European Union: A policy response to Gender Perceptions

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) published a discussion paper on presumable answers to biased Gender perceptions that still hinder talented men and especially women to show their abilities and follow their individual career path. The report starts by mentioning the numerous stereotypes, like images of so-called masculine or feminine educational studies and professions, the all too often quoted clash of maternity and career or gender roles in domestic work. All these over-generalised descriptions and depictions of ‘typical’ male or female behaviour lead to an ongoing unconscious segregation and to structural differentiation in social status. The difficult task for policy measures is to counteract the perceptions and to admit the historic contribution that each country has made to the emergence of this situation with policy measures and ill-guided educational approaches over decades and centuries.

Employers, educational institutions, the (mass) media, civil society organisations, the individual herself or himself as well as the partners and parents have been identified as both targets and triggers for change as well as barriers to a more comprehensive emancipation. Taking this into account, EIGE proposes a framework of policy objectives, policy fields, policy processes and policy priorities. Generally, the public policy process can enable change and may be even develop new social patterns. Welfare or parental leave policies, divorce legislation and child custody policies effect and contribute to the changing roles for men and women, and they may strengthen the gender role perceptions in a traditional and in a pre-modern manner. The reduction of stereotypes and the promotion of individual life plans should be determined as an overarching objective of all legislation, the paper suggests. According to the EIGE “policy initiatives should build the awareness, provide the means, and establish the stimulus” so that the abovementioned different (target) groups can be enablers for change in relation to stereotypical gender perceptions. This recommendation actually provides an implicit criticism of the strong legislative, top-down approach the European Commission currently pursues especially on Gender equality. In contrast, the EIGE defines gender mainstreaming and social dialogue as the most relevant policy processes. The first one is explained as a recurring impact assessment of new rules or laws on common role models and social norms. Moreover, gender perceptions need to be discussed between all relevant key actors and stakeholders and the governments in order to avoid backslides within new legislations. To that end, policy-makers should take the dual earner model of households as the guiding concept (not the exception). Certainly, the paper provides a number of starting points for future gender initiatives looking at implicit stereotypes, including awareness campaigns, co-operation with civil society organisations or improvement in education and the media environment. What is needed is to move from discussion to concrete action.