Legislative and policy framework

The principle of equality and non-discrimination has been set out in the Constitution for the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Grondwet) since 1983.

The first statutory laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex were the Equal Pay Act of 1975 and the Equal Treatment Act for Men and Women (wet gelijke behandeling van Mannen en Vrouwen) of 1980. The latter (amended in 1989, 1994, 1998 and 2006 to bring national law in line with EU law) establishes the right to equality for women and men in both private and public employment. In addition, the 1994 General Equal Treatment Act (Algemene Wet Gelijke Behandeling)[1] sets out the legal basis against discrimination in most forms, including labour market discrimination and discrimination on the grounds of religion, political beliefs, and race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.

The Directorate for Emancipation of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science introduced a national strategy for equality covering gender equality together with other equality and non-discrimination measures in 2017. The ‘National Action Plan: The Gender and LGBTI Equality Policy Plan: Putting principles into practice’ (NAP)[2] covers the period 2018-2021.[3] The current gender equality priorities include a focus on the promotion of women’s financial independence, the appointment of women to senior positions, the elimination of both the gender pay gap and harassment of, and violence against, women, fair media representation, and equal treatment.[4] The plan was introduced following recommendations from the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2016.[5] There is no national action plan solely on gender equality. Progress is monitored by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which is responsible for monitoring and assessing progress in all areas of women’s emancipation in the Netherlands.

National Action Plan: The Gender and LGBTI Equality Policy Plan: Putting principles into practice Priorities

  • Labour market: financial independence, more women at the top, and equal pay
  • Social security and acceptance: safe cities, education, vulnerable minorities, and sustainable infrastructure
  • Gender diversity and equal treatment: media, youth and stronger legislation

The government has a separate policy commitment to gender mainstreaming. In 2018, the Dutch government pledged to make gender mainstreaming in the national public administration a visible part of the Integral Assessment Framework for policy and regulation (IAK).[6] Therefore, the government added a new test on the ‘effects on gender equality'[7] (effecten op gendergelijkheid) to the IAK. It requires policymakers to map the nature and extent of the consequences of proposed policies and regulations for gender equality. The quality requirement consists of two parts. First, the request must answer questions on and map the effects of, the proposal on equality between men and women. Where relevant, policymakers must indicate how those effects that exacerbate or deepen gender inequality will be minimised. Second, the request must consult (the representatives of) parties that will be affected by the proposal. The quality requirement does not necessarily mandate adjustments. Further, it is not obligatory to mention the results in the explanatory memorandum (‘memorie van toelichting’) for passing any new legislation.


Governmental equality bodies

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Minister Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, OCW) houses the gender equality body, though it also works in close cooperation with other ministries. Following a 2007 evaluation of gender mainstreaming, the Netherlands changed its approach to gender mainstreaming and adopted a ‘system responsibility’ approach. Under this revised approach, the OCW takes the lead in national gender equality policy but has cooperation agreements in place with other ministries for cases in which gender equality priorities fall within those ministries’ policy domain. These cooperation agreements specify what and how said ministries must contribute to the gender equality objectives set out in the national policy. Significantly, this ‘system-responsibility’ approach means that ministries other than the OCW are held accountable by parliament for the implementation of gender equality policy.

The Directorate for Emancipation (Directie Emancipatie), established in 1978 and brought under the OCW in 2007 is responsible for gender equality and the rights of LGBTI people.

While the Netherlands has made efforts to enhance networking and cooperation of ministries with the governmental gender equality body, there is no formal structure in place to coordinate gender mainstreaming across government.

Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Minister Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, OCW) Functions

  • agenda-setting and establishing the general framework for gender equality and anti-discriminatory policy for the government
  • support the embedding of gender equality policies across the ministries
  • integrate gender equality considerations in the EU and international affairs
  • support society through knowledge infrastructure and goal-oriented subsidies
  • coordinate the implementation of government decisions and international agreements on gender equality
  • monitor and verify progress achieved in gender equality in the country

Departments and ministries consult the OCW’s Directorate for Emancipation about some new or existing policies, laws, or programmes (in fields other than gender equality) which leads to relevant adjustments in most cases. There is no structure in place to mainstream gender across ministries and departments.

