European Union (EU) Working and Action Programmes

Women with EU-Symbol on Paper.

European Union (EU) Working and Action Programmes

Gender Equality Policy

Anti-Discrimination Policy

Funding: Action and Programmes

Gender Equality Policy

The ‘Gender equality’ task area within the current EU Commission (2010–2014) is assigned to the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, and her Directorate-General. (It was previously assigned to the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.) This task area is an essential element of EU equality policy.

Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010–2015

The strategy builds on experience gained under the Roadmap for equality between women and men (2006–2010) and the consultation process implemented in 2009, and substantiates the principles and goals set out in the Women’s Charter.

In all, the aim of the strategy is to support greater utilisation of the potential offered by women in relation to EU economic and social goals as, for example, formulated in the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy.

The strategy represents a coordinated framework as regards the central instruments for strengthening gender equality within EU policy: legislation, policy coordination, funding programmes, partnerships and social and civil society dialogue. The planned initiatives pursue a dual strategy of gender mainstreaming and specific affirmative action.

The strategy measures are grouped into five priority areas:

  • the economy and the labour market,
  • equal pay,
  • equality in management,
  • efforts to combat gender-based violence, and
  • promotion of gender equality outside the EU.

The measures include the following:

  • increased employment of women to enable Europe to achieve its 2020 goal of a cross-gender employment rate of 75%;
  • promotion of targeted initiatives to bring more women into management positions in the economy;
  • promotion of female entrepreneurship and self-employment;
  • introduction of a European Equal Pay Day to increase awareness of the fact that women in the EU earn on average around 18% less than men;
  • cooperation between all member states to combat violence against women, particularly to conclusively stamp out genital mutilation of women in Europe and throughout the world; and
  • increased consideration of the role played by men in gender equality and the promotion of established procedures regarding gender roles in youth, education, culture and sport.

The Commission will also introduce an annual top-level Gender Equality Dialogue involving the European Parliament, the Council presidency, European social partners and civil society to discuss progress in terms of implementing the strategy.

Funding for the measures until 2013 will be provided through the existing programmes, such as PROGRESS, the ESF, the Seventh Research Framework Programme and Daphne. Funding for the measures after 2013 will be determined under the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework.

Actions to implement the Strategy for equality between women and men
Background document on the Strategy for equality between women and men

In April 2012 the first progress report on the new equality strategy was presented by the Commission. The document is part of a comprehensive report by the Commission on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and provides details of developments over recent years in the five key strategy areas at national and European level. Also highlighted is the fact that further efforts are needed within the scope of the Europe 2020 strategy to achieve a 75% employment rate, particularly in relation to improving reconciliation of work and private life. In addition, the report also demonstrates just how little progress has been achieved in terms of increased appointments of women to supervisory and management board positions.

In this respect, the Commission has now launched a public consultation on possible measures to be taken at EU level (Press Release and Consultation), and the Commissioner has in the meantime held out the prospect of a statutory quota.

See also: ‘Women in economic decision-making in the EU: Progress report’

The Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality has also presented an initial ‘Report on equality between women and men in the European Union’, which includes the following important criticisms and demands:

  • Fiscal consolidation without consideration of gender equality risks may cause setbacks in equality policy (particularly in the labour market: precarious working conditions, wider pay gaps and setbacks in relation to poverty and the reconciliation of work and family life); consequently, the Commission and member states are called upon ‘to assess the gender impact of the economic and financial crisis through gender impact assessments and subsequent gender budgeting measures’.
  • Economic recovery projects still focus mainly on male-dominated employment sectors; the member states and the Commission are called upon to ‘address gender equality in a consistent manner when implementing the EU 2020 Strategy and National Reform Programmes, and to give high priority to addressing barriers to women’s participation in the labour market’.
  • The Committee calls to propose legislation by 2012, including quotas, that is set to increase female representation in corporate management bodies to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020 if comprehensive evaluation of the existing steps taken by companies and the member states finds such representation to be inadequate.  
  • On-going negotiations on the EU Multiannual Financial Framework 2014–2020 should introduce gender-responsive budgeting in the EU budgetary process and guarantee predictability and no reduction in the level of EU funding for activities pertaining to women’s rights and gender equality.
  • Collection, analysis and publication of reliable gender-disaggregated data and qualitative gender indicators are needed to ensure proper evaluation and updating of the Commission’s Strategy for equality between women and men (2010–2015).

