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A Delegation Perspective on Implementing the GAP

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27 January 2017

One year into the EU’s second Gender Action Plan (GAP), which stepped up ambitions to make all the EU’s external action gender-sensitive, what is happening on the ground? Capacity4dev spoke to gender focal points in EU Delegations to Afghanistan, Lesotho, Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo about the challenges they face, the priorities selected, and the lessons learned so far.

A quick recap

Worldwide, women and girls typically experience higher levels of poverty than men, as well as multiple barriers to education, employment and empowerment. The driving idea behind the GAP is that focusing on women and girls will benefit the whole community. Studies show that when women have equal access to resources, decision-making and opportunities, communities are more prosperous and peaceful.

The GAP for 2016-20 has three main aims: ensuring girls’ and women’s physical and psychological integrity; promoting their social and economic rights; and strengthening their voice and participation. Underlying these is a culture shift so that EU institutions systematically support and track progress towards gender equality.

In 2013, 39% of the EU’s Official Development Assistance spending noted improving gender equality as a principal or significant target. By 2020, this should be 85%, and any programme which does not consider gender will have to be specifically justified. For the what, how and why of the GAP, see our Q&A with expert Blerina Vila.


So how are EU Delegations moving from policy, adopted by the European Council in October 2015, to practice?

Gender Analysis

The first step across the Delegations was to conduct a fresh gender analysis – a detailed study of the differences in conditions, needs, participation rates, access to resources, control of assets and decision-making powers between men and women. This helps identify areas most in need of investment, and becomes a baseline from which to track progress.

Data collection is often a challenge, as commissioning new studies such as household surveys is expensive and lengthy. Some Delegations were able to compile relevant statistics from existing reports, or to share the task with EU Member States and partner organisations with the same priorities under the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the time of writing, 42 out of some 90 supported Delegations had submitted their Gender Analysis. 36% of Delegations conducted the analysis in-house, while 64% hired consultants or used external resources.

Time and resources were the main factors in the decision. “At the beginning I thought of doing it myself, but as we have low capacity, only six people in the Cooperation section of our Delegation, we normally contract consultants,” said Anna Topliyski, Gender Focal Point for Cape Verde, who also works on civil society, human rights, communication and visibility. “The first thing was to come together with Member States, as it’s a binding collaborative action plan, to discuss the possibilities of doing Terms of Reference and contracting consultants [to do the gender analysis]. We wanted a local consultant – and we contracted one who had participated already in drafting Cape Verde’s national gender plan, so she was already familiar with the national gender issues and the different partners.”

In other countries, collaboration with Member States was more challenging. Not all the Embassies had taken on board their role. “The problem with the GAP is that some Member States see it as a reporting exercise, a bureaucratic process,” said Michael Steffens, Human Rights and Gender Focal Point in the EU Delegation to Afghanistan. “Some Member States have not responded yet. We will report about it, which have cooperated well, which not, and we’ll see how we can deal with it in next year’s progress report.”

A further challenge to sharing the workload of analysis, and later, monitoring, is that different organisations use different indicators to measure progress. While the GAP is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, “some partners don’t work with the SDGs at all, like the larger implementers – for example the World Bank has their own framework,” said Steffens. “There’s no real harmonisation; you have two systems in parallel, plus low capacity of the government. It’s something we should try to address.”


 Sandra Calligaro, European Commission. Herat, Afghanistan.
Credit: Sandra Calligaro, European Commission. Herat, Afghanistan.


Despite this, the Delegation in Afghanistan has managed to get some traction with the GAP. “Our gender analysis is in place, and we’ve launched a large scale research project in cooperation with USAID, which also paid for it – and they have reviewed over 600 gender reports in the last five years,” said Steffens. “This is for everyone to use, they can pick up the report and know instantly what issues to address. The Afghanistan Gender Country Profile provides an annotated bibliography which categorizes these gender studies by sector.”


Getting to this point required good coordination. “The first thing with the GAP was to involve the hierarchy, meeting with the Head of Cooperation and the Head of Sections,” said Steffens. “They agreed to install gender focal points in individual sections, and to have a counterpart in the political office, the EU Special Representative office. We communicated the need to look at reporting with Member States. We included it in our six month work plan and coordination meeting, and agreed to establish a working group. Then there were informal meetings with Member States and other donors, also to cover other coordination issues. I used that to convey the message and bring people on board. Then we launched the gender analysis through USAID which had similar needs and an overview of the available data and the issues. This was performed by a research team they had set up. They mapped out the state of play on gender issues.”

