Towards a gender-equal world: a mission for all

Our goal as the European Union (EU) is for everyone to have the same power to shape society and their own lives. We are putting it in black and white in our third gender action plan, adopted on 24 November, calling for a gender-equal world. 

Because of the significant setback that Covid-19 has caused for the global work on equality and as we watch civil society organisations, including women’s and LGBTIQ organisations, facing shrinking civic and democratic space, stepping up in building a gender-equal world is now more important than ever. Women’s rights are human rights and gender equality is a non-negotiable value of the EU, a value that should be reflected in the EU’s external action and in the design of all EU development programmes.

It is with EU support, for example, that Tufahah Amin, Aziza Al-Hassi and Amine Kashrouda developed an app for online education in Benghazi, Libya and the Gaziantep Women Platform was launched last year to help more women participate in Syria’s political process. It is in the framework of the EU-supported Digital2Equal initiative for online platforms that 15 000 women in India will get training in hospitality skills and can improve their earnings.

In South Africa, the EU works jointly with the South African government and civil society organisations to support women’s economic empowerment and to address the scourge of high levels of gender-based violence. From strengthening grassroots initiatives to working with departments at national level on gender responsive planning and budgeting as well as on the implementation of the gender based violence and femicide national strategic plan, we are mainstreaming gender equality in our collaboration with South Africa. We are also honoured to have South African Rugby Union captain Siya Kolisi acting as a global advocate for Spotlight Initiative — the global partnership between European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030. His work is crucial in mobilising men and boys to be part of the solution.

The challenges to gender equality are as varied as the contexts in which they emerge and call for context specific responses, whether through multilateral fora, dialogues with partner countries to EU policy proposals or financing of concrete projects. Through our programmes on education, we aim to help more girls attend school, learn and think of themselves as future drivers of change. We believe that education is also one of the most powerful ways of putting an end to isolation and abuse, for there is no exit option without economic self-sufficiency. We are embracing the notion of human security and integrating gender equality into our training programmes for EU crisis management operations, for example in the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali) programme for internal security forces.


During the coronavirus pandemic the level of gender-based violence increased significantly and the EU partnered with the United Nations to offer shelters and helplines, and to give lifeline support to women’s grassroots organisations. These gender- and age-sensitive measures and mitigating the risks of gender-based violence are part of the DNA of our Team Europe global response to Covid-19. 

Yet beyond immediate action, we must remain aware of the challenges facing women in a shrinking labour market and shifting global economy.  But challenges also bring opportunities. We celebrate the fact that women and girls are increasingly taking part in shaping global transformations, with new generations active in grassroots movements for a green and just transition, equal rights for all, democracy, and for peaceful and inclusive societies. Positive change is possible and the post-Covid-19 recovery must be an opportunity to address structural inequalities and build more inclusive societies. Underscoring women’s role in the green and digital transitions ahead is key.

Change is still needed. This year it is 25 years since the Beijing Declaration on women’s rights and 20 years since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security were adopted. While progress has been achieved since, not a single country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030 — not even Europe, as revealed by the European Institute for Gender Equality´s recent update of the gender equality index. Too many women still do not have access to resources, essential social services and equal power. The call for more action is therefore immediate.

The EU’s gender action plan is not a paper exercise. It is a call for action, with concrete measures.  We want to empower more women and girls, in all their diversity, to be economic, political, or environmental actors and leaders. We want to continue integrating women, peace and security in the broader gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda. We want to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and make gender-responsive leadership the norm in the EU institutions, leading by example.  

We believe that gender equality deserves to be put at the heart of European policies. Not only because a gender-equal, fair and inclusive world means a more prosperous and safer world for all of us, but because we see gender equality as an objective in its own right and a mission for Europe, at home and abroad.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Josep Borrell
Josep Borrell Fontelles is the high representative/vice-president (2019-2024) of the European Union
Jutta Urpilainen
Jutta Urpilainen is the European Commissioner for International Partnerships (2019-2024)

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