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Impact case study

Mind the Gap: Improving Alignment between Rhetoric and Reality in the Implementation of European Gender Equality Policy

Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society

School: School of Arts and Humanities


Professor Gill Allwood’s research on gender, international development and climate change has had a demonstrable impact on decision-making at the highest level in Europe. It has stimulated and informed policy debate in the European Union, providing core evidence for decisions taken by the EU’s three main institutions: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. It has been used by policymakers and NGOs to inform public and internal policy discussions, debate and formulation, with evidenced effect on the ground.

Findings from studies led by Allwood have changed the way the EU’s Gender Action Plan (GAPII) has been implemented and have contributed to the formulation of its successor GAP III. Research co-produced with CONCORD, the Brussels-based confederation of international development organisations, representing 2600 civil society organisations, has been used in advocacy work to bring about change in EU development policy and its implementation in partner countries around the world. This is evidenced by CONCORD publications and EU policy documents. Allwood’s research on gender and climate change has increased understanding and awareness among EU policymakers of how climate change policy ignores gender and is used to inform the mainstreaming of gender into climate policy.

Research background

The EU presents itself as a world leader in gender equality. It has a Gender Equality Strategy, a Gender Action Plan, and embraces Gender Mainstreaming (the idea that gender should be incorporated into all policy areas at all levels of decision-making, rather than considered separately in a department of women’s rights). However, some EU policies, including climate change, ignore gender. This matters because climate change does not affect everyone equally. Climate change has a particularly harmful effect on poor countries and within those countries, on the poorest sections of society.

Since women make up the majority of the world’s poor, they are amongst the worst affected. There are also gendered differences in the causes of climate change (including energy use and transport), in attitudes towards climate change (young women dominate climate protests), and in climate decision-making (where women are underrepresented). Allwood’s research argues that if the EU and its member states are to meet its obligations on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, gender equality needs to be integrated into climate policy. It identifies existing obstacles, including blockages within the institutions and difficulties mainstreaming gender into climate change policy which is itself entwined with other policy sectors, including agriculture, trade, industry, energy and transport. It finds that the EU’s framing of climate change as a technological, market and security issue, rather than one which affects people, makes it difficult to highlight its gendered aspects.

In contrast to climate policy, EU development policy has a long tradition of gender awareness. However, its gender policies have not been effectively implemented and have not always improved women’s lives in developing countries. Allwood’s research has sought to explain why. She argues that all policy is gendered, even in ostensibly gender-neutral areas: building a road from factory to port, for example, rather than from village to maternity unit, has highly gendered consequences. She finds that gender equality often slips off the agenda once other policies intersect with international development.

GAP II was the framework for promoting gender equality in all aspects of the EU’s external relations from 2015-20. Allwood’s research was developed and conducted in collaboration with European, national and local government officials and NGOs in the EU, Rwanda, Ghana and Vietnam. It assessed the progress that had been made towards GAP II’s aim of ‘transforming the lives of women and girls’ and made a series of recommendations for future actions. The research provides essential country-level qualitative data to complement the quantitative data collected by the European Commission.

It found that implementation gaps exist, and impact varies across population groups. Allwood found that GAP II had had little impact in areas of EU external action traditionally untouched by gender, including trade, energy and migration. Projects funded by the EU and Member States and implemented by civil society organisations were transforming lives, contributing to the achievement of some of the GAP II objectives, but changes in ideas, practices and beliefs were taking place more slowly. Allwood’s key recommendations were that the EU must promote the inclusion of civil society organisations at all levels if it is to achieve its goal of transforming the lives of women and girls; gender equality needs to be mainstreamed in all sectors, including trade; and an intersectional perspective must be taken.


Influencing gender and development policy-making and advocacy

Allwood’s research on gender mainstreaming in the context of international development was used in the EU’s Evaluation of the first Gender Action Plan (2010-15), which informed the formulation of the second Gender Action Plan (GAP II) (2015-20). Allwood’s research on the implementation and impact of GAP II, conducted for and with Brussels-based confederation of international development organisations, CONCORD, has informed the policies of the European Union. Allwood's report was launched under the Austrian presidency of the EU at the meeting of the Development Cooperation Group (CODEV) of the European Council in Vienna in September 2018. It was subsequently communicated to all the EU institutions and all 2600 NGOs represented by CONCORD.

Allwood was invited to present the report to the European Commission EU Member States Gender Experts’ Meeting in Brussels in October 2018. In its 2018 Annual Report, CONCORD writes: ‘CONCORD members promoted these recommendations during a number of key events and advocacy meetings with EU institutions and Member States, which inspired the GAP II Council Conclusions of 26 November 2018 and resulted in an increased understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to implementing this important agenda at partner country level.’

Allwood’s research findings and recommendations were directly reflected in four of the Council’s 18 published Conclusions released during the 26 November 2018 Foreign Affairs Council on Development. These included a call for the regular incorporation of gender dimensions into actions and all policy and political dialogues on sectors such as trade, energy and environment; the importance of cooperation with civil society in the implementation of GAP II, including in gender analysis, and throughout the programming and policy cycles; the need to systematically use gender analysis, gender mainstreaming, sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive indicators in identification, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes throughout all EU external action; and the importance of using qualitative data in the next reporting phase.

