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Benefit or burden: how EU social policies shape Belgian gender equality policies (EQUALITY)

Research project TA/00/35 (Research action TA)

Persons :

  • Prof. dr.  MEIER Petra - Universiteit Antwerpen (UA)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/2/2009-31/3/2011
  • Dr.  CELIS Karen - Hogeschool Gent (HOGENT)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/2/2009-31/3/2011

Description :

Research questions

How to foster substantial gender equality? Is the EU (always) a beneficial partner to reach it? Or does it (sometimes) but increase the administrative burden? Since the second half of the 1990s EU gender equality policies have been characterised by a dual approach, consisting in the parallel promotion of gender mainstreaming and of specific measures. But a decade later, especially gender mainstreaming has been criticised for not producing many results. Explanations refer to a broad range of factors, such as the lack of necessary prerequisites or the high expectations raised by the concept itself (see literature review on p.9 of this proposal). This project takes a new perspective on the attempt to explain the stagnation in the promotion of gender equality in general, and of gender mainstreaming initiatives in particular. It questions whether the European social policy itself shapes the potential performance of the member states, in casu Belgium, to foster gender equality. EU social policies have an important impact on those of the member states. The central research question examines the nature of this impact. Our hypothesis is double in that i) the EU demands regarding gender equality policies may stimulate formalistic instead of substantial gender equality policies, and that this is especially the case with the increasing focus on new public management practices and the use of 'soft' policy tools in the field of gender mainstreaming; and in that ii) member states tend to give a minimalist interpretation to these formalistic requirements.


These insights are generated in five phases:

The first phase consists in the development of a tool to measure the formalistic or substantial character of (Belgian) gender equality policies. It also comprises a literature study to compile an inventory of potential variables explaining the formalistic or substantial character of gender equality policies.
The second phase involves the compilation of a detailed overview of Belgian gender equality policy since 1995, a turning point in gender equality policies. The overview will contain a classification of Belgian gender equality policies according to the measuring tool.
The third phase comprises the selection of a broad range of most different cases from the overview.
The fourth phase contains an in-depth study meant to explain the formalistic or substantial character of specific Belgian gender equality policies and the value of the explaining variables in this context. For the selected cases key actors (politicians and administrative staff) will be interviewed on the relation between explanatory variables and formalistic or substantial gender equality policies.
The fifth and final phase consists in feedback focus groups whereby the results of the interviews are presented to and discussed with (Belgian and EU) key actors (including scholars and members of civil society) in the field. These focus groups are organized on a cross case basis in order to increase the validity of the findings and have the function to both control and disseminate the data.


The expected outcomes, achievements and benefits from this project are situated at three levels: the (inter)national scientific community, the policy making process and society as a whole.

i) Scientific benefits: The project will enhance the scientific knowledge about Belgian gender equality policy and, to a lesser extent, about European gender equality policy. Results are expected to cover: a) a state of the art of Belgian gender equality policies, and their compliance with EU gender equality policies, including information on the most successful policy areas as well as the most successful supranational tools and techniques in the Belgian context; b) a tool to measure compliance with policy formalities or with policy goals; c) insight in the explanatory variables for compliance with policy formalities and the potential of performance in multi-level governance dynamics; d) an indirect evaluation of EU gender equality policies. These outcomes of the research project not only address the national scientific community, but are also of relevance for the international academia.

Ii) Benefits for policy making: The project also contains a contribution for policy makers and policy making. The measuring tool, the explanatory model and the research results will provide them with an instrument to assess the nature of gender equality policies, a model to understand and clarify what might have generated a specific outcome and advise on how to better the policy circumstances or on strategies to follow in order to obtain more gender equality through policies. Furthermore, the research will indirectly evaluate EU gender equality policies and indicate which changes at that level might improve gender equality policies.

iii) Societal benefits: The overarching goal of this project is to make society as a whole more fair and just by increasing equality between men and women. More precisely, this project aims at contributing to that objective in the following way. Firstly, the project will shed light on the proportions of formalistic and substantial gender equality policies, and on the features of the Belgian and EU political and policy context that hinder or enhance substantial gender equality policy. Secondly, the project will indicate how the policy context in the field of gender equality can be improved so that it furthers gender equality. These insights might have an eye-opening effect which can spark off policy processes in order to improve gender equality policy.

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