New Skills & Jobs and Gender

In 2010 the European Council adopted the Europe 2020 Strategy. It is a continuation of the Lisbon Strategy implemented between 2000 and 2010 and constitutes the strategic framework for the next Structural Funds programming period.

In 2010 an “agenda for new skills and jobs” (henceforth the “Agenda”) was launched by the European Commission (EC). The initiative is one of seven “Flagships” designed to implement the EU 2020 strategy (COM(2008)868final, SEC 2008/3058 final). In the Agenda the EC has outlined a number of measures to meet the EU2020 employment target, namely for 75% of the working-age population (20–64 years) to be in work in 2020. This target cannot be achieved without a marked increase in women’s labour market participation, as has been acknowledged both in the new EU Employment Strategy (Strasbourg, 18.4.2012 COM(2012) 173 final) and by the European Council. In addition the Agenda should also contribute to achieving the EU’s targets to reduce the early school-leaving rate to below 10%; for more young people to be in higher education or equivalent vocational education (at least 40%); and for there to be at least 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.

Four main areas of policy response have been outlined in the Agenda:

  • Better functioning labour markets.
  • A more skilled workforce, capable of contributing to and adapting to technological change with new patterns of work organisation.
  • Better job quality and working conditions.
  • Stronger policies to promote job creation and demand for labour. (COM(2010) 682 final)

The European Commission identified 13 key actions to reach these objectives. The potential role of EU financial instruments – the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Agricultural Rural Development Fund (EARDF), and the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) – is also highlighted (New skills and jobs in Europe: Pathways towards full employment, EC, DG Research 2012).

In this report the different topics of the Agenda are discussed from a gender perspective and with the specific framework of the European Social Fund (ESF) in mind. The main aim of the report is to discuss the ”anchoring” of a gender perspective in relation to the Agenda, and specifically concerning the role of the ESF in fulfilling the EU 2020 strategy and the Gender Equality Strategy as well as the Pact for Gender Equality. It is asked what the main gender equality requirements are and how they have been taken on board in documents that outline policy implementation, if there are any gender gaps or gender aspects not addressed in the Agenda, and if this is so, what could further be integrated into the analysis and policy responses to strengthen the gender perspective in the implementation of the initiatives following the Agenda. In writing this report, the documents outlining the Agenda have been assessed and complemented by prior research that has studied related topics from a gender perspective. The analysis has been inspired by Carol Bacchi’s “What’s the problem?” approach (Bacchi 1999). Bacchi argues that what is conceived as a policy problem and a policy response is in part dependent on one’s own understanding of what one sees as problematic and needing to change. She asks us to think about whether there are alternative ways to think about a problem, what has been left unproblematic, and what the silences are. She wants us to consider whether the “problem” can be conceived differently, and also what effects are produced by different ways of thinking about the “problem”? (ibid.)

In order to analyse the problems to be addressed by the proposed solutions and see whether there are any “gender silences” or areas left unproblematised, it is necessary to discuss the central themes or “problems” that are dealt with in the Agenda. This means to discuss employment and unemployment, internal and external flexibility, skills matching and employment based security, working conditions and vocational training – all from a gender perspective. Some aspects of this can be found in the policies, regulations and common agreements on gender equality in the EU.

In this report the main objectives and requirements will first be outlined, followed by a discussion of how they have or have not been translated into mainstream policies with a specific focus on the EU 2020, the Agenda and the ESF. The next section discusses gender disparities relevant to the Agenda, what they are and why they are important. There will be a specific focus on alternative understandings of the problems that an analysis with a gender perspective makes visible. The final section contains reflections on what should be done to address them.

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Created: 2015/02/10   Changed: 2015/02/10