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Posted on August 30, 2021

The RRF was created to repair the damage created by the Covid-19 pandemic but also aims to help Member States reduce social inequalities. S-Com within the WISE4Challenges project carried out a series of interviews with MEPs and a questionnaire on this topic. During the debate we will see how the 3 countries involved in the project (IT-BE-SP) are responding.

This event is part of the Conference on the Future of Europe:

We invite you to read the Conference Charter.



Panel 1: National plans: Belgium, Italy and Spain

Many of you will be aware that the RRF is a tool designed to support member states in their post covid 19 recovery, focusing on digitalization, sustainability and inclusiveness to ensure a more resilient Europe in the coming years.

With the WISE4Challenges project, S-Com wanted to focus on women’s participation to shed light on how this tool can help reduce social inequalities. For this reason, on 8 September we organised an online debate on Recovery and Resilience facilities. This debate was attended by Members of Parliament: Alessandra Moretti, Pina Picierno, Sara Matthieu and Lina Galvez Munoz. Moderating this panel was Rolf Falter from DG Comm of the European Parliament Belgian office who immediately introduced the topic by asking a specific question to the MEPs: are you sure the RRF will reduce the inequalities inside EU member states? And if not, what could be done to change this?

The first to respond was Alessandra Moretti (Italian, S&D) “according to EU guidelines a great part of the funds must be used my Member State for digital transformation and ecological transition, the same guidelines tells that the National Recovery and Resilience plans of each State has to include measures for equal opportunities, inclusive education, fair working conditions adequate social protection and gender equality.” In the past months together with S&D group they have proposed to introduce the obligation, for each member state, of preserving at least 37% of the expenses for gender equality. In Italy there is a specific need to improve the childcare services and adult training in all regions.

The second intervention was made by  Pina Picierno, (Italian, S&D) who reinforced the speech already introduced by Alessandra Moretti by emphasising another very important issue for Italy: the territorial gap. “In no other country in Europe, except Germany in the 1990s, there is such a deep gap between different geographical areas of the same country. This is not the time of course to analyse the secular causes of this gap, which have their roots from Italy’s unification, but it suffice to say that the south of Italy has about one third of the total population, 34% to be precise, but it produces a GDP of barely a fifth of the country, about 20%, and consequently records a serious delay in the material and social infrastructures, making it one of the most underdeveloped macro-regions in Europe.” Another huge topic is the rate of unemployed women due to care needs is 35,7% as opposed to the European average is 31,8. This discouraging percentage is partially due to the bad condition of public services for children healthcare in the south of Italy, where is also very difficult to affirm that family care is, in fact, a job. A budget of 4.6 billion has been indicated for the improvement of school infrastructures in the south. As a MEP, her task is to make sure that what is written in the national plan is eventually concretely realized.

The third speaker was Lina Gálvez Muñoz (Spanish, S&D) who briefly introduced the Spanish national plan.  The Spanish national plan aims to transform production models with a more digital and green economy by addressing existing social inequalities and combating them also at territorial level. The plan is designed to promote investment and reform, strengthen research and innovation in social and territorial cohesion. The transversal objective of gender equality is a key aspect of the plan, because women are no longer present in the environmental and digital sectors, and Spain wants to push women to enter these sectors. The long-term care system is also very important in this plan, including lessons learned from Covid 19. The S&D group is working in the European Parliament to include social conditionality in economic governance, to integrate social scope into the EU semester, as a tool to monitor social progress and make sure that action included in the plans contributes to social objectives. She believes that the green transition will mean many opportunities for economic transformation and will be a chance for many people to benefit economically, but there is also a risk that this process will increase inequalities, she has put this as a central goal in the parliament.

