Women in International Relations

The EU’s Approach towards Gender Equality: Interview with Professor Gill Allwood


The EU’s Approach to Gender Equality

From its early days, the EU ensured that Gender Equality (GE) was fully integrated in all of its activities. This engagement has changed considerably, especially after the Lisbon treaty of 2009. Development Policy become part of European External Action more explicitly and to some extent what had been learnt about GE in Development Policy was absorbed and replicated in myriad aspects of External Action. 

One of the most significant things we see surrounding GE is arrival of Gender Action Plans, which were introduced in 2010. It was felt that GE should not just be a principle but had to implemented in letter and spirit as well. Introduced in 2015, the second Gender Action Plan incorporated the first plan’s shortcomings and applied it to whole of External Action, and not just the development aspect. This meant that all actors within the EU External Action were responsible for GE and ensuring its effective application. At present, the EU is operating under the third Gender Action Plan, which is operational from 2020 onwards.

Gender Mainstreaming in the EU and accompanying challenges

GE needs to be integrated into all policy areas, even beyond the issue areas which are gendered. Some examples include maternity leave, equal pay at work, access to abortion etcetera. Gender Mainstreaming goes beyond these aspects, which are to do with age, disabilities, and location. But its implementation is marred by some shortcomings. While it is spoken of in policy debates but this happens in a watered-down fashion. Policy problems cannot be addressed in silos. When we try to mainstream a concern which is simultaneously linked to human rights, gender and security, addressing it through different departments would produce sub-optimal outcome.  

EU and Climate Change 

The EU has made Climate Change (CC) as one of its top priorities. Since Climate Change affects populations differently, it becomes crucial to understand the CC in light of gender inequalities. CC policies remain gender blind. We must acknowledge the gendered nature of Climate Change. The poor populations with less resource find it hard to adapt to CC. There is research on gendered contributions to emissions since more men tend to own more transport than men. Women have different attitude towards CC and are more willing to change their behaviour to address CC, various researches have shown. These studies are yet to be absorbed in EU policymaking. 

The need for an Institutional Change? 

Institutions are sticky, they tend to replicate practices and have an in-built inertia. Climate change and energy policies have emerged within these structures only. Studies have shown have shown despite the presence of women in the EU’s climate policymaking body, the final policies are found to be exclusionary for women. 

Women decisionmakers within the EC are more likely to have similar climate behaviours with male colleagues than they are to do with poor women across Europe. We need to look at the class and other markers of differences. 

It requires institutional change, change in decision making structures, civil society in bringing knowledge. The work of academics is also important for providing information to bringing about change. An internal institutional shift is needed along with a behavioural change to bring about transformation. We need a gendered Impact Assessments needed for all new policy proposals.      

The big question is how we transition to a sustainable future which includes everybody. SDGs have interconnections which hold key to achieving sustainable future. We need to think about inequalities and their redressal broadly, only then we would be able to achieve inclusion and gender equality.