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Implementing EU legislation

Implementing EU legislation on equal treatment of men and women

The effective application of EU gender equality legislation at national level remains one of the biggest challenges.

The Commission is constantly monitoring the correct application and enforcement of the existing EU legal framework on gender equality in Member States and supports them as well as other stakeholders in the proper implementation of existing rules.

EU law obliges Member States to ensure that the burden of proof for cases of sex discrimination in their legal systems lies with the defendant. This means that provided the plaintiff can establish, before a court, facts from which direct or indirect discrimination may be presumed to exist, it is for the defendant to prove that there has been no breach of the principle of equal treatment. Countries may introduce evidential rules which are more favorable to the plaintiff.

Directive 2004/113/EC on gender equality in the access to and supply of goods and services and Directive 2006/54/EC on gender equality in employment and occupation require Member States to designate and make the necessary arrangements for a body or bodies for the promotion, analysis, monitoring and support of equal treatment of all persons without discrimination.
According to these Directives, equality bodies have to carry out at least the following specific tasks: (i)

  • providing independent assistance to victims of discrimination in pursuing the complaints of discrimination;
  • conducting independent surveys concerning discrimination;
  • and publishing independent reports and making recommendations on any issue related to such discrimination.

Equality bodies play a key role in the effective implementation of the gender equality directives and have significant potential in assisting victims of discrimination, empowering civil society, supporting good practice by employers and service providers, raising awareness of rights and obligations, contributing to quality public policy making, and supporting a culture of rights and equality in the Member States.

All Member States have established equality bodies. Although significant differences exist between them (in terms of competences, structure, operation and financial/human resources), as a minimum, full implementation of the directives requires Member States to ensure that the bodies they designate as equality bodies are able to carry out the tasks given to them in the directives effectively.