Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

European Identity and Gender Equality Policies: Shaping the Practice of Gender Expertise

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

European Identity and Gender Equality Policies: Shaping the Practice of Gender Expertise

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

Since its inception, the collaboration and integration of European states of the current European Union have been cast as a powerful peace and prosperity framework, wherein member states are bound by a unique unifying thread (Laursen, 2012). The Solemn Declaration of the European Union signed in 1983 reads: "The Heads of State or Government, on the basis of an awareness of a common destiny and the wish to affirm the European identity, confirm their commitment to progress towards an ever closer union among the peoples and Member States of the European Community."

According to this statement the thread is a coherent and common European identity, but what exactly are the characteristics of this identity and the implications thereof? Shore (2000: 19) argues that the EU is engaged in a cultural project of identity building which is guided by the objective of engendering a transnational European public. The concretization of a European citizenship and identity is "a major priority for the EU in order to address the democratic deficit it is faced with and legitimize itself" (Tsaliki, 2007: 157). This can be seen in the flag and the anthem, in administrative documents such the European health card and European driving licenses, in cultural megaevents such as European cities of Culture and the Eurovision Song Contest, or more playful initiatives like the Euromyths blog. Tsaliki (2007: 160) argues that the 1998 In from the Margins report by the Council of Europe "posits the specificity of Europeans as bearers of the legacy of civilization and democracy - a common European cultural bond." This cultural bond is defined by shared values, and in this article I focus specifically on the value of gender equality.

Gender equality has been declared a fundamental European value in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, gender equality policies represent one of the most substantive domains of European Social Policy (Jacquot, 2010: 128), and the current EU claims to offer the "most progressive gender regime in the world" (Abels & Mushaben, 2012: 1). Gender equality, and the promotion thereof, has an important place in the official self-description of the EU and is part of the purported European "cultural bond." In this paper I explore the shifting and shaping of gender equality policies over the timeline of the development of the EU. I outline an arc of increasing valorization of gender equality as a marker of European identity and, therefore, a tool for democratic legitimation. I then reflect on the implications of this relationship for the practice of gender expertise. I follow the development of gender equality strategies from the 1957 Rome Treaty, through equal pay and positive action initiatives, into the gender mainstreaming era and finally current "diversity management" strategies. I work with the terms of European identity and gender equality. In this paper I use "European identity" to refer the specific "self" constructed through the representation of the EU as a normative power, a term in frequent use in official EU documents. This establishes the necessity for compliance with EU norms and polices the borders of "Europe" as a political and cultural space (see Diez, 2005). I do not use the term gender equality as fixed in meaning, but rather as signifier of the prevailing visions of the concept at a given time and in a given context. This meaning depends on the representation of the "problem" in policy (Bacchi, 1999), and the discursive construction thereof through policy texts, instruments and strategies (see Lombardo et al., 2009). Equality meanings can be schematically identified as transitions and debates between the conceptualization of equality as sameness, to that of equality as difference, and finally equality as transformation (Rees, 2005; Squires, 2005; Walby, 2005). I draw on examples from a constellation of research and writing around gender equality architecture and policy instruments, state feminism, equality institutions, key actors, integration and regulation and the discursive construction of equality policies. …

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