Looking ahead, the Delegation plans to work with UN Women to create a gender knowledge hub, tracking funding on a map, and making research and information available to all parties to avoid any duplication of research in the future.

In the following video, Michael Steffens, Anna Topliyski and Mokome Mafethe discuss the process of conducing a gender analysis:




Choosing objectives

Once the gender analysis had been performed, the next stage was selecting the areas of focus - at least one objective for each of the four thematic areas, depending on the country context and the partner government’s goals.

Some of the gender focal points needed to persuade colleagues who saw the exercise as creating extra work. “It was a bit of a challenge as when you identify those objectives, later they will have to report on them, and they think it will be too much for them,” said Mokome Marorisang Mafethe, from the EU Delegation to Lesotho. “But it’s already within the work you are doing. Gender mainstreaming doesn’t necessarily mean more resources or extra work, it’s just being creative with what you already have to make sure minorities benefit.”

Another issue some colleagues found was identifying the gender aspect in some sectors. “It can be easy to identify the gender dimension in the framework of health or justice programs, but there are some other sectors where the gender mainstreaming and the focus on vulnerable groups are particularly challenging, for instance the infrastructure sector,” said Ilaria Betti, gender focal point in the Delegation to DRC. “It is thus very important to have a good and deep analysis at the very first phase of the identification and formulation of projects.”

What are the objectives within each thematic priority?

Ensuring Girls’ and Women’s Physical and Psychological Integrity

  • end violence against girls and women, including sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations
  • eradicate trafficking of girls and women
  • increase access to quality, affordable health care services including reproductive health services and rights
  • improve nutrition levels
  • end gender-based sex selection, female infanticide and son preference through promoting equal opportunities for girls and women
  • end child, early and forced marriages

Promoting Economic and Social Rights and Empowerment of Girls and Women

  • improve access to quality primary, secondary and tertiary education and vocational training
  • improve access to decent work and to the national social protection floors
  • equal access to financial services, use and control of land and other productive resources, and support to women entrepreneurs
  • access to, use of, and control over, clean water, energy, information and communication technology and transport infrastructure

 Strengthening Girls’ and Women’s Voice and Participation

  • increase participation in policy, governance and electoral processes at all levels
  • empower girls’ and women’s organisations and human rights defenders
  • support agents of change working to shift negative social or cultural norms, including the media, women’s grassroots organisations and the active involvement of men and boys
  • increase participation in decision-making processes on climate and environmental issues

Download the full GAP in the Gender Group


How do these goals translate into in a country context?

Physical & psychological integrity

In DRC, one of the goals under the first thematic priority, physical and psychological integrity, is to fight sexual violence in the context of the ongoing military conflict. “The health and justice programmes we have financed so far focused, among other things, on assistance to the victims of sexual violence,” said Betti. “Medical support has been given to them in different health centers in Eastern DRC, where the conflict is going on.”


 Will (Charles) Boase, European Commission. Democratic Republic of Congo.
Credit: Will (Charles) Boase, European Commission. Democratic Republic of Congo.


In addition to the assistance provided to the victims of gender-based violence, the social and cultural roots of gender inequality need to be eradicated: “There are also very deep cultural reasons for gender inequality in DRC,” said Betti. “We finance a gender program at national level, implemented by UNICEF and GIZ. The particularity of this programme is its prevention approach, focusing on the social attitudes and behaviors generating inequalities.”

Social & economic rights & empowerment

In Lesotho, a goal under the second theme is improving girls’ access to education through investing in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in schools. “In essence when girls are on their periods they do not go to school, as the bathrooms there are not user friendly and they will not be able to clean up after changing, and at times they are using sanitary methods which are not proper,” said Mafethe. “With WASH, it’s improving the attendance rate of girls - the days missed during the month are reduced.”

The impact can be life-long. “Missing school means always being behind on their studies, so this intervention will improve their studies and ultimately reflect on the girls meeting their career goals or passing at school, which wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

Strengthening voice & participation

In Afghanistan, one of the key goals under the third theme is increasing women’s participation in parliament and the civil service. “We are trying to get as many women parliamentarians as possible in place, and other donors are actually providing capacity-building support to the women in parliament,” said Steffens.

