International Women’s Day 2019: more equality, but change is too slow

women soccer

(Jeffrey F Lin, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, the Commission has published its 2019 report on equality between women and men in the EU. The good news is that Europe is making progress; however, we must speed up change.

The Juncker Commission has acted on all fronts to improve the lives of women in Europe, by fighting violence against women, closing the gender pay gap, and by establishing better work-life balance conditions for families.

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President said today: “We are in 2019 and progress in the area of gender equality is still at a snail’s pace. In some countries the situation is even regressing. All we ask for is: equality for all. Nothing more, but nothing less either. It’s time women and men push for equality together.”

Vĕra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, added: Women are still underrepresented in politics across the EU, this also goes for the European institutions. I want to see more women running for election. We should lead by example: I call on Member States to present more female candidates as future European Commissioners.”

Today’s report shows some progress in gender equality, but women still continue to face inequalities in many areas:

  • The EU employment rate for women reached an all-time high of 66.4 % in 2017, but the situation differs across Member States. Last year, eight Member States received recommendations under the European Semester framework to improve female participation in the labour market (Austria, Czechia, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Slovakia).
  • Women are more at risk of poverty, with salaries on average 16% lower than for men. This translates in the pension gap, which stood at 35.7 % in 2017. In some countries, more than 10 % of older women cannot afford necessary health care.
  • Women remain largely under-represented in Parliaments and government. Only 6 of the 28 national parliaments across the EU are led by a woman and seven out of ten members of national parliaments in the EU are men. While the current level of 30.5 % female senior Ministers is the highest since data were first available for all EU Member States in 2004, there is still evidence suggesting that women tend to be allocated portfolios considered to have lower political priority.
  • The glass-ceiling remains a reality in the business world with only 6.3 % of CEO positions in major publicly listed companies in the EU held by women.

Sharing caring responsibilities with new EU Work-life Balance rules

The recent agreement on the Work life balance Directive sets a European minimum standard of 10 days of paid paternity leave for fathers following the birth of their child, compensated at the sick pay level. It strengthens the existing right to 4 months of parental leave, by making 2 months non-transferable between parents and introducing compensation for these 2 months at a level to be determined by the Member States.It also includes provisions for carer’s leave by attributing 5 days per worker per year, as a new European entitlement for workers. Last but not least, the new rules strengthen the right for all parents and carers to request flexible working arrangements.

Women in the European Parliament and in the European Commission

In November 2018, women accounted for 36.4 % of the 749 members of the European Parliament (MEPs), slightly down from the peak of 37.3 % that was reached at the end of 2016. Finland stands out clearly with 76.9 % of its MEPs being women. The representatives of seven Member States include at least 40 % of each gender (Ireland, Spain, France, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, and Sweden, while over 80% of MEPs from Bulgaria, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, and Hungary are men).

Within the European Commission, sustained efforts to meet the 40 % target of women in its middle and senior management by 2019, set by President Jean-Claude Juncker are showing results. The proportion of female managers has reached 39 % at all levels, 37 % at senior management level and 40 % at middle management level.


Equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union and one that has been enshrined in the Treaty from the very beginning, as the Rome Treaty included a provision on equal pay.

The current Commission’s work on gender equality policy is based on the “Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019“, which focuses on five priority areas:

  • increasing female labour-market participation and the equal economic independence of women and men;
  • reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps and thus fighting poverty among women;
  • promoting equality between women and men in decision-making;
  • combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims; and
  • promoting gender equality and women’s rights across the world.

For More Information    

2019 Gender Equality report

Public consultation on equal pay – open until 5 April 2019

Call for proposals to prevent and combat gender-based violence and violence against children, youth people and women – open until 13 June 2019

Spotlight: EU action for women



Figure 1: Proportion of female members of the European Parliament, November 2018

Image 1

Source: European Parliament

Figure 2: Proportion of women and men on the boards of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU, October 2018

Image 2

Source: European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender Statistics Database

Figure 3: Proportion of women among board chairs and CEOs in largest publicly listed companies in the EU, 2003-2018

Image 3

Source: European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender Statistics Database

Key gender equality indicators

Image 4

Note: The best five performing countries are marked in green. The five least performing countries are marked in red.

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