Sara Matthieu (Belgian, The Green) then began her speech by focusing on the general social aspects of the NRRF. “Member States signed the Porto Declaration in which they committed themselves to developing the social dimension of the single market. (..) 1 European citizen in 5 lives in poverty or at risk of poverty. That is why Member States should be pushed for structural social investments, improving the system of structures, for example.”  Some member states have suffered more from the austerity that Europe has imposed in the past: cuts in public health, social benefits, etc.  She also believes that making all facilities work can be a turning point for equality. Belgium’s plan includes around €6 billion, was approved by the Commission in June and has put a strong emphasis on green transition and digitalisation, but there is also 26% of resources for social policies. The objectives are to invest in education to strengthen the inclusiveness of the labour market, which at the moment is not very inclusive. For example, there is a need to include people with an immigration background. The government wants to prevent temporary unemployment which was a good solution during the pandemic period to safeguard people’s incomes. She says that they know that weaker social groups will end up in these temporary unemployment schemes, so the Belgian government will provide education, training, etc., such as the reduction of women, young people, people with disabilities, immigrants to support them to enter the labour market. After that, she talks about measures: increasing childcare capacity, strengthen the performance of the education system, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In addition to this, Belgium’s plan includes funds to strengthen health care, as the country, like many others, has been hit hard by the pandemic. To sum up, Mrs Matthieu says that the RRF is an important tool to achieve social reforms and an important step towards a more sustainable and socially just Europe. Regarding her role in parliament, she believes that MEPs should check that each member state follows the rules.

Finally, before concluding the first panel Valentina Zoccali, Secretary General of S-Com explains how the debate on the Recovery and Resilience Facility fits into the Wise4Challenges project. Wise4challenges is a project created by S-Com and in line with the Wise4all campaign that was first launched in 2015 with the aim of promoting women’s participation to help build a just and inclusive society. Active participation is the main aspect of the WISE4Challenges project, which is why the partners represent different networks at local and European level. Starting from the beginning of the project there were 4 working groups on: green deal (led by WEP,BE), education and culture (led by Incoma,SP), health (led by University of Pisa,IT), social rights (led by Libera,IT). The activity on RRF is transversal to these 4 tables and led us to analyse the knowledge and needs of the citizens of Belgium, Spain and Italy. In preparation of the debate the MEPs were interviewed and their interviews can be seen through WISE4All youtube channel, meanwhile a trailer was shown to tell the work done.

Panel 2: Belgium, Italy and Spain data collected on RRF

After a short break of 15 minutes, the second panel opens with the project partners in their role as civil society mediators, i.e. those who collected requests from citizens. The panel will be moderated by Caterina Aiena, member of S-Com and responsible for the working groups of the WISE4Challenges project.

The first working group to speak was the one on the Green Deal managed by WEP and represented by Charlene Lambert and Grazia Rendo. Charlene Lambert began her speech by quoting Ursula von der Leyen: “gender equality is the fundamental principle of the EU, but it is not a reality”. Then, she says that this is WEP’s goal: to get more women to become entrepreneurs.  The task of WEP was to collect as much qualitative data and report on women entrepreneurship, women farmers, young women in agriculture and their potential to guide and contribute to the Green Deal and Recovery Program. They wanted to remind people that sustainability includes economic, environmental and social elements and that RRF and women’s entrepreneurship should be inextricably intertwined to be successful. She then presented data collected from citizens asking:

  1. Improving the quality and accessibility of schools in rural areas.
  2. Facilities and services for daily life in rural areas can further support women’s innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture. The services currently available differ from country to country.
  3. Measures for parental leave, replacement of sick leave must be in place to cover the needs of families.
  4. Co-operatives led by women can help support rural green entrepreneurship.
  5. Multifunctional farming is important for rural development, securing the family farm and offering women farmers the possibility of their own financial security.
  6. The participation and recognition of rural women in the social and economic spheres will result in a range of benefits including job creation, reducing inequalities, and promoting gender equality.

Grazia Rendo then took the floor, highlighting the Italian situation where many people are developing agritourisms. There is also a great interest in Italy for the circular economy, together with tourism are very important sectors for women entrepreneurs. The needs of Italian farmers are: easier access to credit, more social services, secure retirement, paid holidays for those who work on the farm, special programme for women and girls. She also talks about the Spanish situation: women’s networks work well, but they need funding, mentoring and support. Serious decline in rural Spain since many areas have been turned into tourist sites.

