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Policy framing and resistance: Gender mainstreaming in Horizon 2020

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Policy framing and resistance: Gender mainstreaming in Horizon 2020

Abstract

Scholarship on gender mainstreaming (GM) in the European Union (EU) consistently highlights the disappointing implementation of gender mainstreaming. This article contributes to that discussion through the analysis of the first policy frame on gender equality in the work programmes of the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Development, Horizon 2020, from 2014 until 2016. This article analyses how GM as a transformative strategy is contextualised by advisory group experts, and what is being achieved within Horizon 2020 work programmes. In opposition to the Commission’s rhetorical commitment to GM, this article demonstrates that Horizon 2020 work programmes exemplify a failure of implementing GM, further depoliticising gender equality in the Commission’s neoliberal context.
EJWS
https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506820935495
European Journal of Women’s Studies
2021, Vol. 28(1) 26 –41
© The Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/1350506820935495
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Policy framing and resistance:
Gender mainstreaming in
Horizon 2020
Bianka Vida
Department of Politics, University of Surrey, UK
Abstract
Scholarship on gender mainstreaming (GM) in the European Union (EU) consistently
highlights the disappointing implementation of gender mainstreaming. This article
contributes to that discussion through the analysis of the first policy frame on gender
equality in the work programmes of the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and
Development, Horizon 2020, from 2014 until 2016. This article analyses how GM as a
transformative strategy is contextualised by advisory group experts, and what is being
achieved within Horizon 2020 work programmes. In opposition to the Commission’s
rhetorical commitment to GM, this article demonstrates that Horizon 2020 work
programmes exemplify a failure of implementing GM, further depoliticising gender
equality in the Commission’s neoliberal context.
Keywords
European Commission, gender mainstreaming, policy frame, research policy,
resistance
Introduction
Despite the European Union’s (EU) official commitment to include gender mainstream-
ing (GM) in all EU policies since the 1990s, the actual implementation of gender equality
has not been executed (Cavaghan, 2017; Hafner-Burton and Pollack, 2009; Mergaert and
Lombardo, 2014). By addressing this gap between rhetoric and practice, in this article I
seek to contribute to the discussion regarding the (non)implementation of GM in the EU
through the following question: ‘What is GM achieving in Horizon 2020 work pro-
grammes?The article explores how gender inequality as a social problem and GM as a
possible tool to combat gender inequality is problematised by the advisory group experts
and what has been achieved in the work programmes from 2014 until 2016. To do so, this
Corresponding author:
Bianka Vida, University of Surrey, Department of Politics, AC Building, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK.
Email: vida.bianka90@gmail.com
935495EJW0010.1177/1350506820935495European Journal of Women’s StudiesVida
research-article2020
Article
Vida 27
article employs an innovative two-fold approach to the analysis of GM implementation.
Firstly, it differentiates four types of policy frames of gender equality in the implementa-
tion of GM as follows: (1) the fixing frame of gender equality; (2) the women-centred
frame; (3) the broadening frame of gender equality; and (4) the economic frame of gender
equality. Secondly, as the study of opposition to gender equality is still limited (Verloo,
2018), in drawing on the concept of resistance (Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014), this arti-
cle also gives new insights on why there is a gap between GM in principle and practice.
I begin by discussing the literature on EU gender equality policy with a specific ref-
erence to GM and feminist institutionalism to analyse the actual implementation of GM
and the possible resistance to the strategy in the EU as well as feminist economic policy
research, which has addressed the economising effects of gender equality in EU poli-
cies. In the second section, I look at how GM is discursively constituted in Horizon
2020 by unpacking the advisory experts’ policy frames of gender equality and their
possible individual opposition to the successful execution of GM in the Commission’s
institutional context.
Resistance to gender mainstreaming in the EU:
Institutions, actors and policymaking procedures
Since its conception, EU gender equality policy has been fitted with the embedded neo-
liberalism of the EU social model which did not address the structural causes of gender
inequality and, therefore, gender equality was always justified ‘for the market’ (Jacquot,
2015). This means that gender equality mechanisms are already invested with political
rationalities that undermine their efficacy for emancipatory needs due to the EU’s neo-
liberal governmentality which deploys gender as an apparatus of power for modifying
human behaviour (Repo, 2015: 2). Neoliberal governmentality refers to ‘the rationalities
and practices of governance that seek to subject all social, political, and economic phe-
nomena to economic calculus by the extension of market values into everyday values and
practices’ (Brown, 2005: 40). As a result, gender equality became a mode of the EU’s
neoliberal governmentality by regulating and optimising the reproduction of labour and
life of men and women as biopolitical subjects through the EU’s economic priorities,
such as economic and social cohesion, sustainable growth and competitiveness (Repo,
2016: 307–308).
Despite the EU’s widening focus on gender equality beyond employment, such as
violence against women and trafficking, research policy as well as external relations in
the 1990s, this did not lead to a deeper framing of gender equality (Lombardo and Meier,
2008). Moreover, while gender equality was historically promoted ‘for the market’ being
subsumed to the economic goals of the EU, since the 2008 economic crisis, gender
equality was no longer subordinated to other goals and priorities but became a truly sec-
ondary object ‘despite the market’ (Jacquot, 2015: 170–171).