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Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men (so-called Roadmap to Gender Equality, 2006–2010)

The Roadmap was the predecessor to the current equality strategy and outlined six priority areas, each attributed with overriding objectives and actions (21 in all):

  • equal economic independence for women and men,
  • reconciliation of work and family life,
  • equal representation in decision-making,
  • eradication of all forms of gender-based violence,
  • elimination of gender stereotypes, and  
  • promotion of gender equality in external and development policies.

The ‘Roadmap’ was based on the experience gained from the framework strategy for equality between women and men for the period 2001–2005; it combined new initiatives with existing successful activities and reaffirmed the dual approach of gender mainstreaming and specific measures.

However, actions proposed under the Roadmap remain very general. Firm initiatives, legislative proposals and even calls for nation states to ensure effective implementation were lacking in most cases. One proposal set out in the Roadmap was the establishment of a European Institute for Gender Equality, which, following a protracted implementation period, officially opened in June 2010.

Implementation was substantiated in annual working programmes. In 2008, an implementation report on the Roadmap – the so-called midterm progress report – was submitted. This report concluded that action was still required – particularly in the areas of pay equality, job quality, independence of women, social protection, migration policy, parental leave and child care, violence against women, human trafficking and external policy – and called for the integration of gender equality especially within the scope of a new social agenda.
An evaluation of the Roadmap was carried out upon its conclusion and then developed as a follow-up strategy into the Strategy for equality between women and men (2010–2015).
The subsequent assessment by the Parliament (based on the May 2010 report by the Standing Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality) concluded that the Roadmap had indeed highlighted gaps in achieving true gender equality and that, although gender equality has been improved in certain areas, a lack of political will has resulted in insufficient overall progress. It also concluded that even this limited progress is now being jeopardised, above all by the economic and financial crisis. Consequently, in addition to a sounder financial and institutional footing, the Parliament also called for a clear action agenda for the follow-up strategy that specifically stipulates further implementation measures.

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European Pact for Gender Equality

In line with the Roadmap, the European Pact for Gender Equality, approved by the European Council in March 2006 following an initiative from Sweden, demonstrates the member states’ determination to implement measures promoting gender equality.

The pact re-engages the issue of gender equality embodied within the Lisbon strategy and objectives. Within the scope of the strategy for growth and development, it primarily aims to promote gender equality and the closing of gender gaps in the labour market, the improvement of childcare provision and care work in general, and ongoing consideration of gender equality perspectives.

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Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001–2005)

The framework strategy was the predecessor to the Roadmap for equality. Gender mainstreaming formed the focus of deliberations giving rise to the framework strategy, which centred on the gender mainstreaming obligations set out in the Amsterdam Treaty and identified five primary areas in which to promote equality, namely, economic life, decision-making processes, social rights, civil life and changing gender roles and stereotypes. The strategy also pursued two strategic objectives, namely, the incorporation of equality between women and men in the EU’s external relations (including development) and within the enlargement process (when new countries join the Union).

Based on the framework strategy, annual equal treatment working programmes represented the Commission’s planned activities for the promotion of equal treatment in all policy areas. The working programmes were jointly prepared by all of the Commission’s departments.

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Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming was listed as a concept and strategy of the EU in the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and was further consolidated in the European Commission’s Framework Strategy on Gender Equality 2001–2005. The aim of gender mainstreaming is to ensure that equality between women and men is incorporated in all EU policy areas and activities and within all phases of the policy process, namely, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The gender mainstreaming concept requires a constant assessment of policy measures to determine how they have an impact on the lives of women and men, with appropriate re-evaluation undertaken as necessary.

