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European Law Monitor news50 years of EU gender equality law

Gender equality has been a key principle of the EU ever since the Treaty of Rome introduced the principle of equal pay for men and women in 1957. Using the legal basis provided by the Treaties, the Union has adopted thirteen directives on gender equality since the 1970s. These have ensured, among other things, equal treatment concerning access to work, training, promotions and working conditions, including equal pay and social security benefits, as well as guaranteed rights to parental leave.

Key pieces of legislation

Equal Pay Directive • 1975

Provides that sex discrimination in respect of all aspects of pay should be eliminated.

Equal Treatment Directive • 1976

Provides that there should be no sex discrimination, either direct or indirect, nor by reference to marital or family status, in access to employment, training, working conditions, promotion or dismissal.

Social Security Directive • 1979

Requires equal treatment between women and men in statutory schemes for protection against sickness, invalidity, old age, accidents at work and occupational diseases and unemployment.

Occupational Social Security Directive • 1986

Aimed to implement equal treatment between women and men in occupational social security schemes. Amended in 1996.

Self-employment Directive • 1986

Applies principle of equal treatment between women and men to self-employed workers, including in agriculture and provides protection for self-employed women during pregnancy and motherhood.

Pregnant Workers Directive • 1992

Requires minimum measures to improve safety and health at work of pregnant women and women who have recently given birth or are breast-feeding, including a statutory right to maternity leave of at least 14 weeks.

Parental Leave Directive • 1996

Provides for all parents of children up to a given age defined by Member States, to be given at least 3 months´ parental leave and for individuals to take time off when a dependant is ill or injured.

Burden of Proof Directive • 1997

Required changes in Member States´ judicial systems so that the burden of proof is shared more fairly in cases where workers made complaints of sex discrimination against their employers.

Equal Treatment in Employment Directive • 2002

Substantially amends the 1976 Equal Treatment Directive adding definitions of indirect discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment and requiring Member States to set up equality bodies to promote, analyse, monitor and support equal treatment between women and men.

Goods and Services Directive • 2004

Applies the principle of equal treatment between women and men to access to goods and services available to the public. Extends gender equality legislation outside the employment field for the first time.

Recast Directive Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation • 2006

To enhance the transparency, clarity and coherence of the law, a directive was adopted in 2006 putting the existing provisions on equal pay, occupational schemes and "the burden of proof" into a single text.