The Ambition of Gender Equality

Francesca Mele

The achievement of gender equality in Europe is now subject to a new ambitious plan. On 25th November, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy signed the Gender Action Plan (GAP) III, to achieve the goal of equality and empowerment by 2025. COVID-19 constituted a major obstacle, but even before it proceeded at a slow pace. EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality) declared in its document ‘Gender Equality Index 2020:  Digitalisation and the future of work’ that the improvement has been slight and “at this pace – 1 point every 2 years – it will take more than 60 years to achieve gender equality in the EU”.


The Index encompasses six plus two domains (work, money, knowledge, time, health, power, as well as violence against women and intersecting inequalities) with 31 indicators per 28 countries. The domain most affected is power, which counts the highest gender inequality. The long-standing absence of women in leading positions was a constant until 2019, when Ursula von der Leyen was elected as the President of the European Commission, followed by Christine Lagarde as President of the European Central Bank. As the document released by EIGE reminds us, “gender balance in economic decision-making also forms part of the SDGs”. Goal 5.5 claims women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. The empowerment of women and promotion of their equality will lead the EU’s external actions in 2021-2025.

The joint staff working document (SWD) is divided into two parts. Part I identifies 11 objectives. For every action, indicators, baselines, and targets are specified, as well as data sources and actors where possible. For instance, objective 1.4. calls for funding to women’s rights organisations and movements to contribute to gender equality. The indicator is the amount of funding; the baseline (which indicates the latest data available from the GAP II Annual Implementation Report 2019 or other sources) has to be defined; the target, for this action, would be the increase to the level of funding allocated to movements and associations working toward gender equality. The data sources used are Creditor Reporting System CRS, OECD DAC (the database signals where aid goes, what purposes it serves and what policies it aims to implement, on a comparable basis for all DAC members; data are collected on individual projects and programs (focus is on financial data but some descriptive information is also made available)) or other equivalent COM databases.

The 2020 Gender Equality Index displaying the EU’s overall gender equality score compared to its individual members
Source: European Institute for Gender Equality

Part II indicates a menu of objectives and indicators for each of the six thematic areas of engagement; “There are also selected qualitative indicators which seek to capture the hard-to-measure changes in social norms and attitudes and transformations in gender power relations”. After identifying an overall thematic objective, it is split into further specific thematic objectives with key thematic outcome indicators. For instance, the Thematic area of engagement concerning freedom from all forms of gender-based violence encompasses eight specific objectives, which take into account: spheres of protection, gender norms, active control of own sexuality and reproductive rights, and exploitation and fragile contexts.

Lastly, the joint staff working document (SWD) complements the joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council. It defines gender equality as a key political objective, in which the EU constitutes a global front-runner; “The EU pursues a three-pronged approach, combining gender mainstreaming, targeted actions and political dialogue”. The difference with EU gender equality strategy 2020 – 2025 is that GAP III addresses the issue globally, as stated in the joint communication. It provides a policy framework for the EU to boost its level of engagement, focusing on five pillars:

  1. 85% of all new actions throughout external relations will contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment by 2025 (integrating a gender perspective in every action).
  2. A shared strategic vision and close cooperation with Member States and partners at a multilateral, regional and country level.
  3. GAP III calls for accelerating progress, focusing on the key thematic areas of engagement.
  4. Leading by example.
  5. Measuring results.


Planned increase in women’s empowerment in EU external action. Source: European Commission

The year 2020 celebrates two finishes: the resolution 1325, the resolution adopted by Un Security Council in 2000 and concerning women, peace, and security; the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The resolution 1325 affirmed the centrality of women in societies, as a crucial actor and factor for sustainable and long-lasting peace. But also, it called for the protection of women in conflicts, and the adoption of gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts.

The BPfA was an unprecedented event for the number of participants involved (17.000 participants, 30.000 activists, 189 governments represented) and for the new perspective adopted. It identified 12 critical areas of concern, imaging gender equality in every field. It still constitutes an inspiration for the insiders and not. Nevertheless, in March 2020 the President of the European Commission stated that:

“Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality.”

Also, the same joint staff working document claimed that “there is, however, not a single country in the world that is close to achieving by 2030 gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.”

Thus, the GAP III is ambitious because it sets goals and indicators (quantitative and qualitative) imagining a broad global action. Its action will be developed combining gender mainstreaming, targeted actions and political dialogue. The ambition resides in its multidimensional approach: from the eradication of the root causes of inequality to the engagement at country, regional and multilateral levels, to setting objectives and action in thematic policy areas. Because “challenges also bring opportunities”, to shine and thrive.

  • What pace is your country working at to achieve gender equality?
  • How has COVID-19 affected the implementation of gender equality?
  • Is the Plan just ambitious or a dream?

Suggested Readings

European Commission (2020). “Gender Action Plan – putting women and girls’ rights at the heart of the global recovery for a gender-equal world”. European Commission, 25 November, 2020.

European Commission (2020). “Joint staff working document – Objectives and indicators to frame the implementation of the Gender Action Plan III (2021-25)”. European Commission, 25 November, 2020.

European Commission (2020). “Joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council”. European Commission, 25 November, 2020.

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The Ambition of Gender Eq…

by Francesca Mele time to read: 4 min