Central gender mainstreaming policy areas in the EU were previously, and still remain:
employment/job markets, pay gaps, representation/participation in decision-making processes, reconciliation of work and private life, social integration/security, structural funds, female migrants, the role of men (equality), education (general, vocational), women in science, gender budgeting, development cooperation, international gender equality policy, and violence against women/trafficking of women.

The Parliament – particularly the Standing Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – has called for intensified realisation of gender mainstreaming in all EU policy areas, especially in relation to the EU’s new gender equality strategy, together with the preparation and propagation of relevant instruments and indicators. More consistent implementation of gender mainstreaming is demanded, above all, in relation to EU economic and external policy (e.g. EU 2020, European External Action Service). The new strategy responds to these calls in its setting of priorities. Moreover, the strategy also asserts that gender mainstreaming ‘will be implemented as an integral part of the Commission’s policymaking, including via the impact assessment and evaluation processes.’

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Europe 2020 Strategy

The ‘Europe 2020’ strategy is the EU’s new strategy for growth and employment (Council decision June 2010) aimed at ensuring a higher level of employment and productivity as well as combating poverty and social exclusion. The strategy formulates three priorities (smart, sustainable and inclusive growth), five headline targets (innovation, education, climate protection, employment and social cohesion) and seven flagship initiatives (skills/jobs, platform against poverty, innovation, jobs for young people, a digital agenda for Europe, resource efficiency and industrial policy).

To date, questions of gender equality policy have been afforded a somewhat subordinate role within the strategy. The strategy states the need to promote gender equality in terms of labour participation, economic growth and social cohesion. It also formulates a specific target employment rate of 75% for women and men, which is primarily to be achieved through greater involvement of women and older workers and migrants. In addition, the member states are called upon to take action to improve the reconciliation of work and family life and promote active ageing policies.

In relation to the goal of combating poverty and improving social integration, gender equality is addressed in terms of the need to support social groups at particular risk or disadvantage and to eliminate discrimination – with disabled persons, migrants, single-parent families, older women, minorities, Roma and the homeless listed as such groups.

The European Parliament (taking its lead from FEMM, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality) deplores the unsatisfactory way in which gender mainstreaming has been handled under the strategy and is calling for the gender equality dimension to be systematically presented within the strategy. In particular, it calls for the inclusion of a ‘specific gender chapter, mechanisms for gender mainstreaming and targets for female employment coupled with indicators of economic independence’ as well as a strategy that ‘tak[es] into account both the effects of the current social and economic crisis on women and the role of women in an ageing society’. The Committee has again emphasised these requirements in its latest progress report on the equality strategy.

Formulated as a key action under the core theme ‘equal economic independence’, the current strategy for equality states that the Commission will ‘support the promotion of gender equality in the implementation of all aspects and flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy’, especially in terms of technical support, the structural funds, major funding programmes, employment guidelines and national employment policies. 

Further Links on Gender Equality Policy


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Anti-Discrimination Policy

The ‘Tackling discrimination’ task area within the current EU Commission (2010–2014) is assigned to the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, and her Directorate-General. (It was previously assigned to the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.) This task area is an essential element of EU anti-discrimination policy.

Social Agenda (2008)

Drawing on implementation of the Framework Strategy against Discrimination and the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, in July 2008 the EU Commission adopted a ‘non-discrimination package’ within the scope of its renewed social agenda. The package encompasses

  • a proposal for a new directive on equal treatment prohibiting discrimination outside the employment sphere on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief;
  • a communication for action against discrimination that, in addition to improved legislative protection and enforcement, also defines an active strategy to promote non-discrimination and equal opportunities, thereby particularly highlighting more effective use of the available instruments;
  • a Commission decision creating a non-discrimination governmental experts group; and
  • a working paper on EU instruments and policies for Roma inclusion.

