Whither Gender Mainstreaming for Men?

AUTHORS: Élisabeth Graveline (MA student, McGill University, Canada) and Elaine Weiner (McGill University, Canada)

2017 marks 20 years since the European Union (EU) formalized its commitment to gender mainstreaming in the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). While feminist scholars, activists and femocrats have – and continue to – quite actively contemplate gender mainstreaming’s impact on women in the EU, its effects on men remain of marginal consideration. Whither gender mainstreaming for men? seems an opportune if not overdue query.

In its core intent, gender mainstreaming seeks to upend the ‘status quo (the mainstream)’[i] via eradicating inequalities between women and men. Since 2001, multiple Strategies, Roadmaps and Pacts have set out EU action on the promotion of gender equality.[ii] Our recent review of these action plans reveals that the EU has, more often than not, erred in promoting a ‘short agenda’ that aims to ‘elevate women to the way men are’ versus a ‘long (transformative) agenda’ that transforms women and men.[iii] While women’s gaining ground, economically and politically, constitutes an explicit and defining aim, what mainstreaming gender connotes for men is more amorphous. With sparing mention of what men have to gain from a more gender-equal society in these general plans, we turned to the Opinion on Men in Gender Equality, rendered in 2006 by the European Commission’s Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, which laid out five prospective gains for men:

  • ‘Liberation from the inflexibilities imposed on men by current dominant models of masculinity and male behaviours.
  • New relationships of respect, care and solidarity between men and women.
  • Access to new roles for men particularly in the caring domain and to a new balance between paid employment and caring work.
  • Structures and institutions in society that work more effectively and without discrimination for people—men and women.
  • Gender mainstreaming that creates new opportunities for men for example in relation to working time policies.’

Realizing gender equality seemingly portends a lot that is new for men – relationships, roles, balance and opportunities. Arguably, these strides would be borne out of a long, transformative agenda but the articulation of such an integrated plan remains elusive. Notably, the skewed design of its action plans has not gone unacknowledged. The EU’s own support agency for gender equality, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), highlighted in its Analysis Note: Men and Gender Equality (2010) the imperative for a ‘framework for action on men as part of an integrated gender equality strategy.’

While a 2011 report from the EU’s Directorate-General for Health & Consumers on The State of Men’s Health commendably puts men’s health forward as a gender equality issue, should we read this an integrative, equity-fostering move that brings men in or one that encourages a segregated solution thereby  inadvertently undercutting gender equality?

Ultimately, there is still a distance to travel here in terms of integrating men. Yet, gender inequality will never be resolved if its attempted righting is only undertaken by women for women. As it stands, mention of men is sparing in the mass of EU material on gender equality’s promotion. With men in the background – seldom named or discussed – the onus on them to change is largely invisible. Seeing men’s part in/of the problem does not, however, connote calling men out, collectively, as the malefactor of gender inequality – always in a position of privilege relative to women. Neither men nor women constitute a homogenous group. They are ‘classed, ethnicised, differently (able)bodied and so on’ in ways that affect power relations among men, among women as well as between men and women.[iv]

So, where might we begin improving gender mainstreaming in the EU such that men are visibly problematised? One ready starting point lies in the prevention of gender-based violence and in the protection of its victims. Since 2000 the EU has invested considerable resources in the DAPHNE  programme towards these aims and acknowledges that violence occurs in ‘the public and private domain.’[v] In fact, in public manifestations of violence (e.g., in the workplace), men are not only the most common victim, they are the likely perpetrator in the majority of occurrances. Men, however, go unnamed whether as a target group in need of protection from violence or as perpetrators of violence in need of ‘intervention’ in DAPHNE III’s espoused objectives.[vi] Meanwhile, children, young people and women are explicitly declared the potential victims.

The imperative to realize a more ‘active role’ for men in dealing with the issue of gender-based violence was voiced in a 2012 Study on the Role of Men in Gender Equality prepared for the European Commission’s Directorate-General of Justice Gender Equality Unit. This study – the first ‘systematic research’ on men’s role in gender equality in the 27 EU member states is commendable in its achievements, offering a number of compelling recommendations based on its findings to ‘improve the role of men in gender equality’ across Europe. This is, however, only the beginning of a long-term  process whereby the quest for gender equality becomes a shared struggle that implicates, in ideological and practical terms, both women and men.


[i] European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. 2008. ‘Manual for Gender Mainstreaming: Employment, Social Inclusion and Social Protection Policies.’ http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=70.

[ii] See, for example, the Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001-2005) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:c10932, the Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men (2006-2010) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:c10404, and the European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020)  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52011XG0525%2801%29.

[iii] Hearn, Jeff. 2001. “Men and Gender Equality: Resistance, Responsibilities and Reaching Out.” Keynote Paper at ‘Men and Gender Equality’ Conference, Örebro, Sweden, March 15-16. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228981274_Men_and_Gender_Equality_Resistance_Responsibilities_and_Reaching_Out.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See http://ec.europa.eu/justice/grants1/programmes-2007-2013/daphne/index_en.htm.

[vi] Ibid.