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Gender Equality Plans in the Private and Public Sectors in the European Union

June 26th 2017

This study aims to map existing Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) in the public and private sectors in the EU Member States, as far as data are available. It aims to analyse how GEPs have both impacted and are impacting the economic situation of women in the EU, analyses national legislation and collective agreements in connection with GEPs, analyses the impact of the crisis and subsequent austerity on GEPs and, more in-depth, analyses the substance and impact of GEPs in the private and public sectors in two Member States, Austria and Spain.


Gender mainstreaming has been adopted as the European level strategy to promote equality between women and men, and to combat gender discrimination. It involves integrating a gender perspective into the preparation, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policy making (policies, regulatory measures, and spending programmes).

The goal of gender mainstreaming is the transformation of unequal social and institutional structures and organisations into equal and fair structures for both men and women.

Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) and Gender Action Plans can be defined as strategic and tailored initiatives meant to define the legal framework and the operational conditions to implement gender mainstreaming and put them into practice at the workplace. They are characterised by the identification of a set of strategic actions meant to reach, in a defined length of time, expected results in terms of gender equality.

GEPs and Gender Action Plans may have a legal basis (required by national or regional laws) or be required by collective agreements (as the product of collective bargaining processes at national, local, or firm level), or more simply they can be individual initiatives at organisational level. They may be applied in both the public and the private sector. For the private sector, they may involve only one firm or, when they are envisaged by collective agreements, they might regard more organisations or even the entire sector, mirroring the scope of application of the collective agreement. Similarly, in the public sector, they may involve a particular organisation or different governance levels (country, regional, and local).

In their most effective versions, GEPs include tailored indicators for measuring success and foresee the implementation of specific training on gender competences to ensure adequate follow-up of the plan.

In the specific context of research organisations and higher education institutions, the European Commission promotes the adoption of GEPs by research performing organisations and research funding organisations and defines a GEP as a set of actions.


A high variability in scope of the mapped typologies of GEPs has been found. Variability relates to the type of work organisation in which the GEPs are expected to be implemented, the institutional context in which the regulation on GEPs has been drafted, the disciplines addressed, or the type of gender biases to address.

According to the definition of the European Institute for Gender Equality, a GEP can be broken up into different steps or phases, each requiring specific types of interventions: an analysis phase including gender disaggregated data collection/analysis and procedures, processes and practices for gender assessment; a planning phase, where objectives are defined, targets are set, actions and measures are planned, resources and responsibilities are attributed and timelines are agreed upon; an implementation phase, in which activities are implemented and outreach efforts are undertaken; and a monitoring phase, in which the process and the progress are regularly followed through and assessed.

In most successful cases, GEPs include monitoring and evaluation processes to measure progress and impact. Typically, indicators adopted in GEPs may be both quantitative and qualitative. The former are aimed at assessing the impact of adopted measures, the latter are aimed at assessing the strategic impact of the plan and the institutional changes that cannot be gauged by quantitative measurement.

In many GEPs, a lack of a detailed monitoring/evaluation process, including the absence of specific quantitative/qualitative indicators, has to be signalled, hindering the assessment of their effective impact from an external perspective.

The main weaknesses identified are the difficulty encountered in designing and implementing monitoring/evaluation processes and the difficulty in obtaining cross-country comparable data for similar indicators. This is the reason why for many GEPs it is difficult to assess the actual impact.

The mapping exercise has also shown that every EU Member State has adopted different approaches in their gender equality legal frameworks in accordance with the EU directives. As a result, GEPs may present different scopes. In some cases, there are specific laws that promote the adoption of GEPs and/or their adoption is supported by action plans and national programmes. In a very limited number of cases, tripartite bodies are put in place to support the adoption of GEPs in working organisations and/or to monitor the respect of antidiscrimination laws. Notable is a tripartite commission existing in Portugal.

Most GEPs are aimed at increasing the participation of women in employment and at decreasing the gender pay gap by annual/biennial/triennial obligatory reporting. In terms of the impact of GEPs on the economic situation of women in the EU, the overall picture of Europe shows that this impact is very hard to gauge at a macro level although some positive results have emerged at micro level.

An important element that contributes to the existing difficulties in detecting the concrete changes related to the implementation of GEPs is the absence of adequate reporting, monitoring, and assessment tools/reports in most of the cases. In particular, except in a few cases, often neither quantitative nor qualitative indicators are properly operationalised in GEPs. This hinders impact assessment and comparison across evaluations.

The economic crisis has had a direct impact on gender equality and indirect effects on GEPs. Direct impact of the crisis on gender equality consisted in an initial reduction of gender differences in all relevant indicators for employment, unemployment, wages, and poverty due to a worsening of the situation of men. Then the situation of women worsened due to the retrenchments in public administration and welfare benefits and other provisions worsening the conditions for women.

The economic crisis has had indirect effects on GEPs, as gender equality has been rarely taken into account in anti-crisis measures. Gender equality has been downgraded as objective and only some countries have introduced innovations in the field of gender equality (in particular some Eastern European countries).

This research paper was requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and commissioned, overseen and published by the Policy Department for Citizen’s Rights and Constitutional Affairs.