Gender equality training in the European Union

Commitment to mainstreaming gender in the EU

Gender mainstreaming has been adopted as a strategy by EU institutions to promote gender equality in policies and programmes and ensure gender equality between women and men.

  • Several EU treaties emphasise that the Union should work to eliminate gender inequalities and promote transversal equality in all its activities. Gender mainstreaming was established as a policy norm in the Treaty of Nice (2003) and the Treaty of Lisbon (2009)
  • Gender mainstreaming has been a long-standing priority of the European Commission. In March 2010, the Commission presented a ‘Women’s Charter’ expressing its increased commitment to gender equality over the next five years. The charter reinforced the Commission’s obligation to mainstreaming gender.
  • Gender mainstreaming is a key component of the current Commission’s Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010–2015, and is promoted as ‘an integral part of the Commission’s policymaking’. In this follow-up process to the Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men, the Commission emphasises the need to develop and make use of specific methodological gendered tools to foster the concrete implementation of the gender-mainstreaming strategy.
  • In the European Pact for Gender Equality (2011–2020), the European Council highlighted that de facto gender equality had yet to be attained and stressed the need to integrate gender in a transversal way into all EU policy, in particular in the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Council recalls that ‘mainstreaming the principle of equality between women and men in all its activities represents a general aim for the Union’. By integrating the gender perspective into all policy areas, gender mainstreaming is also considered a tool to promote and reinforce good governance.
  • Besides stressing the need to effectively mainstream the gender dimension in the work of national administrations, in 2009 the European Commission’s Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men recommended that Member States ensure that ‘those with responsibilities for gender equality in national administrations are effectively supported and resourced’.

Provision of GET in the EU

Provision of Gender Equality Training in the EU and differing approaches

In most Member States, policy documents do not emphasise capacity-development tools (such as training) as a prerequisite for the effective integration of gender considerations into the policy process. Despite a strong legal commitment to gender equality, the implementation of gender competence development initiatives rarely constitutes a consistent part of gender-mainstreaming strategies, gender-equality strategies or action plans.

Policy documents of Member States Gender competence development

Member States have adopted differing approaches towards the provision of gender-equality training. Some integrate gender aspects into the core training process of civil servants; others run separate gender-equality training programmes that target specific actors. Some provide gender-equality competence development on an ad hoc basis, while others have taken a more systematic approach, organising training on a continuous basis for specific target groups.

Systematic provision of gender-equality training (i.e. regular and consistent training that reaches a wide range of staff members) was most likely to be found in countries where gender mainstreaming has a strong legal basis and is backed by a gender-equality strategy which prioritises capacity-building for civil servants and officials in public administrations.

In some Member States, gender-equality competence development was given more attention at the regional or local level. These initiatives were often backed by support from central government training agencies for administrative staff or ministries in charge of civil service training. As a result, training materials on gender mainstreaming have been prepared for local administrations and sub-regional associations in order to assist stakeholders in this process. However, regular gender-equality training at national and regional/local level is provided in only a small number of EU Member States.

Although training provision tends to vary in its form and funding source, the infrastructure for gender-equality training at Member State level presents some common features. The key coordinating and commissioning organisations commonly include the following: an interministerial/departmental working group or government council; ministries (e.g. ministries of labour and social policy or ministries of justice); or departments and units within these ministries responsible for gender-equality issues. Less frequently, equal opportunities offices or equality commissions are in charge of commissioning gender-equality training. Coordinating or commissioning authorities which have relevant in-house gender expertise often use internal resources to train their own staff.

Challenges in the provision of gender equality training

EIGE’s report on gender-equality training in the European Union (2014) concludes that despite important policy developments in some Member States, the delivery of gender-equality training faces a number of practical challenges. The report revealed the following important issues regarding the provision, scale and effective implementation of gender-equality training:

