The European Economic and Social Committee held a plenary debate on the role of finance and public recovery policies in promoting gender equality and the economic empowerment of women in the EU. The discussion was linked to the adoption of two opinions: one on a gender-based approach to budgeting and investing and the other on how Member States can improve the way in which the direct and indirect measures proposed in their Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs) affect gender equality.
Gender mainstreaming involves integrating the gender perspective into policy making and action with a view to achieving gender equality. However, gender equality is still far from being a reality in Europe, especially when it comes to economic empowerment and access to venture capital and funding. Women constitute only 34.4% of self-employed workers and 30% of start-up entrepreneurs. All-male founded organisations receive almost 92% of all venture capital invested in Europe, while only 1% of early-stage funding goes to female-led companies.
We cannot afford to overlook women's potential in the post-pandemic recovery. Gender mainstreaming must become a reality in national recovery plans, as well as macroeconomic policy and global development, said EESC president Christa Schweng.
Female entrepreneurs are confronted with gender biases which prevent them from accessing financing, even though businesses with women in decision-making positions are proven to have better governance styles, encouraging diversity and innovative thinking.
Rapporteur María Nikolopoulou added that
gender equality is not only a women's issue: it benefits everyone. The participation of both women and men and of civil society organisations is crucial for detecting the areas that need to be addressed through the budget.
Eurofound Executive Director, Ivailo Kalfin, said that while the EU was moving in the right direction, the rate of progress was slowing down. Recent surveys show that only one in five people works in a gender-balanced environment. Kinga Stanislawska, founder of European Women in Venture Capital, stressed that the proportion of investment in female-led businesses had shrunk in 2021, and that only 1% of the hundred billion euro invested in start-ups went to female-led organisations.
Gender lens investing
The EESC is convinced that improving the position of female entrepreneurs when it comes to receiving funds and using appropriate financial and legislative instruments will have a positive multiplier effect, leading to better financial and social outcomes in the EU.
The financial aspect of gender equality remains a blind spot in EU policies. Even though gender lens investing and gender budgeting are gaining momentum among policy makers, there is still a lack of systemic focus. We need to ensure that our budgets and investments can benefit women and men equally, commented rapporteur Ody Neisingh.
The EESC insists that attracting female talent and improving women's career development within the financial and investment sector will make the current male-dominated culture more inclusive. Diversity of teams with a specific focus on women should be a criterion for receiving public funding, as this would inspire the recruitment and retention of female talent.
EU authorities and Member States should also use gender budgeting tools at every level of the budgetary process. A task force should be set up to incorporate a gender perspective into the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
Gender-based measures in RRPs
To benefit from Europe's biggest financial instrument supporting recovery, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), Member States had to submit Recovery and Resilience Plans. However, gender equality is largely absent from these plans, despite the legal requirement under the RRF for Member States to explain how they contribute to gender equality and equal opportunities for all.
Moreover, the RRF does not have a sufficient tracking methodology. In December last year, the Commission established fourteen common indicators for Member State reporting, four of which require the disaggregation of data by gender. However, if the Member States are not ready and willing to gather this data now, there will be no opportunity to collect it afterwards, and without this data we will not have any idea of how the RRF will affect gender equality.
EESC rapporteur Cinzia Del Rio added that
priority should be given to intensifying direct and indirect measures on gender equality when implementing RRPs. This requires targeted public policies, and clear and sustainable investment channels with medium- and long-term resource planning.
Among the direct measures promoting the employment of women, the EESC stresses that providing incentives for creating stable, quality jobs for women should be given priority over other temporary incentives. Indirect measures in the RRPs include investment in childcare and care services. The Committee believes that it is paramount to invest resources in services which help to reconcile working time and time spent on long-term care, to provide additional services, and to make these services available to low-income households.