© Sept 2001
Gender Mainstreaming Strategies in Belgium
1. Action Plans for Gender Mainstreaming
On the whole, mainstreaming a gender equality perspective into all policy fields is still
a very young concept in Belgium, even though it was introduced at a large scale during the
Fourth UN Women's World Conference in Peking in 1995 and Belgium supported the Action
Platform adopted at that conference. Mainstreaming is considered as a policy option,
several instruments exist or are being conceived, but except for the women's policy
machineries there is little interest to really integrate a form of gender mainstreaming.
Furthermore, there exist considerable differences between the various constituting
entities of the Belgian State.
At the federal level, gender mainstreaming was adopted as a policy strategy mainly under
the new government coalition set up in the aftermath of the spring 1999 elections. In the
near future an official body will be set up in order to co-ordinate the mainstreaming of a
gender equality perspective into all policy fields. However, some of the initiatives set
up during the previous coalition could function as a leg up to mainstreaming, such as the
creation of a network of civil servants in charge of equal opportunities at the local
level, even though they were not defined as such.
At the regional and community level, it is mainly the Flemish Community that started to
conceptualise equal opportunity policies in a mainstreaming way. Equal Opportunities
became a separate policy field in 1996, when the first direct elections took place at that
level. Right from the beginning equal opportunities was defined as a horizontal competence.
The integration of the women's policy machinery in the horizontal department of
Co-ordination of the Ministry of the Flemish Community provides, at least theoretically, a
good starting position to implement gender mainstreaming in all policy areas. Furthermore,
there have been initiatives to stimulate research and the development of gender
mainstreaming tools. The problem again is the lack of interest of the other departments of
the Ministry of the Flemish Community to put gender mainstreaming into practice. At the
other regional and community levels equal opportunities for men and women is a less
explicit competence at the ministerial level. The French Community has a direction
responsible for equal opportunities between men and women and this women's policy
machinery shows some interest in the issue.
Up until now no action plan for gender mainstreaming has been launched at any of the
levels mentioned. As will be seen below, however, there have been initiatives to start a
process in order to conceptualise gender mainstreaming and to translate it into practice.
2. Getting ready for Gender Mainstreaming
|Awareness raising events and publications by governments, equality infrastructures,
women's NGOs, trade unions, etc.
||Federal level: At the end of the 1990s the federal women's policy machinery introduced
the E-Quality Award. The original idea was to launch positive action plans for the private
sector, but it quickly became clear that such plans would only work in a very long-term
perspective. The federal women's policy machinery developed a questionnaire on the
recruitment policy and personnel management, and the way in which they target at
achieving gender equality along all lines. Companies achieving more than 50% on this
questionnaire go to a second round of interviews with the staff and direction. A jury
selects an annual E-Quality Award winner, a company striving for gender equality in its
staff recruitment and personnel management. This project, although never conceived such
terms, is a good example of awareness raising events meant to mainstream a gender equality
perspective for it goes further than more traditional forms of positive actions.
Regional level: The Ministry of the Flemish Community organised a one-day conference on
mainstreaming, on 28.11.2000, targeted at people working in top positions in the various
ministries and cabinets. The title of the conference was: "Mainstreaming. Na de theorie…de
praktijk!". During the conference the origins and logic of mainstreaming were situated,
foreign examples of mainstreaming (the Netherlands) were provided and potential tools and
instruments explained. It did however reach more people working in the field of gender
equality than top-level mainstream politicians and civil servants. Nonetheless, the
conference did have an important awareness-raising effect providing for the first time
such a comprehensive amount of information on gender mainstreaming in Flanders and Belgium.
