Challenges remain in gender equality says EU report

Improving gender equality is vital in driving a European economic recovery, an annual report by the European Commission (EC) has said.

Looking at progress in gender equality in employment, the economy, and society in general over the past year, the EC concluded that while progress has been made - particularly in increasing the number of women in top business roles and narrowing the gender pay gap - 'major' challenges remain.

According to the report, countries in the EU need to increase the number of women in the labour market if they are to meet EU objectives of a 75 per cent employment rate for all adults by 2020. The employment rate for women is currently 62.1 per cent, compared to 75.1 per cent for men.

The EC believes that promotion of a better work-life balance including adequate childcare, more flexible working arrangements and suitable tax and benefit systems, would encourage more women to enter and remain in the labour market.

Across the EU, the gender pay gap has narrowed slightly, with women earning 16.4 per cent less than men for every hour worked.

However, the slow progress - particularly in narrowing the gender gap at executive levels - risks holding back innovation and growth in Europe, according to the EC. It also said that a better balance between women and men in economic decision-making positions could bolster Europe's competiveness.

Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission in charge of justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said: "The economic case for getting more women into the workforce and more women into top jobs in the EU is overwhelming."

"We can only reach our economic and employment goals by making full use of all our human resources - both in the labour market as a whole and at the top. This is an essential part of our economic recovery plans."

The EC's Gender Equality Strategy, implemented in 2010 for the next five years, hopes to obtain equality in decision-making, economic independence, pay, and raise female employment rates in the EU.