While the previous definition and practice of equal opportunity as equal treatment1
handled public policy as gender neutral, the introduction of GM served the goal to chal-
lenge this conception and from this time GM – no longer as a recommendation, but as a
principle – became integrated into EU policy developments (Pető and Manners, 2006:
100). Contrary to equal treatment and positive action,2 GM is ‘the systematic integration
28 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
of equal opportunities for women and men into the organisation and its culture, into poli-
cies, programmes and projects, into ways of seeing and doing’ (Rees, 2001: 246).
Therefore, GM is designed as a transformative policy strategy that is supposed to bring
about structural changes in equality between men and women by going beyond the dis-
advantaged position of women in respect to the privileged position of men with the ambi-
tion of subjecting all policy areas to gender equality practices.
Nonetheless, disappointment has grown in feminist literature about the realisation of
the transformative potential of GM (Brouwers, 2013; Daly, 2005; Woodward, 2008).
These critiques are centred on two issues. One of them is the fact that GM cannot be
translated into practice in achieving gender equality in society, due to its utopian nature.
GM is often seen as an ‘ideal but impractical’ strategy (Brouwers, 2013: 29–30), or as
‘the mythical beast which takes for granted the social change it is intended to produce’
(van Eerdewijk and Davids, 2014: 303). The other critiques on GM are related to the lack
of political will, the forces of capitalist appropriation and institutional constraints
(Lombardo and Meier, 2008; Mazur, 2007; Walby, 2011). Indeed, the EU has adopted an
integrationist approach to GM by solely integrating gender issues within existing policy
priorities while pre-existing practices assume the irrelevance of gender issues, as well as
by judging the success of mainstreaming according to technical guidelines and tools
(Cavaghan, 2017; Hafner-Burton and Pollack, 2009).
To understand what GM is achieving, it is essential to look at the EU’s institutional
context as well as the role of its individual actors – a research direction noticeably
ignored in feminist literature (see van Eerdewijk and Davids, 2014). Due to the
Commission’s cultural context and its economic focus, it has constrained the policy
development on mainstreaming (Booth and Bennett, 2002: 438). The Commission’s
integrationist view is actually the outcome of the strategic choices of mainstreaming
advocates, who traditionally framed and ‘sold’ gender mainstreaming as an effective
means (Pollack and Hafner-Burton, 2000: 452–453). In these cases, ‘the blindness of
gender mainstreaming to “policy as a site for resistance and contestation” can easily
undermine the realisation of fundamental transformation’ (van Eerdewijk and Davids,
2014: 313). However, I reclaim the transformative potential of GM by arguing that the
reason for the disappointing implementation of GM in EU policy comes from the tech-
nocratic, integrationist, and somewhat non-participatory EU decision-making policy
mechanisms that pose the real barriers to making GM a transformative and agenda-set-
ting policy incentive. I define GM as a transformative policy tool for real social change
that has a strong focus on the deeper structural conditions of relations between women
and men by also developing a comprehensive connection of gender to other inequality
issues, such as race/ethnicity, sexuality, age and class.
Concerning the policy frames of gender equality during the implementation of GM
in Horizon 2020, I distinguish four main frames of gender equality, as follows: the fix-
ing of gender equality, the women-centred frame, the broadening frame of gender
equality and the economic frame of gender equality. Fixing of gender equality freezes
the temporality of gender equality by making gender and gender equality an example
of the social dimension of EU research policy. The women-centred frame narrows the
concept of gender equality to solely women, describing them as disadvantaged indi-
viduals compared to men, with the use of gender balance achieved through positive
Vida 29
action. Both the women-centred and the fixing frame lead to the loss of the reflexivity
that stems from a partial understanding of gender equality as they fail to address impor-
tant structural issues, including challenging power relations between women and men.
Even if broadening the concept of gender inequality towards other inequality grounds
(age, disability and race/ethnicity, etc.) might help in developing a deep structural
understanding and analysis of gender with other grounds of inequality, it often leads to
filtering out gender equality in favour of other grounds of equality, equality in general
or diversity (Lombardo et al., 2009b: 5). Unlike the three other frames, in the economic
frame of gender equality, gender equality is no longer presented as a political goal to
achieve social justice in either the diagnosis or the prognosis. Instead, this frame
adjusts the concept of gender equality to make it fit the EU’s economic goals, such as
economic growth.
