Original publication: December 2018
Authors: Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale: Manuela SAMEK LODOVICI (Project manager), Serena Marianna DRUFUCA, Elena FERRARI, Monica PATRIZIO, Flavia PESCE, Eleonora De SILVIS, Cristina MOJA.

France: Chiara Crepaldi (Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale)
Germany: Bernhard Boockmann (Institute for Applied Economic Research -IAW)
Italy: Flavia Pesce (Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale)
Ireland: Dorota Szelewa (University College Dublin)
Poland: Malgorzata Druciarek and Izabela Przybysz (Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw)
Romania: Cristina Vasilescu (Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale)
Spain: Ruben Carrandi Cortina (Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale)
Sweden: Malin Hellström Samuelson (Oxford Research, Stockholm)

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In the programming period 2014-2020 the promotion of gender equality is based on a dual approach. Gender equality is a horizontal principle in all Funds, and directly addressed in one of the European Social Fund (ESF) investment priorities.

This study analyses how the gender dimension and the principle of gender equality are addressed in Cohesion Policy, with focus on the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) and in the ESF.

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Cohesion Policy can have an important role in promoting gender equality. The ESF can support measures directly targeting women and gender equality in employment, social inclusion and education. The ERDF can support measures directly promoting business start-ups and entrepreneurship among women, as well as indirect measures addressing the gender gap in research and innovation, in access to physical, ICT and social infrastructures.

Estimations based on financial data available in the Open Cohesion database show that the overall financial allocations on intervention fields that could potentially affect gender equality, directly or indirectly, represent 55.1 % of the total amount. Almost all the ESF measures could affect gender equality (92 %), and a significant share of ERDF measures could directly or indirectly affect gender equality (55.3 %). The proportion of allocations in measures potentially related to gender equality is particularly high in Northern and Continental European countries. The few available data also show that EUR 5,679 million has been planned for the ESF gender equality cross-cutting objective in 20 MSs out of 28, while only 12 MSs planned allocations in the intervention field directly targeted to ‘gender equality in all areas’, for a total of EUR 1,590 million.

However, the extent to which these allocations are going to support interventions promoting gender equality crucially depends on decisions taken by regions and Member States in their programming and implementation strategies, and on their capacity to implement interventions that take into account the gender dimension.

The eight country case studies and the interviews with Cohesion Policy stakeholders point out that the implementation of gender mainstreaming has been poor, particularly in those ERDF domains not usually perceived as related to women and gender equality.

In the eight selected countries, Partnership Agreements (PAs) address gender equality in the context analysis, although gender equality issues in the policy domains covered by the ERDF are usually not considered. Gender equality is also rarely considered in implementation arrangements. Usually there are no indications on how to ensure the application of the gender equality principle, e.g. in project selection procedures and in monitoring and evaluation systems. However, in some countries ad hoc coordination and support bodies have been created to facilitate the implementation of gender mainstreaming.

Differences in attention to gender equality issues between the programming and the implementation/monitoring phases and between the ESF and ERDF also emerge in the assessment of 28 ESF and ERDF Operational Programmes (OPs) analysed in the country case studies. Attention to gender equality issues is mainly present in the ESF OPs, while in ERDF programmes this is still very limited.

Sweden and Spain show a higher commitment than the other analysed countries at political and operative levels. However, all countries show an improvement in the current programming period.

The national stakeholders interviewed in the case studies point out among the strengths of the current programming period, the focus on gender mainstreaming, and the development of specific tools and guidelines for its implementation. Among the main weaknesses, the gap between programming and implementation is mentioned the most, followed by the lack of awareness and knowledge on how to implement gender mainstreaming, especially among managing authorities and beneficiaries of ERDF programmes.

The Cohesion Policy stakeholders indicate that the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds regulations provide a good legal basis to address gender inequalities, especially in relation to policy areas such as access to the labour market, childcare, work-life balance and non-discrimination. They also point out that attention to gender equality in Cohesion Policy has improved in this programming period.

Ex ante gender equality conditionalities and evaluations are considered very important to raise awareness among managing authorities and project promoters, and introduce a gender perspective in the programme implementations.

However, many respondents confirm that a gender equality perspective is lacking in national and regional programmes and, especially in the case of the ERDF, investments have not been prioritised to have a gender equality impact. Almost two-thirds of the respondents state that gender equality was mainly addressed in the programming phase and much less in the project implementation and monitoring phases, especially in ERDF programmes. The limited attention to gender equality issues is reflected in the pessimistic perceptions on the likely achievements of CP in gender equality.

All the interviewed stakeholders highlight the importance of Cohesion Policy funding, regulations and tools in supporting attention to gender equality also for national and regional policies, and underline the need to address some critical points in order to enhance its effectiveness for gender equality:

  • the gap between formal statements and implementation;
  • the lack of knowledge on how to concretely support gender mainstreaming, especially in the ERDF intervention fields;
  • the use of selection criteria, and monitoring and evaluation systems that are only weakly gender-oriented;
  • the difficulty in actively involve gender equality bodies and non-governmental organisations in programme design and implementation and  to create effective partnerships.

The case studies provide indications of successful mechanisms and good practices adopted in MSs to improve gender mainstreaming in Cohesion Policy, via knowledge sharing, technical assistance, continuous training and awareness-raising. Among those considered most effective are:

  • the set-up of a specific governance system for the coordination and monitoring of gender mainstreaming;
  • the capacity to ensure a strong commitment to gender equality at the political level and in the Cohesion Policy managing bodies;
  • the definition of a national gender equality strategy linking Cohesion Policy strategies and interventions to national measures;
  • the adoption of a gender perspective in monitoring systems and in projects’ selection criteria.

As for future challenges, the main concern is the low attention to gender equality in the Commission’s draft proposals for the post-2020 Cohesion Policy, which reflects a downgrading of gender equality in the public debate and policy agenda occurring at EU and national levels. This may result in a less effective Cohesion Policy in supporting regional development and socio-economic growth, as gender equality is increasingly recognised as a key factor in reducing national and regional economic and social disparities, and for ensuring long-term socio-economic development and inclusion.

To maintain attention to gender equality and overcome the current drawbacks of Cohesion Policy, stakeholders stress the need to provide clear guidelines and support, through:

  • the introduction of compulsory requirements for gender equality in all the post-2020 OPs with specific and transversal gender equality measures in all funds, as well as specific obligations (e.g. in selection criteria and monitoring systems), and binding guidelines to enhance compliance;
  • maintaining the ex ante requirement of developing national gender equality strategies to enhance synergies and improve CP’s effectiveness and added value;
  • supporting the creation of effective partnerships with gender equality representatives from civil society.
  • developing gender-related tools, guidelines and training programmes tailored to the specific policy domains addressed by CP, with concrete examples of how to implement a gender perspective;
  • creating and/or strengthening gender equality coordination, monitoring, and technical assistance bodies to support gender mainstreaming in all policy domains of Cohesion Policy and all programme phases;
  • ensuring a strong political commitment to gender equality at European and national/regional level, in order to mainstream the attention and commitment of national and local Cohesion Policy stakeholders.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-185

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