The European Union’s achievements in fostering equality between women and men have helped to change the lives of many European citizens for the better and provide the foundation on which we now have to build a genuinely gender-equal society. In 1975, the principle of equal pay for equal work was successfully invoked to defend Gabrielle Defrenne, who was an air hostess working for the Belgian national airline, and the rights stemming from the Defrenne case are an unshakable legacy for women in the European Union.

The case led to the adoption of the first European directives on gender equality. Some encouraging recent trends include the increased number of women on the labour market and their progress in securing better education and training.

However, gender gaps remain in many areas and in the labour market women are still overrepresented in lower paid sectors and under-represented in decision-making positions. Parenthood keeps female employment rates down, and women continue to work more unpaid hours than men at home. Inequalities between women and men violate fundamental rights. They also impose a heavy toll on the economy and result in underutilisation of talent. On the other hand, economic and business benefits can be gained from enhancing gender equality.

In order to achieve the objectives of Europe 2020, namely smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the potential and the talent pool of women need to be used more extensively and more efficiently. Gender roles continue to influence crucial individual decisions: on education, on career paths, on working arrangements, on family and on fertility. These decisions in turn have an impact on the economy and society. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to offer genuine choices equally for women and men throughout the different stages of their lives.

Equality is one of five values on which the Union is founded. The Union is bound to strive for equality between women and men in all  its activities. The Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for such equality and prohibits sex discrimination. In March 2010, to mark the 15th anniversary of the declaration and platform for action adopted at the Beijing UN World Conference on Women and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of

Discrimination against Women, the Commission adopted the Women’s Charter, in which the Commission renewed its commitment to gender equality and to strengthening the gender perspective in all its policies.

Building on the Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010, as well as the European Pact for Gender Equality, this Strategy spells out actions under five priority areas defined in the Women’s Charter, and one area addressing cross-cutting issues. For each priority area, key actions to stimulate change and achieve progress are described and more detailed proposals are to be found in the accompanying staff working paper.

The actions proposed follow the dual approach of gender mainstreaming (meaning the integration of the gender dimension in all policy areas) and specific measures. The Strategy represents the work programme of the European Commission on gender equality, aiming additionally to stimulate developments at national level and to provide the basis for cooperation with the other European institutions and with stakeholders.