The crisis has hit young people particularly hard, with many experiencing long spells of joblessness and facing a high risk of inactivity and exclusion. Socio-economic research indicates that long periods of unemployment or inactivity at the time of entry into the labour market can be associated with persisting lower employment prospects and wages for many years thereafter (the so-called “scarring effect”) with high costs also for the economy and social cohesion at large (Eurofound, 2012).
For this reason youth policies are becoming a central feature of European Union policy-making both at EU and national level. A large number of recommendations and resolutions have been enacted and studies have been carried out on the issue. However, in most cases they lack a gender dimension. Apart from general considerations, most research and policy documents rarely tackle gender differences, even if attention to this issue has been increasing in recent years.
Europe 2020 is the main strategy framework for EU socio-economic growth in the 2010–2020 period. Its aim is “to turn the EU into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion” (European Commission 2010a: 5). One of the Strategy’s seven Flagship Initiatives is “Youth on the Move”, which aims “to enhance the performance of education systems and to facilitate the entry of young people into the labour market” (ibid.: 5).
To increase participation rates, the Strategy emphasizes the importance of policies to promote gender equality and to support the combination of work and private life. However, the topics of youth and gender are hardly linked. The flagship initiative “An Agenda for new Skills and Jobs” (European Commission, 2010b) also supports gender equality and non-discrimination in the labour market, and mentions the ESF as a possible co-founder/supporter of measures to reconcile work and private life, gender mainstreaming, and actions for tackling gender-based segregation in the labour market.
The EU Youth Strategy (2010–2018), directly targeting young people, includes among its key areas of intervention the following: education and training, employment and entrepreneurship, health and well-being, participation, voluntary activities, social inclusion, youth and the world, and creativity and culture. Promoting gender equality and combating all forms of discrimination are key issues of the Strategy, which calls for Member States and the Commission to launch initiatives within their respective areas of competence to address gender and other stereotypes via formal education and non-formal learning. No other targeted initiatives are described, apart from mentioning the important fact that the promotion of opportunities to reconcile work with family life is considered a priority for both young men and young women.
The 2012 Youth Employment Package is the follow-up to the actions for young people laid out in the wider Employment Package that includes, among other things, a proposal that EU countries establish a Youth Guarantee to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality job offer, continued education or training, or an apprenticeship or traineeship, within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
The European Social Fund will support the implementation of the Youth Guarantee and the other measures to tackle youth unemployment. Indeed, “sustainable integration into the labour market of young people, in particular those not in employment, education or training, including young people at risk of social exclusion and young people from marginalised communities, including through the implementation of the Youth Guarantee” is one of the ESF investment priorities listed in Article 3 of the ESF Regulation for the 2014–2020 programming period. Furthermore the same ESF Regulation provides for additional funds to be specifically allocated to the Youth Employment Initiative and matched with funding from the ESF in the regions most affected by high youth NEET rates.
The Council Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee requires that “gender and diversity of the young people who are being targeted” be considered in the design of the schemes. The background analysis of the Staff Working Document provides indications of gender differences in entering and remaining in the labour market. Furthermore the European Youth Report, recently adopted by the Commission, and its Staff Working Paper on the situation of young people in Europe, includes information on gender differences (European Commission 2012a and b).