Young trainees participate in a vocational training program implemented by the Bangladesh government and funded by the European Union. A new strategy aims to increase EU’s focus on greater gender equality. Photo by: ILO in Asia and the Pacific / CC BY-NC-ND 

With the expiry of the European Union’s Gender Action Plan six months away, the drafting of a new framework to replace it is “almost finalized,” EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica revealed to Devex.

Covering the 2016-2020 period, the follow-up GAP is set to be adopted by the European Commission in September, with Mimica “hopeful” that the plan will be endorsed by the bloc’s Council of ministers in December.

Upon its adoption in 2010, the first GAP was upheld as a strategic instrument to push for greater gender equality mainstreaming in EU development cooperation. But five years on, experts and officials admit that implementation — particularly with respect to gender analysis, monitoring and financial tracking — has fallen short of expectations.

This time around, however, the EU intends to give itself the means to live up to its own ambitions. Lessons have been learned.

“To respond to the criticisms raised on the first action plan, the second will be more comprehensive and much more results-oriented,” the commissioner stressed.

What to expect?

According to Mimica, the new GAP will be articulated around three main areas of focus: Ensuring the physical and psychological integrity of girls and women; reinforcing their social and economic rights; and promoting their voice and participation.

While such themes aren’t exactly groundbreaking, the new GAP will include one extra priority that the commissioner believes will be key to achieving progress in all areas: The promotion of “an institutional, cultural change” within the EU.

“[We will aim] at creating an enabling environment inside the EU institutions — and member states, if endorsed by the Council — which will increase EU leadership and accountability on gender equality,” he underlined.

A longtime demand from nongovernmental organizations, the EU’s renewed focus on reforming its internal working methods and culture is welcome news. As Jessica Poh-Janrell, coordinator for gender equality at Concord Sweden, points out: “This is exactly what we have been asking for.”

But for this commitment to translate into actions and results, Poh-Janrell urged the EU to take it one step further.

“We would like to see the Commission and the European External Action Service undertake a full-fledged management response to the findings of a recent external evaluation on gender equality in EU development cooperation,” she said. Released in April, the 275-page report is a scathing yet useful assessment of EU support to gender equality and women’s empowerment between 2007 and 2013.

Poh-Janrell also called on the 28-member bloc to ramp up its budget allocations dedicated to gender-sensitive activities.

“The truth is that the Commission’s funding for target actions for gender equality decreased with the new budget for 2014-2020,” she said. “[Yet this is] another essential ingredient to ensure that the EU will step up its work on gender equality.”

Huge challenges lie ahead for the EU if it is to become the gender equality champion that countless advocates long for. But one thing’s for sure: It can count on the drive of its development commissioner.

“It's my firm intention to raise the profile of gender equality and empowerment of women in the EU's development work,” Mimica asserted. “It's a real priority of mine as I strongly believe that there can be no development without women.”

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About the author

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    Manola De Vos

    Manola De Vos is an Engagement Lead for Devex’s Analytics team in Manila. She leads and designs customized research and analysis for some of the world’s most well-respected organizations, providing the solutions and data they need to grow their partner base, work more efficiently, and drive lasting results. Prior to joining Devex, Manola worked in conflict analysis and political affairs for the United Nations, International Crisis Group and the EU.