Once women have the jobs, there are still challenges related to institutional culture. “The civil service introduced a new salary scale which linked salaries to conditions – the standard things you’d ask, like university education, experience in field, in the policy sector. Leading female staff were not meeting those conditions. We are working with colleagues to see if these women could receive training,” said Steffens.

Another Afghan institution low on women is the police force, for reasons both cultural and practical. “The standard operating procedures for the police force require them to have driving licenses to go on patrol, and most women don’t have licenses,” said Steffens. “These kinds of things we will look into in more detail to really turn women police officers into valuable personnel.”

Training women police officers is part of a large-scale project the EU runs through UNDP to enhance the police force’s capacity to do civilian policing. “You can significantly increase security with female police officers. In Afghanistan it’s not within the culture’s remit to search houses where women are present with male police officers; you can only search houses with female officers in some circumstances,” said Steffens. “Also body searches get facilitated with female officers. You can uncover female insurgents this way.”

In the following video, Michael Steffens, Anna Topliyski and Mokome Mafethe outline how the GAP plays out in different sectors:




Institutional culture shift

According to some of the interviewees, the prerequisite for all the above happening is commitment and understanding within Delegations, partner governments and implementing organisations; as well as political pressure from leaders, time and resources.

“The EU is known for its rights-based approach, and we must follow through,” said Topliyski. “For that we need more training, more sensitisation within the Delegations, more collaboration, and more exchange. We have a big challenge to really combine EEAS [the European External Action Service] and DEVCO [the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development], and we have to work more together. We also need more capacity on the ground. I should be working 60% of the time on gender issues, but I work max 5-10%. We need people on the ground who are experts, and it’s not enough to contract external experts - we need the capacity inside the Delegations. We also need more contact with Headquarters - it has to be a common effort.”

Topliyski also pointed to the importance of sensitisation at partner governments and organisations. In Cape Verde, “95% of EU funding goes directly to the budget of the state. The country has the capacity to manage the funds directly, based on their national strategy and their objectives,” said Topliyski. “We plan to establish a thematic group, meeting regularly with national and international partners, civil society and the private sector, to discuss gender issues and measure the advancements made.”

The EU’s budget support in Cape Verde includes institutional support, “to strengthen the institutions which will use the money and implement the different policies, and which are developing sex-disaggregated data,” said Topliyski. “There’s a big lag on data. We know for instance that there is gender-based violence, but we have no actual data to measure what the country is doing.”

The EU’s support includes investing in the National Statistics Institute and an Observatory on Gender. It also involves providing training. “We have a thematic programme for civil society and local authorities. We were seeing that even associations which were working with women still understood gender equality as a matter of parity – as in, we have five women and five men involved. So we are working to explain there is more to it, a rights-based approach.”

Positive impact

 EU Delegation, Lesotho
Credit: EU Delegation, Lesotho


One year into the GAP, the foundations for inclusive development policy are being laid, and the exercise has raised awareness of a global issue which has yet to be fully addressed across all sectors.

“The preparation of the GAP is quite challenging, but also useful to push me and my colleagues to reflect on our main objectives, our shared activities, indicators and future initiatives,” said Betti. “This work is not easy and depends on the sensitivity and collaboration of all the colleagues involved. But in general all of them try to collaborate and think with a gender perspective.”

According to Mafethe, “The effort and investment the EU is putting into its own staff to train us on gender mainstreaming [means] the development work we are doing is going to be more inclusive, and will respond to needs to most marginalised.”

“One thing we learnt was to refrain from using the words ‘for all’, as it means the minorities who are already forgotten will stay out,” said Mafethe. “It’s better to disaggregate data by sex, and if we see fewer men or women are benefitting it will trigger in our minds to see what we can do better to make sure women and men, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups are benefiting from our development work. That’s where I see us contributing a lot.”

Further reading

Image credits: Sandra Calligaro, European Commission - 'Enhancing women's civil and political rights in Herat', Afghanistan; Will (Charles) Boase, European Commission - 'Supporting the National Plan for Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo and developing the maternal and infant health sector'; EU Delegation to Lesotho, sustainable farming practices

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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