The Telegraph

Thursday 8 June 2000

EC plans equality law that puts women first

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
The Daily Telegraph/Electronic Telegraph (London, UK)

THE European Commission yesterday proposed a gender equality law allowing "positive action" to promote women ahead of men at work.

The new code, which amends the EU's equal treatment directive, says women should have "automatic priority" in jobs where they are "under-represented", except in cases such as the Royal Marines, where male predominance is justified.

The law will also make it easier for women to win sexual harassment cases in court by reversing the burden of proof. The onus will be on men to prove their innocence when accused of "unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct".

The definition of sexual harassment covers anything that affects the "dignity of women" and includes staring lasciviously, making sexist comments and talking about a woman's figure.

Anna Diamantopoulou, the Greek social affairs commissioner, said that a man accused of such misconduct "would have to prove that he was not guilty", but she stressed that the plaintiff would have to produce "clear-cut proof" to begin the complaint in the first place.

A commission study found that a fifth of British women claimed to have been subjected to "unsolicited physical contact", and 30 per cent complained of being "looked up and down obviously".

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