10 November 2020
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Summary of the #EURegionsWeekUniversity session: Applying a gender lens to Cohesion Policy: What framework for equal opportunities?

Image - Summary of the #EURegionsWeekUniversity session: Applying a gender lens to Cohesion Policy: What framework for equal opportunities?



Daniela Carl, Regional Studies Association, United Kingdom.
Leaza McSorley, Professor of Enterprise, University of Sunderland, United Kingdom.

Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado, Professor of Urban and Spatial Planning and researcher, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain.
Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, Freelance consultant, Freelance consultant, Germany.
Manuela Samek-Lodovici, Head of the Labour Market Research Unit, Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale, Italy.


The Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) introduced the concept of gender mainstreaming within the EU Treaty.  This new approach to equal opportunities included multiple new provisions strengthening EU competence in this policy area. As a result, from that moment on, the gender perspective started to be integrated within many policy fields where the EU was politically active. Today, 20 years after the adoption of the gender mainstreaming approach in the Treaty, the current level of implementation in the different policy areas is highly heterogeneous: some have integrated this vision, while others are still starting this process.

From the observation of this scene, this University Session focused its attention on one of the most relevant and transformative instruments of the EU policy: Cohesion Policy.  This is because the promotion of equality between men and women and non-discrimination are inseparable elements of the Cohesion Policy main objectives. Article 7 of the CPR states that the Member States and the Commission shall ensure that equality between men and women and the integration of gender perspective are taken into account and promoted throughout the preparation and implementation of policy programmes, including monitoring, reporting and evaluation.  But how is gender being mainstreamed within Cohesion Policy?

This question is particularly important and timely in a period in which the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) of the EU and the Next Generation Europe are being designed.  To address it, this University Session created a framework in which stakeholders interested and working on this crucial policy issue (speakers and attendees) reflected together around a collaborative session.  For that the presentations by the speakers were followed by a conversation animated by the two moderators (Leaza McSorley and Daniela Carl).

The session started with an introduction by Leaza McSorley setting out the opportunities and challenges for gender mainstreaming as a policy tool in supporting the economic and social objectives of Cohesion Policy.  It was followed by three complementary presentations that covered different topics, scales and policy areas from a gender perspective.

The first presentation, entitled  “The gender dimension in Cohesion Policy 2014-2020” by Manuela Samek, Director at IRS-Istituto per la Ricerca Sociale, shed light on how the gender dimension has been integrated in the general framework of Cohesion Policy during the period 2014-2020. Recognizing the relevance of ESI Funds as main financing source for regional development in the EU (they account for 45% of the MFF), and that they are a relevant financial support for gender equality as the gender mainstreaming principle is rather robust in the Funds regulations for 2014-2020, the study developed by IRS identifies a number of policy gaps and critical problems that reduce the capacity of ESI Funds to advance gender equality.  The main ones are the gap between formal statements and actual policy implementation, in which gender equality is often considered only as a formal and horizontal principle, and not a core aspect of Cohesion Policy.  This has resulted in a very limited perspective in ERDF actions planned and implemented.  Another important gap is the weak political commitment to gender equality.

The second presentation The gender perspective in the urban dimension of Cohesion Policy” by Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado, Professor of urban and spatial planning in Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, focused on one of the dimensions of Cohesion Policy: the urban dimension, showing how the gender perspective has been integrated in the Urban Acquis of the EU, the discursive urban agenda that has set the route map for sustainable urban development through the use of the ERDF and the ESF in European cities from the 1990s to the present.  The study departs from the evidence that integrating the gender perspective in urban policies has the capacity to improve the everyday-life of all citizens, showing that urban environments determine importantly our quality of life.  Addressing this is particularly important for those that in our society develop the care work (mainly women), as they face daily the so-called double work load (professional work+care work).  This is a relevant issue that, if integrated in the urban dimension of Cohesion Policy could have a transformative effect in European society.  Nevertheless, the study shows that the gender perspective has not been integrated in the policy documents that guide the urban policy of the EU, limiting and biasing the way in which gender has been mainstreamed in the policy instruments and reducing importantly the mentioned potential.

