On 21-22 November, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) invited journalists and communications experts from many of the Member States to Vilnius in order to present the latest findings on ‘Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of gender equality‘.

This meeting – the fifth of its kind – was special in at least two aspects. First, since the Institute is located in Vilnius the participants had the opportunity to achieve deeper insight to EIGE’s everyday work, meet the officials and discover the newly opened Resource and Documentation Centre. Second, because the meeting was held in the capital of the member state holding the presidency, officials from the relevant ministries presented their own work regarding gender-equality both at national and EU level.

Policy Context – from 1995 UN to 2013 EU

The Presidency invited the Institute to carry out a study on a chosen topic from the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) – an agenda for women’s empowerment agreed upon at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The agenda aims to remove all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life, through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. Since the EU has also committed itself to promote this goal as well as review the implementation across the Member States, each Presidency chooses one of the twelve areas from ‘A’ to ‘L’ which is close to its heart.
The Lithuanian Presidency opted for the indicator H – an institutional mechanism for the advancement for gender-equality which has three strategic objectives:
H1. Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies;
H2. Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects;
H3. Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation.

The report forming the basis of the council conclusion will be published at the beginning of December and the complete conclusion in January 2014.

Main Findings

EIGE’s experts worked with three measures to assess the situation in the different Member States – these were the status of governmental responsibility, personnel resources and gender mainstreaming.

Having examined the indicators, the results are striking and disappointing at the same time. The current economic crisis not only adversely affected the situation, but governmental institutions, ministry departments and legislation regarding gender-equality were among the firsts to fall victim to the rationalization. The crisis spurred a two-way shift in many of the Member States. First a shift in the political climate translated into cuts, both in staff and budget as well as a merging of policy areas and bodies (e.g. gender-equality into equal opportunities). Second, a shift towards a legalistic, multi-discrimination approach, meaning the marginalisation of gender equality as a political goal and policy which undermines the concept of equal treatment as a whole.

Moreover, it turns out that since 2005, when indicator H was last revised, personnel resources for gender equality decreased in more than half of the member states; the number of independent bodies exclusively dedicated to the promotion of equal treatment between women and men fell to 18% (from 44% in 2005) and gender equality as a policy area also experienced a decline in its prioritization.

The third measure is gender mainstreaming, in other words a strategy used to integrate gender concerns into all policies or programmes of the European Union institutions as well as member states. As pointed out by EIGE’s gender-experts Ioana Borza and Barbara Limanowska, this is one of the best tools to measure institutional development of gender-equality. In their view, despite the often disappointing figures, the majority of member states have improved structures of promotion, methodologies and training that are largely available – though Limanowska warns that “a bad training of officials is worse than no training” and gender impact assessment and budgeting are in their infancy.

The other important aspect of the meeting was the introduction of the newly opened Resource and Documentation Centre, the gateway to gender equality knowledge in the EU. The Centre is a “dream come true” and a “magic toolbox” – to quote Agnés Hubert, the first Commissioner dealing with gender-equality under the name ‘equal opportunities’. The Centre itself is composed of three parts: a Documentation Centre and Library providing fast and simple access to more than two hundred thousand resources on gender-equality in the EU-28; Eurogender, an online space to discuss or exchange expertise as well as information; and finally a Knowledge Centre, a ‘physical’ Centre in Vilnius providing the best quality gender statistics, research, methods, tools and good practices for gender-equality policies as well as gender mainstreaming, which will be processed and produced by EIGE.  (Watch the video to learn more at RDC.)