Documents considered by the Committee on 14th October 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


8 Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the International Development Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee; relevant to the European Committee debate on the Sustainable Development Goals (recommended on 21 July 2015)
Document detailsCommission Staff Working Document: Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020
Legal base
DepartmentInternational Development
Document Numbers(37117), 12249/15, (SWD)15 182

Summary and Committee's conclusions

8.1 Gender equality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that, in 2000, the UN set itself to achieve, most by 2015.[ 66]

8.2 A 2007 Commission Communication set out the overarching aims: to promote progress in achieving: equal rights (political, civil, economic, employment, social and cultural) for women and men, girls and boys; equal access to, and control over, resources for women and men; and equal opportunities to achieve political and economic influence for women and men.

8.3 The subsequent EU 2010-2015 GAP (Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development (GEWE)), known as GAP I, set out nine objectives, 37 actions and 53 indicators, which the European Commission, European External Action Services (EEAS), the 117 EU Delegations that have external cooperation activities and EU Member States are committed to implement and to report upon annually. The story thus far was of the Commission/EEAS "talking the talk", but failing to "walk the walk" (see previous Reports for details).[ 67]

8.4 This was the thrust of an independent evaluation of GAP I. For the Commission, the requirement could not have been more clearly put: revitalise their commitment to GEWE; lead the development of a successor to the GAP and engage more effectively with Member States; clarify leadership and management arrangements at EU Delegation level for achieving GEWE results and delivering against the GAP; and clarify reporting and accountability arrangements for achievement of GEWE results and delivery of the GAP successor.

8.5 Responding to the Committee's earlier Reports concerning the Commission's own latest report on implementation of GAP I, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) said that the May "Development" Council Conclusions on this report reflected all of the UK's broad GEWE priorities, and noted Development Commissioner Mimica's avowed commitment to the fight against gender-based violence, the promotion of human rights, and an "institutional shift" in the Commission's approach to gender. The Minister was also pleased that the Conclusions noted the concern of Member States on the slow progress in implementing the current GAP, and characterised "the strong emphasis on results" as "a useful impetus", as well as "the need for sufficient resources to support implementation of the next GAP". [ 68] The Minister agreed with the main recommendations of the independent evaluation; had ensured that a strong reference was included in the Council Conclusions; and, along with other Member States, had called for its main recommendations to be reflected in the successor to the current Gender Action Plan (GAP II).

8.6 This Commission Joint Staff Working Document contains GAP II, i.e., the new EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (2016-2020). It was published by the Commission on the 21 September 2015, with a view to its formal adoption at the 26 October 2015 "Development" Foreign Affairs Council.

8.7 The document outlines the Commission Services' and the EEAS's planned activities and commitment to transforming the lives of girls and women through external relations over the next five years. It aims to reinforce EU coordination regarding gender equality policies in order to increase impact on the ground. Annex 1 outlines specific objectives, expected activities and meaningful indicators for GAP II; Annex 2 discusses the monitoring and reporting process.

8.8 GAP II focuses on four pivotal areas; one horizontal, and three thematic:

·  Shifting the Commission services' and the EEAS's institutional culture to more effectively deliver on EU commitments;

·  Ensuring girls' and women's physical and psychological integrity;

·  Promoting the economic and social rights/empowerment of girls and women; and

·  Strengthening girls' and women's voice and participation.

8.9 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development's (Baroness Verma) says GAP II is seen as a step change from the 2010-2015 GAP I, "which has largely failed to be implemented properly, and shifts to be a more results-oriented than process heavy document" (see "Background" for further details).

8.10 So far, so good. But, as noted earlier, the Commission has already been good at "talking the talk"; it is what actually happens over the next five years that will be important. In the first instance, the forthcoming Council Conclusions will set the tone and direction. We should therefore be grateful if the Minister would write to us once they have adopted, with her assessment of how they will ensure that words are turned into actions, and actions are properly evaluated in terms of accountability and effective delivery of commitments.

8.11 When she does so, we would also appreciate receiving the Minister's views on how the requirements set out in the independent evaluation of GAP I have been reflected in the Commission proposals on GAP II (c.f. paragraph 8.18 below).

8.12 In the meantime, we shall retain the Joint Staff Working Document under scrutiny.

8.13 The MDGs are to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.[ 69] SDG 5 is: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls".[ 70] We have already recommended the Commission Communication on the EU's contribution to realising the new SDG's for debate in European Committee.[ 71] We recommend that this chapter of our Report be included in the document pack for that debate.

8.14 We are again drawing these developments to the attention of the International Development Committee and the Women & Equalities Committee.

Full details of the document: Commission Staff Working Document: Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020: (37117), 12249/15, SWD(15) 182.

Background

8.15 Looking ahead to the post-2015 development agenda, the previous Committee agreed that a successor GAP should indeed focus on results; but, before then, there was the question of implementation of what had been agreed thus far. The then Minister was accordingly asked to provide her (or her successor's) assessment of whether the May 2015 Council Conclusions on this GAP I implementation report took the vital issue of GEWE forward in the right way, and with genuine commitment.[ 72]

8.16 The Minister (Baroness Verma) said that the Council Conclusions reflected all of the UK's broad GEWE priorities, and noted Development Commissioner Mimica's avowed commitment to the fight against gender-based violence, the promotion of human rights, and an "institutional shift" in the Commission's approach to gender.

