Mandatory ‘Gender Training’ for Senior EU Officials?

September 9, 2014

The European Parliament’s corridors are crowded again after the summer vacation and the first committee sessions have already taken place last week. While members have been mostly occupied with polite welcoming speeches, setting up meeting calendars and budget reviews, there has also been a push for more ‘gender thinking’ among the EU’s top level executives. The newly constituted Women’s Committee of the European Parliament opened the year by pushing for mandatory gender training and gender-oriented senior spots inside the Directorates-General (DGs).

Focusing on a post-2015 framework for gender equality policy in foreign affairs and development cooperation, the Committee came up with four specific recommendations for DGs to engage the Commission as a real promoter of gender equality policies. As they approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), international organizations — in mutual cooperation with civil society — are currently redefining them for a post-2015 agenda formed around 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These would range from poverty and hunger eradication to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

The recommendations include mandatory gender training for senior staff in order to achieve “real equality” within the European Commission. As usual, the content of such gender training is left unclear. ‘Gender theory’ goes far beyond the equality between men and women and, as a matter of fact, denies altogether that a human being is either a man or a woman but rather a ‘neutral being’ with a fluid gender identity. In fact, according to the gender options offered by online social networking service Facebook, users can choose today from 54 other gender identities besides male and female.

What would mandatory gender training for EU officials mean? Would it be necessary to show affirmation of ‘gender thinking’ in order to get to senior positions at the Commission? Would an expression of any kind of disagreement with the dominant mainstream result in disciplinary action against an ‘old-fashioned’ official who still thinks that we are all born men and women? Would a qualified person be prevented from a job promotion for that very reason?

There is no common agreement within the EU on how gender equality should or should not be understood. Therefore, far-reaching claims like this one require an open and honest debate about the content of such proposed programs.

But gender training for existing EU officials is not enough for the new Women’s Committee.   In addition, they want senior posts to be given to persons with ‘gender expertise’. This again is a vague concept. How will a person be known to have ‘gender-expertise’? It can hardly mean that a candidate for the post of Head of Unit, for example, must have read all of Judith Butler’s books! But would a candidate for a senior post at the Commission be required to agree and approve of ‘gender theory’? What would weigh more: his or her qualifications for such a position or his or her approval of ‘gender theory’?

None of this suffices for the Women’s Committee. Headquarters and delegations, too, shall henceforth hire what the Committee is calling Gender Focal Persons (GFPs). These GFPs will work full-time on gender issues such as women’s empowerment and gender equality.

In recent statements, Iratxe Garcia, Chair of the Women’s Committee, seemed upset with the idea of a European Commission with “just 7 possible female commissioner candidates”. “Is that the Commission we want?” she asked to an audience.

European Dignity Watch will be pushing for clarification of these vague concepts and the content of such proposals. We will ask for descriptions of the real implications and possible consequences of the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations — and will call for a person-centred approach, not an ideological litmus test, in the definition of the Commission’s equality agenda.