To demonstrate how opposition to gender equality is constituted in policymaking
processes, feminist institutionalism helps to understand policy change, and thus offers
insights on the issue of implementation. By particularly focusing on resistance to imple-
mentation, I aim to contribute to contemporary scholarly analyses of opposition to gen-
der change, an underrepresented and theoretically neglected area of scholarship
(Cavaghan, 2017; Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014; Verloo, 2018). I define resistance to
gender change as an individual or institutional opposition to accepting and executing a
normative change, which GM as a transformative strategy attempts to realise, to alter
decision-making processes and rules by introducing new norms and principles. To
unpack the unsuccessful execution of the strategy in the Framework Programmes before
Horizon 2020, I use Mergaert and Lombardo’s classification of resistance. They differ-
entiate two main types of resistance, including institutional and individual resistance
and within those, they also distinguish implicit and explicit resistance (Mergaert and
Lombardo, 2014: 9). As gender equality becomes everybody’s responsibility with the
‘obligation’ of applying gender mainstreaming into EU research policy, which is con-
ventionally male-dominated, gender-neutral and often gender-biased, GM has become
a subject of significant resistance from the Commission and its bureaucrats (Lombardo
and Mergaert, 2013; Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014; Vida, 2017). Mergaert and
Lombardo illustrate how resistance influenced the implementation of GM in the Sixth
Framework Programme (2002–2006) and the Seventh Framework Programme (2007–
2013) before Horizon 2020. Their work reveals that the Commission’s institutional
resistance against executing mainstreaming in the framework programmes came from
explicit opposition to the goal of gender equality or a lack of – or insufficient – capacity
(e.g. the lack of access to gender expertise), which is an implicit form of institutional
resistance (Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014: 15). This resistance was also deeply inter-
connected with individual resistance in explicit or implicit ways. Individual resistance
was caused by non-interest in gender equality or by the lack of knowledge, both of
which made the execution of mainstreaming impossible in the Sixth Framework
Programme (Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014: 13). In the Seventh Framework Programme,
the systematic inclusion of gender became ‘too burdensome’ for some officials in the
Commission and it was ‘too much gender’ for the research community (Mergaert and
Lombardo, 2014: 11–12). This close interconnection of institutional and individual
forms of resistance eventually led to the eradication of gender from the Seventh
30 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
Framework Programme. Due to the contestation of GM and resistance against the strat-
egy in the EU and in its research policy, it is crucial to note that ‘gender mainstreaming
is an on-going political struggle, in which policymaking and institutions are objects of
change’ whose commitment is never permanent (van Eerdewijk and Davids, 2014: 312–
313). Instead, GM implementation is exposed to different contestations and types of
resistance from different institutions and actors.
Methodology
To highlight the complexity of policy framing and the advisory group experts’ constella-
tions during the implementation of Horizon’s work programmes, I use a methodological
triangulation. By applying the ‘what is the problem’ approach (Bacchi, 2009), this meth-
odology comprises content analysis, critical frame analysis (Verloo, 2005) and semi-
structured individual interviews with the advisory group experts. This methodological
triangulation is a powerful technique that facilitates validation of the collected policy
documents through cross-verification from three different sources, which means that the
sample will be rich, comprehensive and well-developed and also makes the research
findings bias-free, reliable and generalisable.
In the policy analysis, I explore how gender equality and the transformative frames of
mainstreaming are framed as both the diagnosis of the problem (what is the problem?), and
the prognosis in the work programmes (what are the solutions?) (Bacchi, 2009; Verloo,
2005) both horizontally and vertically. I consider a gender equality frame transformative if
gender equality is a political goal in itself, and if it is well-articulated in both the diagnosis
and prognosis, which is why it is the only frame that would make the successful implemen-
tation of GM possible. In addition to using a ‘what is the problem?’ policy approach
(Bacchi, 2009), I use the following sensitising questions, developed within critical frame
analysis: Whose problem is gender inequality? Who caused it? How is gender related to
intersectionality, and where is the diagnosis and prognosis located in the work programmes
(Verloo, 2005: 30–31)? This helps to explore the different ways of how gender equality is
framed as discourse since ‘policy frames are not descriptions of reality, but specific con-
structions that give meaning to reality, and shape the understanding of reality’ (Verloo,
2005: 20). Here is where the interviews come into focus. While content analysis and criti-
cal frame analysis of the work programmes provide a solid pragmatic grounded theory, I
use the interviews as valuable interpretive sources since the advisory group experts, who
are active agents in implementing the normative visions of gender equality in Horizon
2020, also produce their own frames of gender equality. This original approach gives a
deeper insight into the meanings and contestations of gender equality that the advisory
group experts as individuals attach to their expertise, experiences, social processes, prac-
tices and events while designing the work programmes, which casts more extensive light
on individual and institutional resistance to the implementation of GM.
All 15 of the advisory group experts I interviewed between 5 November 2015 and 15
January 2016 were involved in designing the work programmes 2014–15 and 2016–17
for Horizon 2020. Thus, in the complex framing processes of gender equality in Horizon
2020, I primarily focus on the outcomes of the planning and negotiation phases of
Horizon 2020. The interviewed experts are independent experts who were randomly
Vida 31
chosen from the overall 19 advisory groups, established by the Commission, which are
assigned to various topics in the main Horizon 2020 work programmes (e.g. finance,
security, climate action, health, energy, transport and space and engineering, business
and career development) and its horizontal activities (e.g. science and society, spreading
excellence, gender). As the work programmes are firstly prepared by the Commission’s
Directorate-General through the Horizon 2020 legislation and a strategic programming
process integrating EU policy objectives into the priority setting, the advisory group
experts’ main responsibility is to provide high quality advice to the Commission during
the preparation and the final drafting of the work programmes.
The selected interviewees were members of the Excellent Science, Industrial
Leadership, Societal Challenges and Gender advisory groups. There were nine male and
six female interviewees. Two female experts were involved in the Gender advisory
group’s work as gender experts, while the rest of the candidates have various industrial,
research and civil society backgrounds, including engineering, architecture, biology,
physics, history, economics and public-sector innovation. Many of the advisory group
experts were appointed by simply registering themselves on the Commission’s expertise
database called Register of the Commission Expert Groups and Other Similar Entities
due to their work in the framework programmes prior to Horizon 2020 (or in research in
general). This shows that the appointment of the advisory group experts is highly politi-
cal, and due to their various sectoral and professional skills, they may represent different
interests and political agendas. The only common characteristic found between all the
advisory group members interviewed is their experienced senior professional positions.
