Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


I. Introduction

Millns and Whitty (1999: 1) suggest that

`Feminism is characterised by a focus on gender as a central organising principle of social life; an emphasis on the concept of power and the ways that it affects social relations; and an unwavering commitment to progressive social change.'

Furthermore, according to Lacey (1998: 186), feminist approaches to law reject

`the idea of law as an autonomous structure generating claims to truth which are insulated from political critique. Feminism ... will always be concerned to undermine, to expose as false, law's pretended autonomy, objectivity and neutrality.'

It may, therefore, seem like a familiar and perhaps even overdone feminist complaint to say that the White Paper on Governance, like so many policy or legal reform initiatives at every level of government before it, has failed to take into account the `gender dimension' of policy-making. The best that can be said is that `gender' is implicitly included in an agenda of greater inclusiveness in policy-making, and of bringing policy-making closer to the citizen. However, in view of the explicit agenda of gender mainstreaming, currently taking root in EU public policy-making, an agenda which - what is more - is constitutionally anchored in Article 3(2) of the EC Treaty, it is one complaint about sins of omission in the White Paper (however crowded its agenda) which sticks better than most.

So, it is a matter of some regret that the proposition that policy-making operates in a gendered environment and with effects which are not wholly gender-neutral receives no attention whatsoever in the key documents framing the White Paper. In this can be included the final July 2001 version of the White Paper itself,1 the October 2000 `Work Programme' and Commission staff working document entitled Enhancing democracy in the European Union,2 and the Draft Memorandum to the Commission on Approaches to European Governance: For Democratic European Governance of March 2001 which bridges between these two documents.3 Only rather brief attention is paid even in the Working Group Reports which were fed into the processing of drawing up the White Paper. It should be noted that, for these purposes, we are not treating gender and sex as synonymous; instead, gender is both process and structure, and it concerns the reflexive interaction between our bodies and the cultural context in which we live. It is not a fixed category, but contingent and dynamic, evolving by reference to the overlapping frames of identity within which we live our lives. Gender is not the question of `women's policy'; instead, raising the issue of gender goes beyond the dichotomous construction of masculinity and femininity within society to address also the ways in which institutions of governance embody issues of gender difference and indeed other forms of difference, such as race or ethnic background.

What place might gender mainstreaming have in the White Paper? According to the Commission, gender mainstreaming is:4

`the systematic integration of the respective situations, priorities and needs of women in all policies and with a view to promoting equality between women and men and mobilising all general policies and measures specifically for the purpose of achieving equality by actively and openly taking into account, at the planning stage, their effects on the respective situation of women and men in implementation, monitoring and evaluation.'

Moreover, mainstreaming:

`does not mean simply making Community programmes or resources more accessible to women, but rather the simultaneous mobilisation of legal instruments, financial resources and the Community's analytical and organisational capacities in order to introduce in all areas the desire to build balanced relationships between women and men.'

The principle and practices of gender mainstreaming thus have an embedded assumption of the differential contexts and effects of policy-making. Mainstreaming is more than a simple functional programme of policy review, but instead `concerns the whole of society', since `it can encourage progress and be a token of democracy and pluralism'.

These types of statements from the Commission cannot help but resonate with some of the grand objectives of the White Paper and the White Paper Work Programme to `open up policy-making', to `connect the EU more closely to its citizens and lead to more effective policies' (WP, p8); above all, it aims to harness the five principles of good governance, namely, openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence (WP, p10) in order to overcome the perceived legitimacy gap infecting the EU and its institutions. Although work on `public spheres' has begun to establish the gendered nature of such legitimacy gaps (Liebert 1999, 2001), no reference to gender is forthcoming in the White Paper despite its concerns (sometimes more hidden than apparent) for the legitimacy question. Furthermore, the GWP's focus on `better regulation through a greater diversity of policy tools and their combined use' (WP, p30), although fleshed out in places with references to the open method of co-ordination, the role of the social partners and techniques of `co-regulation', does not extend to identifying the possible contribution to `better regulation' made by gender mainstreaming.

This brief comment outlines the agenda of mainstreaming gender in EU public policy, highlighting its gradual emergence as the paradigm frame of gender policy since the mid-1990s, identifying the main features of `mainstreaming' both as principle and as strategy, and questioning how far gender mainstreaming has, in fact, progressed up to now within EU public policy. Although not a panacea for all ills, the proposition is defended that a gender mainstreaming perspective represents a valuable - if, as yet, rather imprecise - frame for reconsidering policies with a view to contesting the effects of gender inequalities in contemporary societies, and thus for engaging with one of the enduring goals of both feminist politics and feminist legal reform. The question is then posed as to how and why the gender question represents a crucial missing dimension for the White Paper process thus far, and particular attention is paid in this context to the question of power. Some thoughts and suggestions are put forward as to how the gender gap could be closed in relation to the White Paper. Some ideas can already be found where gender issues do make an appearance in the reports of the Working Groups which were intended to feed inputs and ideas into the process of drawing up the White Paper. Furthermore, a gendered perspective upon each of the five principles of good governance could usefully be developed. It is submitted, in conclusion, that the first task is that of mainstreaming gender within the text and underlying frame of reference of the White Paper itself. This would have the useful effect of bringing gender equality issues into the public sphere and making them the subject of immediate and extensive public debate.

1 COM(2001) 428 of July 25 2001,

2 SEC(2000) 1547/7 of October 11 2000.

3 Although not made publicly available on the Governance website, this document was released in French, German and English to at least some members of the academic community via the Jean Monnet Professors' Group on the White Paper, and was commented upon directly in materials made available on the website (at

4 European Commission, Incorporating Equal Opportunities for Women and Men into All Community Policies and Activities, COM(96) 67.




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