Research gaps in gender and EU development studies

Existing scholarship is highly relevant for understanding and assessing the EU’s role as a global development actor from a gender perspective. However, research gaps still exist. First, this scholarship has dealt almost exclusively with studying EU development policy and decision-making, while only very few studies scrutinise actual implementation on the ground and policy impact on the lives of women and men across the world. Such implementation studies are essential. Yet, they are time-consuming and costly: a context-sensitive approach is needed which accounts for the wider social, political and cultural and social environment. Such an approach asks for the inclusion of multiple standpoints: the experiences and views of womens organisations and beneficiaries, as well as those responsible for implementing, are all crucial to take on board in such case studies, to fully understand the actual implementation and real-life impact on people’s lives. Exceptions exist such as an evaluation of GAP II in Ghana, Rwanda and Vietnam (Allwood 2019), and case studies in Liberia (Debusscher 2013), Rwanda (Debusscher 2014), South Africa (Debusscher 2016) and Botswana (Debusscher 2020).

Second, much scholarship is based on an analysis of EU policy documents and/or expert interviews with Europeans, leading to a Brussels-centric, institution-centric or even Eurocentric view (Debusscher and Manners 2020). To get a comprehensive perspective, non-European sources need to be consulted and the wider national context in the receiving countries needs to be taken into account. These non-European voices need to be represented in order to fully understand why gender mainstreaming works or does not work in a particular case (see Debusscher 2016; Kunz and Maisenbacher 2017). Depending on the research question, it is therefore crucial to focus on what happens in the EU’s partner countries where EU gender policies are implemented and have real-life consequences tor non-EU citizens. The fact that scholarship analyses policies destined for a non—European context, renders research questions more complex and often requires an inclusive, participatory dialogue-based approach to fully understand the (un)intended consequences of policies on the lives of others. A methodological approach to be taken in future research is to explicitly include the voices of the women and men affected, for instance by including perspectives of womens organisations or gender advocates from countries receiving EU aid (Debusscher 2016; 2020).

Third, research often suffers from a compartmentalised approach on one (or maximum two) policy sectors. However, gender mainstreaming cannot be seen in isolation. Looking at development policy alone is insufficient to analyse the success or failure of gender policies and mainstreaming (see Allwood 2015). Development is a policy area related to other key policy areas such as climate change (see Allwood 2014, 2019, in this volume), human rights, migration and asylum (see Krause and Schwenken in this volume), security, environment, trade (van der Vienten et al. 2014; Garcia in this volume), external relations (see Miihlenhoffin this volume) or agriculture.Trade liberalisation promoted by the EU, for example, might have a disproportionate effect on womens livelihoods and economic independence because of unequal divisions of labour, resources and power. In the past for instance, massive exports of frozen chicken parts from the EU have ruined domestic markets in west Africa, thereby destroying women’s livelihoods (ACD1C et al. 2007). Despite the many connections between development policy and other policy areas, scholars have not yet systematically analysed gender equality across the whole of EU external actions. Studies analysing intersections of policy areas are still relatively rare. A comparative approach taking into account multiple policy areas as well as policy actors (both European and non-European) is key to generate a deeper understanding (Debusscher and Manners 2020). With this in mind, future research could also involve newer policy areas, such as von Leyen’s Green Deal, or the gendered effects of global pandemics such as Covid-19 on EU development policy.

Fourth, research has mostly focussed on gender in isolation. The link to other sources of discrimination has received little academic attention. However, focusing on gender equality alone, creates an incomplete research picture as gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ethnicity and ability cannot be analytically understood in isolation from each other, as they are linked in an ‘intersecting constellation of power relationships that produce unequal material realities and distinctive social experiences’ for the individuals and groups positioned within them (Hill Collins and Chepp 2013, 58; see also Solanke in this volume).The way in which gender, race and class intersect and, thus, impact the outcome of EU development policies is relevant for answering the question whether the EU is contributing to social and gender justice. For instance, (probably well-intended) EU discourses of‘poor women’ in development cooperation with South Africa were criticised by black South African gender activists as being harmful and counterproductive. They criticised the paternalistic and stigmatising language, as it confines black women in presumably permanent stereotypical roles with no upward mobility (Debusscher 2016). Research into intersectionality demonstrates how one identity marker — class, for instance — may alter the meaning of, and is thus interlinked with, other social identity markers such as gender or race. Intersectionality is thus key to understand the impact ofEU development policy on actual people’s lives. Including the relation between gender and other inequalities also provides deeper insight into the artificial division between high and low politics, e.g. what, who (and why) something matters or why it does not in EU development policy.

Fifth, much scholarship focuses on the Commission. However, the constellation of actors is complex and multiple, operating and influencing each other at different levels — both at EU level as well as at the level of each partner country through permanent diplomatic EU staff. The specific roles of this multitude of policy actors and the interplay between different external relations arenas require more scholarly attention, as each arena has its own constraining or enabling logics, which can help us understand why gender mainstreaming EU development is (in-)effective (van der Vleuten 2017).To grasp why and in which way gender is taken up, we need to spend more time considering the differences and similarities between key EU actors, such as the European Parliament, the EEAS and the different DGs (see also David and Guerrina 2013). In particular, the role of the European Parliament is, so far, not sufficiently addressed. It has long acted as one of the primary advocates of a more forceful EU gender policy and has repeatedly called on the Commission to enhance consistency in external policies including aid, trade, migration and asylum and climate change, since gender often slips off the agenda once other policies intersect with development (Allwood 2013). Existing literature typically tends to focus on the role the Commission and the policy documents produced but remains silent on the Parliaments proactive role.

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