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Document 52012IE1734

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The gender dimension in the Europe 2020 Strategy’ (own-initiative opinion)

OJ C 76, 14.3.2013, p. 8–14 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 76/8

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The gender dimension in the Europe 2020 Strategy’ (own-initiative opinion)

2013/C 76/02


Co-rapporteur: Ms ATTARD

On 12 July 2012, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on

The gender dimension in the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 December 2012.

At its 486th plenary session, held on 16 and 17 January 2013 (meeting of 17 January), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 200 votes to 6, with 4 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations



endorses and welcomes the principle that Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth  (1) and the Strategy for equality between women and men  (2) should be mutually reinforcing. To this end, it is essential to mainstream the gender dimension and insert specific measures into the objectives, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies developed under the umbrella of Europe 2020;


deems it essential to overcome the fact that the gender dimension is not specifically addressed in any of Europe 2020's seven flagship initiatives. The gender dimension should therefore be systematically incorporated into the National Reform Plans (NRP) and the European semester, especially at a time when Europe's economic situation requires more effective policy implementation and the more efficient use of resources, recognising the detrimental effect of gender inequality on economic growth;


supports the country-specific recommendations in which the Commission calls on the Member States to adjust their NRP budgets to ensure that policy measures take the principle of gender equality into account. It is important that the ministerial meetings held for the purpose of reviewing and monitoring implementation ensure that these recommendations are put into practice and followed through, and make visible the progress made on equality policy. This will require consistent use of Community Funds, especially the European Social Fund;


recommends that the next Multiannual Financial Framework (2014-2020) make available specific funding to advance women's rights and gender equality. In the EESC's view, funding should be adequate and visible as a guarantee of its implementation and transparency in order to foster support for equality policies, activities and projects in all areas falling within the EU's remit;


considers that, taking into account the different situations on the ground in the various countries, regions and sectors, steps should be taken to improve the social situation and increase women's participation in the labour market, including support for business start-ups. Support should also be given to their quantitative and qualitative potential in the different areas addressed by Europe 2020: innovation, research, education and training, the digital society, climate and the green economy, energy, mobility, competitiveness, employment, qualifications, social exclusion and poverty;


highlights the importance of the commitment and involvement of the social partners at the European, national, regional and sectoral levels, and at all stages of implementation of the various policies, to ensure that the changes needed in gender equality take place in all European Union countries. Social dialogue and collective bargaining agreements are key instruments for complementing national reform plans with the gender dimension. The framework for gender equality measures adopted by the European social partners is an important example in this regard, which should be reflected in Europe 2020;


stresses the importance of mainstreaming the gender dimension into the implementation of each of the seven flagship initiatives. This will require an understanding of the specific and different situations facing men and women with respect to: the labour market and lifelong learning; access to all levels of education and employment; poverty and the risks of exclusion; accessibility and use of the new technologies in the digital sector; and participation at all levels of training, research and production, especially in the new emerging sectors. The EESC recommends focusing on digital education for women, who are under-represented in IT production jobs. The EESC considers it essential that the Commission and the Member States make use of existing gender indicators and establish new indicators in areas where none currently exist;


is of the view that, given the dismal state of youth unemployment and early school-leaving in most Member States, which affect young men and women differently, the gender dimension really needs to be more closely integrated into the development of youth policies;


calls on the Member States to take account of the Commission's specific recommendations and take steps to improve the quantity and quality of women's employment in all countries. This will require improving access to and the quality of affordable public services to children and the elderly, eliminating the pay gap and implementing measures to reconcile family and personal life and work (making it easier to offer paternity leave and paid leave;


reiterates that Europe 2020 should foster and support, in cooperation with the social partners, specific and effective agreements and measures to ensure the health and safety in the workplace of pregnant women and those who have recently given birth. The EESC welcomed the Commission's proposal to adopt measures for an adequate period of maternity leave of no less than 18 weeks (3);


