, there is a correlation between being female and living longer, but it's not clear that it's causal. It's also true that women tend to drink less and smoke less, are more likely to be a healthy weight and more likely to look after their health. Even when things like smoking and drinking are factored in, they tend to be factored in in a gross way, and women are still at the lower end of usage statistics (e.g. when you look at "smokers" as a group, or any level of "smoking", women on average will smoke fewer cigarettes than men).

Correlation is not causation. In a gendered society many factors will cluster around each gender, it doesn't make it "fair" that an individual has to play within their gender though. That is one of the big things that anti-sex discrimination legislation is supposed to try to fight, leveling the playing field so people can act without the oppression of gendered expectations. I think the EU's ruling on the insurance industry was a big step forward for women's liberation.

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