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The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam places equality between women and men among the explicit tasks of the European Union and obliges the EU to promote gender equality in all its tasks and activities. In the strategy of Gender Mainstreaming it is recognised that gender should be an essential part of policies on science, labour market and employment, development co-operation and education. The Gender Mainstreaming approach that has been legitimated by this Treaty is backed by legislation and by positive action in favour of women (or the "under-represented sex"). With regard to gender inequality, the EU has both a formal EU problem definition at the present time, and a formalised set of EU strategies.

The world-wide adoption of the Gender Mainstreaming strategy can be traced back to the UN-conference in Beijing, and is connected to earlier agreements, such as CEDAW. Since Beijing, the EU has been among the major pioneers in developing Gender Mainstreaming, both by starting a process of Gender Mainstreaming within the European Commission itself, by diffusing information to Member States and candidate states in a number of conferences and seminars (in Brussels, Bled, London), and through the reorganisation of EU-policies so that Member States can hardly escape engaging in Gender Mainstreaming too (as in the case of the new regulations for the Structural Funds). After Beijing, several national governments have also announced that Gender Mainstreaming will be adopted as part of their continuous efforts to achieve gender equality. Countries such as Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands took the lead in developing specific tools. At yet another level, supranational organisations such as the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Council of Europe, the World Bank and the ILO started initiatives directed at their respective constituencies. At most levels, feminist movements exert pressure in favour of Gender Mainstreaming.

Why gender inequality as a research case?
Gender inequality is not a simple problem, but a highly political problem, meaning that there is no real consensus about what the problem is exactly, about why and for whom it is a problem, about who is responsible for the existence of the problem, who is responsible for solving it. This means that there is an ongoing political power struggle over these definitions. The words that are used in the context of gender mainstreaming habitually suggest consensus, but more often than not these words - inequality between men and women, differences between men and women, equal opportunities for men and women - function as buzz words: they allow the illusion of consensus, until a hidden difference of opinion can no longer be concealed.

Studies on the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming in the European Union show that its revolutionary potential is endangered by distortions due to shifts in gender equality concepts connected to national differences, or by a lack of articulation of its goal. In view of the Enlargement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, they warn against a focus on employment or on technocratic instruments and are concerned about the lack of attention for Eastern European realities and for other structural inequalities.

Moreover, Gender mainstreaming is a typical example of a strategy that involves not only multiple levels in governance, but also multiple shifts in governance. Multiple levels because it involves not only national or regional state bureaucracies, but also institutions in fields like science and economy. Multiple shifts in governance, because the strategy aims at a reorganisation of policy processes, and a shift in responsibilities. The strategy of Gender Mainstreaming aims at a multiplication of actors, policy areas and policy levels (Council of Europe 1998).

The ongoing political struggle over the definition of gender equality, the implementation problems in Gender Mainstreaming and the connection to multiple shifts in governance are three good reasons to choose gender inequality as a research case for a study on policy framing.

MAGEEQ will pursue the following scientific objectives:
  • construct a conceptual framework to map out the various dimensions of gender equality policy frames;
  • improve methods for assessments of the (in)consistencies between various policy levels, in the field of gender equality policies, especially for Gender Mainstreaming;
  • improve evaluation design and methodology for gender equality policies and especially for Gender Mainstreaming;
  • present material for the future development and implementation of gender equality policies in view of the EU’s Enlargement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights by using a framework on gender inequality built on knowledge from both Member States and candidate countries;
  • further develop & apply frame analysis as an innovative paradigm in explaining policy dynamics which addresses shortcomings of both rational actor & pluralist paradigms;
  • offer and communicate knowledge on processes of exclusion connected to policy frames on gender inequality;
  • re-engage citizens, by stimulating high level debates on gender inequality as a policy problem, including academic experts on gender, politicians and policy makers;
  • include knowledge generated in these debates in the final analysis;
  • contribute to the further development of gender studies.
The main results that MAGEEQ will deliver are:
  • A set of country studies and an EU study on the various ways gender inequality is framed as a policy problem;
  • A validated method for the assessment of inconsistencies in gender equality policy frames between national and EU levels;
  • A conceptual framework on various dimensions of gender equality policy frames, validated in a comparative analysis and in international and national debates.

MAGEEQ will contribute to policy theory and methodology, to gender studies and to the study of the politics of implementation. Additionally, the national and international debates organised as a part of the research in MAGEEQ will re-animate public debates on gender equality in an inclusive way.