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Equality between men and women is one of the fundamental values of the European Union. It was enshrined in the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community in 1957. Way back then, that treaty also enshrined the principle of “equal pay for equal work”, later expanded to include “work of equal value”. Nonetheless, for all the progress that has been made, inequalities remain between the sexes today – in employment and pay, in levels of unpaid work and in pensions. These inequalities have become even more obvious during the COVID‑19 crisis. For one thing, many of those doing what are now referred to as key jobs, often for low wages, are women. For another, they often take on a large proportion of the childcare, caring and housework in their families alongside their paid employment. 

It is therefore Germany’s intention to inject new impetus into gender-equality efforts in Europe during its Presidency of the Council of the EU. It will work to mitigate the negative economic and social consequences that the crisis has had for women. The German Presidency actively advocates putting into practice the doctrine of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, advancing gender equality, and combating sexual and gender-based violence. Germany sees it as very positive that the Commission’s new Gender Equality Strategy covers equality between women and men in the labour market.

Over and above that, Germany will be pushing throughout Europe to see fair valuation and distribution as well as genuine partnership in the division of paid and unpaid work between women and men. A separate priority is gender equality in the arts, where the focus will be particularly on raising visibility and improving equal opportunities in the cultural and creative industries.

What exactly is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s average gross hourly pay, without bonuses. Although increasing numbers of women in the EU have university degrees, they earn nearly 15 percent less per hour, on average, than men. That figure varies widely from country to country within Europe. 

How can the gender pay gap be explained?

These figures need to be interpreted with a certain degree of caution, as they are based on the pay earned in all sectors of the economy. In the EU, there are many reasons why rates of pay differ. In some countries, for example, the pay gap can be traced to the concentration of women in a few often badly remunerated professions, the low ratio of women to men in top jobs and the high numbers of women who work part-time. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), 31 percent of working women in the EU aged 20 to 64 work part-time, while the equivalent statistic for men is only 8 percent. The unequal distribution of housework and family responsibilities further exacerbates the inequalities. 

How does Germany’s Council Presidency intend to reduce gender inequality in collaboration with the European Commission? 

The German Presidency intends to particularly focus on furthering pay equality between women and men and combating sexual and gender-based violence. It appears that fair valuation and distribution of paid and unpaid work between the sexes will be key to effectively reducing the gender pay gap in Europe. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how important not only paid but also unpaid work is to the economic stability and well-being of our societies.

To better protect women from violence in times of crisis, Germany will continue to push for the EU and all member states to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. Germany ratified the Istanbul Convention on 12 October 2017.

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