The work describes the evolution of the Italian legislation on equal opportunities and compares the current legal framework with those in other European jurisdictions and the gender policies of the European Community. The aim is to identify the regulatory initiatives taken elsewhere that could help improve the condition of women in Italy. The study suggests that the existing gaps in gender equality among countries are mainly related to rule enforcement, which in turn reflects the extent to which gender issues are lent importance in the society's dominant value system. This highlights the need for appropriate mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of the "gender mainstreaming" principle (statistics, gender budgeting, ombudspeople, media and education programs). As to more specific gender policies, ad hoc measures are needed to promote a cultural shift in the division of tasks among men and women (e.g. reforms of parental leave), including measures that affect existing equilibria, so as to remedy the traditional exclusion of women from decision-making processes (e.g. gender quotas).