Document choice
Given the importance of planning and executing Horizon 2020, its work programme
documents are crucial for consideration, as they are considered to be the basic frames of
mainstreaming gender equality as a horizontal issue – both in terms of gender balance
and the content of research – into EU research policy. Each of the thematic sections is
self-contained and describes the overall objectives, calls for proposals, and the topics
within each call. Both main work programmes comprise a general introduction and are
divided into three main priorities: Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal
Challenges. Additionally, the work programmes are integrated into specific thematic sec-
tions within each pillar as well as into horizontal activities, including the European
Institute of Innovation and Technologies, Spreading Excellence and Widening
Participation, Science with and for Society, Joint Research Centre, Euratom and Fast
Track to Innovation. The work programmes contain an introduction, thematic sections
and the general annexes, describing general rules, such as standard admissibility condi-
tions and eligibility criteria, selection, award criteria and evaluation rules, etc.
I selected 24 different work programmes for my analysis. These include the general
introduction of the two work programmes and 20 thematic sections from the three main
pillars of Horizon 2020, including Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal
Challenges. These documents were selected as they offered rich data for conducting a gen-
dered policy frame analysis due to their specific scope on adopting a gender perspective. In
Excellent Science, I chose the thematic sections of Future and Emerging Technologies,
32 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions and Research Infrastructures. In Industrial Leadership, I
selected Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies, Nanotechnology and
Innovation in small and medium-sized entrepreneurs sections. In Societal Challenges, I
analysed the Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing; Food Security, Sustainable
Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy;
and Europe in a Changing World – Inclusive, Innovative and Reflective Societies and
Secure Societies – Protecting Freedom and Security of Europe and its Citizens Documents.
Finally, as the Science with and for Society work programme is the only document that
includes specific gender-flagged topics and calls for proposals on GM, I also analyse the
2014–15 and 2016–17 versions of Science with and for Society.
Common frames, diagnoses and prognoses
In this part of the analysis, I look into the four main frames of gender equality – the fixing
frame of gender equality, women-centred frame, broadening frame of gender equality
and the economic frame of gender equality – in the diagnoses and prognoses of gender
inequality.
In fact, the general introduction of the main work programmes 2014–15 and 2016–17
already introduces a normative shift in seeing gender inequality as a social problem
which should be abolished by GM. The demand for incorporating gender equality as a
horizontal priority is stated in both the diagnosis and prognosis of the general introduc-
tion. It explicitly addresses gender inequality as a social problem in science and equality,
however, with the use of the economic frame of gender equality, it conceptualises gender
equality as a possible means to ‘build smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ while
overcoming the economic crisis in the EU (EC 1 2014: 5). The text reveals that ‘in
Horizon 2020, gender will be addressed as a cross-cutting issue to rectify imbalances
between women and men, and to integrate a gender dimension in research and innova-
tion programming and content’ as well (EC 1 2014: 17). Hence, in the diagnosis, the
women-centred frame is dominant due to women’s inequality compared to that of men
which is represented as the very social problem that creates inequalities between men
and women. This shows that gender equality becomes part of positive action instead of
developing transformative frames of GM which would address the structural causes of
gender inequality. In contrast, the introduction of the main work programme 2016–17
only classifies gender equality as one of the cross-cutting priorities in humanities, social
sciences and sustainability (EC 1 2015: 6). As gender equality is fixed as an additional
element among other horizontal issues, it is left out from both the diagnosis and the prog-
nosis of considering gender inequality as a political problem. Moreover, as ‘providing
new insights for policymaking towards reversing inequalities and promoting fairness’
(EC 1 2015: 6) is indicated in the text, gender equality is broadened towards inequalities.
Accordingly, as gender inequality is missing from both the diagnosis and the prognosis,
the advisory group experts’ visions during framing the work programmes as an explicit
resistance can also be captured. A male expert of the Excellent Science advisory group
argues that ‘gender is not my first perspective when planning and executing H2020’
(Interviewee 1). This fact is also confirmed by a male expert of the Societal Challenges
advisory group. He says that ‘there was no gender perspective from my side in the
Vida 33
planning process of the work programme’ (Interviewee 2). Another male expert of the
same advisory group confirms that his ‘objectives are simply to advance the objectives
of the initiative for the benefit of research’ (Interviewee 3). The interviewees thus admit
that they pushed their gender-neutral scientific agenda, revealing that their knowledge is
based on pre-existing assumptions that see equality in research and innovation as irrele-
vant (Cavaghan, 2017: 57).
Due to the advisory group experts’ general lack of interest, gender inequality is rarely
mentioned in the prognosis. This shows an inconsistency between diagnosis and prognosis
in all thematic sections of Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges
as well as the work programmes of Science with and for Society. The only GM tools can
be found in the evaluation criteria of the research applications in two thematic sections of
Excellent Science (Future and Emerging Technologies and Marie Skłodowska-Curie
actions). Nevertheless, the documents indicate only a possibility to evaluate gender ‘where
appropriate’ as a mark of excellence (EC 2 2014: 28; EC 3 2015: 61–64). Indeed, the sys-
tematic integration of GM is generally lacking in all reviewed work programmes.