albeit to varying degrees across countries, regions and areas of work, the crisis has affected people's lives and heightened a number problems relating to health and social harmony; therefore believes that particular attention needs to be paid to implementing measures to help offset the negative effects (such as stress, violence and harassment at work and within the family (4)). This calls for common efforts to promote gender equality in society, eliminate structural inequalities and change gender roles and stereotypes;


considers that the progress of women in decision-making should be a priority, especially in those sectors and businesses deemed by Europe 2020 to be of strategic importance for the future. The EESC will soon adopt an opinion on the proposal of the Commission to adopt binding measures at EU level to boost women's participation in this area;


is concerned to note the cuts in social services and protection for the most disadvantaged and those most at risk of social exclusion and poverty. The measures to be implemented under Europe 2020 should therefore specifically target the growing proportion of women in poverty and seek to integrate women in the short term, through incentives to join the labour market and, in the long term, through access to basic education and new skills, the use of new technologies and new forms of work organisation, reconciling work and family life. The EESC believes that sixty years down the road of European integration, it is unacceptable to allow permanent wage gap between men and women to serve as an adjustment variable or to allow the erosion of women's job security. It believes that the Member States must include, as a matter of urgency, measures to secure stable employment for women, with decent salaries and pensions, in their NRPs;


considers it a priority, if Europe 2020 and the Strategy for equality are to achieve their goals, to send the parties concerned and society at large a clear message regarding the need to step up measures to continue moving towards equality. This requires, firstly, greater and closer coordination and cooperation within and among all the European institutions, the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council, the European Central Bank, the EESC and the Committee of the Regions. Secondly, these equality-related aspects must be incorporated at all levels into the membership (5) and daily work of the sections, groups and committees of such institutions.

2.   Introduction


Europe 2020, which was adopted in 2010, set the path for the European Union's growth in a difficult economic climate, which was already showing signs of the financial and political problems now afflicting the EU. Europe 2020 puts forward a set of measures that will enable the Member States, in an efficient and unified way, to meet the challenges posed by the crisis and, in turn, relaunch a growth model that is smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive.


A new process of economic governance, called the European Semester, was also established in order both to synchronise the assessment of Member States' budgetary and structural policies and also to ensure that the strategy's implementation can be monitored.


At the same time, the Strategy for equality establishes the Commission's work programme for gender equality. This policy proposal follows on from the Working Plan for equality between women and men (2006-2010) (6), and represents the best attempt yet to define a set of strategic objectives and indicators for gender-related issues.


Since 1996, the EU has adopted a two-fold approach to gender equality: firstly by implementing specific measures to overcome existing discrimination against women and secondly through gender mainstreaming in policy decisions (7).


The Committee endorses the principle that the proper application of Europe 2020 Strategy must be consistent with the Strategy for equality, to meet the challenges arising from the crisis effectively, since these two strategies are mutually reinforcing, and therefore agrees with the EP, which has expressed this view. The European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020), adopted by the Council in March 2011 (8), highlights the close link between the two strategies and calls for instruments to be combined in order to overcome the crisis.

3.   Europe 2020 – an analysis of the gender aspect


Gender equality is not specifically addressed in the text, in any of the flagship initiatives and is not mentioned in the five quantifiable targets, except as regards the employment rate, with a call for the greater involvement of women in the work force. This stands in stark contradiction with the principles set out in the first part of Europe 2020 Strategy, which states that respect for equality is a key factor for overcoming the economic crisis, alongside economic, social and territorial solidarity, respect for the environment and cultural diversity.


Different European institutions, organisations representing civil society and the social partners have repeatedly emphasised the need for gender equality to be a priority under the new strategy for action and to be considered a key factor for competitiveness and growth. According to the EP, the text should include the full involvement of women in the labour market and in vocational training and a programme aimed at eliminating the wage gap between men and women.


The wording of the Europe 2020 Strategy did not meet with unanimous support and was criticised on a number of grounds: for its overly-general content, its unnecessarily complex structure and an excessively economic approach, which overlooks the social aspects. Much less emphasis is placed on gender equality than in previous employment strategies. The only visible and explicit aspect, the employment rate for women, clearly ignores the qualitative aspects of work and the different starting positions that exist on the labour market. Even the quantitative gender-specific targets contained in the Lisbon Strategy have disappeared.


