Comparative European Politics

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 139–157 | Cite as

The European Union 2002 Directive on Sexual Harassment: A Feminist Success?

  • Kathrin Zippel
Original Article


The European integration process has provided both challenges and opportunities for domestic women's movements. The European Union (EU) Directive on equal treatment of men and women of 2002 is the outcome of the lobbying efforts of an emerging European transnational advocacy network on gender. The binding Directive for the first time prohibits 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 potential of the Directive to effect significant changes in the EU member states, in particular, to improve victims’ rights in member-state laws. The argument 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, in particular, in the very definition, linking the problem to sex discrimination. On the other hand, it does not go as far as feminists had hoped; for example, the EU has left member states to deal with the most difficult aspects of the problem: prevention, implementation and enforcement of the laws.


sexual harassment dignity discrimination European Union gender equality implementation 



The author expresses her thanks to the two anonymous reviewers as well as to Amy Mazur and Mark Pollack for useful suggestions and comments. An earlier version of this paper appeared under the title ‘Gender Equality Politics in the Changing European Union: The European Union Anti-Discrimination Directive and Sexual Harassment,’ as a Working paper 134 Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, Table 1 is adapted from (Zippel, 2008).


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathrin Zippel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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