Gender-political situation in Belgium
Brief description and evaluation
In Belgium, the legal fundaments for the equality of men and women have a long tradition. Nonetheless, emphasizing economic questions and jobs, right wing, conservative and liberal forces appear to be relegating the question of gender equality to the back burner here, too. Gender equality legislation in Belgium is therefore losing its model character.
A specific feature of Belgium is its division into three regions: the Flemish, Wallonian and Brussels-Capital regions. Laws are decided autonomously within these regions. Therefore, not all laws become effective in the whole of Belgium at the same time. Also, since the early federal elections of June 2010 no new government has taken office. The reason behind this are the differences between the winner of the elections in the Flanders region, the Flemish nationalists, and the election winners in Wallonia, the francophone socialists. Therefore, and as before, the focus is on the reform of the Belgium state.
Clearly both the crisis of government and the federal structure of Belgium (Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital area) prevent the implementation of EU legislation because the process involves many different government agencies.
Overall, citizens have good access to official information. The spectrum of NGOs working on gender justice is not too broad. Mainly they work on the social implications of gender justice and the principle of diversity.
In May 2007, three new anti-discrimination laws were passed:
The racism law that introduced changes to the law passed on 30 July 1981 to punish certain acts motivated by racism and/or xenophobia.
A law on equal treatment to eliminate discrimination between women and men (see above).
The 2007 anti-discrimination law to eliminate certain kinds of discrimination.
In Belgium some anti-discrimination legislation had already been passed earlier, for example the 2003 anti-discrimination law and the revised law of 15 February 1993 (Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Fight against Racism). Albeit there were significant shortcomings in the implementation of EU directives, which were then ‘harmonised’ with EU legislation in 2007. Discrimination based on sex, nationality, skin colour, sexual orientation, financial situation and/or impairment are forbidden.
Developing Anti-Discrimination Law in Europe (2009); p. 95 contains a history of anti-discrimination legislation.
Political feminist groups have discussed legislated gender quota since the 1970s. Finally, in 1994, a first such law was adopted. It stipulated that electoral lists must not comprise more than two-thirds of candidates of the same sex. The act was applied to the 1994 and 2000 communal and provincial elections, as well as to the 1999 European Parliament, federal and regional elections. Still, the act was strongly criticised because it did not insist on an equal number of men and women on the party electoral lists. This criticism led to the 2002 gender quota acts compelling parties to put forward an equal number of female and male candidates. Furthermore, candidates of the same sex may not occupy the top two positions on a list. The legislated quota provision is applied homogenously at all levels of election, from the communal up to the European Parliament elections. Corresponding mechanisms to sanction and implement quota are in place, but a stringent monitoring is lacking.
Source: Petra Meier (2008): Belgium: a best practice put in perspective, pp. 46-54; Electoral Gender Quota Systems and their Implementation in Europe (2008) (PDF, 128 pages, 1.08 MB), published by the Directorate-General Internal Policies, Policy Department C, Citizens Rights and Constitutional Affairs
As there is currently no Belgium government, it can also not be said whether there is a national action plan according to EU regulations.
The numerous government agencies are focussed mainly on business and employment issues (due to the on-going European economic and financial crisis). Equal opportunity is of little explicit concern and is mostly relegated to the ideological debate surrounding the use of Muslim headgear in Belgium. In April 2010 the parliament passed a law prohibiting the wearing of the burka in public, considering it an unacceptable sign of the repression of women.
Source: Jean Jacqmain: Belgium, in: European Gender Equality Law Review 2010-1, pp. 49-52 (PDF, 145 pages, 875 KB)
NGOs: political parties, civil society organisations
Amazone - Comité de Liaison des Femmes (French, Dutch and English)
Amazone was founded in 1995 as a national contact centre for women and women’s organisations. It has increasingly become a resource pool for information on the equality of the sexes. Amazone is a meeting point for different actors and is also a conference and information centre.
10 rue du Méridien
Tel.: +32 (0)2 229 38 00
Fax.: +32 (0)2 229 38 01
Conseil des Femmes Francophones de Belgique (CFFB) (French)
This women’s association is active in Wallonia and especially in Brussels. The organisation promotes equal opportunities for women in the public sphere, an improvement of the economic and social situation of women and stands up against violence against women. The CFFB organises seminars, conferences and discussion rounds, as well as disseminating information and teaching.
10 rue du Méridien – 1210 Brussels
Tel.: +32 (0)2 229.38.21
Collectif contre les Violences familiales et l'Exclusion (CVFE) (French)
Stemming from the feminist movement, this collective against domestic violence was founded in 1978. Today the CVFE specialises in offering resources to female victims of domestic violence. This for example includes a shelter for women and their children, a 24-hour crisis hotline and regular counselling services.