Between 2018 and 2020, CONCORD used Allwood’s research report as core evidence for its targeted advocacy on the EU’s Gender Equality Strategy and the next iteration of the Gender Action Plan, GAP III. CONCORD stressed the need for close involvement of civil society organisations, that the EU needs to shift its focus from implementation to impact, and that gender needs to be included in political dialogues that go beyond the social sector, in particular trade, infrastructure, energy and agriculture. Allwood’s recommendations ran through two key documents submitted by CONCORD to the Commission: its Messages on EU Gender Action Plan III, and its Analysis of the European Commission Gender Equality Strategy.

GAP III was adopted by the European Commission on 25 November 2020. The content of GAP III reflects the influence of Allwood’s recommendations, via CONCORD’s advocacy, throughout. Twelve of the 22 recommendations made in Allwood’s report are incorporated in GAP III. These twelve include a commitment to addressing the intersectionality of gender with other forms of discrimination; promoting change in social attitudes; increasing coordination, cooperation and transparency to improve implementation of GAP III in each partner country, in close cooperation with partner governments, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders; maintaining regular dialogue on the implementation of GAP III and working in cooperation with a broad range of actors, such as local authorities and civil society organisations, women’s rights activists; including strong provisions on gender equality in trade agreements; enhancing gender mainstreaming in all external policies and sectors; basing country implementation plans on gender analysis; EU leadership, including heads of EU delegations, must promote gender equality and women’s empowerment as an integral part of their appointment and performance assessment, continuing to reinforce an institutional ‘gender equality culture’; and working in partnership with national gender equality networks and ministries.

Beyond the EU, Allwood’s article ‘Gender Mainstreaming and Policy Coherence for Development’ has informed Gender Mainstreaming guidelines developed by and for international development and humanitarian organizations, including the International Development Law Organisation’s Evaluation of its Gender Strategy. It is the only academic publication in the list of ‘policies, strategies, evidence, reports and guidelines that were reviewed in preparation for the development’ of the Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality’ by the Gender Practitioners’ Collaborative, which brings together (primarily US-based) third sector organisations, including FHI 360, Mercy Corps, Winrock International and World Vision. These minimum standards have been endorsed by 39 organisations, including Care, Plan International, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and Oxfam America.

Influencing gender and climate change policy-making and advocacy

Allwood’s article ‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’ has contributed to the understanding amongst EU policy-makers that climate change is gendered. It is used to inform the mainstreaming of gender into EU climate policy, and is used as evidence in documents produced by the main EU institutions, the Council and the European Parliament. The Conclusions of the Council of the European Union on Beijing +25, for example, cite this article as the evidence source in the discussion of one of the key challenges and trends in the EU: women show more concern for the climate in their behaviour, which calls for their increased involvement in climate change policy, but despite this, EU climate change policy remains largely gender-blind. The Council Conclusions reiterate the main conclusion of Allwood’s article: ‘This is because its solutions focus on market, technological and security measures, thereby excluding a people-focused approach that could enable gender sensitive policy.’

‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’ is also the major academic source for the European Parliament’s report The Gender Dimension of Climate Justice. It is the source for the section on how women are affected by climate change. Allwood’s analysis of the absence of gender equality in EU climate policy is reproduced, including the explanation that EU climate policy lacks a human-centred approach. ‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’ is the only scholarly publication used as a source for the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)’s position on gender and EU climate policy. EIGE is the European agency responsible for providing data and analysis on gender to EU policy-makers.

EIGE’s report ‘Gender in Environment and Climate Change’, aimed at environment and climate change policy-makers, contains a guide to integrating gender into all phases of the policy cycle (Define, Plan, Act, Change). It recommends consulting Allwood’s work in the ‘Define’ phase. Chapter 3 draws extensively on Allwood’s article ‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’, as acknowledged in the footnotes. EIGE’s website explains the relevance of gender to climate policy, linking directly to ‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’, and EU policy efforts on gender equality and climate change, again linking directly to Allwood’s article. EIGE’s report has had substantial impact. It is cited in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2019 Subsidiary Body for Implementation Fifty-first session Santiago, 2–9 December 2019; it was used to inform the European Parliament Report on women, gender equality and climate justice 2017/2086(INI); it is a source for the video produced by the Government of Canada – Status of Women: Does Climate Change Affect Us All in the Same Way?; and it was cited in the EU’s Council Conclusions of 22 November 2019.

The German Environment Agency reproduces Allwood’s main findings as key evidence in its 2020 report on gender and climate change, which has been used to inform many civil society policy briefs. This includes the finding that EU climate policy is largely gender blind because of the lack of financial and human resources, the use of gender mainstreaming as a ‘tick box’ exercise, and the sectoral policymaking structures which make it difficult to mainstream gender into another crosscutting policy issue, in this case, climate change.

Related staff


  • Allwood, Gill (2013) ‘Gender Mainstreaming and Policy Coherence for Development: Unintended Gender Consequences and EU Policy’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 39, 42-52.
  • Allwood, Gill (2014) ‘Gender Mainstreaming and EU Climate Change Policy’, EIoP, 18:6, 1-26.
  • Allwood, Gill (2018) Transforming Lives? CONCORD Report Gender Action Plan II: From Implementation to Impact, Brussels: CONCORD.
  • Allwood, Gill (2019) ‘Gender Equality in EU Development Policy in Times of Crisis’, Political Studies Review.
  • Allwood, Gill (2020) Mainstreaming Gender and Climate Change to Achieve a Just Transition to a Climate‐Neutral Europe, Journal of Common Market Studies, 58:S1, 173-186.