Fortunately, the 15 interviewees fill the voids of GM tools in the documents as a comple-
mentary process to the identified frames in the work programmes. They either confirm that
gender equality is not evaluated and monitored, or they do not have information on the
matter. Two female experts asserted that within the advisory groups, monitoring gender
equality is ignored by other advisory group experts. A female expert of the Societal
Challenges advisory group claims that ‘the gender perspective has not been discussed
extensively by the AGE [Advisory Group on Energy]’ and adds that ‘gender experts are
rarely taken into account’ (Interviewee 4). A female expert of the Gender and Societal
Challenges advisory groups states that her transformative visions on implementing gender
equality as it is supposed to be executed were ignored by colleagues in the advisory groups.
She says that despite her specific gender expertise, ‘none of my suggestions – including
mainstreaming gender into all calls and having a call for institutionalising gender studies in
the EU – were taken into consideration’ (Interviewee 5). A male expert of the Societal
Challenges advisory group states that, ‘gender aspects are duly and correctly taken into
consideration on behalf of policy makers at the EC’ (Interviewee 6). However, he has no
idea how gender equality is monitored. A male expert also claims that gender equality is
part of the discussions in the advisory group, but he has ‘no idea whether policy makers at
DG [Directorate-General] levels then take into account the advice of gender experts’
(Interviewee 7). Another male expert of the same advisory group asserts, ‘I have at least not
met any “gender experts” during our meetings’ (Interviewee 8), which inevitably also
undermines any successful monitoring of gender equality in the work programmes.
Furthermore, these contradictory responses of the advisory group experts also highlight the
lack of the compulsory consultation with gender experts as well as the experts’ non-engage-
ment despite their extensive rhetorical commitment to GM (Cavaghan, 2017; Vida, 2017).
Shaping the meanings of gender equality – shifting frames
of gender equality
In accordance with the advisory group experts’ agenda on gender (in)equality and its
inclusion in the two main work programmes, I explore how the four frames of gender
34 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
equality are created in the documents and their various thematic sections. I show that the
four frames are built on the Commission’s institutional local experts’ conscious frame-
production and individual resistance to executing GM. In this process, gender is inten-
tionally fixed as an example of social dimension in research, to serve the experts’
purposes to make gender equality as a synonym of women and broaden the concept of
gender equality to fit their economic goals. The 2014–15 version of the work programmes
often reduces gender equality to the unitary category of ‘women’ as part of positive
action measures (EC 2 2014: 5; EC 3 2014: 3). In contrast, in the work programmes
2016–17, gender equality is indicated in terms of ‘along the same line’ and ‘as well as’
other horizontal activities of Horizon 2020 or other inequalities, such as age, disability
and ethnicity (EC 2 2015: 17–18; EC 3 2015: 5; EC 8 2015: 6). Two experts also use this
fixing frame of gender equality in a list of other priorities while talking about their objec-
tives. A female expert of the Societal Challenges advisory group puts gender equality as
one of Horizon 2020 priorities: ‘the objectives of my studies on efficiency, innovations,
sustainability, civil society, gender equality, etc., are quite close to those of the Horizon
2020 work programmes’ (Interviewee 9). Likewise, a female expert of the Industrial
Leadership advisory group admits that, ‘my objectives are and were to consider the hori-
zontal issues in all technology planning topics and to adapt foresight as a tool for cycles
of knowledge generation. Gender is embedded in this’ (Interviewee 10). These replies
imply that gender equality is seen as one of the horizontal priorities of Horizon 2020 and
not as a cross-cutting priority as promoted in the Commission’s rhetoric. Gender is also
often placed into a separate paragraph in the 2016–17 texts, or it is included in the
Commission’s guidance on ‘Gendered Innovations: For Guidance on Methods of Sex/
Gender Analysis’ in the 2016–17 texts (EC 9 2015: 12; EC 5 2015: 7). A female expert
of the Excellent Science advisory group argues that, ‘FET [Future and Emerging
Technologies] AG included a short paragraph on gender aspects in the WP [work pro-
gramme]’, adding that ‘the AG was almost perfectly gender-balanced’ (Interviewee 11).
The fixing and women-centred frames of gender equality imply that gender equality
becomes important in administrative terms – e.g. guidance and tools – as a technical
issue, not as a political issue (Lombardo et al., 2009a: 201). This perception comes from
the Commission’s integrationist and technical approach that regards GM an administra-
tive issue and not as a transformative strategy to eradicate inequality. As a complemen-
tary process to fixing gender balance as a positive action initiative, gender equality is
shifted to mean ‘women’, ‘diversity’ and ‘equal opportunities’ between males and
females in the work programmes 2014–15 and 2016–17 (EC 5 2014; EC 16 2014; EC 16
2015). The work programmes generally depict women as either ‘useful workers’ – not as
persons – or as vulnerable individuals and ‘mothers’ who are in need of help (EC 14
2014; EC 14 2015). As women are generally depicted as neutral and merit-based eco-
nomic subjects whose human capital should be maximised, this warns that gender equal-
ity is only seen as an efficient tool that can contribute to economic growth, a neoliberal
notion that depoliticises gender equality. Indeed, ‘by promoting a “de-gendering” of
issues, depicting individuals as neutral subjects, and by prioritising focus on the labour
market, the underlying EU discourse proves resistant to the articulation of gender equal-
ity as a policy issue’ (Lombardo and Meier, 2008: 119). The documents also tend to shift
between neutral individuals (e.g. citizens, researchers and engineers) and infrastructures
Vida 35
and institutions (e.g. institutions, research centres and small- and medium-sized entre-
preneurs) (EC 4 2014; EC 4 2015; EC 7 2014; EC 7 2015). These individuals are
described as static categories who are being addressed for their ability to aid with increas-
ing educational and employment rates. This gender-neutral language entails de-gender-
ing as it reinforces the implicit male norm and neutralises the gendered structure of
institutions (Rönnblom, 2009: 114). Despite the analysed documents sometimes address-
ing non-discriminatory participation, which could open up an opportunity to politicise
gender equality, transformative mainstreaming initiations to challenge power relations
between men and women are not developed (EC 2 2015; EC 16 2015). Accordingly, the
texts fail to target the role of responsible actors and specific mechanisms and measures
and to demonstrate any transformative aspects challenging (male) privileges that are
needed to tackle gender inequality as a political goal.
