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The Post-2015 Framework for Gender Equality Policy in Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation

Upon request of the FEMM Committee, this in-depth analysis aims to evaluate the most important strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the field of gender equality policy in foreign affairs and development cooperation for the European Commission until 2020. The analysis identifies the existing legal framework and the actions taken in on-going and previous strategies for equality and provides recommendations on the approach to improve women’s position in society for effective equality between men and women after 2015.

The year 2015 will be a milestone for the future of women’s rights and gender equality policy in EU external relations as it provides the opportunity to take stock of a number of international and European initiatives (Chapter 1). While aid flows in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment (Chapter 2) have risen significantly over the past years in the international and EU context, most of this aid went to the education and health sector, while women’s lack of economic and political empowerment (Chapter 3) remain among the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals agenda. Sustained investments and a renewed international commitment to gender equality are thus crucial. 

Among international organisations, the EU stands out in its support for gender equality, both in terms of its commitment to the implementation of the global women, peace and security agenda (Chapter 4), as well as in terms of its commitment to mainstream gender across all areas of EU external policy (Chapter 5). However among the EU’s external policy agencies, competency in gender policy analysis and receptiveness to gender mainstreaming vary across the respective policy areas. While the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation – Europeaid (5.4) seems to have taken the lead on the matter, the Directorate-General for Trade (5.3) has not given much attention to gender inequalities. Other external policy services including, the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (5.1), the Directorate-General for Enlargement (5.2) and the European External Action Service (5.5) have recently begun to take important steps towards a systematically gender mainstreamed policy. 

A number of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats can be drawn out of this analysis (Chapter 6). First of all the EU has a strong policy framework in place covering most aspects of the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in external policy, involving regular reporting on progress at a high level. Second, investments have been made to institutionalize expertise and capacity-building. Nevertheless, despite the fact that political commitments and high-level reporting tools create momentum and awareness-raising, effective implementation on the ground remains unclear. In addition, the analysis reveals that policy development and follow-up have been uneven across policy areas, while institution-wide gender expertise remains insufficient, dissipates, and is situated mostly at the lower levels of the hierarchy. Also the external environment forms a threat in the sense that donors operate in a context of economic crisis, marked by insufficient resources and priority overload. Sustained investments in the support of the global gender equality agenda thus remain essential. 

The European Parliament should therefore call upon the Commission and the EEAS to develop a strong position on gender equality and women’s rights in foreign affairs and development cooperation, so that the EU can take a leadership role in promoting the gender equality agenda globally after 2015. More specifically, the following recommendations (Chapter 7) are provided and discussed: building a coherent gender equality policy across all aspects of external relations, broaden and deepen the EU’s gender policy in its external relations and development cooperation, sustain and strengthen political leadership and accountability and further invest in institution wide expertise and capacity-building.

Published in: A New Strategy for Gender Equality Post 2015, European Parliament, Brussels, 2014, pages 183-205.

Publisher: European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department C, Citizens' rights and Constitutional Affairs.

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Petra Debusscher
23 April 2015

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