EU Accession Process and Women's Rights
last updated July 30, 2013

Gender equality in the candidate countries is a major principle in the EU enlargement process. The acquis communautaire sets forth the primary law, the treaty that establishes the European Community, secondary law, which derives from other EU treaties and “soft law,” which refers to policies adopted and promoted by the EU. 

In the European Union, gender equality policy has focused mainly on non-discrimination in employment settings, including combating sexual harassment. The European Women’s Lobby, as well as other NGOs, has urged the European Union to consider the multiple forms of discrimination that women face and urges the EU to adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach to gender mainstreaming. A Shadow Directive, proposed by the European Women’s Lobby, gives the following example: “women as a group will never have the same opportunities on the labour market or in society, as long as 1 out of 5 women experiences domestic violence or if equality in the private sphere is not achieved, with women still doing 80% of all care, community and household work.”[1] Thus, the European Women’s Lobby proposes that EU gender equality directives cover such critical areas as parity of participation in decision-making, equal access to and supply of goods and services, the right to reconcile family and working life, social protection, social security and social benefits, access to education, family and society-based violence against women and the images of women and men portrayed in advertising and the media.

Gender equality does however play an important role in the accession process under the political portion of the Copenhagen criteria and the “Social policy and employment” and “Judiciary and fundamental rights” Chapters of the acquis.[2]

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has analyzed the advancements and difficulties of gender equality and EU Enlargement. While the countries that acceded in 2004 and 2007 all passed significant gender equality policy changes during the accession process, “the post-accession period has demonstrated significant shortfalls both in the transposition of law and in the capacity within the new member states for their effective enforcement.”[3] According to UNDP, this is because the new laws were sometimes not tailored to specific domestic legal systems. In addition, certain aspects of EU law have been translated differently into domestic law in Member States. Other issues include differing national judicial systems, weak political support, and lack of consensus on what constitutes good gender practices. This often leads to “patchy implementation and progress.”

In addition, the website of the EU Accession Monitoring Program of OSI provides users with access to news, reports and a library of information about both EU member States and candidate countries. Users can search the library both by country and by topic, including information on equal opportunities.


[1] European Women’s Lobby, Shadow Directive on achieving equality of women and men outside the field of occupation and employment, 2002,
[2] De Sadeleer, Katja, “EU Enlargement and Gender Equality,” PowerPoint, accessed June 18, 2013,  
[3] “Gender and EU Enlargement,” United Nations Development Programme: Turkey, accessed June 18, 2013,