In accordance with the simplification of gender equality through the women-centred
and fixing frame of gender equality as well as with the more dominant economic frames
of gender equality, the interviewees’ comments reveal further information regarding the
concept and use of gender. A female expert of the Gender advisory group points out the
lack of familiarity with gender issues, which can be conceptualised as an implicit form
of individual resistance. She argues that members of the Industrial Leadership advisory
group ‘are very willing to include gender, but they do not get what exactly that is, and
what it implies’ (Interviewee 12). This is what a female expert of the Excellent Science
advisory group reflects on: ‘I could have spent more time to explain the gender perspec-
tive to my colleagues in FET [Future and Emerging Technologies] in order to include
more gender aspects’ (Interviewee 11). A male expert of the Societal Challenges advi-
sory group states that, ‘the gender issue is a non-issue: all colleagues with whom I col-
laborate (male or female) are ranked and judged by me in my attitude and behaviour
towards them, on merit and merit alone’ (Interviewee 13). This lack of understanding is
related to the Commission’s Directorate-General’s incapacity to provide guidance for its
experts, a lack which can be considered to be a type of implicit institutional resistance
(Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014: 8). As was apparent in the previous framework pro-
grammes, ‘the research community did not want to deal with gender issues, which would
be perceived as distracting from the “real research” that resulted in a gender-biased and
purely merit-based preference in policy texts’ (Mergaert and Lombardo, 2014: 12). At
the individual level, the Commission’s institutional incapacity can also be associated
with non-interest in gender equality, as it is not a goal or priority for them. This is a form
of explicit individual resistance: ‘gender is a non-issue, only merit matters’ (Interviewee
13). The male expert of the Industrial Leadership advisory group reinforces the eco-
nomic framing of gender equality, stating that ‘we only have “business perspective” in
mind when advising on H2020 matters, as from a pure business perspective gender issues
do not play any role’ (Interviewee 14). The female expert of the Gender and Societal
Challenges advisory groups supports the presence of this explicit individual resistance.
She reveals that, ‘when I mentioned two times that maybe we should also include gender
to the European challenges’, she was told ‘it is very counterproductive that you are con-
stantly mentioning gender. We know what gender is’ (Interviewee 5). She also recalls
that ‘a Polish delegate said: we all love women, but gender is not always important’
(Interviewee 5). In another situation, she says that, ‘in the meeting room, the sitting order
36 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
was already set when the experts went into the room. My place was behind the chair so
he could not see me raising my hand. So I had to get up, go one meter towards the centre,
try to catch his eyes and raise my hand. It was humiliating but it gave me visibility’
(Interviewee 5). Contrary to her statement, a male expert of the same advisory group
claims that ‘from time to time there were some discussions between some male and some
female members of SC6 (Societal Challenges 6) Advisory Group over how much priority
should be given to some issues of gender equality. But none of them were too important
that would make me remember them’ (Interviewee 7). Another female expert of the
Societal Challenges advisory group recalls a hostile situation she experienced: ‘When I
was elected chairperson of the AGE [Advisory Group on Energy], I was approached by
a male expert in a very rude and insulting way, telling me that a female person is not able
to fulfil such a job, followed by other remarks’ (Interviewee 4). A female expert of the
Societal Challenges states the opposite. She asserts that ‘the Members of Advisory
Groups have a real opportunity to present their visions [at] the meetings, which visions
after that are summarised and presented as outcomes of the respective work programme’
(Interviewee 9). She further stresses that gender expertise is taken into consideration
‘almost to a maximum extent’ (Interviewee 9) during preparing the work programmes
and she controversially reproduces the Commission’s official rhetoric. She argues that ‘I
do not have specific recommendations, because the gender perspective is [a] well inte-
grated theme in the EC [European Commission] Seventh Framework Programme, as
well as the gender equality policy [being] a major subject [worked] into the Horizon
2020 work documents’ (Interviewee 9).
