Addressing the combination of gender and racial/ethnic discrimination

Discrimination is a complex phenomenon that can occur at many levels. The GendeRace project has investigated the combined effects of gender and racial/ethnic discrimination in Europe, and indicated that men and women differ in their experiences and reactions. Although there are comprehensive legal frameworks at both a European and national level to ensure equal treatment, multiple discrimination needs greater consideration.

The project took place in six countries: France, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK. It investigated the intersection of racial/ethnic and gender discrimination, and how national and EU law is currently addressing this issue. Researchers analysed 914 case law and complaint files; conducted 120 interviews with foreign nationals and members of ethnic minorities who were victims of discrimination, and over 60 interviews with stakeholders, NGOs and social partners, which included lawyers dealing with complaints.

The research indicated that gender has a significant impact on the experience of racial discrimination. Women are more often subject to harassment within the work place and in their neighbourhood, whereas men most commonly experience discrimination in places of recreation and leisure. The majority of those who experience multiple discrimination seem more aware of racial than gender discrimination. In terms of reporting or seeking support, victims perceive there to be a number of barriers. For example, in many contexts, women have a double burden of domestic and economic responsibilities, which can hinder their initiative to file a complaint. In addition, women’s organisations are often highly focused on political action, perhaps at the expense of the provision of legal support. In general, men tend to lodge more complaints and pursue cases further. Those who seek legal resolution tend to be in higher education and steady employment, suggesting it is the most vulnerable who are the least empowered.

The research revealed that although all six countries tended towards creating single laws and equality bodies, they still deal with different types of discrimination separately, and there were no specific legal provisions to tackle multiple discrimination. This could be due to several reasons: the lack of an operational definition of multiple discrimination, the specialisation of legal experts in one type of discrimination and the difficulty individuals have in identifying their experience as multiple discrimination. In general, the research found a scarcity of data on complaints and other measures related to multiple discrimination and little co-ordination of data at both national and local levels.

On the basis of the findings a number of recommendations were made:

  • An explicit recognition of multiple discrimination within the proposed European Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation1. Alongside this the development of an operational definition of multiple discrimination that meets the standards set out in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  • Harmonisation of the EU Equal Treatment Directives to extend the protection against gender discrimination to the same level of protection against racial/ethnic discrimination. The provisions of the Directives should also be enhanced to develop pro-active measures to advance equality and fight institutional and systemic discrimination, as recently exemplified in the UK where public bodies now have positive duties to enhance equality.
  • Greater integration of gender issues into all stages of policy making, i.e. gender mainstreaming. Mainstreaming should be genuine and not lead to a 'dilution' of gender dimensions. This is one of the main themes of the recently adopted EU Strategy for Equality between men and women2 which runs from 2010 – 2015.
  • The promotion of awareness campaigns to inform the community, organisations and networks on legal proceedings to redress discrimination, especially amongst the most vulnerable groups, such as migrant women, Roma and Muslims. Alongside this there should be professional training on anti-discrimination laws among legal advisors and counsellors, with particular attention to multiple discrimination.
  • Provision of financial support for organisations in charge of assisting victims and funding to foster cooperation between NGOs working on single areas of discrimination.
  • Involvement of legal experts so that cases of multiple discrimination can impact the legal framework both at a national level and within the European directives.
  • Co-operation between civil society (i.e. trade unions, women’s groups and ethnic minority groups), lawyers and experts to develop strategies for lawsuits and legal proceedings as a meaningful way to raise awareness of multiple discrimination.
  • Adoption of the same criteria and indicators for data collection across different countries so that comparative analyses can be made at an EU level, including the possibility of registering multiple cases of discrimination. This could help EU agencies publish cross-sections of data on gender and other social categories while complying with ethical and data protection provisions.


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2 See:

GendeRace – The Use of Racial Anti-Discrimination Laws: Gender and Citizenship in a Multicultural Context (duration: 1/2/2008 – 31/7/2010) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 5 – The citizen in the European Union.


Contact: Isabelle Carles,