European & International News

What Europeans think about fighting gender discrimination in the EU

[European Parliament, Brussels, 11 March 2011] A large majority of European women and men believe that women face major barriers to reaching positions of responsibility at work. However, they prefer persuasive measures to legally binding quotas for filling positions on company boards. As for the gender pay gap, priority should go to encouraging better distribution between the sexes in all kinds of jobs.

These are among the findings of a Eurobarometer survey on "Fighting against gender discrimination in the EU" presented at a journalists’ seminar in the European Parliament to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March 2011.

Women and decision-making positions

Over 72% of female respondents think that women encounter significant difficulties in accessing positions of responsibility: 72% of women think that that is true of key positions in political parties; 65% men agree with this view. While 73% of women think that the obstacles to reaching senior levels of public administration are fairly significant, only 66% of men agree. More women (78%) than men (72%) of respondents believe that significant barriers have to be overcome to access decision-making positions in big companies. In other areas, obstacles are seen as less significant but still real: SMEs (59%) and community organisations (49%).

Women and men agree in equal numbers (44%) that the most effective measures are to encourage businesses and public administrations to take measures to foster equality between men and women (a "code of good practice") and to fight stereotypes. The EU countries with the highest percentage arguing for these kinds of measures are Spain (52%), Portugal (50%) and Slovenia (49%). The Member States at the bottom of the percentage list are Germany, Estonia, Lithunia and Latvia, each of with have a percentage of 35%. More men (31%) than women (29%) think that encouraging training and support measures will prompt women to take more responsibility in firms.

Few women (20%) and men (18%) see legally binding quotas for company boards and other decision-making bodies as the most effective way to bring women into positions of responsibility. Imposing quotas by law is supported mostly by German (28%) and Austrian (25%) respondents in comparison to only 9% Latvian, 11% Greek and 11% British respondents.

Representation of women in politics

The reasons why women are underrepresented in politics are clear, according to the Eurobarometer survey. 61% of women and 57% of men think that the political world is dominated by men who do not value the skills of women enough. The majority of respondents in agreement come from Cyprus (68%), Germany (67%) and Austria (66%) whereas only 42% of Danish respondents are in agreement. The existence of persistent stereotypes is seen as the next factor (41% women, 40% men). Only 21% of Maltese surveyed in comparison to 57% Spanish think that persisting stereotypes are the reason for the underrepresentation of women in politics. The same number of women and men (28%) believe that measures to encourage parity between the sexes in politics are ineffective. More than one-quarter of men surveyed (28%, women 25%) said that women would have little interest in this type of career or do not give priority to politics.

When asked what would be the most effective way to encourage better political representation of women, men and women both agree (30%) on training and support measures to encourage women to take part in political life. Nationally speaking, for 53% of Danish this would be the best way, but only for 15% of Portuguese respondents are in favour. Only 25% (24% women, 27% men) of those questioned believe that parity on party lists would contribute to better representation of women in politics. Bulgarian (37%) and Greek (35%) respondents believe most in parity on electoral lists whereas just 10% of Irish are convinced. Imposing quotas by law during elections is seen by less than one respondent in five (19% women, 18% men) as the most effective measure. 34% Portuguese respondents lead the list, with Netherlands being at the bottom with only 5%. Even fewer respondents favour introducing a system of financial incentives or penalties for political parties to make them respect a balance between women and men.

Why people don’t vote

The main reasons that would discourage women and men from voting at the next elections would be a lack of confidence in their political representatives: 29% at European elections, 40% at the national elections and 34% at the local elections.

At European elections 22% would be discouraged by the lack of information, roughly 12% at national elections and 16 % at local elections.

The view that voting has no impact and that voting changes nothing is held more or less evenly across the three levels: European elections (19%), national elections (18%) and local elections (17%). Only 19% of people at European level are not interested in European politics, with even fewer at national (12%) and local level (14%).

Reducing the gender pay gap

The pay gap between men and women at European level was still 17% at the time of the survey. Persuasive measures are more strongly supported by respondents than binding measures. Encouraging a better distribution between men and women in all kinds of jobs (nurses, secretaries, airline pilots etc.) is regarded as a priority measure (29%, 30% women, 29% men) for reducing the pay gap.

27% of female and 22% of male respondents see financial penalties for companies which do not respect equal pay as a priority. For one respondent in four (24% overall; 22% women, 26% men), genuinely transparent pay scales within companies must be the priority. 16% of all respondents (16% women, 15% men) favour financial penalties for companies that do not respect equal opportunities for promotion.

Reconciling private and professional life

A recent Eurostat statistic shows that, at European level, the employment rate for women without children is 75% whereas it only reaches 54% for women with three children or more. In contrast, the employment rate for a man without children is 80% and 85% for a man who has three children or more.

37% of respondents (37% women, 36% men) believe better childcare provision outside the home must be the top priority, such as crèches and nurseries, at lower cost. Women and men equally (30%) see flexibility within companies and public services as important.

29% of respondents (30% women, 29% men) wish to see measures to encourage a balance between women and men in sharing domestic chores and caring for children and dependants.

EU actions to fight violence against women

When questioned about strategies the EU should adopt to fight violence against women, two respondents in five (39%, 38% women, 39% men) give priority to sharing best-practice among police authorities from different Member States on support to victims.

28% of women and fewer men (24%) favour setting up a Europe-wide free phone number for women seeking help and advice. European information campaigns are seen as a priority measure to eliminate violence against women by less than one-fifth of the respondents: 18% women and 20% men. The setting up of a European "observatory" (monitoring centre) on violence against women is seen as important by only 10% of women and 10% of men.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (90% women, 88% men) believe that a restraining order in one country - a court decision which prevents someone who is guilty of violence from approaching his victim - should be extended to all EU Member States.

More than 26.000 people surveyed

13,809 women and 12,915 men in 27 EU countries were interviewed face-to-face for their opinions on how to reduce gender inequality, increase the presence if women in decision-making positions and combat violence against women. Fieldwork for the Eurobarometer survey was conducted from 9 February to 6 March 2011.


European Parliament Opinion Polls;jsessionid=0549A9BDC694B20D8A67DEC86F9B340D.node1?language=EN&id=40

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