Gender equality: we are definitely not there yet

30 September 2015

There is a widely recognised need to step up systematic efforts on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the EU. The world of research is no exception to this: 1/ not enough women enter or remain in a research profession and very few are in leadership positions, 2/ not enough universities and other research performers manage to successfully achieve structural and cultural change within their institutions, and 3/ gender and sex analysis is not well integrated into the research process itself.

These challenges have been in evidence for years now, but real progress across all of Europe is not occurring. The European Commission has been at the forefront to push for change, in particular since gender equality was declared one of five top priorities for the European Research Area in 2012, an agenda with which LERU has engaged actively.

Yet, we still see significant discrepancies between EU member states in the development or implementation of gender equality plans, which have the capacity to result in real change on the three points above. We have seen that when such plans exist and are executed, progress is made.

We fear that the momentum built in recent years at the EU level, in particular thanks to the European Commission, which has made concrete changes in its policies and funding programmes, now risks to be lost. We therefore call on the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament to take the opportunity to act now, under the Luxembourg Presidency, which has declared gender equality as one of the research agenda priorities.

Prof Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General LERU: "We call especially on the Presidency to take concrete action to persuade member states to develop, implement and monitor progress on gender equality action plans at universities and other research performing and funding institutions, which should address the three challenges above. We were glad to see gender on the agenda of the 21 July 2015 (informal) Competitiveness Council meeting, but unfortunately it is not on the Council agenda of October 1."

LERU has worked actively with its universities and with EU policymakers over the past five years, arguing that strong leadership on gender equality issues is a key driver for change. In 2012 we proposed, based on an analysis of existing policies and practices at LERU universities, a set of guidelines for developing gender equality action plans at universities, stating that they should include:

a)    measurable or quantifiable goals and targets to be reached within specific time limits and leading to improvements along the entire career spectrum,

b)    a clear plan for their implementation throughout the university and integration in operational practice,

c)     a transparent assessment and monitoring system, whose outcomes have consequences for future strategic planning, and,

d)    processes by which communication, awareness raising and training activities will contribute to their effective uptake.

University gender action plans should be co-designed, decided and monitored by key stakeholders in the university and in particular by the units within the university responsible for their implementation, e.g. divisions, faculties and departments, because such units have a decisive role to play in making plans successful.

They should be backed up by funding which makes longer-term planning and therefore long lasting structural change possible.

We hope that the EU Presidency, and the Competitiveness Council meeting of December 2015, in particular, will take these points into consideration.

In addition, in a recently published paper, LERU analyses the role of point three above - gendered research and innovation (GRI), as an important but under-recognised issue. GRI focuses on integrating sex and gender analysis into the funding, content and implementation process of research and innovation. It is rapidly becoming better embedded in certain research areas, for example, in biomedical research. In general however, GRI is still unfamiliar, not practiced, or not well integrated into the design of the research, yielding the results of a large body of research less applicable to women than to men.

LERU universities have started to address these issues, but there is much work to be done. We would like to see:

a)    concerted and systematic efforts to raise awareness of and provide training on GRI to members of all research stakeholder communities;

b)    links to and integration with other gender equality initiatives at all levels: through inclusion of GRI in government policies and strategies, funders’ programmes, universities’ gender equality strategies or action plans, research activities and researchers’ projects.

The LERU paper on GRI formulates a number of recommendations for the various stakeholders to act upon, emphasizing the importance of support, promotion and resources for GRI, which will contribute to responsible research and innovation and, crucially, will improve global citizens’ lives in many ways.

Prof Alain Beretz, chair of LERU : "We regret that this important topic of integrating sex and gender analysis into the research process (GRI) is absent from the Luxembourg Presidency agenda. We call on the Ministers to include GRI in the December 2015 Council conclusions."

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Contact details

Prof. Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General, LERU: +32 499 80 89 99 / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Mr. Bart Valkenaers, Press & Communications Officer, LERU: +32 498 08 43 49 / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)