8.17 The Minister was pleased that the Conclusions also noted the concern of Member States on the slow progress in implementing the current GAP, and characterised "the strong emphasis on results" as "a useful impetus", as well as "the need for sufficient resources to support implementation of the next GAP". [ 73]

Our assessment

8.18 We noted in particular that, in the Conclusions, the Council also "urges the Commission to implement the report's recommendations" and "looks forward to a final report on the implementation of the current GAP"; and said that we, too, expected a full assessment from the Minister of the extent to which the Council's exhortations had been taken on board, and what further action she then judged to be necessary.

8.19 The Council Conclusions also referred to a report on the Evaluation of the EU Support to GEWE in Partner Countries in 2007-2013, with regard to which the Council "urges the Commission and the EEAS to implement its main recommendations, notably in the successor to the current GAP, starting with a fully-fledged management response", and expressed its concern "with the performance of most EU Delegations which are not sufficiently taking gender equality into consideration". [ 74]

8.20 In responding to the Committee's question about the nature of this evaluation,[ 75] the Minister explained that it was completed by an independent, external body. The Government agreed with its main recommendations; had ensured that a strong reference was included in the Council Conclusions; and, along with other Member States, had called for its main recommendations to be reflected in the successor to the current Gender Action Plan (GAP II). GAP II was currently going through inter-service consultation within the Commission; the Minister would provide "a full assessment of the proposals once we have received them from the Commission".

8.21 The Minister also undertook to provide a full assessment of the 2015 Report on the GEWE Implementation once it was published, which she expected to be before the end of the year. We looked forward to receiving this.

Our further assessment

8.22 The Minister's outline of the recommendations in the independent evaluation are set out in our most recent relevant Report.[ 76] Not surprisingly, there was a familiar ring about them. For the Commission, the requirements could not have been more clearly put: revitalise their commitment to GEWE; lead the development of a successor to the GAP and engage more effectively with Member States; clarify leadership and management arrangements at EU Delegation level for achieving GEWE results and delivering against the GAP; and clarify reporting and accountability arrangements for achievement of GEWE results and delivery of the GAP successor. We look forward to receiving the Minister's views on how these requirements were reflected in the Commission proposals on GAP II.[ 77]

The Commission Staff Working Document

8.23 GAP II begins by defining gender equality as "the foundation of democratic societies and good governance, and the cornerstone of inclusive sustainable development", and declaring:

"Equality between men and women is at the core of values of the European Union (EU) and enshrined in its legal and political framework. The EU is at the forefront of the protection and fulfilment of girls' and women's rights and vigorously promotes them in its external relations."

8.24 The Commission says that this Joint Staff Working Document:

—  provides the framework for results-oriented measures for "Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020";

—  builds on the lessons learnt from, and achievements of, the previous Gender Action Plan 2010-2015;

—  consolidates the context, rationale and priorities of "a refreshed approach" that reaffirms and translates the EU's policy and political commitments to gender equality into more effective delivery of concrete results for girls and women; while

—  promoting more efficient coordination, implementation and monitoring of EU activities in this area.

8.25 In her Explanatory Memorandum of 1 October 2015, the Minister (Baroness Verma) helpfully summarises GAP II as follows:

"The document outlines the Commission Services' and the European External Action Service's (EEAS) planned activities and commitment to transforming the lives of girls and women through external relations over the next 5 years. It aims to reinforce EU coordination regarding gender equality policies in order to increase impact on the ground in this important area. The GAP II marks a step change from the first Gender Action Plan (2010-2015) which has largely failed to be implemented properly, and shifts to be a more results-oriented than process heavy document.

"The document contains three sections: The SWD itself acts as a political narrative; Annex 1 outlines the specific objectives, expected activities and meaningful indicators (this is in effect the action plan); Annex 2 discusses the monitoring and reporting process for the GAP II.

"The GAP II focuses on four pivotal areas — one horizontal and three thematic.

HORIZONTAL AREA:

"Driving an institutional culture shift to more effectively deliver on EU commitments:

I.  "A significant culture shift is recognised as critical to the success of the GAP II. The implementation of this pivotal area is seen as a precondition for success of the three thematic areas.

¾  "The Commission services and EEAS have committed to invest in strengthening: leadership — both political and institutional; accountability; coordination across the Commission services and EEAS; their results-oriented and driven approach; investment into high quality gender analysis; their human and financial resources to fully implement the SWD and its annexes.

THEMATIC AREAS:

II.  "Ensuring girls' and women's physical and psychological integrity:

¾  "The Commission services and EEAS have committed to invest in strengthening their work to: eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, and gender-based violence; eradicate the trafficking of women and girls; end sexual violence and gender based violence in conflict and post conflict situations; increase access to quality affordable health care; ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights; eliminate gender-based sex selection; and end child, early and forced marriages.