  • Gender-equality training is still considered a low priority in most Member States, both in policy and in practice. It is rarely planned in a systematic and integrated way. Therefore it often turns out to be a one-off effort and rarely helps civil servants to meet specific objectives set out in gender-equality programmes or action plans.
  • Gender-equality training is provided in almost all EU Member States. However, it tends to be generic, occasional and provides only very basic gender-related information. Training programmes are often abstract and not tailored to the needs of participants. This in turn limits the application of new knowledge gained through the training in everyday work.
  • Resources allocated to gender-equality training activities directly correlate with how well gender-equality competence development is institutionalised. It also correlates with the economic situation in the specific country. Gender-equality policies and gender-equality training initiatives rarely find themselves at the top of funding priorities, especially in times of economic downturn.
  • It is common that participants attend training sessions on a voluntary basis. Incentives are usually limited, which keeps attendance rates low. In such circumstances, the most relevant actors (e.g. managers) remain untrained.
  • The quality of training programmes remains an issue as there are no established mechanisms to ensure high equality through the setting of standards or the accreditation of gender trainers.
  • In some countries qualified gender-equality trainers are difficult to find, which impedes the quality of training. Training of trainers rarely takes place.
  • There are no formally or informally imposed quality standards for gender-equality training programmes or gender-equality trainers’ qualifications.

Read more on differing approaches to the provision of gender-equality training in the EU and Member States in the following: EIGE (2014), Effective Gender Equality Training. Analysing the preconditions and success factors: Synthesis report (Download pdf)

EIGE (2013), Mapping gender training in the European Union and Croatia: Synthesis report (Download pdf)

EIGE (2014), Report on the Effectiveness of Insitutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Gender Equality (Download pdf)

Disclaimer: This information was collected through desk research and stakeholder interviews in the early stages of EIGE’s project on gender-equality training (2012–2013).

Previous efforts to develop standards for gender-equality competence development initiatives

To date, a number of efforts have been made to develop the gender-equality skills of civil servants in the EU and its Member States. However, these initiatives have not always achieved the desired results, as the quality of content, methods and trainers can vary significantly. As a result, it is worthwhile developing guiding standards for commissioning authorities on gender competence development.

low priority of Gender Equality Training in Member States
  • Gender-equality training is still considered a low priority in most Member States, both in policy and in practice. It is rarely planned in a systematic and integrated way. Therefore it often turns out to be a one-off effort and rarely helps civil servants to meet specific objectives set out in gender-equality programmes or action plans.
  • Quality standards present distinct advantages for commissioning authorities. They enable non-gender specialists to identify good providers and judge and compare the quality of different activities. Quality standards also lead to more uniformity in the practices of civil servants across the EU, making it simpler for national authorities to learn from one another.
  • The importance of improving the quality of gender competence development initiatives has led to several European studies, such as the GemTrEx, QUING and Pro(e)quality projects, as well as the creation of a Gender Training Methods Compendium. Most of these studies focus on gender-equality training, which is understood as the most effective method to support the implementation of a gender-mainstreaming strategy. The studies consider the possibility of establishing minimum quality standards in terms of the content of training or the profile of trainers.
‘We could start with ensuring the quality of the basics, that is, the quality, experience and motivation of teachers/trainers … This will lead to an improvement in the quality, equity and efficiency of training.’
Mary Koutselini, University of Cyprus
There is a lot of training being done of very diverse quality ... For UN Women Global Training Centre, the quality of gender training is directly linked to its desired end result/impact: i.e. gender equality.’
UN Women Global Training Centre, Dominican Republic
‘Quality of training is closely related to … its relevance to the very specific context of people’s working environment … [and to its] inclusiveness and (potential) impact on behavioural change.’
Benedetta Magri
International Training Centre / International Labour Organization (ITC/ILO), Italy

Despite the extensive efforts to develop common quality standards, a number of challenges have been met in agreeing them. For instance, commissioning authorities might require new internal systems of monitoring and evaluation in order to ensure minimum standards are being fulfilled. Standardisation could be simplistic, failing to take into account context and potentially impeding innovation and flexibility. More generally, setting up quality standards raises wider questions of authority and accountability (what should the standards be; who should set them; etc.).

‘In some countries gender training is compulsory and on an extensive basis, in others it is not … This diversity should be taken into account in order to decide on standardisation and quality assurance.
Despina Charalambidou, Cyprus Gender Research Centre
‘Standardizing represents … a major challenge. Rather than standardization seen as one-size-fits-all training, we foresee a minimal quality common denominator.’
UN Women Global Training Centre
‘My biggest issue with certification of consultants is who will hand [it] out? Who can get it?’
Alice Marshall, Add Gender AB, Sweden

To date, there has been no general agreement about quality standards. EIGE held a consultation meeting with gender-training experts in October 2013 and hosted online discussions with members of the gender-training community in 2012 and 2013. It also organised a European conference on gender training and mainstreaming in November 2012 and commissioned a study on practices, advantages, challenges and options in relation to quality assurance mechanisms for gender-equality training.

More on EIGE's work on gender equality training