What does the Lisbon treaty say?The opening article of the Lisbon treaty clarifies that the fundamental values of the European Union are “non-discrimination, (…) and equality between women and men”.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights states that “equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay”; and that “the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex” (Article 23). This means that it will still be legal to positively discriminate in favour of women, for example when attempting to increase the number of women in parliament. The Charter also declares that “discrimination on any ground such as sex (…) shall be prohibited” (Article 21).
In sum, the Lisbon treaty retains all of the existing EU provisions on equality between women and men; and gives new emphasis to gender equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex
What has Europe done to date?1. Equal Pay
Equal treatment for women and men was a founding principle of the EU in 1957. In Ireland, this principle is upheld through the Employment Equality Act 1998, which replaces the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974 and the Employment Equality Act 1977. Directive 79/7 ensures equal treatment in Social Security.
2. Maternity Rights
It is through Ireland’s membership of the EU that maternity rights were granted, and protection for pregnant and breastfeeding women at work was introduced. Recently, the EU has increased maternity leave from a minimum of 14 to 18 weeks, with 75% pay.
3. Part-time and flexible working
Women in Ireland are four times more likely than men to work part time. The EU has required member states to legislate to protect part time workers, and to increase the range of jobs that are suitable for part-time work or job-sharing.
4. Parental Leave
Both mothers and fathers with children under five years old have the right to a minimum of 13 weeks parental leave, to be taken whenever they choose over a five year period. Adoptive parents of children up to 8 years old have the same right. Workers must also have the right to time off for urgent family reasons in cases of sickness or accidents. These rights all originally derive from EU law.
5. Right to return to work
Before Ireland joined the EU women working in the civil service, and some beyond, had to give up their jobs on getting married. EU law has ended that; and now, discrimination against married or pregnant women is illegal. In fact, when a woman takes maternity leave, her job must be held open so that she can return to work without any loss of payment or status.