The EESC considers that neither Europe 2020 nor the Strategy for equality will achieve their aims unless practical steps are taken to improve the situation in society and in women's work. Women's quantitative and qualitative potential should be supported as a prerequisite in the different areas of Europe 2020. Practical steps linked to the seven flagship initiatives are essential if progress is to be made on the priorities of Europe 2020: smart, sustainable and socially inclusive growth cannot become a reality without an equality policy.


The reform plans of the different Member States must recognise the economic added value of women's work, which would be gained, for instance, through the professionalisation of personal care work (9) and the specific shortcomings women encounter on the labour market (access at all levels and in all age groups, career progression, continuity, etc.), but also in society, with regard to all those social aspects that the Strategy for equality highlights as being crucial. To overcome the crisis and meet the new challenges, Europe 2020 must be implemented by establishing specific programmes, plans and measures that help improve equality. This cannot be done without an understanding of the different impact that the anti-crisis measures might have, given men and women's different starting positions.


The EESC is concerned to note the absence of practical measures and gender-specific indicators. This prevents any monitoring or evaluation of whether or not progress is being made on Europe 2020 and also means that the European Semester is left without the necessary instruments to combat inequality, given the different starting points, in line with the different gender realities among countries, sectors and spheres.


Europe 2020 should provide effective instruments for assessing the role of women in the EU's growth and the added value that this represents in social terms, as emphasised by the EESC opinion (10), which shares the views expressed in a study carried out under the Swedish presidency (11). This study highlights, among other things, that equality on the labour market could increase Member States' gross domestic product (GDP) by an average of 27 %.

4.   The priorities of the Strategy for equality between men and women (2010-2015)


Adopted in 2010, the Strategy for equality proclaims a close link to Europe 2020, in all aspects and flagship initiatives, especially with regard to designing and implementing the appropriate national measures, by means of technical assistance, structural funds or the main financial instruments, such as the 7th Framework Research Programme. Against the backdrop of the guidelines for employment and the evaluation of national policies, the Commission will monitor matters closely, in order to reduce inequalities and promote the social inclusion of women.


The strategy also refers to men's role in promoting gender equality and emphasises the importance of men's involvement in achieving the changes needed in the different roles that men and women play in society, in both the family and professional arenas.


The Strategy for equality details measures in five priority areas identified in the Women's Charter, as well as a chapter on horizontal issues: a) Equal economic independence; b) Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value; c) Equality in decision-making; d) Dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence; e) Gender equality in external actions; f) Horizontal issues (gender roles, legislation, and the governance and tools of gender equality).


The EESC agrees with the Commission's assertion that EU instruments such as the single market, financial aid and foreign policy instruments should be fully harnessed in order to address problems and achieve the Europe 2020 targets, but considers that follow-up must be provided to ensure consistency between implementation of the principles of the Strategy for equality and the main instruments of Europe 2020, especially the seven flagship initiatives and the guidelines, since these will be carried out at the EU level as well as in the Member States.

5.   The gender dimension in the seven flagship initiatives  (12)

5.1   An agenda for new skills and jobs


In its opinion on the Annual Growth Survey  (13), the EESC emphasised, among other things, that the aspect of quality in job creation needs to be boosted. In light of the crisis and its economic and social impact, the EU institutions and Member States should now make every effort to ensure further progress in this direction.


The Committee believes that to implement this initiative, account needs to be taken of the current situation of women in the world of work, as while they currently account for 44 % of Europe's working population, their situation remains different and vulnerable in a number of areas: a lower employment rate, the pay gap, the concentration or absence of women in particular sectors, limited involvement in business start-ups, part-time work (75 % of the total); temporary contracts, the lack of adequate childcare facilities; poor career advancement; the under-representation of women in the most senior positions, in both the business and political spheres, and imbalanced access to the various disciplines in education, vocational training and university studies.