In line with the normative shift from gender equality as a political goal in the docu-
ments 2014–15, gender equality is consistently further broadened towards ‘inequalities’
in the work programmes 2016–17. The most common broadening areas include age,
disability, and ethnicity and migrant background due to the EU’s security measures (EC
13 2015; EC 14 2015). However, due to stigmatising these groups based on their mem-
bership and the lack of analyses as regards the relation of gender to other inequalities,
the texts generally fail to establish a more nuanced perception and deep structural
understanding (EC 8 2014; EC 13 2014; EC 13 2015). Additionally, within the same
work programmes, as the different inequalities become part of the ‘diversity’ of ‘ine-
qualities’ throughout the rest of the texts, this reduces the importance of special rights
and issues of ‘vulnerable populations’ (EC 9 2014; EC 13 2014; EC 13 2015). This
conflicting framing misses putting the responsibility on men to do something about
gender inequality, which leads to the fact that combating gender inequality remains
women’s and multiple-discriminated women’s problem, described as vulnerable and
homogeneous groups. The diversity of considering different grounds of inequality
comes from the ambiguous EU agenda that enables the shifting from gender equality
towards multiple inequalities (Verloo, 2007: 214). Even if the broadening of gender
equality might help in developing deep structural understanding and analysis of gender
with other grounds of inequality (Lombardo et al., 2009b: 5), the interviewees use this
frame to change the essence of the concept. The male expert of the Excellent Science
advisory group uses this broadening frame of gender equality, pointing out that instead
of dealing with gender equality, ‘equal rights and equal opportunities should really
mean “equal” rather than preferential for either gender’ (Interviewee 6). He argues:
Vida 37
‘frankly, [the] gender perspective has not been an aspect requiring special treatment on
my behalf (in contrast to the definite requests having been emphasised by the EC
[European Commission] officers in some cases)’, although he ‘accepted and followed
the percentage requests of the EC’ (Interviewee 6). A female expert of the Excellent
Science advisory group adds the importance of keeping in mind ‘the mission of respect-
ing diversity and providing equal opportunities to women scientists’ (Interviewee 15),
rather than dealing with gender equality. This is what the female gender expert warns:
‘women are easy to incorporate as a vulnerable social group, but gender will be out in
the 2018 programming period’ (Interviewee 5).
Conclusion
EU gender equality policy has always been embedded in the logic of the market as the
EU has developed and disseminated gender equality discourses compatible with the
goals of economic growth and competitiveness (Elomäki, 2015: 290; Walby, 2004). In
turn, this process leads to eradicating the structural frames of gender equality which
could open the possibility of developing and implementing GM as a transformative pol-
icy tool. It is not a surprise that GM, the EU official strategy, remains more of a promise
than a reality in EU policies. Instead, as the EU’s expertise and scope became broader
and more diverse in terms of policies, actors and institutions, GM became more exposed
to shifts and (re)negotiations and it loses its political, feminist and transformative poten-
tial during the implementation process, because of individual and institutional resistance,
and ends up as a policy tool of legitimising the neoliberal logic behind the structure of
the EU (Repo, 2015, 2016).
By analysing the Commission’s specific institutional context and its advisory experts’
political agency at the micro level within the scope of Horizon 2020, this article has also
contributed to the limited number of feminist analyses on institutional and individual
oppositions to gender change (Verloo, 2018) and feminist institutionalism, which primar-
ily focuses on high-ranking Directorate-General bureaucrats (Mergaert and Lombardo,
2014). By looking at how the advisory group experts as local policy actors negotiate
frames of gender equality, I have offered novel insights: I have shown that local actors’
roles become crucial, as they have the power to reshape the Commission’s Directorate-
General’s gender equality agenda in accordance with their own visions through their
explicit and implicit resistance to gender change, which are based on gender-neutral sci-
entific or economic reasons, making the gendered nature of research irrelevant. Such
visions enable the continuation of the Commission’s rhetorical commitment to GM’s vis-
ibility in Horizon 2020. By adopting a pragmatist-interpretivist approach to gender equal-
ity policy, I have demonstrated that the conflicting frames of gender equality used by
advisory group experts that are being imported into the work programmes overall under-
mine the quality and successful execution of GM as a policy tool for real social change.
Furthermore, the work programmes show a normative shift from transforming gender
equality as a horizontal issue to only a social dimension of research, and as an efficient
tool in the 2016–17 versions of the texts in line with the EU’s neoliberal governmentality
(Repo, 2015, 2016) and the economisation effects of gender equality since the 2008 eco-
nomic crisis (Elomäki, 2015; Jacquot, 2015).
38 European Journal of Women’s Studies 28(1)
In conclusion, Horizon 2020 is not only a backlash, but also an embodiment of a new
gender equality agenda in EU research policy that is strategically based on replacing
gender equality with economic goals. As I have explored in the article, this recent para-
digm shift of depoliticising gender equality is the outcome of both the Commission’s
institutional and the advisory group experts’ individual resistance to introducing the nor-
mative change that GM aims to substantialise. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to
gender being diminished from Horizon 2020, as also occurred with its forerunner, the
Seventh Framework Programme (2007–2013). More feminist research should be carried
out on the role of institutions and individual actors at different policy levels to further
improve our understanding of how forms of resistance can contribute to the unsuccessful
implementation of GM in the EU.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/
or publication of this article.
Funding
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.
ORCID iD
Bianka Vida https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7280-7557
Notes
1. Equal treatment provides the legal framework of equality so that to combat sex discrimination
and ensure equal pay. Yet, it is a passive approach: the emphasis here is placed on creating
rights and procedures that ensure all people, men and women equal rights rather than on out-
comes (Rees, 1998: 29–30).