As such, the renewed social agenda represents the EU’s current policy framework on anti-discrimination. Overall, in the face of current economic and social challenges the social agenda strives to enhance equal opportunities for EU citizens, improve access to high-quality services and strengthen solidarity with those ‘disadvantaged’ by change. In addition to combating discrimination and promoting gender equality, the agenda sets out six further priorities, namely, children and youth, jobs and skills, mobility, health, combating poverty and social exclusion, and fostering global opportunities and solidarity. Implementation of the agenda is to be achieved through a mixture of diverse policy instruments, including non-discrimination mainstreaming or, in other words, ‘ensuring that all EU policies promote opportunities, access and solidarity’.

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Framework Strategy for Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunities for All 

As a political framework for anti-discrimination policy, a precursor to the social agenda was the framework strategy for non-discrimination. The result of comprehensive open consultation in 2004 on the basis of the Commission’s green paper on ‘equality and non-discrimination in an enlarged European Union (EU)’, the aims of the strategy focused on effectively combating discrimination, projecting diversity as a positive value and promoting equal opportunities. Overall, it aimed to ensure comprehensive application and enforcement of the EU’s anti-discrimination provisions, while also examining the further options – extending beyond legal protection – available to the EU in the fight against discrimination.

The core of the strategy for non-discrimination was the designation of 2007 as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

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European Year of Equal Opportunities for All 2007

The aim of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All was to increase awareness amongst European Union citizens as regards their rights in terms of equal treatment, to promote equal opportunities for all in various areas of life and to propagate diversity as a benefit and important factor for the European Union.

Allocated a total budget of 15 million euros, various activities were organised at local, regional and national level throughout the European Union. At a pan-European level these included:

  • a ‘summit on equality’ (as well as further annual equality summits in the following years),
  • a survey on European citizens’ attitudes to discrimination and
  • an EU-wide information campaign on EU policy and legislation to combat discrimination.

Just one aspect of many addressed by the Year of Equal Opportunities, gender equality was not afforded particular priority, but also was not neglected. In the opinion of many, the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities and the framework strategy for non-discrimination represented a move on the part of the Commission towards a diversity policy that does not – with the exception of legislation – comprehensively highlight gender equality in the member states. This policy of equal opportunities appears to have been extremely well received, suggesting a general shift in policy emphasis in some member states away from gender equality and more in the direction of equality and diversity.

In the view of the Commission, this approach has succeeded in placing a greater emphasis on multiple forms of discrimination and viewing gender more as a source of discrimination in relation to other categories of discrimination. The majority of actions during the year focused on race/ethnic identity (61%) and gender (62%) as sources of discrimination. Above all, women from minority groups and older women were afforded greater attention than in the past. Greater consideration was also devoted, in particular, to age and sexual orientation as sources of discrimination, and awareness of discrimination against Roma in the EU also increased.

The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All was also subjected to external evaluation in order to assess its success at both the pan-EU level and within the member states. In addition to the final evaluation report, four thematic reports were compiled on the aspects of race/ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation and gender mainstreaming. The latter report concluded that, although there was a willingness to consider gender mainstreaming at the various action levels, the practical implementation of gender mainstreaming in the actions undertaken was somewhat unsatisfactory. It also concluded that, in future, more practical help needs to be provided by the EU to ensure that gender mainstreaming is consistently implemented.

Further links to European Year of Equal Opportunities for All 2007:

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Anti-Discrimination Action Programme (2001–2006)

As a predecessor to the framework strategy and the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, the action programme placed particular emphasis on ensuring that disadvantaged groups were included in the implementation of the programme. The aim was to support activities designed to combat discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, age, or sexual orientation, thereby contributing to one of the following three core objectives:

  • promote a better understanding of the problems of discrimination through analysis and evaluation,
  • develop active capabilities to combat and prevent discrimination by creating and strengthening dialogue between the various organisations involved, and
  • promote fundamental values for combating discrimination through awareness-raising actions.

The European Commission actively cooperated with member states and civil society to realise the aims of the action programme and also held regular meetings with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and employers’ organisations for the purpose of shaping, implementing and evaluating the programme. Member states provided representatives for a consultative committee directed by the Commission, which in turn supported the Commission in drafting guidelines on programme budgeting and implementation.