III.  "Promoting the economic and social rights / empowerment of girls and women:

¾  "The Commission services and EEAS have committed to invest in strengthening their work to: increase the number of girls and women receiving quality education; improve access by women to decent work; drive equal access to financial services, land, and other productive resources; support female entrepreneurs; increase girls' and women's access to, use of, and control over, clean water, energy, information, communications and technology, and transport infrastructure.

IV.  "Strengthening girls' and women's voice and participation:

¾  "The Commission services and EEAS have committed to invest in strengthening their work to: increase women's participation in policy, governance, and electoral processes at all levels; empower girls' and women's organisations and human rights defenders; shift negative social or cultural norms, including via active engagement with men and boys; increase women's participation in decision making processes on climate and environment issues.

"Annex 2 sets out the reporting methodologies. Reporting against all institutional culture shift indicators is mandatory for all EU actors. For the thematic areas, EU actors will be able selectively to pick the indicators they wish to focus their efforts on. This method is aimed at enhancing coherence with current country priorities, as set out in the agreed National Indicative Programmes. The EU will report annually on its progress."

The Government's view

8.26 The Minister welcomes the Plan of Action, supports it "as a timely indicator of increased commitment" by the Commission and Member States to making greater progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment through its external relations, and wants "to see faster and deeper progress than was made through the last GAP, and see this as a welcome opportunity to deliver on this".

8.27 She goes on to note:

"The UK has inputted greatly into setting the direction of GAP II both through ministerial engagement and at senior official/official working level. A Task Force comprising representatives of UK, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Malta was set up to be a reference group for the document, and has actively contributed to the drafting process."

8.28 The Minister is also "glad to see explicit links in the action plan to alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals".

8.29 The Government is:

"committed to putting girls and women at the centre of international development. We believe that investing in girls and women has a transformative impact on growth, poverty reduction and the achievement of the new Sustainable Development Goals"; and

"welcomes the focus on the institutional culture shift, and has worked hard throughout the drafting process to strengthen this element of the document. In particular we are pleased to see that the following priority issues have all been addressed:

·  "It covers all external action by the Commission services and EEAS.

·  "It commits to put gender analysis at the heart of all its programming and work.

·  "It is ambitious and pushes for greater transparency.

·  "It will be properly resourced so that implementation is not hampered."

8.30 With regard to the Financial Implications, the Minister notes that the Joint Staff Working Document highlights the need for the Commission services and EEAS to:

"Identify means of ensuring adequate financial support for the implementation of this SWD and the measures set out in Annex 1, including the institutional culture shift. This will be done in three ways: firstly, by spending financial resources better through more effective and efficient use of current resources based on gender sensitive approaches; secondly, by using the full range of the EU's means of implementation to promote gender equality (political dialogue, targeted activities, budget support, and mainstreaming); thirdly, by using geographic and thematic external financing instruments in a flexible manner to both mainstream gender across all initiatives and to fund targeted and gender-specific actions. Opportunities provided by reviews of the external financing instruments and multi-annual programming documents will be used to take stock of the results achieved and to further strengthen the efficiency of financial support devoted to the implementation of this SWD and the measures set out in Annex 1."

Previous Committee Reports

None, but see (36645), 5732/15: Third Report HC 342-iii (2015-16), chapter 34 (9 September 2015), First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 47 (21 July 2015) and Thirty-seventh Report HC 219-xxxvi (2014-15), chapter 27 (18 March 2015); also see (35635), 17432/13: Twenty-ninth Report HC 83-xxvi (2013-14), chapter 1 (8 January 2014).


66   For a full discussion of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, see the April 2003 UN Millennium Project Background Paper of the Task Force on Education and Gender Equality Promises to Keep: Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Back

67   See (36645), 5732/15: Third Report HC 342-iii (2015-16), chapter 34 (9 September 2015), First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 47 (21 July 2015) and Thirty-seventh Report HC 219-xxxvi (2014-15), chapter 27 (18 March 2015). Back

68   See 20 May 2015 Council Conclusions on Gender in Development for the full Council Conclusions. Back

69   See "Sustainable Development Goals". Back

70   The SDG 5 TARGETS are:

5.1

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere

5.2

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation 

5.3

Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation 

5.4

Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate

5.5

Ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

5.6

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

5.a

Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

5.b

Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

5.c

Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels Back

71   See (36644), 5902/15: Commission Communication: "A Global Partnership for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development after 2015": First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 2 (21 July 2015). Back

72   See Thirty-seventh Report HC 219-xxxvi (2014-15), chapter 27 (18 March 2015). Back

73   See 20 May 2015 Council Conclusions on Gender in Development for the full Council Conclusions. Back

74   Ditto. Back

75   See First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 47 (21 July 2015) for background. Back

76   See (36645), 5732/15: Third Report HC 342-iii (2015-16), chapter 34 (9 September 2015). Back

77   Ditto. Back


 
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Prepared 14 October 2015