2. Positive action develops specific policy initiatives to support particular marginalised groups
in society (e.g. increasing women’s employment rates), but ‘it fails to question issues of insti-
tutional organisation and decision-making power relations’ (Rees, 1998: 39–40).
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Analysed documents
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 1. Table of Contents
and General Introduction. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 1. Table of Contents
and General Introduction. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 2. Future and
Emerging Technologies (FET). Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 2. Future and
Emerging Technologies (FET). Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 3. Marie
Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 3. Marie
Skłodowska-Curie Actions. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 4. Research
Infrastructures, including e-Infrastructures. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016-17, 4. Research
Infrastructures, including e-Infrastructures. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 5. Leadership in
Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT), ii. Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials,
Biotechnology and Advanced Manufacturing and Processing. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 5. Leadership in
Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT), ii. Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials,
Biotechnology and Advanced Manufacturing and Processing. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 7. Innovation in
Small and Medium-sized Entrepreneurs (SMEs). Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 7. Innovation in
Small and Medium-sized entrepreneurs (SMEs). Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 8. Health,
Demographic Change and Wellbeing. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 8. Health,
Demographic Change and Wellbeing. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 9. Food Security,
Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the
Bioeconomy. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 9. Food Security,
Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the
Bioeconomy. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 13. Europe in a
Changing World – Inclusive, Innovative and Reflective Societies. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 13. Europe in a
Changing World - Inclusive, Innovative and Reflective Societies. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 14. Secure
Societies – Protecting Freedom and Security of Europe and Its Citizens. Brussels.
Vida 41
European Commission (EC) 2015 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2016–17, 14. Secure
Societies – Protecting Freedom and Security of Europe and Its Citizens. Brussels.
European Commission (EC) 2014 Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014–15, 16. Science with
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and for Society (SwfS). Brussels.
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Con l’arrivo del nuovo Programma di Finanziamento per la Ricerca e l’Innovazione Hori-zon Europe (2021-2027), alla fine del mese di Febbraio 2021 l’Unione Europea ha pub-blicato il Work Programme dell’European Research Council (ERC), che contiene le in-formazioni tecniche per chi intende presentare candidature e richieste di finanziamenti. In poche ore è cominciato, in ambito accademico, un vortice informale di contatti e scambi di informazioni su una novità importante contenuta nel Work Programme ERC: una casella da barrare nei formulari per le candidature, in cui si chiede di dichiarare che l’ente presso cui si svolgeranno le ricerche è dotato di un piano di uguaglianza di genere, in inglese Gender Equality Plan – GEP . La richiesta si situa in un contesto accademico europeo in cui i dati ufficiali di She Fi-gures 2018 (European Commission, 2019), la pubblicazione che fornisce una serie di in-dicatori sull'uguaglianza di genere nella ricerca e nell'innovazione a livello paneuropeo, mostrano come solo il 58% degli istituti di istruzione superiore europei nel 2016 aveva un GEP. Nonostante dal momento della rilevazione siano passati alcuni anni e i dati attuali siano certamente più alti, è evidente come una iniziativa di questo tipo rischi di escludere dalla possibilità di ricevere finanziamenti un numero rilevante di atenei e, cosa ancora più importante, concentrati in alcuni paesi europei che non hanno una normativa o programmi nazionali volti ad implementare, appunto, il GEP. Al fine di evitare l’impossibilità di acce-dere ai finanziamenti ERC, e certamente anche ad altri finanziamenti, i cui bandi saranno progressivamente pubblicati nei prossimi mesi, si ha quindi davanti l’unica alternativa di procedere rapidamente a creare e implementare un GEP. Se da un lato rispettare gli aspetti formali richiesti dalla Commissione potrà non essere troppo complicato, dall’altro lato si riuscirà difficilmente ad attivare quel percorso di cambiamento strutturale che di fatto può garantire il successo alle iniziative proposte in un GEP. In altre parole, si rischia di attivare un mero esercizio formale (il cosiddetto “box ticking”) che è già stato indicato talvolta fra i timori persino da chi partecipa peraltro a GEP elaborati e strutturati in programmi ufficiali a livello nazionale, come avviene in UK e in Irlanda con l’iniziativa Athena SWAN, un si-stema che premia gli Atenei che si impegnano formalmente a promuovere l’uguaglianza di genere, e il cui strumento principale sono i GEP. Nelle pagine che seguono condividiamo alcune riflessioni nate dall’esperienza concreta in progetti finanziati dall’UE volti a creare GEP, da una serie di incontri informali tenuti nel periodo 2018-2019 in Atenei italiani coinvolti in iniziative volte alla promozione dell’uguaglianza di genere a livello nazionale e internazionale e dalla conoscenza della let-teratura e della documentazione Europea relativa al gender mainstreaming e alla promo-zione dei GEP . In una prima sezione inquadreremo il contesto generale in cui si situa l’iniziativa lancia-ta dall’UE, daremo poi informazioni sui dettagli dell’iniziativa disponibili al momento in cui questo articolo viene pubblicato, per poi passare a illustrare le specificità della situazione italiana, che non vede riconosciute ad oggi in modo chiaro le iniziative e gli strumenti volti a promuovere le pari opportunità in ambito accademico. Concluderemo con alcune considerazioni e spunti per ulteriori approfondimenti sul tema, che resterà attuale perlomeno fino alla fine dell’attuale programma quadro di finanziamento dell’UE, Horizon Europe.
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