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Women driving EU job growth – but still face barriers to equality


Three out of four new jobs created in the EU are being taken by women, but important gaps with men remain, according to a new European Commission report. Despite higher educational achievements, women continue to be employed less – and paid less – than men. The 2007 'Annual report on equality between women and men' will be submitted to EU leaders at the Spring European Council on 8-9 March. The report is the first since the Commission launched its Gender Roadmap and EU leaders adopted the Pact for Gender Equality in March 2006.

"Women are driving job growth in Europe and are helping us reach our economic targets, but they still face too many barriers to realising their full potential," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "Out of 8 million jobs created in the EU since 2000, 6 million were filled by women, and 59% of university graduates are now female. But while women are outperforming men in educational achievement and boosting Europe's overall employment rate, they are still underpaid, earning on average 15% less than men for every hour worked."

Women's employment rate now stands at 56.3% – or 2.7 points above the 2000 level – compared with a 0.1 percentage point rise for men over the same period, according to the report. Similarly, the employment rate for women over 55 has risen significantly faster than that for men, now standing at 33.7% – almost 7 percentage points more than in 2000.

But while the number of women completing higher education now exceeds men, their employment rate remains 15 percentage points lower than men's and they continue to face a pay gap of 15%. The increase in female employment is mainly in sectors and jobs already dominated by women and which are generally less well paid. Women also face greater difficulties in reaching decision making positions. This is in contrast to the results of Eurobarometer survey published on January 2007 where a large majority of Europeans said that more women are needed in management positions (77%) and as Members of Parliament (72 %). Overall, the 2007 report makes it clear that more can be done to make full use of the productive potential of the workforce.

Work-life balance is pinpointed as a key area in achieving greater equality between women and men. It is striking that the employment rate for women aged 20-49 falls by 15 percentage points when they have a child, while that of men increases by six points. In addition, women have a disproportionately high recourse to part-time work (32.9%) compared with men (7.7%). The report highlights multiple barriers to a better work-life balance, including lack of childcare provision, financial factors, career setbacks, the risk of losing one's skills, the difficulties of returning to employment and the pressure to conform to stereotypes.

Since greater equality depends on a better gender balance in the distribution of private and family responsibilities, reviewing existing provisions for parental leave is crucial. Gender equality policies also need to be actively supported by Structural Funds over the period 2007-2013, says the report. In addition, the new PROGRESS funding programme contains a section dedicated to gender equality. Finally, the report underlines the importance of effectively implementing all relevant legislation.

Alongside the annual report, the European Commission is publishing two independent studies by academic experts. The first examines the gender pay gap and will be followed by a Commission Communication planned for the summer. The second looks at the position 0604 of disadvantaged women and the gender dimension of poverty and social exclusion.

In the context of International Women's Day, the issue of women in decision-making was addressed in a high-level conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 6 March. The event attracted more than 200 participants and brought five female Members of the Commission together with top women from the world of business.

For more information:

- 2007 report on equality between women and men

The gender pay gap – origins and policy responses (expert report)

Gender inequalities in the risks of poverty and social exclusion for disadvantaged groups in thirty European countries (expert report)

2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All