Women and the EU

What has Europe done for women?

Linda is one of five female Labour MEPs in the European Parliament where 35% of members are women - much higher than the House of Commons (22%). The European Union has traditionally done much to protect the rights of women as workers, mothers, citizens and as pensioners. In 1957, in the first EU Treaty, one of the provisions was for equal pay for equal work for men and women workers. This was 13 years before the United Kingdom adopted its own legislation on equal pay.

The European Parliament has played a significant part in supporting the equal opportunities policy particularly since it established its Committee of Women's Rights and Gender Equality in 1984.

10 ways the EU has helped girls and women 

The EU works to protect women's rights - not just inside EU but right across the world. Download the pdf here.

Equal pay for equal work and more rights for part-time workers

Paid holidays
Strongly backed by Labour MEPs this EU law means that  since 2009 workers have been given the automatic right to 28 days (20 days and eight Bank Holidays) annual paid holiday and a guarantee of at least one day off each week.

Shorter working hours
Under the Working Time Directive employees are no longer obliged to work more than 48 hours per week, are guaranteed breaks and night shifts are restricted to eight hours.

Equal rights for part-time workers
Nearly half of British women workers work part time. In the past many women lost out but since July 2000 part-time workers have had equal rights to pro-rata paid leave, pensions, maternity rights, access to training and other company perks and benefits.

Better rights for agency workers
More than half of agency workers are women, and from October 2011 via the Temporary Agency Worker Directive agency workers will have more clearly defined rights. This means better access to childcare and same rights as permanent staff including pay and holidays after 12 calendar weeks on an assignment.

Better maternity and parental rights

Maternity rights
In the past women had to work for the same employer for two years before being entitled to maternity rights.  EU law has since set a baseline of 26 weeks working for the same employer continuously into the 15th week before the baby is due in order to get maternity rights.

Parental leave
An EU law passed in 2002 means that any parent with a child under five has the right to a minimum of 13 weeks unpaid parental leave to be taken when they choose before the child's fifth birthday.

Right to return to work
EU laws now give new maternity rights which means a woman's job, though not her specific post must be held open so she can return without loss of status or pay. Many older women will remember the days when getting pregnant meant losing your job.


Equal rights to a pension
Pensioner poverty is a real problem for women many who have been excluded from company pension schemes because they took breaks to have children or because they worked part time. EU law now prevents discrimination and guarantees equal rights for all social security benefits.

Protecting women: Zero tolerance on violence against women

The EU has adopted of measures in combating Human Trafficking. Traffickers in human beings are to face tougher penalties for their crime and victims will be entitled to better protection and assistance, under a new EU law. The new rules apply to trafficking in the sex industry or labour exploitation in, for example, construction work, farming or domestic service.

In April 2011 the EU adopted a resolution on priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework which is working on legislation against Gender Based Violence including the harmful customary or traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation.

The Daphne 111 programme (2007-2013) is a Community programme aimed to prevent and combat violence against children, young people and women.

Other issues which affect women

European Protection Order
This will mean that crime victims, such as women who have suffered abuse, and who have already been granted protection in one EU Member State (eg: through a restraining order) will be able to get similar protection if they move to another EU Member State.

Food labelling
New EU rules will guarantee more transparent nutritional information for consumers, including on salt and saturated fat content - this is important for both men and women, but it is a little known fact that heart disease is the number one cause of death amongst women.

Climate change
Preventing dangerous climate change is crucial for the future of this planet. But there is also a gender dimension: the UN has found that in developing countries, it is women who will be worst affected - as they tend to be the poorest and most vulnerable, and also do most of the agricultural work.

Labour in Europe - European Parliamentary Labour Party
Linda and Fairtrade
Linda and Fairtrade As the founder and chair of the European Parliament's working group on Fairtrade, Linda is proud to represent Yorkshire, the UK's first Fairtrade region, boasting 40 cities, towns and villages with Fairtrade campaigns. More about Linda and Fairtrade >