Local level: At the end of 2000 the federal women's policy machinery published a brochure
targeted at local policy makers. It contains a number of questions meant to raise the
awareness of policy makers on the contents and target groups of their policies in order to
undermine a gender-biased outcome. The questions focus on the target groups of policies,
their needs and interests, possible openings for gender equality, etc. The questions
resemble to those of the EER and the LEER, but one cannot speak of a real policy
|Training targeted at various actors organised by governments, equality
||Federal level: In December 2000 the Federal Minister for Equal Opportunities launched
a project aimed at training actors of both federal cabinets and ministries on how to
mainstream a gender equality perspective into their policy field through the example of a
concrete case. Under the direction of the Minister of Equal Opportunities each Senior and
Junior Minister selected one policy objective to mainstream. After an initial seminar on
the origins, meaning, tools and techniques of gender mainstreaming; each department will
elaborate on how to mainstream a gender equality perspective into their work. This process
is supported by a group of academic experts, constituted of the Université de Liège, the
Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Universitaire
Instellingen Antwerpen and the Université Catholique de Louvain. They collaborate with the
federal cabinets and ministries on a personal basis in order to provide them with the
necessary background knowledge both in their policy field and in terms of gender
mainstreaming and support. In the near future an official state body will be set up in
order to co-ordinate the mainstreaming of a gender equality perspective into all policy
fields. The results of the project will be available by the end of the year. The interest
of the project lies in the fact that it is targeted at the highest political and
administrative level, trying to convince those in charge of politics by a personal
confrontation with the possible achievements of gender mainstreaming.
Regional/local: In 1999 the Ministry of the Flemish Community provided funding to the
BVVO, an organisation heading a large number of plural organisations active in civil
society, in order to develop a gender training course targeted at politicians.
Cf. also regional/local level under research and study.
|Research and study
||Regional level: Back in Autumn 1996 the Ministry of the Flemish Community had already
launched two research projects in the framework of preparing the field for mainstreaming.
One was directed by the Limburgs Universitair Centrum and made an inventory on the data
and statistics both available and necessary in order to be able to mainstream a gender
equality perspective into all policy fields for which the Ministry of the Flemish
Community is responsible. This project mainly consisted in detecting the data and
statistics that should be split out by sex. Recently a follow-up research started on
developing gender equality indicators. The Limburgs Universitair Centrum conducts this
research as well and results will be available by spring 2002. The second research project
launched in 1996 was on the development of a gender impact assessment tool. The Vrije
Universiteit Brussel conducted this research. It led to the development of a gender impact
assessment tool targeted at the regional policy level. It was presented on a conference in
spring 1998 and disseminated on a large scale. The instrument was however not applied to
the same extent for the potential users lacked the back-up necessary in order to get
started with the instrument. In Summer 2000 the Ministry of the Flemish Community awarded
a follow-up project to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in order to make the instrument more
accessible to a larger public of policy-makers. It is the intention that once the new
version of the gender impact assessment instrument is finished an implementation strategy
will be developed in order to train potential users and make the instrument get applied at
a larger scale.
Regional/local level: The Ministry of the Flemish Community, in the wake of the
development of a gender impact assessment instrument applicable at the regional level,
launched a project in 1998-1999, in order to adapt the regional instrument to the local
level. This project was conducted by the VVSG, the organisation heading the various Flemish
communities, IMPULS, an organisation specialised in developing gender training and
awareness-raising courses and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. It led to an instrument
adapted to the local level and to a training package targeted at potential users, which
had to help them get started. Training sessions can be ordered by interested parties and
are provided by IMPULS.
Regional level: In 1997-1998 the Ministry of the Flemish Community funded a project meant
to mainstream a gender perspective into personnel management. The project was coached and
directed by researchers from the Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen. The aim consisted in
not only working with positive actions but in mainstreaming a gender equality perspective
throughout the entire process of personnel management.
|Information and funding of women's NGOs in a perspective
of making them key-actors in the process of gender mainstreaming
||Several of the projects mentioned above also fulfil this function, see for example the
research on the development of a local gender impact assessment tool or the funding of the
BVVO meant to develop a gender training for politicians.
||Both at the federal (Interkabinettaire en interadministratieve werkgroep) and at the
Flemish (ICGK: Interdepartementale Commissie Gelijke Kansen) level an interdepartmental
working group has been set up the last few years. They each provide a platform bringing
together members of all policy fields in order to concert actions in order to mainstream
of a gender equality perspective in all these policy fields.
Regional level: The
Department Equal Opportunities of the Ministry of the Flemish Community screens - on
request - policy proposals elaborated by cabinets or by the administration of the Ministry
of the Flemish Community on gender equality.
3. Gender mainstreaming targeted explicitly at women in decision-making
Initiatives taken in this field have to be defined as positive actions rather than as
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