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New tool for improved gender equality in the ESF


Young adults in training course using touchpad
© shutterstock/Goodluz

The European Community of Practice on Gender Mainstreaming (GenderCoP) has developed a tool to improve the quality and efficiency of Structural Funds processes at EU and Member State level by providing clear explanations of ESF requirements and examples of good practice on how to achieve gender equality in all cycles of the ESF.

Gender equality objectives and a dual gender equality approach, both in terms of mainstreaming and with specific actions, are mandatory requirements in the ESF for the funding period 2014-2020. This means that the European Commission and Member States must ensure that gender equality objectives will be implemented, not only as policy statements, but in the everyday practical work of the ESF. To that end, the European Community of Practice on Gender Mainstreaming (GenderCoP), a Transnational Cooperation Learning Network financed by the ESF, has developed a tool to help Member States to comply with the new ESF Regulation.

Gender Equality and Europe 2020

Many of the current and future employment challenges have gendered roots and implications. In order for the ESF to be effective, a gender perspective must be taken into account when addressing its key themes and actions. 

Three of the EU 2020 flagship initiatives focus more directly on employment and social policies:

  • An agenda for new skills and jobs, with a target of 75% of 20–64 year olds being employed by 2020
  • Youth on the move, with targets of reducing school drop-out rates to below 10% and at least 40% of 30–34 year olds completing third-level education
  • The European platform against poverty, with a target of at least 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion

Without gender mainstreaming, the EU 2020 targets will not be achieved. Increasing the understanding of how both economic growth and the current European crisis impacts women and men differently, will strengthen the quality of the implementation of the flagship priorities funded by the ESF.

Gender inequality still poses a great problem in many EU Member States. The importance of strong gender equality policies as part of growth and employment strategies can be shown in many different areas. The GenderCoP focused on subjects such as employment rates, pay offs of investments in education, flexible work force, social inclusion, use of unpaid work and fiscal benefits.

By the Member States for the Member States

The GenderCoP is a network dedicated to integrating the gender dimen­sion into the ESF programmes (2014-2020). The network has been granted funding by the European Commission under the Call for Proposals “Reinforce learning networks for a more effective implementation of transnational actions under the ESF”.

Since 2010 the GenderCOP has worked towards the goal of gender mainstreaming as an integral part of ESF management – from planning, programming, implementing to monitoring and evaluation.

TheGenderCoP members are ESF Managing Authorities/Intermediary bodies from 13 Member States: Austria, Belgium (Flemish and Walloon Regions), the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The network is led by the Swedish ESF managing authority.

The European Standard on Gender Mainstreaming with the ESF

One of the main outputs of the GenderCoP is the European Standard on Gender Mainstreaming within the ESF (STANDARD). It is a tool aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of Structural Funds processes at EU and Member State level by providing clear explanations of ESF requirements and examples of good practice on how to achieve gender equality in all cycles of the ESF.

The STANDARD can be used both as a guide to the implementation of gender mainstreaming and specific measures within the ESF, and as a tool to help assess and monitor existing practices – from policy to project level (in all steps such as planning, programming, implementing and monitoring and evaluation).

All examples and good practice in the STANDARD have been selected by the GenderCoP members and derive from Member States' ESF experience with gender equality across the EU. 

The STANDARD is currently being piloted in four Member States: Belgium (Flanders), the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden.

Status as of today in the ESF

Earlier studies conducted by both the European Commission and the GenderCoP have shown that most Member States have now incorporated gender mainstreaming into their operational programmes; however implementation in the everyday ESF procedure still needs to be enhanced. To put it simply, a coherent approach meansthe systematic and consistent integration of the principle of gender equality into structures and thematic priorities of the ESF. 

The main problems identified in the previous funding period of the ESF (2007-2013) are:

  • gender mainstreaming is not implemented in all phases of ESF-management/cycles;
  • specific actions are not emphasised enough with regard to the dual approach strategy;
  • gender mainstreaming is not prioritised and not included in all phases of ESF procedures and thematic issues.

These shortcomings have led to a less efficient ESF management and implementation due to poor gender mainstream­ing. However, the new ESF regulation, as well as the newly developed support-tool, the STANDARD, create better preconditions to overcome the above challenges.

The upcoming conference "Gender equality – the key to a sustainable, smart and inclusive society: Reinventing the ESF?", taking place in Brussels on 10 December 2014, will address how gender mainstreaming is integrated in the European Social Fund (ESF) and what gender equality means in relation to key ESF themes in everyday work.