Good Practices in Gender Mainstreaming

Notes on the European Institute for Gender Equality Conference (EIGE), which took place on 28 November, 2011 in Brussels.

‘Gender mainstreaming is a vast topic...’

Opening session:
Virginia Langbakk, the director of the European Institute for Gender Equity in Vilnius, Lithuania, opened the meeting; it was the first time that the EIGE had presented itself to the public. She stated that gender mainstreaming had not been satisfactorily implemented in the EU, and that there was still a lot to do.

Daniela Bankier, director of the Gender Equality Unit at the European Commission’s Department General for Justice referred to gender mainstreaming (GeM) as a principle based on good common sense, as well as being anchored in Article 8 of the EU treaty, even if it was not specifically stated there. She pointed out that one of the main aims of the European Commission for Gender Mainstreaming between 2011 and 2015 – the period in which support is being provided – has been and will continue to be increasing the European average of women in employment from 62% to 75%. However, if GeM were to be reduced to this single aim, gender mainstreaming would be challenging due to its low level of visibility and communicability, and this, she argued, was the reason GeM continued to remain less important to the politicians who are responsible for its implementation. The positive results that could be gained by implementing GeM are not being made clear, in particular the role it could play in increasing efficiency and effectiveness. She asked the question – as did many other people at the meeting – of how best the EIGE could support the European institutions in implementing GeM.

Anne Galang works as a national expert for the Gender Equality Unit at the European Commission. She organises conferences on specific questions relating to GeM in order to exchange good practices. She argued that in the framework in which she worked, it was possible to express and accept critique that had not been considered before. In our opinion – and particularly in the context of this conference, with its reliance on lectures – such a framework is essential.

In her opening speech, Anne Galang differentiated between four groups of countries, according to their levels of GeM implementation:


  1. starting countries – the new EU members in particular
  2. countries with a good legal situation, but without concrete measures for implementation – these especially included older EU member countries
  3. countries with an advanced implementation of GeM – France, Austria, and the United Kingdom
  4. countries with a long history of GeM implementation – mainly the Scandinavian countries.


She argued that gender training was essential for implementing GeM, but bad experiences and fears led her to stress that training must be specific and orientated towards action. Furthermore, Anna Galang called for practical check-lists and easy-to-follow manuals – this of course is a demand that has been made in discussions on GeM for more than 10 years. She also argued that GeM is a “never ending project’; however, portraying gender mainstreaming in this way will hardly increase its attractiveness.

Barbara Limanowska, the senior expert for GeM and EIGE’s head of operations, stated that ‘We started [with this] this year...’. Be this as it may, the European Parliament decided to set up the EIGE on 20 December 2006, and it began its work in May 2007, in Brussels, before moving to Vilnius. However, its first annual report covered 2010; only the EIGE knows what it was doing before this time. The EIGE undertook the feminine-associated task of collecting practical examples that work, are transferable and repeatable, and that encourage learning. Barbara Limanowska reminded us that there was no universally accepted definition of ‘good practice’. EIGE’s criteria for good practice included the ideas that something ‘works well’ and is ‘transferable’. EIGE’s study shows that gender training is a ‘key tool’ for gender mainstreaming. In 2012 a database is due to be set up for trainers. Let’s wait and see...

Marie Bustelo is the director of the QUING project, which closed with the spring conference held in Madrid. The project was run by the Complutense University in Madrid. She described the research project’s process of developing its findings and reported that the project has now moved away from curriculum standards to investigating quality criteria for gender trainers. She argued that it was not manuals and handbooks that counted, but guidelines. She also stated that good practices should also include examples that have the potential to be developed, and that they should not be interpreted as complete. This of course would be dependent on finding enough examples to evaluate. Marie Bustelo proposed not concentrating on training the trainers but instead on ‘communities of practice’, which she described in reference to Etienne Wenger as communities of people with a common passion. This is set out in more detail in the QUING-project’s 2009 manual for trainers.

The first result of the QUING research project was that gender training must be integrated into a broader strategy of gender equality. Marie Bustelo stressed the importance of participatory and experience-orientated methods, as well as the importance of the setting, including breaks, and ensuring a good working atmosphere if gender training was to be successful. If these are the key findings of an extensive research project that lasted for almost six years, then – to put it lightly – these results are somewhat lacking.

Panel 1
Agnes Hubert, the moderator of this panel, is an adviser at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers – the EU Commission’s think tank. She described the difficulty of integrating gender perspectives into current and strategic political debates.

Viviane Willis-Mazzichi from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation presented a practical ‘Toolkit on Gender in EU-funded Research’, which is supported by a day-long gender training session that has been delivered in 14 countries, 43 times to a total of more than 800 participants. The participants rated the training highly with an average of 8.6 out of 10: more than a quarter of the participants were male.

Saniye Gülser Corat from the Division for Gender Equality at UNESCO provided a ten-minute-long presentation on the ‘Gender Equality eLearning Program’, a training program in gender mainstreaming as good practice. This program has been run by UNESCO since 2005, but due to a lack of funding, it is run exclusively by its own staff. The training sessions last between two hours and one week.

Panel 2
Heide Cortolezis
from Arcade in Steiermark, Austria, trains ‘gender agents’ in just twelve days. However, we found her examples of the way she had influenced the attitudes of the majority male participants not particularly convincing.

Anna Ulveson from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions provided an example of how Sweden turns words into actions: she stated that to date 66,000 people have taken part in gender training. Half of these people were politicians. Their website has recently been published in English, and it should provide us with detailed insights into their practices, which are the most highly developed of all.

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Panel 3
Ines Sanchez de Madariaga from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation presented the highly successful ‘Stride Program’ run by the University of Michigan, which entails university professors providing specialised gender training to their colleagues.

The only man present on the conference podium was Niall Crowley, a freelance adviser to EQUINET, the network of European equality bodies.

Katrien van der Heyden from the private consultancy firm Engender, a spin-off of the University of Antwerp, demonstrated the importance of ensuring people remain the focus of gender training. She highlighted the following examples that had come up during her training sessions: Where is gender, when snow has to be cleared? We clear the streets of snow so that people can use them. Women on the pavement, men in a car and so on. A city planning department does not build real estate, but spaces for people... The interest shown at the conference in the small number of examples that she provided of difficulties relating to gender training clearly demonstrated the need for an exchange of experiences. Unfortunately, this was not possible within the framework of the conference. Strategies for problem-solving cannot be presented during lectures, but instead need to be developed collectively using specific examples.

Closing session
One good contribution by the EIGE was publishing Good Practises in Gender Mainstreaming in time for the conference. The publication details a total of six further examples of good practices that are not set out here.

Has there really been hardly any thematic development since the beginning of discussions about GeM in the EU? Or why are the same common-sense ideas repeatedly being emphasized by actors in GeM at the European level. They remind us that GeM must be a top-down process, embedded in an overall strategy in which gender training sessions have a place if they are to be implemented in an experience and action-orientated manner. Clearly, this is what we have all experienced in our consultation processes – sometimes all too painfully. However, it was refreshing to see the ease with which people are using the term ‘gender mainstreaming’, an ease which – in Germany at least – has disappeared since the arrival of the conservative-liberal federal government. It was of course also refreshing to see numerous exchanges between the many interesting attendees, including the eight male participants.

The next EIGE conference is ‘looming’, this time on the topic of quality standards in gender training, in autumn 2012. Is it not about time that we took a stand, together with a group of colleagues? If this move were well prepared, it might be possible to present a clear public critique of the half-hearted approach that has been taken by the EU, and instead form clear quality standards in gender training and advice provision.