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The EU and equality between women and men – ESF in action

The EU and equality between women and men – ESF in action

Equality between women and men is a fundamental feature of our democratic society. It is an important element of the EU Strategy for Growth and Jobs, and essential for the European Union to sustain its prosperity.

Despite increasing female participation in the labour market and in higher education, differences still remain in the labour market position of men and women. The European Social Fund has already made important contributions to improving the situation of women in the labour market. For example, it has contributed to reducing the gender pay gap, from as high as 40% (in the 1960s) to less than 20% today. Whilst this is good progress, clearly the efforts must continue.

As well as being a matter of social justice, the elimination of gender discrimination is also a matter of economic necessity. Gender equality in employment is a key element in generating strong growth and creating jobs. It is vital to meet the current demographic challenges of an ageing population, shrinking workforce, and falling fertility rates, and it can help to ensure the financial sustainability of social welfare systems. 

The importance attached to ensuring gender equality in employment is reflected in the ESF programming for 2007-2013. It comprises two approaches:

  • Gender mainstreaming, which incorporates the gender dimension into all ESF priorities;
  • Specific actions aimed at getting women into work and sustaining them there.

The gender-mainstreaming approach means that particular attention must be paid to equal opportunities in the programming and implementation of all ESF activities. Where possible, they support the promotion of women in employment and the elimination of pay differentials. Specific actions target women’s employment directly – for example, by concentrating on a particular group such as immigrant women or women entrepreneurs.

ESF support for women's participation

To help achieve these objectives, the ESF is supporting activities in the Member States that promote women’s employment, including projects that:

  • Promote women’s access to and participation in all levels of the labour market and help close pay gaps and support women’s financial independence;
  • Promote women entrepreneurs and women’s participation in science and technology, in particular in decision-making positions;
  • Combat gender stereotypes in career selection and the professions, and promote lifelong learning;
  • Reconcile work and family life and offer support for childcare facilities and carers of dependents. Support the integration into employment of immigrant women.



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