Cover Image
close this bookWomen's Rights and Development (Oxfam, 1995, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentWomen in the new world order: Voices of workers from the Third World
View the documentA development agency as a patriarchal cooking pot the evaporation of policies for women's advancement
View the documentGender and development in European development cooperation
View the documentOverview of discussion
View the documentPanel session: The future agenda of the women's movement in relation to national and international structures
View the documentOverview of discussion
View the documentStrategies for achieving a women's rights policy agenda: over new of working groups
View the documentClosing remarks
View the documentParticipants
View the documentSeminar programme

Gender and development in European development cooperation

Damela Colombo, AIDoS

In the last few years, I have been assisting the European Commission to elaborate a policy statement on gender and development. Two years ago, I was asked to carry out an assessment of what the European Commission and the member states of the European Union have been doing as regards policy and instruments on issues concerning women and development and gender. That paper is available, but, when you read it, you must understand that considerable delays are normal in the European Commission: you may do a piece of work in 1993, but have to wait a year for it to be discussed, by which time the issues you were studying have altered. I made many recommendations in my assessment: I wanted to make some practical recommendations, not just for things that could be done in the short term or on an immediate level. These recommendations were endorsed by a meeting of a group of experts which took place in October 1994.

My first recommendation was that the Community should have a clear, written policy statement. The issuing of policy statements falls within the competence only of the Council of Ministers, in this case the Council of Development Ministers; and the only way to arrive at a new policy statement is by means of a Communication from the Commission to the Council on matters of coordination and collaboration between the Community of the member states, leading to a Council Resolution on the subject in question. It is intended that a draft policy paper, the basis for a Council Resolution, will be produced before the end of 1995.

This process forms part of the overall development cooperation policy review process known as 'Horizon 2000'. Following the conclusion of the Maastricht Tread of European Union in December 1991, the Commission produced a policy review entitled Development cooperation policy in the run-up to 2000, of which a series of drafts have appeared since 1992. As part of this policy review process there have been Council Resolutions on coordination and communication regarding a series of development themes: poverty, food security, AIDS/HIV, health in general, and education. The communication from the Commission to the Council on gender and development will be the sixth in the series; but, as I have said, it is a communication specifically concentrating on coordination and collaboration and is already creating a lot of problems, because some of the member states do not want to enlarge the Commission.

I also prepared background material for a meeting of experts which took place two weeks ago in Brussels, and already the material I prepared has been reshuffled. This is a Commission paper, on which I am not working as an independent consultant, and Commission staff continually work on what I give them. When I received a copy of what is supposed to be the final document, I did not recognise what I wrote.

I think the challenge facing us is that, from the perspective of the women's movement and the gender and development movement, in trying to address macro-economic policy issues we are looking at something with which we are not familiar. The aid budget is the only area of the European Union budget which is steadily increasing. In 1992, the EU spent 2.7 billion ECU on development assistance, via the European Development Fund, which covers cooperation with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) and cooperation with the countries of Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean (ALAMED). But although the EU's aid budget is increasing, these increased funds are - to use an expression we have in Italy - a 'fig leaf', designed to conceal something the EU institutions do not want to show. In this case, what is being concealed is mainly trade policy, which of course involves funds far larger than those devoted to development cooperation.

We should not forget that most of this aid has not been applied in a way which takes into account issues of gender, although there is ample scope for doing so if we strategise correctly, because there are signs of change in the EU on this issue. There is evidence of a political will to change: Article 130u of title XVII of the Maastricht Treaty indicates that the EU's development cooperation policy will be guided by the following principles and objectives:

· sustainable economic and social development of the developing countries and especially of the least advanced;
· smooth and gradual integration of these countries into the world economy;
· eradication of poverty;
· consolidation of democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There is scope here for improvement as regards gender, because the objectives set by the Maastricht Treaty show that the Union's perceptions of the meaning of development and the causes and conditions of underdevelopment have been modified. The theoretical agenda has shifted. Development strategy must now emphasise not only economic growth but also equity, sustainability, and the importance of involving people in programmes and policies.