As of December 2021, the personnel resources of the Directorate consisted of 28 employees who spent approximately 50-75 % of their time on gender equality issues.

The OWE reports to parliament at least once a year via the Emancipation Progress Report (voortgangsrapportage Emancipatie).[8] In addition, an annual Legislative Consultation (Wetgevingsoverleg - WGO) on Emancipation is held in the House of Representatives.[9]

Independent equality body

The Netherlands’ Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens) is the independent equality body responsible for monitoring, protecting, promoting and raising awareness about issues related to respecting human rights (including equal treatment).[10]

The Netherlands’ Institute for Human Rights Functions[11]

  • the assessment of infringements of equality law (they provide legal advice insofar as the front office can explain the Equal Treatment Act but cannot provide assistance), including deciding on complaints on discrimination on the groups of sex
  • conducting research on measures to protect human rights, including gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation
  • reporting and making recommendations on the protection of human rights, including annual reports to parliament and the government on the human rights situation in the Netherlands
  • monitoring progress in achieving gender equality
  • providing advice (on written request or on its own initiative) to the government, parliament or executive bodies on law and legislation with a direct or indirect impact on human rights
  • publishing and disseminating information on human rights
  • stimulating and coordinating education on human rights

Endowed with quasi-jurisdictional competence,[12] the Institute has legal standing to take cases on its own initiative (Article 13 of the Netherlands’ Institute for Human Rights Act), but it cannot represent victims before the courts. The Institute has no legal standing to act as amicus curiae but it can do this in practice. Regarding consultation of the independent body in policy areas other than gender equality, the Institute’s role is limited to less than 25 % of cases as it primarily consults on new laws or policies rather than existing ones. However, the Institute often provides unsolicited advice to the government on its own initiative on various issues. If the Institute is consulted, it leads to an adjustment of policies or legislative instruments in the majority of cases (50-75 %). According to the Institute’s 2020 Annual Report,[13] the personnel resources of the Netherlands’ Institute for Human Rights consisted of 62 employees who, overall, spend up to 25% of their time specifically on gender equality issues. This includes members of the ‘gender equality and human rights programme,’ a team of 10 employees focused on gender equality alongside other topics.

Parliamentary body

The relevant parliamentary body, the Standing Committee on Education, Culture and Science (Commissie Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap), includes a specific focus on gender equality.[14] Parliamentary members meet once a month to discuss related issues with a minister.

Consultation with civil society

While there is no specific legal arrangement in place for consulting NGOs or citizens in the field of gender equality, NGOs make use of online consultations to respond to legislative proposals. In addition, every five years, the Ministry of OCW enters strategic partnerships with several alliances of NGOs in the field of gender equality. These alliances receive subsidies and entail regular consultations about the subjects of collaboration.

Methods and tools

Note: the methods and tools listed under this were the focus of EIGE's 2021 assessment. If certain methods and tools are not mentioned in this section, this does not necessarily mean that they are not used at all by the Netherlands.

Gender impact assessment

Several gender mainstreaming tools are in use, including gender impact assessment and the use of gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data. However, gender budgeting is not widely used; there is no legal obligation in the Netherlands to undertake gender budgeting and it is practically an unknown concept in ministerial budgets.

Gender budgeting

There is a legal obligation to undertake an ex-ante gender impact assessment when drafting laws and policies[15], under the IAK as discussed above. However, although policymakers are obliged to apply this gender impact assessment, they are not obliged to report on the results anywhere. This means that it is not possible to know whether this assessment has been carried out or not. In reality, policymakers most likely rarely use the gender impact assessment, especially given that the IAK contains many assessments that policymakers have to undertake, including assessments with a mandatory reporting obligation.

Training and awareness-raising

Further, there are some measures in place to raise awareness of gender equality among ministries and other government bodies, including the distribution of printed materials and workshops for the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice. More specifically, for example, the Directorate of Emancipation has developed various audio-visual resources for national government, municipalities and companies to help avoid unnecessary sex registration i.e. asking for a person’s gender when it is not necessary (onnodige sekseregistratie).

Training is offered to employees of the governmental body for gender equality and some employees of other ministries on an ad-hoc basis. However, most government employees, including those at the highest political level, do not participate in gender equality training. Gender is often considered part of diversity programmes or assertiveness training, which is sometimes specifically offered for women leaders.

