FEMCIT: The quest for a gender-fair Europe

The FEMCIT research project has studied how citizenship is gendered, and how women, as citizens and activists, have been involved in challenging inequalities and injustice across Europe. While the project stresses the significant remaking of citizenship enacted by women’s movements over the past four decades, it acknowledges that Europe today is still a long way from being truly gender-fair. As highlighted by the project, although a number of women's movements’ demands have been partially or totally accommodated in the past, “ongoing structural and social changes mean that women's movements are facing new challenges”.

As the EU struggles to promote gender equality in key sectors (particularly the labour market), FEMCIT reminds us of the broader challenges women face with respect to citizenship. These challenges, which also involve socio-political participation and inclusion, are particularly significant for women who belong to minorities and can, therefore, be subject to additional forms of discrimination.

FEMCIT explored essential aspects of women’s citizenship in thirteen European countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom). While focusing on achieving a broad, interdisciplinary understanding of gendered citizenship in today's multicultural Europe, the team of over 40 researchers paid particular attention to differences of race/ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion, region and nationality.

When the project concluded in January 2011, the researchers published a pamphlet entitled The FEMCIT Manifesto for Multi-Dimensional Citizenship Towards Full, Gender-Fair, Liberatory Citizenship in Europe (available for download from the project website – http://femcit.org/news.xpl). Matching form to content, the Manifesto presents many of FEMCIT’s most policy-relevant findings in condensed form. It has the express aim of inspiring debate among key stakeholders, including women’s NGOs, gender equality policy makers and academics.

Outlining “some of the most pressing claims and demands of women’s movements and feminist researchers in Europe today”, the Manifesto handily summarises the main claims of various women’s movements, breaking them down into six thematic categories or ‘citizenship dimensions’: economic, multicultural and religious, intimate, political, sexual and bodily, and social.

In addition to the Manifesto, FEMCIT generated numerous publications and papers that European policy makers should find useful. In particular, the project’s country reports provide valuable insights into the ways that women’s movements have developed in different cultural contexts. The reports contrast the influence of various policy environments and highlight issues that continue to be of relevance in European societies today. For example, in the context of economic citizenship, Norway was found to have an extremely gender-segregated labour market. Although non-migrant women have a high participation rate in the labour market, there is a considerable gender pay gap and most entrepreneurs in Norway are men.

Although ‘ethnic statistics’ have been the object of significant debate in the French context, this does not seem to have been the case in Norway or Poland, for example. And in the case of Poland, emigration provokes more public debate and attention than immigration. In both France and Norway, where detailed statistics on the economic experiences of migrants are available, the trends are unsurprisingly familiar: male migrants are more likely to be in self-employment than their non-migrant counterparts. However, female migrants appear to face difficulties in gaining access to the resources required to set up in business. Also, the female migrant work-force is concentrated in a relatively limited number of occupations, including retailing, transport, unskilled manufacturing and services, particularly industrial cleaning and care services. In unpicking the context of ethnic women’s participation, the researchers faced a lack of data in each national context. The researchers conclude that there is a need to understand how particular occupations are simultaneously ‘gendered’ and ‘ethnicised’ in specific national contexts. This would provide insights into the consequences of these processes for women’s economic citizenship in a multicultural Europe.

In Norway, Spain and the UK, many Christian and Muslim women argue that the women’s movement has gone ‘too far’ in pushing a notion of gender equality. These groups acknowledge the impact of women’s movements on women’s rights and in areas such as equal opportunities and equal pay, but raise the issue that ‘sameness’ is not the only route to greater equality. Instead, ‘equality’ could be viewed in terms of equal value and the complementarity of different gender roles, which may be rooted in biological difference.

In many countries, there is a lack of representation of ethnic minorities and women in political parties, and FEMCIT has identified that women parliamentarians face an ‘agency gap’, raising important questions about political representation. Women may also feel less well represented by political parties than their male counterparts.

FEMCIT stresses the importance of confronting the considerable barriers to citizenship that women continue to face in Europe, and points to how the public, personal and private spheres are interwoven. For example, "new norms of dual-income families and the expectations that women should be in paid employment throughout their lives (the transition from a ‘welfare’ to a ‘workfare’ ideology) mean that women are expected to ‘earn’ their citizenship rights on the same basis as men, whilst still providing much of the unpaid care". The current state of affairs can hardly be described as ‘gender fair’, since it continues to place many women, particularly migrants and members of minority groups, in a less favourable position to most men, both in the labour market and in relation to domestic and care work.

Policy makers are urged to recognise that citizenship involves much more than a set of rights and obligations. Citizenship, FEMCIT argues, is lived practice - a combination of participation, identity and belonging. It is a message that applies to everyone, not just to women.

FEMCIT – Gendered Citizenship in Multicultural Europe: The Impact of Contemporary Women’s Movements (duration: 1/2/2007 – 31/1/2011) was an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Community, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.femcit.org/

Contact: Sevil Sümer, Sevil.Sumer@uni.no