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Since the 1980s, Belgium has implemented legal measures to promote gender equality and equal opportunities at federal and regional levels, in both private and public sectors. While the employment and pay gaps are one of the lowest in the OECD, there remains considerable horizontal segregation and discrimination in the workplace. This is more pronounced in the Walloon region than in the Flemish counterpart. Belgium was ranked 28th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2008.
The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) measures gender-based discrimination in social norms, practices and laws across 160 countries. The SIGI comprises country profiles, a classification of countries and a database; it serves as a research, policy and advocacy tool for the development community and policy makers.
The SIGI covers five dimensions of discriminatory social institutions, spanning major socio-economic areas that affect women’s lives: discriminatory family code, restricted physical integrity, son bias, restricted resources and assets, and restricted civil liberties. The SIGI’s variables quantify discriminatory social institutions such as unequal inheritance rights, early marriage, violence against women, and unequal land and property rights.
In the Social Institutions and Gender Index 2014 Edition , Belgium has very low levels of discrimination against women in social institutions. It has lower discrimination in restricted access to resources and assets and higher discrimination in son bias. Read the full country profile and access the data here: http://www.genderindex.org/country/belgium
Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have been introduced to Belgian public institutions since the late 1980s. In 1985, the office of the State Secretary for Social Emancipation was established by royal decree. It had two key tasks: the promotion of activities focusing on equal opportunities between men and women; and advising government policy on gender mainstreaming. This office has since 1992 been linked to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. In 2002, the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men was established at federal level with the purpose of monitoring the state of equality between men and women, combating all forms of discrimination and inequality based on sex, and developing tools and strategies that are based on an integral approach to the area of gender.
The Constitution was amended in 2002 to include a specific provision to article 10 affirming the principle of equality between men and women.
The gender employment gap for highly-educated women decreased to 7% in 2002, below the OECD average. However, overall labour force participation of women in Belgium is low, 55% compared to the OECD average of 65%, and varies widely by educational attainment and region. The gender employment gap for highly-educated women is smallest in the Flemish region and largest in the Walloon region. 85.4% of all Flemish men aged between 25 and 59 are in work whilst the figure for women is 57.3%.
The lack of adequate childcare facilities as well as fiscal disincentives are two factors depressing labour force participation of women, including the more highly skilled. Belgian women confront a significant Gender pay gap, particularly in the private sector, which reflects structural differences regarding age, education and occupation. Female employees are concentrated in certain type of jobs and industries with relatively low pay. Belgium also has a large differential in hourly pay between full-time and part-time jobs, where women are overly represented (42% of employed women work part-time compared to 6% of employed men). However, industrial or occupational segregation, educational background, labour market experience or seniority can not fully explain the observed differences.
As in many other countries gender ratios in access to tertiary education have changed remarkably. At present, boys are more likely than girls to leave the educational system unqualified, and less likely to gain access to tertiary education. Compared to other European countries, the proportion of female researchers in all sectors (28%) and in business enterprises (20%) is particularly low in Belgium. Males remain more likely than females to obtain advanced research qualifications. Female participation rates in science and technology occupations, particularly information technology, are limited. The Gender gap in academic and research professions is significant. It takes much longer for female university graduates to take up academic positions, and male researchers dominate the top positions in the academic world .
Women have had the right to vote and stand for election since 1948. In 2002, the Belgium government introduced quota-laws. These dictate that only half plus one of the candidates on the election lists can be of the same sex. This law applies to all political levels in Belgium.
- OECD, Developing highly skilled workers, Review of Belgium (2004)
- OECD, Babies and Bosses – Key Outcomes of Belgium compared to OECD average (2007)
- CEDAW, Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of States parties (2007)
The Women, Business and the Law
Where are laws equal for men and women?
The Women, Business and the Law, 2012 presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women’s prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women’s economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.
For detailed information on Belgium, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Belgium page.