Finally the third presentation “Gender mainstreaming in urban policies: Insights from the URBACT Gendered Landscape Action Planning Network” by Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, Lead expert for the URBACT GenderedLandscape Action Planning Network, focused on the capacity of one of the specific instruments of the urban dimension of Cohesion Policy (URBACT) to give place to local action plans that integrate the gender dimension in urban planning and urbanism in EU cities.  The presentation departed from two main points: i) gender equality as a crosscutting priority of the Urban Agenda for the EU; ii) gender equality touches on all eleven thematic objectives of ESIF for the period 2014-2020.  Recognizing the lack of political commitment and priority, as well as a lack of holistic understanding of the issue, the presentation showed the framework created by this new URBACT network to make gender a holistic principle of urban development, and to translate this understanding to specific cities.

The presentations and the discussion that followed gave place to a number of policy recommendations to be integrated in the post 2020 CP and in the Next Generation Europe:

  • Include a Gender Equality objective in all the post-2020 OPs, requiring the integration of GE into all the programmes’ planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation phases
  • Enforce compliance with specific obligations and binding guidelines (e.g. in selection criteria, monitoring systems, evaluations)
  • Enhance the capacity of all the Cohesion Policy actors in implementing gender mainstreaming, with gender related concrete tools and guidelines, knowledge sharing, technical assistance and training
  • Ensure the effective involvement of Gender Equality bodies and organisations in all programs’ phases and set up specific governance systems for the coordination and monitoring of gender mainstreaming.
  • Closely monitor and evaluate the implementation of the dual strategy envisaged in OPs and the gender effects of all interventions
  • Maintain the ex-ante conditionality on the presence of a national GE strategy to underpin Cohesion Policy interventions
  • Show political support from the European Commission (DGs) to enhance the adoption of gender mainstreaming in the different dimensions of Cohesion Policy. Awareness- raising at policy-making level.
  • Ensure a strong political commitment to gender equality at EU, national and regional level.
  • Training and awareness-raising on gender issues for relevant actors in the design, implementation and evaluation of Cohesion Policy instruments at all levels (EU, Member states, regional, municipal, etc.).
  • Integration of experts on gender in the most relevant steps of the policy development and instruments implementation (multi-level) to avoid bias.
  • Consider “gender” a driver to enhance innovation and sustainability in the CP programmes.

All this is considered particularly significant in the current framework, in which Cohesion Policy for the post 2020 period is being defined.  Introducing the gender perspective adequately, avoiding biases in the whole policy process of future instruments, emerges as fair and necessary but also as a powerful transformative driver towards social and economic cohesion in the EU.


Quotes from speakers:

Manuela Samek:

 “Why Cohesion Policy should address gender equality? The reason is that there is strong evidence that gender equality is crucial for social and economic development and for reducing social-economic and territorial equality.  It is crucial for development”.

“Although Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes declare to observe the principle of gender equality, a number of gap between formal statements and actual implementation: the gender perspective is particularly limited in the ERDF action.  It is particularly because there is a lack of awareness and knowledge on how to implement gender mainstreaming among the bodies in charge of Cohesion Funds and projects applicants”.

Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado:

“There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that the adoption of the gender perspective in urban policies results in urban areas that sustain better the needs of all citizens regardless any factor of difference.

Cohesion Policy has a great potential to integrate the gender dimension in the urban programmes sustained by ESIF if it introduces the gender perspective among the policy principles that guide the design of this programmes at local level.  This big potential is not being used in the present, but it is crucial to activate it in the future MFF, The Resilience and Recovery Fund, and in the Next Generation Europe to advance to social cohesion and equal opportunities among men and women in the EU”.

Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse

“There are three main challenges and gaps between high level policy and local implementation:  i) Wealth of legislation but scarcity of implementation plans; ii) Lack of political commitment and implementation at local governance level (lack of vertical policy integration); ii) funding is there, but it is not allocated because gender is not seen as a central topic; iv) lack of knowledge & tools on local level”

 “Gender is at the center of the debate but is at the margins of policy-making.  (…)It is everywhere and yet also nowhere”. “Gender is considered as “extra” or “additional” aspect, separate from other issues”


The #EURegionsWeekUniversity Webinar Series was organised by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), advised by the Regional Studies Association European Foundation (RSA Europe), and with the cooperation of the European Regional Science Association (ERSA) and the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP).

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