As we all very well know, no sustainable results can be attained in any of these domains without the full participation of women. One would think it would be easy: we know the concept, we know what we want; the question is to obtain implementation. In the past, large difficulties arose from the fact that the Community was dealing first with ten countries, then twelve. Political will and political commitment on these issues varied very much according to the member state that had the Presidency of the Community (which rotates every six months). Over the years there have been high points of attention, with constant resolutions asking for the Commission to implement policies quickly, alternating with dips in interest. Over the 13 years since 1982, when the first Council Conclusion on women in development was issued, interest in gender and development has proceeded in waves.2

One thing has been constant, however, and that is the lack of management interest. Even if the political will was there, the response of the Commission has been very poor, both in DG VIII, the directorate-general for development, which administers the European Development Fund for the ACP countries, and in DG I, the directorate-general for external economic relations, which deals with the ALAMED countries. The Commission did not understand, it did not care. Until a few years ago, there was not even a full Women in Development (WID) desk in DG VIII or DG I. Also, of course, there has been a shortage of resources - until three years ago there was not a Women in Development budget line - and I must say that this was partly our fault. The women's movement in Europe has shown insufficient interest in gender and development issues. We have always been very much concerned with our own agenda as European women and, apart from women in the development NGOs, there has not been much attention on the part of the women's movement to international solidarity outside Europe. I think political commitment is closely related to the kind of movement and the civil society that stands behind it. Lately, this tendency to make a division between domestic and international women's agendas has been changed, and I think we must really strive to keep up the political momentum.

The political momentum is there now. The European Parliament will soon hold, not a hearing, but a brainstorming session, which shows great interest on the part of the women parliamentarians. The parliament now has larger powers so that it can intervene in a different way in the actions of the Commission. Women in development, and gender issues, are now firmly enshrined in the Lome Convention. They are mentioned in the protocols of the Cooperation Treaty with the Asian and Latin American countries, although not yet in the protocol with the Mediterranean countries; so this is the right time to work for the inclusion of gender issues in agreements with Mediterranean countries as well.

We should also decide what we want from the Community and how we want aid money to be used. The main focus of the WID and gender movement in the last 15 years has been mainstreaming, but, in the light of the assessment that has been done in preparation for Beijing, I think we should reflect also the need for positive action. As European women, we have had many positive action programmes. I use the phrase 'positive action' in the way the European women have used it and the way European programmer have been implemented through DG V, the directorate for social affairs, which has an equal opportunities unit. There has been a kind of bridging strategy: programmes on training, on education. I think we should go back and reflect further on what mainstreaming has achieved and whether we need this kind of positive action policy. I hope on this occasion that the communication from the Commission to the Council will not be lost, and we must be alert to ensure that the gender policy paper being prepared by the Commission is sufficiently clear.

For the next six months, from July to December 1995, the presidency will be in the hands of Spain. Spain, of course, has very little policy either on development cooperation or on women's and gender issues, but the Spanish Minister for Social Affairs and the national Institute for Women are pushing it very keenly. We must make the most of this opportunity, because Spain will be followed in the presidency by France and then Italy, and gender and development certainly is not one of the priorities of the Italian government; so if we do not get this issue on the agenda of the Development Council in November 1995, I do not know when we will do so.

This is my main message. Certainly, there is a need to intervene at the level of policy formulation. The fact that the Council's resolutions are generally stronger than the communications to it from the Commission is in itself an improvement. The political will is only as strong as the bureaucratic will, but the whole complex of development and foreign cooperation policies needs to be re-examined from a gender perspective; concern for gender disparities must permeate the process of defining development goals. Of course, there is a lot of work to do on a methodological level to make not only programme assistance but also non-project aid gender-aware. Analysis needs to be carried out of the ways gender relations interrelate with the operations of the economy and economic institutions. Country strategy papers are being prepared - some have already appeared - and ways must be found of introducing gender issues into them.

The two Women in Development desks at the Commission - one in DO VIII and one in DO I have been very active in commenting on these policy moves and documents. They will be looking again into the methodological and practical instruments for increasing gender awareness in cooperation. Gender manuals have been produced by the two desks in recent years, but they have not been widely used, so the WID desks are looking at more proactive interventions. They have also started looking at gender in the EU's structural adjustment policy: in the Lome Convention there is a separate chapter dealing with special aid actions intended to mitigate the adverse effects of structural adjustment policy, and ways of introducing considerations of gender into this must be found.

This is the right moment to intervene, but we must strategise and work hard on our national governments. The European Union is now made up of 15 member states, and I think the newcomers (Austria, Sweden and Finland) will probably help us to raise the general level of awareness and commitment to gender equality. Some member states have been very progressive in this respect, while others do not care about it. But the Resolution emerging from the European Council will also affect those member states who have been lagging behind.


I Daniela Colombo, consultant, 'Assessment of the WID/gender policies of the European Community and the member states and of their implementation by the various administrations.' Brussels, June 1994.

2 There have been seven Council Conclusions on women in development, dated 8 January 1982, 4 November 1985, 17 April 1986, 9 November 1987, 16 May 1989, 25 May 1990 and 25 May 1993. If a Resolution is passed in 1995, this will be a significant advance, since Council Resolutions are more binding as policy than Condusions.