Incorporation of equal opportunities into Community policies

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Incorporation of equal opportunities into Community policies

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Incorporation of equal opportunities into Community policies


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Employment and social policy > Equality between men and women

Incorporation of equal opportunities into Community policies

The European Union sets out the principle that the gender perspective should systematically be taken into account in all Community policies and actions; this should be done actively and openly at the planning stage.

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission of 21 February 1996 “Incorporating equal opportunities for women and men into all Community policies and activities” [COM(96) 67 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The principle of ‘gender mainstreaming’ consists of taking systematic account of the differences between the conditions, situations and needs of women and men in all Community policies and actions. This global, horizontal approach requires the mobilisation of all policies.

The Communication first presents the acquis communautaire on equality and the outlook for action in various areas:

  • employment and the labour market: the Commission intends to continue to structure a legal framework for equal opportunities, and to rationalise and improve the integration of its measures to support studies of female entrepreneurship and the reconciliation of family and working life;
  • women entrepreneurs and assisting spouses in SMEs, including the agriculture and fisheries sectors: the Commission intends to reinforce measures to help women in SMEs, in particular by improving flexibility of work, vocational qualifications, and access to finance;
  • education and training; all Community activities in the fields of education, training or youth designed to incorporate equal opportunities, either as a specific objective or an additional priority;
  • people’s rights: the Commission has mounted actions to combat violence against women and the trafficking in people and to reintegrate into society the victims of such traffic, while activities to improve the safety and integrity of female refugees are being envisaged;
  • development cooperation: the Commission intends to continue to incorporate the principle of gender mainstreaming in Community development policies and in development cooperation agreements with developing countries, using strategies set out in the Commission’s Communication on integrating gender issues in development cooperation [COM(1995) 423 final – Not published in the Official Journal];
  • staff policy: the Commission has applied an equal opportunities policy to its staff for many years through positive action programmes.

The second part of the Communication describes the role of the Structural Funds, the Community’s main financial instrument and one which is used in relation to several of these areas with a view to promoting equal opportunities.

The progressive implementation of these guidelines calls for a significant increase in cooperation within the Commission’s departments and strengthening of the partnership with the Member States and the various players and organisations concerned.


The Commissions Communication follows on from the European Community’s participation in the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women,held in Beijing in September 1995.

Related Acts

Communication from the Commission, of 7 June 2000 – Towards a Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005)» [COM(2000) 335 final – Not published in the Official Journal]

The European Union drew up a Community framework strategy on gender equality to allow the issue of equal opportunities to be incorporated in all Community activities so that these activities help to achieve the objective of eliminating inequality and promoting gender equality. There is also a related Community action programme on equal opportunities which provides financial support.

Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union, of 7 December 2000 [OJ C 364 of 18.12.2000]

Article 23(1): “Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.”

Progress report from the Commission on the follow-up to the Communication: ‘Incorporating equal opportunities for women and men into all Community policies and activities’ [COM(98) 122 final – Not published in the Official Journal]

The report notes that significant progress has been made since 1996 in taking account of equal opportunities for women and men in Community policies and activities. Under the aegis of the Commissioners’ Group on equal opportunities, a new structure has been put in place comprising an official from each Directorate-General, whose specific task is to promote equal opportunities for women and men. Its objective is to systematically incorporate the equal opportunities dimension into all Community activities.

Three policy areas should be noted in particular with regard to the results achieved: external relations; employment and social policy; and education, training and youth policies. The report examines in detail the progress made in these areas.

The report also mentions progress in other sectors, such as the cooperation between the Member States to combat trafficking in human beings, the prevention of violence against women, the increasing priority accorded to women who are the victims of armed conflict, and the importance which the Commission’s modernisation programme attaches to equal opportunities.

The report also notes significant shortcomings and barriers, with many initiatives remaining isolated and therefore without major impact on the overall situation in the area of gender equality. The barriers include, in particular, lack of awareness of gender issues at the decision-making levels, lack of human and budgetary resources allocated to these tasks and lack of gender expertise.

Among other things, the report recommends: raising awareness of the gender dimension, targeting as a priority senior and middle management; training to develop gender expertise; gender impact assessment of policies as a regular procedure; systematic gender proofing of any legislative proposal or other policy document.

In order to make further progress, incorporation of the gender dimension requires a more comprehensive global approach.


The Spring European Council held on 20/21 March 2003 invited the Commission “to prepare, in collaboration with the Member States, an annual report to the Spring European Council on developments towards gender equality and orientations for gender mainstreaming of policy areas”.

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