The employment rate rose from 51 % in 1997 to 62 % in 2011, with the main increase being in jobs in sectors primarily employing women and which have been hard hit by adjustment measures. The economic crisis currently being experienced by the European Union, while affecting each country in a different way, is also worsening the situation of women and threatening the fragile progress achieved in equality between men and women. The EESC believes that the necessary support measures should be adopted to ensure that inequality in the workplace has not increased by the time the crisis is over.


The European Social Fund in particular must programme, monitor and evaluate all measures taken by the Member States, in order to ensure that the Strategy for equality is carried forward.

5.2   Youth on the move


This initiative primarily covers two areas: employment and training. Its content is therefore closely linked to the previous initiative: to improve mobility in learning, modernise higher education, promote and validate both formal and informal learning and ensure effective and sustainable investment in education and vocational training.


The EESC considers the youth unemployment rate, currently standing at 20 %, to be one of the most worrying issues facing Europe today. The rate of unemployed young women, especially those with poor qualifications, is even higher.


The impact of maternity on the labour market is very different to that of paternity. Only 64,7 % of women with children under the age of 12 work, compared with 89,7 % of men. These figures and differences increase as the number of children rises. The lack of preschool places and the imbalanced distribution of family tasks make reconciling work and home life problematic and hamper women's career advancement.


The targets adopted by the Barcelona Council (2002) on the availability of preschool education places have been met by few States and the current situation, with cuts in these public services, is likely to make matters worse.


Another alarming figure is the rate of young women not in education, employment or training (‘NEETs’). According to EUROSTAT, 20 % of women are NEETs, compared with 13 % of men. Reducing the school dropout rate is one of the Europe 2020 targets covered by this initiative.


The EESC believes that to implement this flagship initiative, account should be taken of the current situation of vulnerable young women in different areas, in addition to those already mentioned above: poor basic training, less access to the type of vocational training required by the new knowledge society, insufficient validation of skills and lack of career guidance and specific financial problems when starting up a new business or an activity of their own. Measures specifically targeting young women are consequently needed.

5.3   European platform against poverty


This initiative aims to: draw up and implement programmes to promote social innovation for the most vulnerable, in particular by providing innovative education, training and job opportunities for the most disadvantaged communities, to combat discrimination (for example, against the disabled) and develop a new agenda for the integration of immigrants in order fully to harness their potential. It also proposes to assess the adequacy and sustainability of social protection and pensions systems and explore ways of ensuring better access to health care. The EESC has reservations regarding the concept of social innovation, an area where experience is, by nature, fragmentary and difficult to replicate. It is based both on the legislative principle of subsidiarity and on a sociological concept such as ‘equity’. A local response to a small group's need may be useful but it could never replace the equality and justice ensured by large collective social protection schemes (14).


Europe 2020 states that Member States will need to: define and implement measures tailored to the specific circumstances of particular risk groups and fully deploy their social security and pensions systems to ensure adequate income support and access to health care, in order to guarantee social cohesion. The increasing rates of unemployment and inactivity, economic insecurity, low wages, austerity measures, cuts in social benefits and family allowances particularly affect women. Firstly, as workers, since job cuts in the public sector and services directly affects them because these are sectors employing a high proportion of women. Women are also affected doubly, however, as both citizens and users, given that the cuts in the provision of services of general interest affect women, because they are the primary users of these services.


In Europe, over 70 % of low-wage workers are women. In most Member States, 17 % of women live in poverty, as do 15 % of men, which is also a worrying figure. Poverty and social marginalisation go hand in hand with labour market exclusion. Therefore, breaks in periods of work and precarious jobs, which are so common for women, especially women with low levels of qualification, have an immediate negative effect, which can continue into the medium and long term.


Single-parent families, widows, women with disabilities, victims of gender-based violence, elderly women and migrant women are particularly hard hit by budget cuts and the crisis and are at greater risk of social exclusion, given the lack of protection or specific aid measures.

