The EU is stretched to its outer limits in tackling issues thrown up by the economy, migration and terrorism. Tory politicians such as British prime minister David Cameron – who has been accused of extreme debauchery and profane and illegal behaviour by his former friend Michael Ashcroft in the upcoming biography Call Me Dave – are hell bent on “renegotiating” their country’s relationship with Europe. As we are already aware, the controversial and impending “in-out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is a hotly debated matter. It is also very interesting to observe that the UK’s Electoral Commission, which is required by the Political Parties, Referendums and Elections Act 2000 to consider the precise wording of the referendum question and publish a statement of its views as to its intelligibility, has said that the question needs to be changed. Notably, in the European Union Referendum Bill as introduced into the UK parliament the proposed referendum question is: Should the UK remain a member of the EU?
The Electoral Commission suggests that the questions should be changed to: Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? Answers: Remain a member of the EU – Leave the EU. But as we see in this post on the EU’s vision for gender equality and women’s empowerment, as an institution the Union is a very positive thing and it would be fair comment that people such as the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and his colleagues do not like the Tory party’s stance on Europe. On 21 September 2015, the European Commission and the European External Action Service adopted a new framework for the EU’s activities on gender equality and women’s empowerment in EU’s external relations. The New framework for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations (2016-2020) (see press release and see here) aims to support partner countries, especially in developing, enlargement and neighbouring countries, to achieve tangible results towards gender equality which is at the core of European values, as well as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be formally adopted this week. Dr Masuma Hasan (Chairman PIIA and President Aurat Foundation) has welcomed these developments by the EU for the empowerment of women.
The European Commission’s press release explains that 2015 is a pivotal year for gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. It is the year when a new development framework will be agreed upon at the global level, with gender equality firmly at the centre of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the press release says the EU and its Member States are at the forefront of the protection and fulfilment of girls’ and women’s rights. The strong EU positioning in the post-2015 development agenda clearly contributed to gender equality being accepted as a central element within the new SDGs.
Moreover, it is the case that 2015 also celebrates the 15th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The international community is rallying round to ensure that girls’ and women’s rights are fulfilled and that empowering action is adequately supported through galvanised efforts. The new framework is divided into four pillars, for which there are concrete indicators and targets set. These pillars are the following:
- Fighting violence of any kind against women and girls – this includes protecting women against violence in situations of conflict and the prevention of trafficking of girls and women, but also fighting harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting, and empowering women to have control over their sexual and reproductive life.
- Economic and social empowerment – by for instance increasing access of women and girls to quality education and training, including on entrepreneurship, facilitating their access to financial services, to decent jobs and to basic services like energy or clean water.
- Strengthening voice and participation – Concrete actions could include women’s increased participation in policy and decision-making at all levels, enhancing their role as peace-builders, supporting them in changing social and cultural norms through grassroots organisations or media.
- Shifting institutional culture – to more effectively deliver on EU commitments, all EU actors are expected to analyse the development priorities in the third countries where they work, as well as the local context for women and girls, and implement those priorities that are most relevant to them; they should also further strengthen their coordination, coherence and leadership.
Accountability is essential to the success of this new approach. Every new EU-funded project will now have to include measurable targets and objectives on gender.
To mark the occasion, the EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said:
With this new framework the EU takes forward working for gender equality in all its external actions. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. We want to provide our partners with the effective support they need in order to fight violence against women and girls and at the same time to empower them socially and economically, so that women can participate actively in the political, social and cultural life of their countries.
Equally EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said:
It is my firm conviction that our new approach will not bring only words but concrete actions and results. It will be translated into real improvements in the livelihoods of women and girls in third countries – where progress needs to be accelerated if we are to transform our world and unlock a development that is really sustainable.
As the European Commission’s press release explains, the new framework for action will build on the achievements and lessons learnt brought about by the implementation of the Gender Action Plan in Development 2010-2015. It will be more focussed on tangible results. It will be financed through a variety of EU external action instruments (such as the Development and Cooperation Instrument) and aid modalities (for instance, budget support or assistance to Civil Society Organisations). About €100 million have already been allocated to concrete measures specifically targeted to improve women’s and girls’ rights, while gender will also be mainstreamed throughout other sectors of development cooperation. EU Member States will discuss this new framework in the relevant Council bodies, including at the Foreign Affairs Council dedicated to Development in October. The new framework should apply as from 2016.
The Factsheet on the new framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment through EU external relations (2016-2020) can be extracted from the European Commission’s website as follows.
What does the EU want to achieve with this new framework?
The EU wants a world where the rights of girls and women are claimed, valued and respected by all, and where everyone is able to fulfil their potential and contribute to a more fair and just society. The EU is therefore fully committed to break the vicious cycle of gender discrimination by supporting partner countries to establish a more enabling environment for the fulfilment of girls’ and women’s rights and to achieve real and tangible improvements in gender equality.
Gender equality is not just a matter of social justice, but also one of “smart economics”: women’s participation in the economy is essential for sustainable development and economic growth. An OECD study estimated that closing the labour force gender gap by 2030 could yield a potential average gain of 12% in relation to the size of the total economy across OECD countries. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30% and raise total agricultural outputs. This could lift an estimated 100-150 million people out of hunger worldwide, amongst other benefits. Overall, evidence shows that when women are given equal opportunities and access to resources and to decision-making, communities are more prosperous and more peaceful. The EU wants to assist partners in effectively using this significant transformative potential.
Why are the European Commission and the EEAS coming up with this initiative now?
