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Strategy for gender equality in development policy

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Strategy for gender equality in development policy

The Commission presents guidelines to improve gender equality mainstreaming and to reinforce the role of women in the development cooperation policy of the European Union (EU). It also proposes concrete actions in areas where this inequality is more pronounced in developing countries.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 8 March 2007 - Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development Cooperation [COM(2007) 100 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


Equal opportunities are a key factor for sustainable development, especially in areas where this inequality is more pronounced in developing countries, i.e.:

  • employment and economic activities, because most women work in the informal sectors, with low productivity and incomes, poor working conditions and little or no social protection;
  • governance, as in many countries women are marginalised as decision-makers. In order to protect the fundamental human rights of women, legislation ensuring equal rights for men and women must also be accompanied by implementation;
  • access to education, where gender equality is related in particular to the responsibility of women for everyday tasks in the household;
  • health, as women have limited access to basic health services, especially in the sphere of sexual and reproductive health;
  • gender-based violence.

The Commission recognises that there has been considerable progress towards gender equality in development cooperation. This is increasingly becoming part of the dialogue with partner countries and the EU's consultations with civil society. In addition, there has been progress in gender equality projects and programmes and in capacity-building in Member States and the Commission.

Nevertheless, the Commission emphasises that certain challenges remain regarding:

  • the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education. Moreover, the MDGs adopt an approach confined to the health and education aspects of gender equality and neglect other dimensions of equality;
  • the presence of social and cultural obstacles associated with traditional social structures which are not conducive to changes in the traditional division of power between men and women;
  • gender mainstreaming, which has not been fully integrated into the country strategies and the implementation of EU development cooperation.

Objectives of the strategy

The first objective of the EU strategy is to increase the efficiency of gender mainstreaming. This implies actions in three areas:

  • at political level, the Commission stresses the importance of discussing gender equality with the partner countries at the highest level;
  • in development cooperation, the Commission proposes:
  • in institutional capacity-building, the Commission recommends using practical tools in the assessment and implementation phases. It also stresses the need to provide improved access to information and best practices and gender training for partner countries and staff.

The second objective is to refocus specific actions for women's empowerment in partner countries. The Commission has notably identified the following fields of action:

  • governance, especially women's political empowerment, promotion of human rights, development of gender-sensitive indicators, development of the role of women in conflict and post conflict situations;
  • employment and economic activities, especially promotion of the economic and social empowerment of women, equal treatment of men and women at work, analysis of the gender equality budget and public finance management based on a gender equality perspective;
  • education, especially abolishing school fees, adopting incentives to send girls to school, improving the school environment, enhancing gender equality awareness among adolescents and adult literacy;
  • health, especially promotion of social protection schemes for impoverished women and protection of sexual and reproductive health (for example, through HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns and training of traditional midwives to reduce the mortality of mothers and children in rural areas);
  • gender-based violence, especially reform of the legislation on the subject, victim protection, awareness-raising through media, education and training of military and judicial personnel.


The Commission underlines the importance of the ownership of development cooperation initiatives by the women beneficiaries themselves, through participation in civil society organisations (CSOs) and Community-based organisations. The EU needs in particular to promote the emergence of CSOs supporting gender equality where they do not exist and ensure capacity-building of the existing CSOs.

The financing of the aid is to be paid on the basis of the improvements in gender equality indicators. In addition, gender responsiveness is to be integrated into the preparation of the budgets of the partner countries at national and local levels. This requires re-prioritisation of expenditure, re-orientation of programmes within sectors to achieve gender equality and monitoring of government revenue and expenditure.

The national poverty reduction strategies must analyse the gender equality situation of a country to understand all its implications for growth and poverty. The Commission emphasises that these national strategies should encompass a wider definition of poverty extending beyond a lack of financial resources. They should also accept the contribution of civil society to the formulation and monitoring of the strategies.

Finally, the Commission stresses the importance of coordination and harmonisation with Member States through regular meetings and exchange of best practices. In addition, the EU will continue to foster debate on gender equality at international and regional levels, in particular by stressing the importance of extending the scope beyond the areas of health and education.

Specific actions by the Commission

To implement this strategy, the Commission proposes actions in three areas, i.e.:


In 2001 the "Programme of Action for the mainstreaming of gender equality in Community Development Cooperation 2001-2006" provided the basis for capacity building within the European Commission in this field.

Subsequently Regulation (EC) No 1567/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council, which expired on 31 December 2006, established a financial framework for the implementation of actions on reproductive and sexual health and rights.

In addition, Regulation (EC) No 806/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council, which expired on 31 December 2006, provided for a budget of EUR 9 million to finance specific actions in this field. Finally, the European Consensus of 2005 identified gender equality as one of the fundamental objectives to reduce poverty.


Commission working document of 8 March 2010 – EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development [SEC(2010) 265 final – Not published in the Official Journal]. The Commission has presented a Plan of Action 2010-2015 in order to implement the strategy in the above-mentioned Communication and thereby reinforce the promotion of gender equality in developing countries. This Plan of Action contributes towards the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and the objectives of the United Nations Convention against all forms of discrimination against women.

In this perspective, the Commission shall in particular:

  • develop the EU’s capacity for action and its lead role in defending gender equality at global level;
  • discuss gender equality in the context of the political dialogue between the EU and developing countries;
  • integrate the promotion of gender equality into the projects financed by the EU and develop reliable indicators in order to assess the progress achieved;
  • encourage the participation of civil society in developing countries;
  • improve the management and transparency of European financing;
  • support UN action for the protection of women in conflicts, through the implementation of the United Nations Resolution on Women, Peace and Security (Resolutions 1325 of 2000 and 1889 of 2009).

Last updated: 19.08.2010