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Evaluation Critical of EU’s Gender Equality Efforts

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30 April 2015

As the European Union prepares its latest plan to support gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE) around the world, a timely evaluation of its efforts so far has found much room for improvement.

GEWE remains high on the European political agenda and is likely to feature in the new Sustainable Development Goals. The evaluation focused on the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2010-2015 (GAP 2010-2015), which set out activities for EU Member States and the Commission to promote gender equality in development cooperation. It also considered to what extent EU support has been “relevant, efficient and effective” in supporting GEWE in partner countries since 2007.

The team of independent consultants found:

  • A mismatch between GEWE commitments on paper, and the low organisational capacity to deliver them 
  • An inability to know exactly how much money has been spent on mainstreaming gender into programming (largely due to poor application of the gender marker that assesses how well programmes consider gender)
  • Uncertainty over the quality of existing GEWE investments
  • Gender sensitive indicators not adequately integrated into results reporting
  • Few incentives for EU staff in delegations or headquarters to take GEWE issues seriously
  • Weak internal accountability for GEWE results
  • EU Delegations making little attempt to develop a robust analytical tool to understand the gender context to inform country strategy objectives, programmes/projects and dialogue.



The reasons for these shortcomings were more institutional than technical.

“Without leadership commitment and the institutional incentives that should flow from that leadership, then improvements to technical guidance and the like will not transform the EU’s effectiveness on GEWE.”

As a result, the evaluators concluded that “the results that have been achieved are the accomplishments of committed individuals, rather than of an organisational response”. These are the Gender Focal Points (GFPs) – staff members in EU Delegations who analyse projects from a gender-perspective in addition to their other responsibilities

Consultant Francis Watkins, technical lead on the evaluation, said “[GFPs] will really go out of their way to look for resources to ensure that there are programmes, to develop their capacity, [and] to share their experience with others who are working in a similar field.”



Empowering women and girls is tied to prosperity. Studies indicate that having as many women in the labour force as men could increase economic growth by 5% in the United States, 12% in the United Arab Emirates and 34% in Egypt. While in agriculture, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, it is estimated that output in developing countries could increase by 2.5-4%.


The EU & Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 

The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

The Union will aim to eliminate inequalities and promote equality between men and women (Article 8). It also stipulates that the Union will aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (Article 10).

European Charter of Fundamental rights: Article 23 "Equality between men and women"

Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas … The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favor of the under-represented sex.

Development Cooperation Instrument, paragraph (7)

Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, the promotion of the rule of law, democratic principles, transparency, good governance, peace and stability and gender equality are essential for the development of partner countries, and those issues should be mainstreamed in the Union's development policy, particularly in programming and in agreements with partner countries.

Agenda for Change

Gender equality and the empowerment of women as development actors and peace-builders will be mainstreamed in all EU development policies and programmes through its 2010 Gender Action Plan.

2007 Communication on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Development Cooperation

2010 European Council conclusions on the Millennium Development Goals

The EU reiterates its strong commitment to gender equality as a human right, a question of social justice and a core value of the EU development policy. Bearing in mind that gender equality is not only a goal in itself but also central in achieving all MDGs, the Council has adopted the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development (2010-2015).

In the GAP 2010-2015, the EU aims to:

  • systematically make gender equality a topic of political dialogue with partner countries,
  • address the specific concerns and needs of women and girls in all development operations ('mainstreaming'); and
  • finance targeted actions to help women and girls


However, at a recent Brussels meeting of Heads of Cooperation from EU Delegations the discussion was of “gender evaporation” – the way gender issues are lost on the way from policy to practice.

Francisco Carreras Sequeros, Head of Cooperation in the EU Delegation in Ethiopia, warned of “lots of grandiose statements and very little impact on the ground”, while Head of Cooperation in Zambia, Arend Biesebroek, said the non-governmental organisations that work with the EU often have staff dedicated solely to gender issues.



Philip Mikos, Head of Cooperation in Morocco said: "I think delegations should have gender specific activities, operations, projects... It doesn't mean that you need one person for gender, but you need a gender specialist that can also deal with education or health or other sectors. Having just a focal point that has received gender training may not be enough to maintain pressure throughout the system all the time."

The EU Delegation in Morocco conducts a policy dialogue on gender, budget support to the government’s gender plan, and it ensures gender issues are considered in operations it supports, in addition to funding gender specific projects.


Gender Focal Point Survey - January 2015

52% of respondents say that hierarchy made it clear that gender equality is an important dimension of their work.

40% feel that their hierarchy values the role of GFPs

33% feel that their hierarchy gives them enough time to carry out their role as Gender Focal Point

33% of respondents have the role of GFP integrated into their job description.

26% think their unit is capable of undertaking gender analysis

23% think their unit is capable of incorporating gender analysis into all stages of the project design process



With DEVCO currently preparing the successor to GAP 2010-2015, the evaluators’ finding that the GAP is “not fit for purpose” is particularly pertinent.

“The GAP does not conform to results-based management principles,” the evaluation found. “It sits alongside ‘business as usual’ for EC Services, the EEAS and Member States, where other policy priorities often crowd out GEWE such that it generally receives inadequate or cursory attention”.

As a result, the independent experts recommended the next GAP should not be a standalone strategy with its own goals and processes, but rather part of the EU Development and Cooperation Results Framework, which is the main way the EU reports, reviews and manages its development efforts.

"It needs to be integrated into the core business,” said team member Claire Hughes. “It needs to be seen as the strategy for achieving the gender commitments that are set out in the Development and Cooperation Results Framework."

Other recommendations include:

  • Requiring each EU Delegation to explain how it will harmonise with member states’ efforts on gender empowerment, to encourage joint strategy and programming
  • Mandatory reporting on GEWE results in delegations’ annual External Assistance Management Report
  • Investing in high-quality gender analysis
  • Prioritising gender expertise when hiring staff in EU Delegations
  • Mainstreaming gender in evaluation procedures



The evaluation highlighted other examples of best practice. For example, the Netherlands has reduced the number of sectors it focuses on in development, which may make the role of GFPs more manageable.   

Less could be more. The evaluation concluded: “Boosting political commitment to a couple of ambitious results targets on girls and women could increase the visibility of this important issue across the post-2015 framework.”


Learn more on



Evaluation of EU Support to Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Partner Countries - Final Report

This final report presents the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Evaluation of the European Union (EU) Support to Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Partner Countries, commissioned by the Evaluation Unit of the Directorate-general for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) - Final Report.


This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Federica Petrucci (DEVCO) with support from the Coordination Team. Teaser image courtesy of Gates Foundation.

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.


This is a welcome addition to what is now quite an extensive collection of studies which have important things to say about how EU institutions grapple with the reduction of gender inequality. Here in Zambia, our Delegation will be talking about the findings of this evaluation as part of a half-day gender workshop for all staff - I encourage you to do the same. Although the evaluation makes some important criticisms of the EU's track record, there are some successes and there are are islands of good practice. More importantly, there will never be a better time - now that the MDGs are expiring, the SDGs are around the corner and many of us are embarking on a busy schedule of designing new projects under the 11th EDF - to be ambitious about raising our game on gender.

I must commend this good work by the EU. But my concern is on the issue of ''Gender Evaporation'' There is need to track and address challenges going on between Policy and Practice, once this is done we will start experiencing the positive impact of gender mainstreaming in developing nations.

Where can I find more detailed information about the EU's budget support to the national plan for gender equality in Morocco and the indicators related?

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