The “EU Action Plan for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development 2010-2015” is coming to an end, and in 2013, the Council entrusted the Commission and the EEAS to set up a Taskforce to develop a new Gender Action Plan (GAP) for 2016-2020. On top of that, 2015 is a pivotal year for gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. It is the year when a new development framework will be agreed upon at the global level, with gender equality firmly at the centre of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The EU and its Member States are at the forefront of the protection and fulfilment of girls’ and women’s rights. The strong EU position in the post-2015 development agenda clearly contributed to gender equality being accepted as a central element of the new SDGs.
What is really new about the vision for 2016-2020?
There is a focus on thematic pillars for the first time. This means that four pivotal areas have been identified which could transform the lives of women and girls if action is taken:
The three thematic pillars are:
- Ensuring girls’ and women’s physical and psychological integrity
- Promoting the social and economic rights / empowerment of girls and women
- Strengthening girls’ and women’s voice and participation.
There is also a fourth, horizontal pillar:
- Shifting the institutional culture to more effectively deliver on EU commitments.
Another new aspect is the fact that gender analysis will be done systematically for all new external actions undertaken, such as in projects, and bilateral and regional programming. EU actors reporting on these activities will use sex-disaggregated data wherever available. Concerted efforts will be made to generate data when needed.
Is this vision only applicable to partner countries outside the EU?
The EU has another framework for gender equality within the EU. This particular framework for action covers the EU’s activities in third countries, especially in developing, enlargement and neighbourhood countries, including in fragile, conflict and emergency situations.
Its implementation is the joint responsibility of the Commission services and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Coordination and collaboration with EU Member States will continue to be ensured. An essential part of this framework will also be to promote policy coherence with other internal EU policies (Policy Coherence for Development). Moreover, it will be implemented in full alignment with the EU Human Rights Action Plan.
How is the Commission going to evaluate that the objectives have been fulfilled?
This new framework for action (formally a “Joint Staff Working Document”) and the measures set out in it provide the monitoring and accountability framework against which to measure progress on gender equality and girls’ and women’s rights and empowerment. EU actors are expected to deliver results against this framework and to report transparently on progress and setbacks. Central to the reporting approach is:
- systematic reporting on the institutional culture shift for all EU actors against the indicators set out in the document;
- systematic gender analysis for all new external actions undertaken (e.g. projects). This analysis will inform reporting choices and selection of indicators. The identification of priorities and indicators will be completed by mid-2016;
- an annual reporting by all EU actors on the EU’s contribution to at least one objective per thematic priority. EU actors reporting on these activities will use sex-disaggregated data whenever available. Concerted efforts will be made to generate data when needed.
How is this framework going to be financed? Is the €100 million all that is on the table?
Despite significant increases in recent years, the overall funding resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment actions are still not fully adequate. The EU is committed to work towards reducing the gap between our commitments and our investments in gender equality and women’s rights.
The EU will use a wide range of external assistance instruments:
- Specific bilateral or regional development support programmes – for instance the women’s economic empowerment project financed by the EU Trust Fund for Central African Republic, and the Pan-African programme on female genital mutilation;
- A number of targeted activities are also to be funded through the Global Public Goods and Challenges thematic programme included in the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), with around EUR 100 million committed to improve the lives of girls and women.
- In addition, gender aspects are taken into consideration in several other thematic actions like food security, rural development, private sector development, and for instance, gender specific actions will be developed under the climate change programme for the years 2014-2016 (estimated EUR 16 million, DCI).
Different aid modalities (such as budget support, support to civil society organisations and thematic interventions) are envisaged for its implementation. In the period 2007-2013, the EU committed an amount of around EUR 1 258 million to activities targeted at improving gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment. Provisional OECD data shows that in 2013, 39% of the EU ODA considered gender dimensions as either significant or principal. The EU aim to increase our financial contribution to gender objectives in the current EU financial framework 2014-2020 through targeted activities and gender mainstreaming. But most importantly, the EU strive to ensure that all EU’s external assistance is “gender sensitive”.
What is the relation of this document with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being discussed by the international community?
The EU has been advocating for gender equality in three ways: first, for gender equality to be a stand-alone goal in the new global agenda for sustainable development; secondly, for gender equality to be mainstreamed in all other goals; thirdly, for data to be collected in a sex-disaggregated way.
In addition, the new framework aligns itself with the priorities identified at global level. Most of the indicators proposed in it are based on the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators. As the SDGs will be formally adopted at the United Nations later this week, the indicators will be reviewed in 2016 to fully align with the final set of SDGs and the finalised set of SDG indicators.
What are the next steps in the endorsement and implementation of this framework?
The text adopted yesterday by the European Commission and the EEAS is formally a “Joint Staff Working Document”. It is now going to be presented and discussed in the relevant Council Working Parties and at the Foreign Affairs Council on Development, which is expected to endorse it through adoption of respective Council conclusions. The new framework will apply as from January 2016. If endorsed by EU Member States, it will also be applied in their external actions.
What has been achieved so far on gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment?
Globally, significant progress has been made towards achieving gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment but the level of achievement has been uneven across regions and within countries. Not only must progress be accelerated but achievements to date need safeguarding against any deterioration or backlash. Girls’ access to primary education and women’s economic empowerment have all significantly improved in recent years. More women have access to health care services and modern methods of contraception and less die in childbirth. Globally an estimated 210 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births occurred in 2010, a decline from 1990, when 400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births were recorded. In developing regions, the proportion of deliveries attended by trained health personnel rose from 55% in 1990 to 66% in 2011. Gender issues are regularly on the agenda of human rights and political dialogues with third countries and 116 human rights country strategies have prioritised gender equality and women’s empowerment. Still there is a long way to go as worldwide girls and women continue to be systematically left behind and discriminated against. Social norms lock girls and women into unequal power relations, leaving many girls and women with little control over decisions that affect their lives, be it at household, community or national level.