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Gender roles and sex equality

New Study on sex equality in European social security systems

by Ingeborg Heide

An interesting study on Gender roles and sex equality: European solutions to social security disputes has recently been published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva. The author, Ingeborg Heide, undertook an analysis on gender equality in various social security systems, and has come to the following conclusions:

In the European Union – like almost everywhere in the world – women are disadvantaged in terms of income and social security. This is partly a result of traditional features of the prevalent “male breadwinner” systems, which reflect the traditional division of paid and unpaid work between men and women in society, and are characterized by sex-related distinctions. In addition, women are concentrated in irregular forms of work at the bottom of the income scale and often excluded from access to statutory and employer-financed social security. Men may be disadvantaged as survivors or as persons delivering family care.

The principle of equal pay, originally enshrined in the Treaty of Rome to prevent distortion of competition, has become the most relevant basis for implementing sex equality. Specific directives, adopted at the supra-national level since the mid-1970s, have extended the concept of sex equality to equal treatment at the workplace, and to statutory and occupational pension schemes. While these instruments allow certain distinctions based on sex, the European Court of Justice construes the principle of pay equality broadly to require absolute equality between the sexes.

That equality principle is valid for all employer-financed pension schemes (whether partly or entirely financed by the employer), for pensions in the public service, and for any other pension schemes designed for a particular category of workers. Even where distinctions between the sexes are permitted, this does not justify different treatment of men and women at the workplace in the context of early retirement, old-age part-time work, or dismissal.

The Member States of the European Union, as well as Iceland, Norway of Liechtenstein (which belong to the European Economic Area), are required to periodically review and gradually remove such distinctions, and to grant access to justice and effective legal remedy in cases of violations of equality rights. The States can be held financially liable for breaches of European law by the national authorities in their role as employers, if a directive is not implemented in time or correctly, and for manifest violations by the national judiciary of their duty to apply the burden of proof correctly or to involve the European Court of Justice.

Knowledge of supra-national law and the machinery to enforce it is essential to overcome sex-related disadvantages. In its first part, the book describes how European law is made and how it operates. The second part deals with the specific instruments and their interpretation by the European Court of Justice. A checklist for legal practitioners and the relevant legislation are provided in the annex. The book is available as hard copy and online version.

September 28. 2004 by Ingeborg Heide, Wirtschaftswetter
words © Ingeborg Heide, ILO
copy title LO
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The book: Gender roles and sex equality: European solutions to social security disputes
ISBN: 92-2-115771-7/ISBN web version: 92-2-115772-5
Personal author: Ingeborg Heide
Corporate author: International Labour Organization (ILO), Social Security Policy and Development Branch

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