Gender equality has been an objective of EU policies for a long time. As early as 1957 the Treaty of Rome included a provision for equal pay for equal work (Article 119). Gender equality is often characterized as a fundamental right, a common value of the EU, and a necessary condition for the achievement of the EU objectives of growth, employment and social cohesion.
The common gender equality policy of the EU today consists of three main areas: gender equality legislation; soft regulations, including financial contributions; and the general notion of integrating a gender perspective into all EU policy areas, referred to as the dual gender-equality approach, which includes the gender mainstreaming strategy and specific actions to benefit women or men in their diversity. In recent years several important policies of importance for the ESF have been put into place.
In 2010, the Strategy for Equality between Women and Men (2010–2015) was adopted. The strategy has six priority areas similar to those of the previous Roadmap: equal economic independence; equal pay; equality in decision-making; an end to gender-based violence; equality in external actions; and horizontal issues. The strategy outlines the common work with gender equality in the EU. Besides the strategy, the European Pact for Gender Equality of the Council (2011–2020) has the intention of strengthening binding obligations for the member states.
The Pact states that three areas are of greater relevance to gender equality: employment, education and social inclusion, which is why it considers that these objectives can only be fulfilled by including them in … the EU 2020. Moreover, the Pact also considers that the promotion and evaluation of the EU2020 integrated Guidelines and flagship initiatives with a gender perspective are essential to strengthen gender national policies. In other words, gender equality is considered a part of the solution for exiting the crisis. (Brodolini et al. 2012)
When it comes to the European Structural and Investment Funds, and the ESF in particular, several important regulations (the Common Provisions Regulation and the ESF regulation) clearly state that the dual approach should be applied at all levels of implementation from 2014.
“Head counts” and equal opportunity (de jure) perspectives are most common
An overall assessment of the adoption and coherence of different policies in EU initiatives has been undertaken by EPEC (European Policy Evaluation Consortium) in association with COWI for the European Commission (REF). Their comparison of key messages and policy themes in ESF, Social OMC, Europe 2020 and the integrated employment guidelines shows that the adoption of the gender equality perspective has a lower coherence than that of the equal opportunity perspectives (Annex 3, p. 179). This means that the anti-discrimination perspective has a higher degree of implementation in the policies that have been compared. Anti-discrimination and equal opportunity are important components of gender equality strategies, but they primarily address formal, or de jure equality principles, e.g. equal pay. To be effective, these strategies need to be complemented with actions directed towards equality of outcome, e.g. paid and unpaid work issues, gender segregation in the labour market, etc. (Rees 2005, Woodward 2003, Stratigaki 2004, 2005).
Gender in the EU 2020 and the ESF 2014+
The Europe 2020 Strategy is translated into action in part through the Integrated Guidelines and the Employment Guidelines. Whereas Part I of the guidelines on economic policy does not refer to gender equality and the dual gender equality approach at all, the 2010–2014 employment guidelines of October 2010 stipulate: “A visible gender equality perspective, integrated into all relevant policy areas, is therefore crucial for the implementation of all aspects of the guidelines in the Member States.” (p. 10).
From the perspective of gender equality policy, the guidelines for Member States’ employment policies provide for an increase in labour market participation of women and men (guideline 7), combating segregation of the labour market, inactivity and gender inequality (guideline 7), equal pay (guideline 7), work–life balance (guideline 7), overcoming gender stereotypes (guideline 8), support for women in scientific, mathematical and technological fields (guideline 8), and promotion of social inclusion and combating poverty with special attention to women (guideline 10).
Compared to the prior ESF funding period (2007–2013), requirements regarding coherent gender equality integration have been strengthened in the ESF Regulation for the funding period 2014–2020:
“The Member States and the Commission shall promote equality between men and women through mainstreaming as referred to in Article 7 of Regulation (EU) No [CPR] throughout the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the programmes. Through the ESF, they shall also support specific targeted actions within any of the investment priorities as referred to in Article 3, and in particular Article 3 (1)(a)(iv), with the aim of increasing the sustainable participation and progress of women in employment, thus combating the feminisation of poverty, reducing gender-based segregation and combating gender stereotypes in the labour market and in education and training, promoting reconciliation of work and personal life for all and equal sharing of care responsibilities between men and women.” ESF Regulation