What Is the Problem of Gender? Mainstreaming Gender in Migration and Development Policies in the European Union

Abstract: This dissertation deals with the analysis of representations and discourses of gender (in)equality contained in policy texts at the EU level. The period under examination is 2005–2010. Following the academic debate, I show that there is certainly agreement on the fact that gender mainstreaming at the EU level has not fulfilled its promise of being a transformative strategy. In this context, my main aim is to contribute to an understanding of why a gender perspective has failed to be introduced into mainstream policy by showing how gender is constructed in policy discourse. I examine how the ‘problem’ of gender (in)equality is represented in policy documents and interviews in the context of the strategy of gender mainstreaming at the EU level in general and within the policy areas of development cooperation and migration in particular. The representation of the ‘problem’ of gender (in)equality as a problem of women’s lack of participation (in the labour market, in political life, and in education) includes two arguments: the usefulness of women as resources for the economy and the right of women to participation. In this representation, the argument of gender equality as an instrument is important, but at the same time, the argument of gender equality as a value or human right is also central. In the same vein, the argument of gender inequality as both a problem for the economy and a moral problem also has an important role to play. Thus, tensions between efficiency or utilitarian arguments and human rights arguments can be identified across all policy texts. By looking at arguments, understandings, and representations of the ‘problem’ of gender inequality, I identify discourses of gender equality at the EU level: efficiency, economic independence–labour market, human rights, and feminist discourses of gender equality. In policy texts at the EU general level as well as at the level of development cooperation and migration policy areas, gender is understood as a fixed category, in terms of the binary male/female. This understanding contributes in part to undermining the conceptualisation and practice of gender mainstreaming itself. To understand gender as an essential characteristic or a fixed trait is unproductive, rather, in terms of any transformation of the gender structure. The process of (re)producing gender hierarchies and understandings entails relations of power and conflict, and its result is never final in that gender as a process is never ending; in policy texts, all of this dynamic is replaced by a dichotomy.

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