Gender statistics

The Netherlands has a website dedicated to gender statistics. Since 2000, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) have published the Emancipation Monitor (Emancipatiemonitor).[16] ‘The Emancipation Monitor’ website brings together biennial research on the state of the emancipation of women. It is published every two years and the 2020 edition maps policy commitments against the most up-to-date data on the position of women and men. The website provides a link to Statline M/F , which provides direct access to relevant datasets that can be viewed online and downloaded and explored by theme. Statline M/F is the digital database of the Emancipation Monitor, developed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.[17] The Emancipation Monitor is the main tool for the dissemination of sex-disaggregated data via press statements.

The Emancipation Monitor does not produce additional publications as the website itself contains extensive analysis, similar to an online report. Publications on gender equality are however available on an ad hoc basis through the SCP’s website. The SCP was established through a Royal Decree in 1973. Its official tasks are to monitor, explain and explore social and cultural issues in The Netherlands to inform policy making. The SCP uses data from Statistics Netherlands and other sources.

Monitoring progress

Indicators for monitoring progress on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the EU, under Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action

This section analyses the scores achieved by the Netherlands for data collection in 2021 for the four officially agreed-on indicators on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming to monitor progress on Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action. It also analyses scores under an expanded measurement framework which includes the role of independent gender equality bodies and assesses the effectiveness of efforts to disseminate statistics disaggregated by sex.. Institutional mechanisms refer to national machineries that implement, monitor, evaluate, and mobilise support for policies that promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming. All indicators and sub-indicators are available on the Gender Statistics Database here, including metadata about how the scores are calculated.

For Indicator H1 on the status of commitment to the promotion of gender equality and considering only the governmental commitment in line with the officially adopted indicator, the Netherlands scored 6.0 out of a possible 12, below the EU average of 7.2. It scored particularly low on sub-indicator H1e on the accountability of the governmental gender equality body where it lost 3.5 points out of a maximum possible score of 5 because there is no national action plan in place.

Under an expanded measurement framework which includes sub-indicator H1f on the mandate and functions of the independent gender equality body, the Netherlands scored an additional 1.5 points, out of a possible 3. It lost 1.0 point because the mandate of the independent gender equality body is gender equality combined with other non-discrimination areas, rather than exclusively focused on gender equality. The overall score for the expanded H1 indicator was 7.5 out of a possible 15, below the EU average of 9.1.

Indicator H2 analyses the personnel resources of the national gender equality bodies. For sub-indicator H2a, regarding the governmental equality body, the Netherlands scored 1.0 out of 2 which was the same as the EU average, because there were 10-25 employees working on gender equality in the governmental body. For sub-indicator H2b, regarding the independent body, Netherlands’s score was also 1.0, although the EU average was slightly lower at 0.8 because there were 10-25 employees working on gender equality in the independent body. For both sub-indicators, the maximum 2 points was awarded where the number of employees was over 100 as an indication of the body being sufficiently resourced.

Indicator H3 relates to gender mainstreaming. Here, the Netherlands scored 3.3 out of a possible 12 for gender mainstreaming (governmental commitment only), which was below the EU average of 5.1. However, the Netherlands scored 3.8 points out of a maximum of 14 for gender mainstreaming overall, which again was lower than the EU average of 5.4. The Netherlands had scored 0.5 out of the maximum of 4 points on sub-indicator H3b on governmental gender mainstreaming structures and consultation processes because there is no coordination structure for gender mainstreaming across government ministries/departments.

Under an expanded measurement framework, which includes sub-indicator H3d on consultation of the independent equality body, the Netherlands scored 3.8 points out of a maximum of 14, which was below the EU average which was 5.4. Under this sub indicator, the Netherlands scored 0.5 points because the independent gender equality body is only consulted by departments or ministries on the gender impact of specific new or existing policies, law. r programmes in a few cases.

For Indicator H4 on the production and dissemination of statistics disaggregated by sex, the Netherlands scored 5.0 points, out of a possible 6, which is above the EU average of 3.4. It lost 1.0 points for sub-indicator H4c on the effectiveness of efforts to disseminate statistics disaggregated by sex, as there are only ad-hoc publications that analyse gender statistics and gender statistics are not disseminated regularly.