Rue Maghin, 11
Femmes Prévoyantes Socialistes (FPS) (French)
FPS is a feminist movement concerned with the issues of health and citizenship. There are 11 regional and 200 local groups that organise numerous trainings in the French-speaking community. They inform and explain (conferences, studies, analysis and advocacy), mobilise (seminars and events, political demands) etc.
Place Saint-Jean, 1-2 - 1000 Brussels
Tel.: +32(0) 2 / 515.04.01
RoSa (Dutch, French and English)
RoSa is a women’s documentation centre in Brussels and cooperates in events with state agencies and the university. Their homepage is frequently quoted by internet media.
Tel.: +32 (0)2 209 34 10
Vrouwenraad (Dutch, French and English)
Vrouwenraad is an umbrella organisation for organisations promoting equal opportunities for women and men in a multicultural society. Many women’s associations from diverse backgrounds have become members. The organisation demands equal rights and opportunities for women and men, without regard to age, ethnic origin, sexual preferences, religion etc.
Tel.: +32 (0)2/229 38 18-19
Fax: +32 (0)2/229 38 66
Vie Féminine (French)
As a feminist movement, Vie Féminine--with its numerous regional, national and international activities and projects--stands for a society of solidarity and equal rights.
Vie Féminine - Secrétariat national
111, rue de la Poste - 1030 Brussels
Tel.: +32 (0)2/ 227 13 00
Fax: +32 (0)2/223 04 42
Comité d'avis pour l'égalité entre les femmes et les hommes (Committee for equality between women and men, French)
Founded in 1995, the committee has focussed on gender relations and equal opportunities. It can initiate activities and consults the senate and the presidency on equal opportunities.
Palais de la Nation
Place de la Nation, 1
President: Ms. Lijnen Nele (email@example.com)
Conseil de l'égalité des chances entre les hommes et les femmes (Council for equal opportunities for men and women, French)
Founded in 1983, the council continues the work of two older institutions (La Commission du Travail des Femmes and Le Conseil de L’Emancipation) as a consulting organisation at the federal level. It focuses on combating all forms of direct or indirect discrimination and effectively promoting equality between men and women. The council can initiate studies, ask for reports, and demand measures and instruments.
Rue Ernest Blerot 1
Tel.: +32 (0)2 233 41 76
Fax: +32 (0)2 233 40 32
Institut pour l’égalité des femmes et des hommes (Institute for the equality of women and men, French, Dutch and English)
The institute was created in 2002 to guarantee and promote equality between women and men and to fight any form of discrimination and inequality based on gender or way of life (transgender). This is to be achieved through an adequate legal framework, structures, strategies, instruments and activities. The institute is also charged with the implementation of gender mainstreaming at the governmental level.
On top of staff costs, operating expenses and financial support offered to women’s organisations, the organisation has around €500,000 for equal opportunities projects and activities.
Equinet - European network of equality bodies - Belgian Institute for the Equality of Women and Men
Institute For The Equality Of Women And Men
For all other kinds of discrimination (for example sexual orientation and age) there is also the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism: Centre pour l'égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme (also in English).
La Direction de l'Egalité des Chances (Directorate for equal opportunities, French)
The directorate is directly subordinated to the general secretary of the minister for equal opportunities (currently Fadila Laanan) of the French community. Within the French communities of Wallonia and Brussels, the institute stands for equal opportunities and rights (working against gender stereotypes, combating violence against women, promoting studies and research into gender, etc.).
Espace 27 septembre
Boulevard Léopold II, 44
1080 Brussels Belgium
Université des Femmes (French)
Basically this organisation documents feminist ideas but also organises events on all issues relevant to women. They also award yearly research prizes.
10 rue du Méridien – 1210 Brussels
Tel.: +32 (0)2 229.38.25
RHAE – Centrum Gender & Diversiteit (Flemish)
The women’s studies course at the University of Brussels is now called the Centre for Gender and Diversity Research (Onderzoekscentrum voor Gender en Diversiteit). Unfortunately the homepage is available in the Flemish language only.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Faculteit Rechten en Criminologie
Tel.: +32 (2) 629.14.95
Sophia (Dutch, French and English)
Sophia is the coordinating body for women’s studies in Belgium.
Tel.: +32 (0)2 229 38 69
Fax: +32 (0)2 229 38 59
BeWiSe seeks to strengthen the position of women in research – both in the public and private sphere – and improve communication between women in Belgium and across Europe.
Availability of sources
With the right French keywords, finding information is arduous but possible. Furthermore, the internet resources are mostly only in French or Flemish.
Researching concrete discussions is difficult.
Citation of relevant sources
Sources were listed in the corresponding context.
This study was conducted by Tanja Berger und Pamela Dorsch and comissioned by the Gunda Werner Institute of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2010.
All images, except marked otherwise Public Domain CC0