This research, focused on the ESF and the ERDF, aims to provide inputs for the discussion on how to improve the promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination in the post-2020 Cohesion Fund programming period. It includes case studies on eight selected countries  (France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden).

 Commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development (REGI Committee), this study aims to assess how the gender dimension and the principle of gender equality are taken into account in the EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020, with focus on the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF). The aim is to provide inputs for the discussion on how to improve the promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination in the post-2020 programming period.

To this end, it considers how gender equality has been mainstreamed in ESF and ERDF in the programming, implementation, and monitoring phases with focus on eight selected country case studies (France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden). It also provides an assessment of the present and future challenges together with policy indications from relevant stakeholders at both European and national level.

Main outcomes

In the 2014-2020 programming period, 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 ESF investment priorities.

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 %). Available data also show that EUR 5,679 million has been planned for the ESF gender equality cross-cutting objective in 20 MS out of 28, while only 12 MS 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.

Identified critical points to enhance the effectiveness of Cohesion policy funding, regulations and tools for gender equality include:

  • 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.

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 Cohesion Policy’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 Cohesion Policy, 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.

The analysis ‘Gender Dimension of the EU Cohesion Policy’ is available at:


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