SDG 5 - Gender equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Data extracted in October 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables. Planned article update: September 2018.

This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 5 ‘gender equality’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.

This article is part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’ Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context (2017 edition)’. This report is the first edition of Eurostat’s future series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.

Table 1 summarises the developments of the indicators monitoring SDG 5 ‘gender equality’ in the EU over the short- and long-term periods. The indicator trends are described on the basis of a set of specific quantitative rules. Trends are visually represented by arrows: green upward arrows show progress towards the sustainable development goals while red downward arrows show movements away from them. The inclination of the arrows takes into account the speed of change.

Table 1: Evaluation of changes in SDG 5 on gender equality, EU-28
Figure 1: Gender equality in the EU

Monitoring SDG 5 ‘gender equality’ in an EU context focuses on the sub-themes ‘gender-based violence’, ‘education’, ‘employment’ and ‘leadership positions’. The EU’s progress in these areas has been rather mixed, as Table 5.1 shows. The next few pages provide an overview of the main trends at EU level, followed by more detailed analyses in dedicated indicator sections.

Gender equality in the EU: overview and key trends

Equality between women and men is one of the EU's founding values. It goes back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay for equal work became part of the Treaty of Rome (Art. 157) [1]. Moreover, gender equality is a fundamental human right. Without realising gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, full achievement of human potential and of sustainable development is not possible. SDG 5 calls for action to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is a brutal form of discrimination and a violation of fundamental human rights. It is both a cause and a consequence of inequalities between women and men. Physical and sexual violence against women by a partner or a non-partner affects their health and well-being. Moreover, it can hamper women's access to employment with negative effects on their financial independence and the economy overall [2]. Thus, eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres is crucial. Until the 1990s, most Member States considered violence against women a private matter in which the state should not interfere [3]. In 2012, gender-based violence was still a reality in the EU, with every third woman reporting to have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, and 8 % experiencing such violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.


Equal access to quality education is an important foundation for gender equality and an essential element of sustainable development. Equipping people with the right skills allows them to find quality jobs and improve their chances in life. Early leavers from education and training may face considerable difficulties in the labour market. For example, they may find it difficult to obtain a secure foothold, because employers may be more reluctant to take them on with their limited education. In the EU, men are more likely to leave education and training early. In 2016, 12.2 % of men and 9.2 % of women aged 18 to 24 had left education and training with at most lower secondary education. Since 2002, these shares have fallen steadily. Progress was stronger for men, resulting in a narrowing of the gender gap from 4.1 percentage points in 2002 to 3 percentage points in 2016.

Nowadays, completing compulsory education is often not considered sufficient. Thus, having a degree from a university or other higher education institution is becoming more important both for men and women. Tertiary education is considered to have an essential role in society, by fostering innovation, increasing economic development and growth, and improving more generally the well-being of citizens. Since the introduction of the Bologna process, a major expansion in higher education systems has taken place in the EU. The share of the population aged 30 to 34 who completed tertiary education increased steadily between 2002 and 2016. However, while the proportion of women with tertiary educational attainment rose from 24.5 % to 43.9 %, the increase was much slower for men, from 22.6 % to 34.4 %. This means the gender gap increased considerably, from 1.9 to 9.5 percentage points between 2002 and 2016.

While women are more successful in education, the picture is different when it comes to employment. Already the Employment rate of recent employment rate of recent graduates was higher for men than women. This reversed gender gap is remarkable considering the important role of education and training in raising employability. In 2016, the share of employed graduates aged 20 to 34 with at least upper secondary qualifications and having left education and training in the past one to three years was 80.8 % among men and 76.0 % among women, very similar to the shares in 2006. Up to 2008, the employment rate of recent female graduates had been catching up to that of men, however, these improvements were cancelled out by the economic crisis in the following years.


High employment rates for both men and women is a key target of the EU. Reducing the gender employment gap — the difference between the employment rates of men and women aged 20 to 64 — is important for equality and a sustainable economy. While the gender employment gap narrowed between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of men of working age in employment still exceeded that of women by 11.6 percentage points.

Moreover, there is a persistent gender pay gap, for which there are several reasons. These include family responsibilities, gender roles and traditions, occupational possibilities for part-time employment, societal norms that affect educational and career choices, and a lack of women in senior and executive level positions [4]. In 2015, women’s gross hourly earnings in the EU were on average 16.3 % below those of men. The gender pay gap was almost the same as five years ago. Because of the gender pay gap and shorter working lives, women earn less over their lifetimes than men. This results in lower pensions and a risk of poverty in old age [5].

There is also a gender gap with regard to inactivity rates. Inactivity rates of women are an indication of the social customs of a country, attitudes towards women in the labour force and family structures in general [6]. The gender gap is particularly pronounced regarding inactivity due to caring responsibilities. Caring responsibilities for children or incapacitated adults and other family or personal responsibilities were the main reasons why 30.7 % of women aged 20 to 64 who were not part of the labour force were economically inactive in 2016. In comparison, only 4.3 % of men outside the labour force were inactive due to caring responsibilities. This represents a considerable increase in the gender gap, from 24.1 percentage points in 2011 to 26.4 percentage points in 2016.

Leadership positions

Traditional gender roles, a lack of support to allow women and men to balance care responsibilities with work, and political and corporate cultures are some of the reasons why women are underrepresented in decision-making processes. Promoting equality between women and men in decision-making is one of the areas the EU has set as a priority for achieving gender equality. With regard to political decision-making, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (both houses, where relevant) has risen almost steadily since 2003. Nevertheless, in 2017 women still held less than one third (28.9 %) of seats in national parliaments across the EU.

The proportion of women in senior management positions has increased between 2003 and 2017. However, women still account for less than one in four (24.6 %) board members of the largest listed companies in 2017. The almost steady increase, by a total of 16.1 percentage points since 2003, was helped by binding legislations in some Member States [7]. When considering not only board members, but executive members of the two highest decision-making bodies of the largest listed companies, the share of women has also grown in the last five years. Nevertheless, less than one out of six of all of senior executives (15.6 %) in 2017 was female.


The global perspective on SDG 5

Despite significant progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, discrimination and violence against women and girls still persists in every part of the world. SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality by ending all forms of discrimination, violence and any harmful practices against women and girls in the public and private spheres. It also recognises the importance of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for combating gender inequality. To promote women’s social and economic empowerment, SDG 5 calls for recognition and value of unpaid care and domestic work; equal rights and access to economic and natural resources, technology, property and basic and financial services; as well as full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of political and economic decision-making for women. The adoption of sound policies and legislation to promote gender equality are seen as essential for eliminating gender discrimination and fostering women’s empowerment in all societal spheres. Likewise, the enhanced use of enabling technologies will also help to empower women [8].

See also

Further Eurostat information


Socioeconomic Development

Dedicated section


More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’ Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context (2017 edition)’.

Further reading on gender equality


  1. European Commission (2017), Gender equality, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers.
  2. Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (2017), Zero tolerance of violence against women.
  3. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, Main results, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 7.
  4. European Commission (2014), Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 5–7.
  5. European Commission (2017), 2017 Report on equality between women and men in the EU.
  6. ILO (2015), Key Indicators of the Labour market: Full report, Ninth Edition, p. 17.
  7. I. Burkevica et al. (2015), Gender Equality in Power and Decision-Making, Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the EU Member States, Publication for the EIGE, Publications Office of the European Union, p. 7–8.
  8. Source: United Nations; United Nations Development Programme; UN Factsheets ‘Why it matters’ and World Bank Group, (2017), Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2017 from World Development Indicators.