The progress of gender equality in the Italian legislative framework was due mainly to the need to adopt European Union (EU) directives and to the use of European Funds during the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2006, the National Code of Equal Opportunities between Women and Men was established, with the view to regulating the promotion of equal opportunities between women and men in all areas of society. It organised and harmonised 11 laws on equal opportunities in a single text.
The strategic goal of gender mainstreaming was first foreseen in 1997 by the Directive Prodi-Finocchiaro, and reinforced two years later by the introduction of the first gender-mainstreaming operational tool (VISPO), which was fully developed during the 2000–2006 planning period. VISPO aimed at mainstreaming equal opportunities in regional programmes and facilitating the implementation of gender mainstreaming in the new programming period for use of Structural Funds.
Indeed, from 2000 onwards, gender-mainstreaming actions and activities have been coordinated through the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programmes. The Equal Opportunities Department is responsible for gender policy in Structural Fund planning, and coordinates and manages the complex framework set up at national and local levels to support equal opportunity policies.