Equality Between Women and Men Extended to the Access and Supply to Goods and Services
Sunday, January 2, 2005 11:15 AM

Press Release

The Council unanimously adopted a Directive implementing equal treatment between women and men aimed at extending the principle of equal treatment beyond the area of employment and professional life to other areas of everyday life (14438/04).

Today's decision follows the political agreement reached at the Council on 4 October (1).

Equality between women and men is a fundamental principle of the European Union, as laid down in Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty. Discrimination based on sex can act as a barrier to the full and successful integration of men and women into economic and social life. Sex discrimination not only takes place in the context of the workplace, where there is already Community legislation to combat discrimination, but also occurs in many other areas.

Under this Directive, the prohibition of discrimination will therefore apply to the persons providing goods and services available to the public(2) and offered outside the area of private and family life. The content of media or advertising and public or private education are sectors excluded from the scope of the Directive.

The Directive will apply to both direct and indirect discrimination, including sexual harassment. Less favourable treatment of women for reasons of pregnancy or maternity will be considered as direct discrimination and therefore forbidden.

Differences in treatment may be accepted only if they are justified by a legitimate aim, such as the protection of victims of sex-related violence, reasons of privacy and decency, the promotion of gender equality, the freedom of association, or the organisation of single-sex sporting activities. Limitations should nevertheless be appropriate and necessary in accordance with the criteria defined by the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

Its scope includes insurance and related financial activities, as long as they are private, voluntary and separate from the employment relationship. In this context, equal treatment is the guiding principle to be applied, and thus the use of sex as an actuarial factor should not result in differences in individual's premiums and benefits. To avoid a sudden readjustment of the market, the implementation of this rule will apply only to new contracts concluded after the date of transposition of this Directive.

Nevertheless, Member States, in which the unisex rule is not yet applied, may permit proportionate differences in individuals' premiums and benefits where the use of sex is a determining factor in the assessment of risk. Any different treatment has to be based on relevant and accurate actuarial and statistical data that has to be made public and regularly updated. The use of these exceptions will be subject to review by both the Commission and the Member States.

In any event, costs related to pregnancy and maternity should not result in differences in premiums and benefits. Given the structure of the insurance market in certain Member States, a two-year transitional period is provided for in this connection.

To provide a more effective level of protection of persons subject to discrimination based on sex, associations, organisations and other legal entities will be empowered to engage in legal proceedings. When discrimination can be presumed from facts established before a court, it will be for the respondent to prove that there was no breach of the principle of equal treatment (reversal of the burden of proof).

The Directive, adopted on the basis of Article 13 of the Treaty, lays down minimum requirements, the Member States having the possibility to apply more favourable provisions. The Member States should provide for penalties in cases of breaches of the obligations under the Directive.

(1) See press release 12400/04.
(2) Goods and services should be understood as defined by the Treaty.

Published in: Council of the European Union, Press Release 15856/04 (Presse 350), 13 December 2004 (PDF, 3 pages).