Then it is the turn of the second working group: Education and Culture, led by INCOMA, represented by Pilar Naranjo Río-Miranda who introduces by introducing Incoma, a training and research centre based in Seville, Spain and then talks about the survey she prepared – as a contribution to the Wise4Challanges project – “the future of Europe: education, gender equality and digital divide”. The aim of the survey was to find out in which aspect they would like to improve education and what they felt was missing during the pandemic, and how the pandemic itself affected the digital transition and gender equality in education.  Through the survey they also wanted to know, from civil society, how they wanted to receive funds.

According to the majority of respondents, they considered it very difficult to adapt educational content in a digital format. Another issue highlighted by them was that during the pandemic the digital divide was more evident.  The aim of the survey was also to select the priorities in the field of education according to civil society and it emerged that they are: reducing the digital divide and increasing advanced digital skills. Another important question was: how would you apply the RRF to education and training policies? Most people answered: direct help.

The third working group is dedicated to Health and carried out by the University of Pisa, represented here by Francesca Pecori. The research conducted by UNIPI aims to understand the importance of a gender perspective in medical practice in order to promote a health system that takes into account gender differences. The research was divided into 3 phases:

  1. Mapping and updated analysis of institutional actions aimed at promoting the development of gender medicine at international and EU level to identify the different approaches adopted in a comparative perspective
  2. A Focus was devoted to the Italian context.
  3. A qualitative survey through the administration of questionnaires to the students of the Department of Medicine who attended Professor Rita Biancheri’s “gender and health” course to collect and analyse evaluations, opinions and suggestions.

Challenges emerged from the analyses:

  • Education and training of doctors and health system professionals.
  • Innovative research and data mining
  • Awareness-raising activities and involvement of people to achieve gender-sensitive communication
  • Exchange and improved internationalisation

The fourth working group is dedicated to Social Rights and the work is carried out by Libera. Associations, names and numbers against mafias represented by Giulia Baruzzo.

For the WISE4Challenges project, Libera focused on Social Rights and Gender Equality by launching a qualitative research on how to improve the future of the EU from a gender perspective articulated in 3 steps:

  • They involved many EU networks
  • They created a survey on gender equality and presented it in all EU countries. The results will be used to create a “toolkit” to support any future organisation to address gender equality in EU policies.
  • Libera will start to build an action plan to present to the European institutions together with the Social Pillar working group.

After explaining this, they reveal the results of their survey:

  • 2% of respondents reported that the workplace is one of the levels of society most affected by gender discrimination
  • Interestingly, 69.6% of the respondents considered the right to a safe and healthy working condition as the most important social right to be protected
  • 71% of respondents thought that improvements on gender equality should be particularly emphasised in the field of employment

Another important response concerned the difficulty of being aware of EU gender equality policies because they are not effectively publicised.  Furthermore, 97.1% of respondents think that common EU regulations on gender equality could improve the situation.

The survey made several inputs for future work:

  • Decision-making needs an intersectional perspective
  • Dedicated programmes in schools
  • Decision-making needs gender objectives in budget allocations, gender impact assessments, gender analysis
  • Independent and international team of gender-focused lawyers and academics

Closing remarks

Concluding the fruitful work done, which will be the basis for building the final recommendations to be sent to the institutions, Caterina Aiena presented some conclusions:

  • RRF is clearly a gender issue both in an active and passive way
  • Women feel abandoned by the state and are still the weakest link in European societies
  • Women believe that the RRF should be used as a remedy for past inequalities, through a more powerful welfarism and subsidiarity of the state
  • Women demand a better form of redress for economic injustice

All these points are fundamental and will be explored in more detail during the final events that the WISE4Challenges partner organisations will organise by December.

The surveys will therefore remain open until November for anyone who wants to have their say.

Thanking all participants, Valentina Zoccali and Caterina Aiena brought this important meeting to an end.

About the Author

WISE4ALL- Women for Innovative Society in Europe is a network of women created in 2015. WISE4All is not only a matter of gender, rather a joint action for innovation, a participatory process that brings out ideas, suggestions and best practices towards a new cultural and social model.