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For Diversity. Against Discrimination’ Information Campaign

Launched back in 2003 by the EU Commission (Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities), the campaign aims to increase awareness of discrimination and enhance understanding of EU legislation in this area. It also strives to generate debate on the themes of diversity and discrimination and, in particular, on how people in Europe stand to gain from greater equality. Through its activities, the campaign works to convey the message to as many people as possible that a diverse Europe is something to be valued, and that a life free from discrimination is a fundamental right in the EU. In addition, it aims to empower people to combat discrimination wherever they are confronted by it in their daily lives. Gender as a source of discrimination is explicitly not a part of the campaign’s measures.
A comprehensive website with information and materials for the general public in all EU languages forms part of the campaign. As part of the campaign, a number of films, images and publications have been produced which are also available to support action undertaken in the member states. Regular activities encompassed by the campaign include poster campaigns with annually alternating themes, the presentation of the EU Journalist Award – Together Against Discrimination!, and the organisation of Diversity Days in various EU member states.

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Diversity Management/Diversity Charters

The EU Commission has funded a series of national anti-discrimination and diversity management training seminars, which have been carried out in all EU member states, Turkey, Norway and Iceland. Around fourteen hundred participants from non-governmental organisations and trade unions and over one thousand companies and other interested groups have taken part in these training initiatives.

The most important instruments of the training seminars have been summarised and published in training manuals available in all EU languages (NGO Training Manual and Diversity Management Training Manual. Accounts of the experience gained and the results of training initiatives in the individual countries are available in national reports.

To entrench diversity management to a greater extent within companies, the EU Commission also implemented, in addition to various training seminars, further measures between 2005 and 2009, such as

  • the 2005 study ‘The business case for diversity: Good practices in the workplace’ (a survey of 800 companies),
  • the 2008 study ‘Continuing the diversity journey – business practices, perspectives and benefits’ and
  • the 2009 focus on SMEs (guide for SMEs entitled ‘Diversity at work’).

At present, the Commission is primarily focusing on the ‘Diversity Charter’ as an instrument as well as the pan-European networking of charter protagonists. The aim of the diversity charters is to encourage more companies to develop and implement diversity management initiatives. A diversity charter engages companies or public amenities in recognising and appreciating the diversity of their employees and the associated potential, while committing to the implementation of measures to promote diversity and equal opportunities within the workplace.
To further support voluntary initiatives promoting diversity management in the workplace, an EU-funded project aimed at launching and maintaining a platform for EU-level exchange between the signatories to the diversity charter in Europe is currently being implemented. The project focuses on the following:

  • providing support for voluntary initiatives,
  • building understanding of what is involved for enterprises,
  • increasing awareness of the business benefits to be gained, and
  • coordinating the various diversity initiatives within the EU.

Further links on anti-discrimination policy:

EU Commission study ‘Trade union practices on anti-discrimination and diversity’

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Funding: Actions and Programmes

At present, the Commission primarily funds gender equality policy activities through the PROGRESS programme (2007–2013), which has a budget of over 700 million euros. Additional funding for both the Roadmap and other EU gender equality activities is also provided by the structural funds and by the financial programmes for various policy areas.

PROGRESS (2007–2013)
PROGRESS is the programme devoted to employment and social solidarity in the EU. It was created to provide financial support in terms of achieving the objectives of the European Union in relation to employment, social equality and equal opportunities as determined in the social agenda. PROGRESS also provides support for implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy.

Gender equality is one of five areas targeted by the action programme; it has a budget of approximately 50.3 million euros spread over a period of seven years. An additional target area is combating discrimination, with the other areas being employment, social inclusion and social protection, and working conditions.

PROGRESS provides funding for measures devoted to strategy development on a national level, the pan-EU exchange of information and experiences, improvement of legal implementation, raising awareness, analysis, evaluation and capacity building (networking and policy transfer). Financial support is also given to European networks that promote gender equality and work in the realm of anti-discrimination.

Within the scope of the PROGRESS programme, the Commission has run three calls for proposals on projects to improve gender mainstreaming in national policies and programmes. Support is offered for projects that raise awareness of the importance of gender mainstreaming, improve knowledge of key concepts, and develop and disseminate relevant methods and tools. To date, a total of 31 projects have been backed in this field (List of projects supported and current working programme).

