Controversial Gender Equality Directive Tabled by Commission

European Social Policy, November 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Controversial Gender Equality Directive Tabled by Commission


Gender discrimination will be banned outside the workplace as well as within if the EU Member States accept a controversial proposal for a Council Directive tabled by the European Commission on November 5. The proposal could lead to a huge overhaul in the way insurance premiums and annuities are calculated, as it would eliminate sex as a factor. It would also clamp down on gender discrimination in access to housing, mortgages and financial loans. The proposal now requires unanimous backing from the EU's Council of Ministers, following consultation from the European Parliament. Ireland, which takes over the EU's rotating Presidency in January 2004, has already said it intends to prioritise the draft legislation. If approved, the law could be on Member States' statute books by 2007, but insurance companies would be given an extra six years to change their calculation methods.

Definition of "goods and services"

The draft dIRECTIVE would aim to clamp down on gender discrimination in access to goods and services that are normally provided for remuneration. This would include access to premises into which the public can enter, such as shops, restaurants, night clubs and galleries, as well as all types of housing, including rented accommodation and hotels. It would also affect banking, insurance, financial services, professional services or trade, and transport. Examples of the type of problems the law would aim to eradicate are widespread difficulties faced by women trying to raise venture capital to start businesses, or sexual harassment of women by landlords. "Someone withholding a good or service or providing it on less favourable terms... can act as a barrier to social and economic integration," the draft law says. "Decisions on loans to small companies, for example, which are based on sex... are extremely damaging to the ability of large sections of society to provide for themselves and for others."

Insurance premium shake-up

The Directive would aim to tackle a major problem with premiums and benefits in the insurance sector, where women pay more for pensions and annuities and men pay more for motor insurance. Presenting the legislation on November 5, Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou said: "Sex is not an objective factor for contributing life expectancy." "In the US, for instance, there are lots of statistics showing that white people live longer than black people, but insurance companies would never use race as a criteria for working out premiums." Citing the example that women are asked to pay more for health insurance due to childbirth and the fact that they tend to live longer, Mrs Diamantopoulou said: "All women are paying higher insurance, but not all women live to old age and not all women have children." "One study has shown that in Wales, male industrial workers tend to live sixteen years longer than male office workers, but you cannot punish someone just because he happens to have been born in a particular social group", she added. Equally, in some Member States, all young men pay very high premiums for motor insurance, because many young men have accidents. "We should punish the careless car driver, not the chromosome", said a Commission source close to Mrs Diamantopoulou. "Insurers already use many factors other than gender to calculate premiums, we are just asking them to use more of them."

The proposed legislation has however raised concerns from insurance firms and fears that it will lead to increases in all types of insurance for everyone. The insurance industry complains that it cannot function in the same way as state pension schemes (which do not make gender distinctions) as it has no control over the numbers of each sex in the schemes. It argues that its calculation methods reflect the realities of life expectancies and keep prices down. However, these views on the market are rejected by the Commission as "static", and "not reflecting reality". …

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