Gender Equality not on the European Development Agenda

Zofia Lapniewska, photo by Marta Bogdanska

News author: Zofia Lapniewska
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2008-09-30 11:14:04 / News read 2198 reading

One question comes out of the series of NGOs reports developed by the Network of East-West Women: - how the EU can expect obeying the women’s rights from developing countries when itself EU is not standing to its own standards and values?


Gender equality and women’s rights violations can be observed not only in the conflict zones in Africa or Middle East. Such practices are present as well in the European Union. This EU that is so proud of its Treaties, unity and solidarity, seems not to perceive that more than a half of its citizens constitute women. Women are no more on the agenda. There are always more important issues like trade, safety, external relations that have to be discussed. However women are part of the economy, using energy, buying and selling, taking care of the environment, but none wants to hear our voice.

I remember when Poland was joining EU. There have been so many changes towards women that we couldn’t believe! Plenipotentiary to the equal status of women and men was established directly under the Prime Minister (with the budget and portfolio). Gender equality legislation introduced to polish law with the discrimination prohibition upfront. New concepts of gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting appeared in our language. And now? Where are those hopes and promises? Even the basic law is not executed. Lately the raped 14 – years old girl in Poland was refused the right to abortion.

Poland together with other EU New Member States (NMS) became obliged to provide the developmental aid (the Official Development Assistance) to the chosen priority countries. The nearest EU Neighborhood seems to be in favor. Choosing the Former Soviet Union (FSU) countries as beneficiaries of the ODA can be caused by sharing the same roots. Our eastern neighbors are countries in transition – similarly to our eastern block that is now part of the EU. Problems that they have right now – we did fight not so long time ago. When I remind myself our Polish enthusiasm during the EU accession time – I feel that we have to share our knowledge and experiences with our neighbors. Women in the East definitely didn’t have the same opportunities.

When we look closer at the “European Consensus on Development” we can see that the NMS are obliged to achieve 0,33% of Gross National Income devoted to the developing countries by 2015. However figures show that most of the countries wouldn’t meet this target.

In three countries: Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Hungary our experts (in the framework of the EU Gender Watch project) have knocked many decision-makers doors to ask: - are there any women in the national development aid agenda? As we can predict – the answer was everywhere the same: we treat women as the cross-cutting issue, not as priority. No gender disaggregated data, no gender-focused needs assessment of the beneficiary countries, no projects directly helping women. No obligations to keep the European standards. Three reports were written to describe the gap between the rhetoric and the practice with the recommendations to the national officials how to bridge this divide.

The European Consensus includes gender (which is very often surprising to the Ministries of Finance and Ministries of Foreign Affairs): “The promotion of gender equality and women's rights is not only crucial in itself but is a fundamental human right and a question of social justice, as well as being instrumental in achieving all the MDGs and in implementing the Beijing platform for Action, the Cairo Programme of Action and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Therefore the EU will include a strong gender component in all its policies and practices in its relations with developing countries.” If EU does not monitor it anyhow, how we know that gender component is included?

Let’s look from the other side. What are the women’s needs of the European neighborhood? After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries experienced a sharp decline in economic output and prolonged regional and internal conflicts resulting in a large number of internally displaced persons, deterioration of social protection systems and violations of human rights. These circumstances gave rise to a dramatic increase of poverty and a decline in human development index. Poverty has greatly affected women in the region and brought about numerous obstacles in the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women's rights.

Two major issues can be pointed out:
- low social and economic position of women (feminization of poverty and gender segregation at the labour market) and
- gender inequality in decision making.

If women do not represent themselves – they don’t have influence on their own situation. To be on the political party’s list during the elections – the candidates have to pay a lot of money, very often it is connected with the corruption, so women can’t afford it. Only millionaires like Yuliya Tymoshenko can achieve a higher position among decision-makers. Detailed women’ situation in the countries: Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine were described by our experts in the country reports.

The question remains: – how to fight poverty and promote women’s issues in the developing countries?

First of all: - EU should follow the method “leading by example”. If EU would show that gender is on the European agenda and among priorities – the countries it cooperates with will consider this aspect as a main value. Special gender mainstreaming policies, programmes, actions and establishing representative bodies are necessary (with the concrete budget for the realization of the abovementioned).

Secondly: - EU is a major donor to the FSU developing countries. Article 3(2) of the EC Treaty provides that European Community should aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women in all its activities (also known as "gender mainstreaming"). Development programs are a part of the category of EU “all activities”. By giving the money EU can set conditionalities linked to its aid. Obligatory incorporation of gender mainstreaming in all the policies and programmes can be one of them. It doesn’t mean – just a blurred idea of women as a cross-cutting issue, but collecting gender disaggregated data from all projects realized in the region, concrete women – oriented programs, gender assessment of the needs, and concrete funds associated as well as concrete persons responsible for monitoring.

Efficient policies towards women can make the difference.

The time to act is now!

Full reports mentioned in text and information about their authors can be found at:


About Author: Zofia Lapniewska is a feminist economist, working on gender and development projects for the Network of East-West Women in Poland. The coordinator of the “EU Gender Watch” project.

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