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Bridging the GAP for Gender Equality in Development

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10 March 2016

Now even more than before, gender equality is a necessary ingredient in all EU development assistance, across countries and sectors. Gender-sensitive planning and management can make programmes at once more equitable and more effective. Blerina Vila, who supported DG DEVCO in drafting the EU’s new Gender Action Plan, explains what it hopes to achieve, how it will be put into action, and why it is urgently needed.

Capacity4dev (C4D): What is the driving force behind the Gender Action Plan (GAP) for 2016-20?

Blerina Vila (BV): A recent evaluation of the European Commission’s work on gender equality brought to light many achievements, but it also brought to light obstacles that were slowing or sabotaging progress. The European Council required the Commission to follow up with an ambitious plan, built on the lessons learned from the first GAP (2010-15), which would give a significant boost to the work done so far.

C4D: Who will benefit from the GAP?

BV: Everyone. We have to be clearer about this, and be sure that when we talk about gender equality people don’t just hear “Women’s issue!”. Gender equality is about equality between men and women, elimination of discrimination based on sex, creating opportunities from which men and women can equally benefit, and making sure that women as much as men, men as much as women are agents and beneficiaries of development in their counties, are not excluded, and are able to contribute to improving their lives and communities.

C4D: Which areas does it cover?

BV: There are three thematic priorities included in the GAP. One speaks to physical and psychological integrity, the second is on social and economic rights, and the third is on voice and participation.

Underlying all these is the need for institutional culture shift. There is no institution which is gender blind or unaffected by gender inequality – even those working in development. The GAP puts a lot of attention on the need for an introspective consideration of what can be modified, improved, or eliminated, to make sure gender equality commitments are addressed to narrow or completely eliminate the gap between commitments and what we’re able to deliver.



C4D: How will the three themes be incorporated into the EU’s development work, bearing in mind the wide variety of contexts in which Delegations operate?

BV:  For each of the three areas, there are a number of objectives prescribed. Some activities have been indicated, which are not exhaustive, and some indicators are proposed in line with the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] indicators and EU results framework. The task of the Delegations and member states at a country level is to critically analyse them, based on a gender analysis which will have been delivered by Delegations by June 2016, and decide which objectives to pursue in a given time frame for each of the thematic areas.

Take the thematic priority of physical and psychological integrity. Within that there are five objectives, including tackling violence against women, trafficking and exploitation, and protection from gender-based violence in crisis situations. Out of the five objectives, perhaps trafficking is a particularly salient issue in one country, and so the Delegation and member state there decide to invest in the issue of trafficking. Whereas in another country suffering from crisis, they may focus more on gender-based violence. While the GAP provides examples of activities which may be considered, it is not prescriptive; it doesn’t prescribe a finite list of activities which must be pursued.

C4D: Where will the funding come from?

BV: No extra funding is needed. The GAP is an action plan promoting mainstreaming of gender equality in external action - which means that funding available for any sector, be it transport, energy, water, agriculture, health or education, will have to be allocated in a way which takes into account gender inequalities in that sector.

All programmes and projects have to be classified according to the OECD DAC gender marker as either “G1” – for programmes which are sensitive to gender; as “G2”, where gender equality is the main focus; or as “G0”, when the programme has nothing to do with gender. 85% of the European Commission’s new programmes must score G1 or G2 by 2020, meaning they contain specific activities for boys, girls, women and men. Anything which is G0 must be specifically justified.

C4D: Who will be responsible for implementing it?

BV: The implementation of the GAP is the responsibility of all (which is not to say it is the responsibility of no one!). We can see the gender focal points [staff in EU Delegations appointed to support colleagues on gender issues] as catalysts of a process, but the action will come from all staff, including those working in infrastructure, macroeconomics or agriculture, under the leadership of top hierarchy. A lot of the reporting on the results of the GAP will go through the standard reporting processes, which is a step in the right direction, and puts responsibilities on heads of delegations and on the directors at headquarter level.

Of course, a lot of the responsibility for implementation rests on the shoulders of Delegations, which is one of the reasons why the drafting process took them into account.

C4D: How did that work? Who was involved in drafting the GAP?

BV: It was a participatory process in which member states were engaged from day one. There was a task force which included member states, gender advisers and experts, as well as Commission staff from several Directorate-Generals and Delegations. Member states provided extensive expertise from social development advisers, and consulted missions (as did the EC its Delegations) in countries where they have bilateral cooperation.

As the work went on, DEVCO [the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development], which had a facilitating role and where I came in as external resource, also organised several rounds of consultations with civil society and international organisations, including numerous NGOs and UN agencies. Meanwhile internal consultations went on within the Commission and at Delegations, which were extensively involved to make sure their fears and tribulations were taken into account.

What we see now on paper, what we are bound to comply with for the next five years, has been through many filters and iterations. A lot of earnest effort has been made to make this document as useful as possible. Of course it is not the perfect product, but I can say with confidence that the process was inclusive, participative, open, and with a deliberate focus on including lessons learned from the previous GAP and those of other organisations.

C4D: What results do you hope to see from the GAP?

BV: The UN Convention on elimination of all forms of violence against women has been around for quite some years now; the Beijing Platform [for Action, from the World Conference on Women in 1995] has been around for 20 years, and we have spoken about gender mainstreaming ever since. But we fail to comply with the Platform in its entirety.

We need to make development more equitable, more effective, and increase its quality through the inclusion of gender equality in all that we do. Consideration of gender equality at the decision making, planning, programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages still has to root itself in the institutional structures.

This is one of the biggest lessons from the first GAP which has been completely integrated in the new GAP. Will we make it this time? I surely hope so. We will see year after year as the reporting and monitoring goes on. With the huge efforts to promote the GAP as a new platform of reference, and with the ongoing trainings, things will continue to change for the better, I’m certain of it.

For a perspective on the Gender Action Plan from someone who will be involved in the implementation, see James McNulty's blog A Delegation Perspective on the GAP.


Public Group on Gender

Further Reading

V&V – Evaluation Critical of EU’s Gender Equality Efforts

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Marianna Liponnen, DEVCO, with support from the Coordination Team.


Teaser image credit: James McNulty

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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