5.4   A Digital Agenda for Europe


The aim of the Digital Agenda is to promote access to information technologies, specifically the internet and its use by all European citizens, especially through programmes that boost digital literacy and accessibility.


To this end, the Member States should develop strategies for a high-speed internet and channel public funding, including through structural funds, towards areas not fully covered by private investment and should promote the roll-out and use of up-to-date online services (e.g. e-government, online health, smart homes, digital skills and security) (15).


The EESC is concerned at the lack of statistics broken down by gender, since this prevents a clear understanding of the situation of women in the professional sectors linked to the new technologies or the levels of use of such technology. The relevant studies would need to be carried out to assess women's situation in this area, also as service users, so that the information and training proposed in Europe 2020 can be more accurately targeted.

5.5   Innovation Union


Among other measures, the ultimate aim of this initiative is to promote and strengthen links between education, business, research and innovation and will foster entrepreneurship. Member States will have to reform their national and regional R&D systems to encourage excellence and smart specialisation, prioritise knowledge expenditure, enhance cooperation between universities, research and business, ensure a sufficient number of graduates in mathematics and engineering and place fostering creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship at the heart of curricula.


Women can and must play an essential role in this process. In 2010, around 60 % of university graduates were women and yet this is not reflected in the posts held by women on the labour market. Furthermore, women are currently responsible for one in three business start-ups, make up 13,7 % of the managing boards of large listed companies and only 3 % chair such boards.


In most countries, horizontal gender segregation remains, according to the specialised area of training: as science, engineering, mathematics, technology. These disciplines are also a prime area of cooperation among future leaders of the business and research worlds, especially among masters and doctoral programmes, which are harder for women to access. The EESC therefore believes that measures to eliminate these barriers are essential.


Women are still under-represented in decision-making circles in science, business and the service sector. Only 18 % of the most senior university positions are occupied by women. Employment opportunities and the allocation of research funds must ensure women's progress in this field and serve to increase European society's potential for sustainable development.

5.6   Resource-efficient Europe


This initiative proposes to adopt and implement a revised Action Plan for Energy Efficiency and promote a comprehensive programme for the effective use of resources, support for SMEs and households, making use of the Structural Funds and other sources to harness new financing through existing and successful systems of innovative investment models, which will stimulate changes in consumption and production patterns.


Energy and the environment are not neutral topics: energy use, access to clean water, recycling, heat sources for heating and powering homes and respect for the environment and its conservation, are some examples of areas in which women play a key role. Changes in consumption patterns are unthinkable without drawing up specific measures based on a real understanding of the situation and which target different groups, primarily women, in different ways.


This was also recognised by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) is in its conclusions of June 2012, highlighting the essential role played by women in sustainable development. The EESC agrees with the view expressed in the Council's conclusions that women can have a key influence on decision-making concerning the environment, particularly with regard to climate change policy. This is a new opportunity for women, who can play a key role and improve their personal and financial situation by getting involved with the new and emerging green economy, which is a crucial sector for development and job creation.


At the corporate level, vertical discrimination in this sector remains high. Although 33 % of executive positions are now occupied by women, compared to 31 % in 2001; these are mostly in the trade and services sectors, with far fewer in manufacturing, construction and energy.


Very little research and information is available on gender-related matters and on the steps needed to increase the proportion of women in this process of sustainable development. The EESC believes that while investment is important, so is a focus on transcending stereotypes, providing solutions and promoting measures for positive action, since this is a growing sector and, if the starting point is discriminatory, there is a danger of heightening differences in social terms and of widening the social divide.


One of the priorities of the Strategy for equality is action within the EU's external relations, involving both cooperation programmes with neighbouring regions – as part of European neighbourhood policies – especially the Euromed region, and EU action in global forums. Immigrant women from non-EU countries, women migrating within the European Union and migrant women from neighbouring countries need to be given specific attention. The failure of Rio+20 in terms of sustainable development and women's rights is worrying. No progress at all has been made on critical issues such as the link between health and sexual and reproductive rights, women's rights to own property and inherit land, climate change and green jobs.

