Relevance of gender in the policy area

Young people are a priority of the European Union’s social vision. Youth policy arises from the recognition that young people are an important resource to society, who can be mobilised to achieve higher social goals. The EU approach acknowledges that youth policy – being cross-sectoral – cannot advance without effective coordination with other sectors, such as education or health. In turn, youth policies can contribute to delivering results in other areas, such as gender equality. The integration of gender concerns in youth policy is increasing, yet most research and policy documents are rarely concerned with gender differences and an explicit and clear gender perspective is still lacking.

Youth is the period between childhood and adulthood when young people undergo multiple transitions, establishing themselves as adults. The situation of young people is shaped by specific life events that occur during the transitional period of youth. For instance, it may be that a young person moves from being financially dependent to being in control of their own budget, from living in the family home to setting up their own household – maybe with a partner – from being in education to having a job, and from being a child to being responsible for their own children.

Across the EU, young people have been increasingly using more time for the transition to adulthood, as the pathways to the next phase of their lives become less standardised and more complex. There is a link between gender and the shift to adulthood – across all youth-to-adulthood transition events, women usually move to adulthood earlier than men.

Youth is typically defined as an age group, although the definition of ‘youth’ varies across EU Member States, with many of them overlapping and vaguely differentiating between children and youth. This diversity and lack of a concrete definition explains why the EU Youth strategy for 2010 – 2018 operates without an official definition for the specific period in life when a person is considered to be ‘young’. For statistical purposes, the EU considers young people to be aged 15 – 29 years of age, while children are categorised as being aged 0 – 14 years.

In 2014 there were 89 million young people between 15 and 29 years of age in the EU, and they accounted for 17.7% of the EU-28’s overall population. Against the background of an ageing society, the population of young people shrunk by 15 million in the decade between 1994 and 2014. In 2014 there were slightly more young men (aged 15 – 29) than there were young women ( 50.9% against 49.1% respectively).

Many young people in Europe experience challenges which prevent them from fully enjoying their human rights and accessing equal opportunities. In some cases, difficult experiences or situations are gender specific. In some areas, young women are disadvantaged, whereas in other areas young men experience higher risks and adverse effects. Indeed, girls and young women face several challenges. Although different performances in the labour market (employability, transition from education to work, unemployment) are the main issues of concern, many others are also present.

Young women are, for example, more likely to be affected by low pay and precarious employment as young mothers and lack adequate work-life balance measures.

Furthermore, some young women are at a particular disadvantage or at risk of discrimination in the labour market.

The youth sector as an area thus remains influenced by a set of gender inequalities:

  • gender differences in education and transition to employment
  • gender inequalities in access to the labour market
  • young families and care responsibilities.

Issues of gender inequality in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and International level

Policy cycle in youth

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Youth and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle.Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into youth policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in youth


The key milestones of the EU youth policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

There are 3 main references for current policy priorities at EU level in relation to youth and gender:

  1. An EU strategy for youth – Investing and empowering. A renewed open method of coordination to address youth challenges and opportunities
  2. Europe 2020
  3. EU strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth

These instruments provide a framework to tackle increased youth unemployment and raise awareness of the many difficulties young people face.

Specific programmes to help young people develop and contribute to building a sustainable society include:

  • Youth on the move
  • Erasmus+
  • Marie Curie

The Commission also encourages Member States and youth organisations to access European funds to create opportunities for young people. The overall aim of these programmes is to further develop formal education and traineeships and build entrepreneurial and apprenticeships skills. Furthermore, the majority of projects funded by the EU through the European social funds, the European regional development funds and PROGRESS focus on labour-market integration for young people by recognising non-formal learning, supporting youth work, stimulating entrepreneurship, improving information services and developing information and communications technology (ICT) skills. Groups of young people at risk of social exclusion and poverty or with special needs, such as immigrants, early school leavers and those with disabilities, are often targeted.

Youth on the move, the package of policy initiatives on education and employment for young people in Europe was launched in 2010 as part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It aims to improve young people’s education and employability, reduce high youth unemployment and increase the youth employment rate by:

  • making education and training more relevant to young people’s needs
  • encouraging more youth to take advantage of EU grants to study or train in another country
  • encouraging EU countries to take measures simplifying the transition from education to work

In 2010, the European Commission published a new political framework for youth in Europe, with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of European cooperation by establishing a strategy for 2010 – 2018. The objectives of this strategy are to create more and equal opportunities for all young people in education and in the labour market and to promote the active citizenship, social inclusion and solidarity of all young people.

To achieve these objectives, the EU proposed a dual approach, focusing on specific activities targeting young people in areas such as non-formal learning, participation, voluntary activities, youth work, mobility and information, as well as on mainstreaming initiatives aimed at enabling a cross-cultural approach found in other policy frameworks relative to youth. The work is primarily carried out by the youth in action/Erasmus+ programme, through the development of a framework for political cooperation and by increasing the visibility of youth and their organisations.

The EU’s strategy for youth 2010 – 2018, has 3 goals, each with their own field of action:

  1. Creating more opportunities for youth in education and employment
  • education
  • employment
  • creativity and entrepreneurship

      2.Improving access and full participation of all young people in society

  • health and sport
  • participation
  • social inclusion

      3.Fostering mutual solidarity between society and young people

  • volunteering
  • youth and the world

The strategy for youth underlines that youth policy cannot advance without effective coordination with other sectors, and as a consequence, youth policies can contribute to delivering results in other areas.

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