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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Sept 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

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

Belgian examples:


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 instrument.
Training targeted at various actors organised by governments, equality infrastructures etc. 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.
Other 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 gender mainstreaming.


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