Further PROGRESS-funded measures relating to gender equality:

  • Report ‘Non-legislative initiatives for companies to promote gender equality at the workplace’
  • Initiative ‘Raising the awareness of companies about combating gender stereotypes’

Information and downloads

Various programme publications (e.g. annual reports) and the ‘Mid-term evaluation of PROGRESS’.

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European Social Fund (ESF) – Transnational Projects and Networks

To date, the EQUAL initiative has been the ESF’s vehicle for supporting transnational and innovative actions, including those relating to gender equality and anti-discrimination policy. Throughout the 2007–2013 programming period, the ESF will be applying the experience gained under the EQUAL initiative to all areas of ESF intervention, during which time it is estimated that approximately 4% of the total ESF budget (3 billion euros) will be devoted to transnational cooperation.

Four methods of cooperation – between public organisations as well as NGOs and companies – are primarily supported:

  • cooperation between projects in the various member states,
  • cooperation between national networks with a thematic focus,
  • cooperation between organisations and regional partnerships, and
  • partnerships between national organisations, such as ESF-managing authorities.

Transnational cooperation themes relating to gender equality and anti-discrimination include

  • improving the social inclusion of disadvantaged people, in part by combating discrimination and promoting diversity in the workplace;
  • improving women’s access to work and reconciliation of work and family life;
  • supporting lifelong learning for workers through the promotion of enterprise and innovation;
  • strengthening human capital, including reform of education systems and action to promote participation in general and vocational training.

Gender equality and anti-discrimination measures outside transnational cooperation are also promoted through the ESF task areas ‘Women and jobs’ and ‘Fighting discrimination’.


  • Women and jobs: This area focuses on specific actions to sustainably integrate women within the labour market and eliminate pay differentials, with the aim of increasing the employment participation rate of women to 60% by 2010. This task area also embraces the promotion of female entrepreneurs, women in management positions, reconciliation of work and family life, and actions to work against gender-stereotyped career selection and connotations, with migrants afforded particular emphasis as a target group in this respect.
  • Fighting discrimination: This area promotes activities designed to create pathways to re-entry and reintegration into employment for groups suffering from discrimination, to build acceptance of diversity in the workplace in order to combat discrimination and raise awareness, to encourage support for active ageing and the reintegration of older workers, and to increase the participation of migrants in employment and thereby strengthen their social integration.

Further information on Gender Equality in the European Social Fund 2007–2013

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EQUAL Initiative (2000–2006) 

The EQUAL initiative organised within the scope of the ESF was an important source of funding for gender equality policy in relation to employment. EQUAL ran during the period 2000–2006 and was allocated a total budget of over three billion euros, which was supplemented by national funding. As such, it was one of the EU’s primary instruments dedicated to promoting a balanced labour market. Support for equality between women and men was integrated within the various programme areas and also was specifically addressed through targeted actions.


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EU Daphne Programme

Daphne is an important instrument in combating violence against women. The programme provides funding primarily to NGOs involved in helping victims of violence or implementing actions to combat violence.

Currently (2007–2013), within the scope of Daphne III, measures to prevent and combat violence against women, young people and children are being supported with funding totalling over 115 million euros. Action grants for each individual project range between 75,000 and 200,000 euros for a period of twelve months, whereby Commission funding may constitute up to 80% of eligible project costs.

Priorities for 2011 were the rights of victims of violence, violence linked to harmful practices (e.g. female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour killings), children as victims and perpetrators of violence, and media violence (particularly violence linked to new technology and social networks).

Predecessors to Daphne III were the programmes Daphne I (1997–2003) and Daphne II (2004–2008).

The Daphne Toolkit is an online tool made available by the Commission that documents projects supported by the programme to date (results, impacts) and at the same time provides help in planning new projects, in particular as a networking tool for potential project partners.

Links to Daphne:

Action to prevent violence against children, young people and women: The Daphne II programme (2004–2008)