Helping Europe bridge the gender gap

Over the past five years the QUING research project has been systematically comparing gender equality policies and discourses in all 27 EU Member States plus Turkey and Croatia. Now, having recently completed their ambitious project, the researchers have produced a wealth of data and analysis that are expected to shape the European Union’s approach to gender and equality issues well into the future. The findings reveal major differences – but also some important similarities - in the way EU Member States understand and address gender-related challenges.

Here are a few of QUING’s key findings to date:

  • Policies promoting women’s inclusion in existing social structures, without radical transformations of society/gender relations, are common in Europe. However, in a couple of Nordic countries (Finland and Sweden), policy actions aim to transform society into a more gender equal one.
  • Explicit rejection of gender equality is rare in debates across Europe, but remains in some countries.
  • Regional consistency in terms of framing gender equality is only moderately strong. New Member States, Nordic states, and states in Southern Europe do not always cluster together.

The European Union is a multilayered, multicultural democracy based on mutual respect for its diverse peoples and cultures, introducing goals that value diversity and inclusion while counteracting hierarchies, inequalities and exclusion. Yet, at the level of its Member States, many examples of exclusion and polarisation can still be found, whether the focus is on ethnicity, religion or sexuality. Gender issues are constitutive of current polarisations.

At the same time, gender equality policies provide the best means for developing inclusive gender and equality policies. Recent research has analysed cultural disparities in attitudes concerning gender, and has formulated a set of policy recommendations targeted at achieving more effective quality gender + equality policies at the European level

The QUING project pooled the capabilities of 11 partner institutions in ten different countries. More than 80 individual researchers participated in the effort, providing a broad-based perspective on a subject that is as complex as it is divisive. Gender issues, the project confirmed, are viewed and discussed in radically different ways reflecting specific cultural contexts and traditions. These differences are expressed through political discourses and policies which QUING has meticulously documented and analysed.

An innovative methodology (involving Frame Analysis) was used to analyse “the differences, similarities and inconsistencies in the field of gender + equality between the EU and its Member States”. The investigation focused on how policy ‘voices’ engage with gender equality, differentiating between frames of reference that express a transformative vision, those expressing an inclusionary vision, and those that reject the idea of gender equality. The variation between countries is illustrated in the following maps:

 

Map 1: Transformative and inclusive gender equality framing in debates across Europe


 

Source: Final LARG Report - QUING1.

 

Map 1 shows that in most European countries the dominant approach to gender equality is inclusive (envisaging women’s inclusion in existing social structures without radical transformations of society/gender relations). In only two countries - Sweden and Finland – can the approach be described as transformative (whereby gender inequality is seen as the result of unequal power relations between men and women, and policy actions aim to transform society into a more gender equal one).

A mixture of these two approaches is observed in policy debates taking place in twelve countries including Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland. The map indicates that in terms of approach, gender policy debates in Europe are not as regionally pronounced as some analysts had previously thought. Distinct regional differences, however, do emerge in a map that illustrates the strength of rejectionist tendencies in debates involving gender equality.

 

Map 2: Weight of rejective gender equality framing in European debates


 

Source: Final LARG Report - QUING1.

 

Map 2 shows us that – with a couple of exceptions - rejectionist attitudes are more prevalent in gender-related debates taking place in Eastern and Southern Europe. Debates in Lithuania, Malta, Latvia, Hungary, Cyprus, and Slovenia, for example, demonstrate strong rejectionist tendencies, as do those in Italy and Denmark. On the other hand, rejection plays a negligible role in gender-related debates underway in the UK, Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

Through the gender equality framing index, which combines the weight of transformative and inclusive approaches to gender equality, the overall weight of explicit pro-gender equality framing, and the strength of either explicitly or implicitly rejective gender framing across countries, (Figure 1) , QUING shows us that the qualitative strength of gender equality debates in Europe is rather evenly distributed. But there are two major exceptions: Spain and Poland:

 

Figure 1: Ranking countries by gender equality framing index


 

 Source: Final LARG Report - QUING1.

 

With respect to gender equality in policy discussions, Spain stands out as having “an extremely strong presence of transformative content” and almost similarly strong inclusive framing. Poland, on the other hand, is notable for demonstrating “the most frequent rate of rejective framing” along with very low transformative and minor inclusive content. (QUING, it should be stressed, was concerned with mapping and analysing gender policy debates in Europe, not with policy implementation. Those examining the project’s results are asked to keep in mind that there can be major discrepancies between formal policy debates and social reality in any given country.)

The full depth and breadth of QUING’s findings have yet to be exploited. However, the researchers have succeeded in producing an “unprecedented amount of qualitative research data on gender + equality policy processes across most of Europe including some of the notoriously under-researched countries and regions”. Beyond that, they have generated valuable insights into gender training to aid researchers and policy makers moving forward. For anyone working on gender equality issues in Europe (the recently adopted European Pact for Gender Equality 2011-20202, for example), QUING is sure to be an important point of reference.

 

1 See: http://www.quing.eu/files/results/final_larg_report.pdf

2 See: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/lsa/119630.pdf

QUING - Quality in Gender Equality Policies (duration: 1/10/2006 – 31/3/2011) was an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in the knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.quing.eu/

Contact: Dr. Mieke Verloo, verloo@iwm.at