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134 Working Paper

Gender Equality Politics in the Changing European Union: The European Union Anti-Discrimination Directive and Sexual Harassment

Mar 1, 2024 Kathrin Zippel


The European integration process has provided both challenges and opportunities to domestic women's movements. One such ambivalent success is the European Union anti-discrimination directive of 2002 that is the outcome of the lobbying efforts of an emerging European transnational advocacy network on gender. The 2002 Directive prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual and gender harassment. It calls on member states to better protect the rights of victims of sexual harassment and to ensure the integrity, dignity, and equality of women and men at work. This paper examines the 2002 Directive and its potential to effect significant changes in EU member states, in particular, to improve victims' rights in member states laws. It addresses the main question: "Is the EU Directive an opportunity to progress in the direction of protecting victims' rights?" The argument advanced here is that the 2002 Directive is the outcome of a political compromise among the member states, on which feminist discourses did have some bearing. On the one hand, the 2002 Directive can be interpreted as a success of feminist activism around sexual harassment, in particular, in the very definition, linking the problem to sex discrimination. On the other hand, it has limitations and does not go as far as feminists had hoped; for example, the EU has left it up to member states to deal with the most difficult aspects of the problem, , prevention, implementation, and enforcement of the laws.