Pirates of the European Union

Only when we approach gender equality mainstreaming in a more strategic way can we claim that gender equality is a fundamental principle of European Union Common Security and Defence Policy missions.

Louise Olsson
21 July 2015

In the beginning of the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the protagonist Elisabeth, under threat of being killed by the pirates, requests a parley with their captain. She argues that they are obligated to grant her that in accordance with “the Code”. This code governs all pirates’ values and hence, prescribes the correct behaviour. Throughout the rest of the film, the usefulness of this code is then debated. By the end of the film, the pirates arrive at the conclusion that the code is probably more like guidelines, used when considered appropriate by the actor concerned.

The relationship between values and actual behaviour is also an interesting one outside the realm of Hollywood. More specifically, in relation to gender equality which is a “founding value” of the European Union (EU). As such, it is a “fundamental principle” that is to permeate all work of the EU, including that of its Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations (CSDP missions). According to the Council of Europe, this is to be accomplished through gender equality mainstreaming. Gender equality mainstreaming means adapting all work to the reality that the world consists of men and women; central since they have different possibilities and roles, and an unequal access to resources and power.

The EU’s Peace and Security Committee has adopted a policy prescribing how gender equality mainstreaming should be realised in the context of CSDP missions. This policy is intended to guide the interpretation of the mandated assignments and the formulations of the main plans, as well as the organisational setup of a mission. That the EU has created such a Gender Policy is an important step in the right direction. In accordance with the recent Council conclusions and a decision by the High Representative, it's clearly good news that these efforts are now to be further supported by a high level expert.

The need for a high level expert however, signals that the existing “code” has not resulted in the desired behaviour. Indeed, inspired by the pirates sailing the dangerous Caribbean waters, the actual behaviour of CSDP missions does raise an interesting question in my mind: What is the value of a value? More specifically, what is the value of the “code” that is the European Union’s Gender Policy? Is it actually related to any specific form of behaviour? Or, have we, like the debating pirates, landed in the “as appropriate” guideline version?

In 2012-2014, I led the Folke Bernadotte Academy’s assessment of European Union’s CSDP missions. We looked specifically at whether the missions practically implement gender equality mainstreaming. The results of the assessment are mixed. In line with European Union’s Gender Policy, CSDP missions are supposed to contribute to an improved situation for both women and men through the regular everyday work for peace. Realising this means that the missions need to do an analysis of what the situation is like for men and women. They should then include that knowledge when they seek to support capacity building of police or security forces, assist with institution building, or give support to strengthening the rule of law, - to mention a few mandate assignments. This is not done today. There are many important efforts being made by many individual personnel, not least the gender advisers. But the assessment clearly shows that a great deal of work remains to be done in order to enforce the European Union’s own policy in a strategic and institutionalised manner. Much effort still needs to be made both at EU Headquarters in Brussels and by the missions’ leadership.

But are the above mentioned problems the effect of a weak value “code”? The EU’s Gender Policy by now considers most of the central areas of CSDP missions’ and their organisation. Furthermore, policy has become increasingly detailed over time in terms of responsibility and on how work should be conducted. The Gender Policy specifies that the leadership is central for integrating a gender perspective in its mission. This means that gender, at least in writing, has started to become integrated in the chain of command. Considering women’s and men’s situations should thus be part of regular implementation and reporting, instead of women’s situation being considered as a sidetrack in CSDP missions. The formulations in policy on reporting have been strengthened over time to enforce implementation in the core work of a mission. In addition, there is progress in terms of the use of increasingly ‘sharper’ and more precise language. This means that Gender Policy formulations have begun to move away from vague wordings and instead more frequently make use of words like “should”, “are to ensure” and “are to include”.

These are positive developments which a high level expert could draw on when seeking to support increased gender equality mainstreaming in CSDP missions. However, there are two particular weaknesses in the EU’s current approach that need to be addressed.

The first weakness of why we see limited actual mainstreaming could be because the EU’s Gender Policy fails to adequately specify what is to be achieved. This is problematic given that in mandates and central operational documents the word “gender” or “resolutions on women, peace and security” are mentioned higher and higher up in the texts. However, these words are very broad and vague and therefore not easily translated into practice by a mission. This means that from the beginning, it is not made clear what a CSDP mission is to deliver. Lack of such guidance means gender aware objectives are often not formulated. This creates insecurity about where the mandate begins and ends. This insecurity hampers implementation, not least further down the implementation chain. In addition, vagueness in formulations on what is to be achieved makes it difficult to track whether the CSDP missions are actually making a difference for both women and men. Clarifying policy and mandates by concretely outlining what gender equality mainstreaming can mean for specific mandate assignments, and what a mission should deliver, are therefore key.

The second weakness is that existing Gender Policy almost habitually inserts terms such as “as appropriate” and “where applicable”. In fact, the term “as appropriate” is used ten times (“appropriate” even 14 times) throughout the relatively short central document, “Implementation of UNSCR on Women, Peace and Security in the context of CSDP missions and operations” (adopted by the Political and Security Committee in 2012). This is apparently done to tone down the use of sharper language. For example, why is it necessary to add “as appropriate” to a sentence such as “concepts should consider, as appropriate, integrating gender related aspects to the options, based on the assessments and means available”? To personnel – from the headquarters level down to the field level – these inserts create confusion. Is it appropriate to include women’s security concerns or not? The use of the “as appropriate” language here also underlines the relevance of the key question of this article: what is the value of a value? Gender equality cannot be “fundamental” only some of the time. And if we are to talk about it as being a part time value, then we need to assign it another prefix, such as it being a “potential principle” to consider. More in line with how it is used perhaps, but a lot less catchy.

The reasons behind the existing weaknesses should be taken seriously. Perhaps they are a realistic outcome of an impossible approach as some would claim? The initial story about the pirates who actually sail quite political waters is here not as far-fetched as one might think. The tradeoffs in terms of choosing to stand for a value or not, is often argued to be the result of adapting to a perceived “more realistic” political situation on the ground. While it is possible that such considerations could guide current decisions, it would still stand to reason that a decision, for example, not to include women’s security situation or their access to police, should be based on an analysis; an analysis which includes both women’s and men’s situations and the political difficulties related to their concerns. It is an analysis which should consult both men and women. If such an analysis was made, it would probably also not result in an “either – or” decision, but rather one of estimating potentially viable venues to support both women and men in the context of seeking to contribute to positive development . The Folke Bernadotte Academy’s assessment indicates that such an analysis is often not done today. A key challenge is that missions still do not collect gender disaggregated data and information that should underlie further political decisions.

We must recognise that until these existing weaknesses in policy and implementation are addressed, we, like the debating pirates, still use the “code” on gender equality as “as appropriate” guidelines. Only when we start to approach gender equality mainstreaming in a more strategic, institutional and fact-based manner can we with credibility continue to claim that gender equality is a fundamental principle for CSDP missions. Enforcing and enabling such a development should be a key concern for the new high level expert, ideally placed in the High Representative’s office.

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