5.7   An industrial policy for the globalisation era


This flagship initiative has a key role to play in mainstreaming gender-related aspects in the Strategy for equality: pay transparency, equal pay initiatives and measures to encourage women to enter non-traditional professions are some of the key measures proposed in the strategy and which demonstrate appropriate synergies with this initiative.


In Europe, the pay gap between men and women stands on average at 17 %, ranging from 5 % to 31 % among the Member States. Underpinning this situation are a number of interlinked factors, such as: the lower value attached to work in sectors employing a high proportion of women, marked occupational segregation and career breaks taken for a variety of reasons, among others. The current crisis is simply worsening the situation.


The gap between the employment rate and pay has narrowed in some cases, but unfortunately this is not due to an increase in women's employment and wages, but to falling demand in sectors predominantly employing men (e.g. construction, manufacturing, finance), as a direct result of the crisis. The EESC notes that, under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, one of the objectives of the European venture is ‘improved living and working conditions, so as to make possible their harmonisation while the improvement is being maintained’ (16) and that this applies to everyone.


The Committee considers that measures to kick-start growth in these struggling sectors are necessary, in conjunction with measures to combat occupational segregation, especially to improve women's participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and also measures to improve the recognition of sectors employing a high proportion of women, such as domestic work, health services and care provision.

6.   The gender dimension in national reform plans and the European Semester


The European semester of policy coordination is the new instrument agreed on by the Member States to monitor implementation of Europe 2020. The European Pact for Gender Equality recommends applying a gender equality perspective and promoting gender equality policies when developing and implementing national reform programmes. It also urges the Commission and the Council to apply the gender perspective to the Annual Growth Survey, the Council conclusions and in the country-specific recommendations (CSR).


In April 2012, twelve Member States received country-specific recommendations incorporating a gender dimension in national action plans. The Commission suggested and the EESC supports specific reforms in the following areas: boosting the participation of women in the labour market; improving the availability and quality of childcare and schools open all day and care for the elderly, including caring for other dependents.


Most of the recommendations are intended to increase women's employment, but do not take into account the barriers to ensuring high-quality work in terms of pay and working conditions and bringing men's family responsibilities into line. Only one country, Austria, was given the recommendation to address the gender pay gap, despite the fact that this is still a reality in all Member States.


The EESC considers that some of the recommendations give cause for concern, as they could have an adverse effect on gender equality: those concerning pension reform; the proposals to revise pay and pensions review mechanisms; the rise in the retirement age without taking account of the years of healthy life and the proposal to introduce tax incentives for couples' second incomes.

Brussels, 17 January 2013.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  COM(2010) 2020 final, hereinafter referred to as ‘Europe 2020’.

(2)  COM(2010) 491 final, hereinafter referred to as the ‘Strategy for equality’.

(3)  OJ C 277, 17.11.2009, pp. 102-108.

(4)  OJ C 351, 15.11.2012, pp. 21-26.

(5)  EESC membership: 343 members, of whom 81 (23,6 %) are women. By group: Group I: 112 members, of whom 22 (22,1 %) are women, Group II: 120, of whom 32 (26,8 %) are women, Group III: 111 members, of whom 27 (24,3 %) are women.

(6)  COM(2006) 92 final and OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, pp. 1-7.

(7)  Gender mainstreaming: to make gender equality part of this dominant (mainstream) trend in society so that women and men benefit equally. It means looking at every step of policy – design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation – with the aim of promoting equality between women and men, European Commission, EQUAL Guide.

(8)  OJ C 155, 25.5.2011, p. 10-13.

(9)  OJ C 21, 21.1.2011, pp. 39-43.

(10)  OJ C 318, 23.12.2009, pp. 15-21.

(11)  Gender equality, economic growth and employment, Åsa Löfström


(12)  The EESC has adopted opinions on each of these.

(13)  OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, pp. 26-28

(14)  OJ C 143, 22.5.2012, pp. 88-93.

(15)  OJ C 318, 29.10.2011, pp. 9-18.

(16)  Article 151, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union