What needs to change in the EU’s Gender Action Plan

What needs to change in the EU’s Gender Action Plan

The EU is about to release its third Gender Action Plan (GAP III) – a policy that aims at promoting gender equality beyond the EU’s borders. A consultation was organized with stakeholders to gather their input. Read on this page our 7 recommendations to the EU for the Gender Action Plan. 

Why did Aidsfonds participate?

The worldwide backlash against gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights is unprecedented. Even within Europe, the rise of conservative voices and populism has led to strong divisions between member states. Pervasive gender norms and gender inequality undermine the HIV response. Letting the situation worsen is not an option. For the past 40 years, civil society and communities have fought tooth and nail to advance human rights, equity, and justice. We are now in a precarious point in time, fighting to uphold the gains that were made, and, at the same time, pushing for more: more rights, more space to participate in decision-making, more resources to advocate, hold governments to account, and deliver services to the last mile. 

In that context, the EU needs to continue positioning itself as a strong supporter of, and a global leader on, SRHR and gender equality. The EU has a role to play at many levels: in shaping norms around these issues; promoting and protecting a rights-based, democratic and gender-responsive multilateral system; and providing civil society and communities with the financial and political support they need to continue playing their crucial role, in a context of shrinking space.

Our role as Aidsfonds is to ensure that the policies that guide EU actions respond to the needs of the communities we work with. We have therefore shared the following recommendations:   

7 recommendations for EU's third Gender Action Plan (GAP III)


  1. The GAP should be inclusive of people with diverse SOGIESC

The EU should move away from a binary understanding of gender, and assert that gender equality means equality of opportunity for all to realize their rights and potential. This means recognizing that pervasive systems of power relations based on gender norms not only overwhelmingly disadvantage women and girls, but also underpin stigma, violence and discrimination against groups with non-conforming sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.


  1. Intersectionality should be reinforced

The new Gender Action Plan should feature more prominently the intersectional perspective on gender by turning it into a cross-cutting principle. This will expose the overlapping forms of discrimination that result in the oppression of people living at the intersection of multiple forms of marginalisation and will lead to identifying and supporting better measures and programmes which can respond to intersecting needs.


  1. The gender-transformative approach should be at the heart of the GAP

The Gender Action Plan should promote a gender transformative approach and step up efforts to change the laws, policies, norms, and power imbalances which underpin gender inequality. Addressing gender stereotypes and discriminatory social norms are fundamental to all GAPIII priorities and should be recognized as central to their realization in order to achieve sustained change towards gender equality.  

See also The Big Picture, our ‘how-to' for developing a gender transformative approach in HIV programming, which can be used as an inspiration for GAP programmes.


  1. The GAP should promote the integration of HIV/SRHR

HIV and SRHR are deeply intertwined. Standard SRH and HIV interventions often overlap and sexual and reproductive ill-health and HIV share root causes, including gender inequality, harmful cultural norms and marginalisation of segments of the population. The mutual benefits of increasing linkages between SRHR and HIV were reaffirmed by the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission. The GAP should adopt the Guttmacher-Lancet definition of SRHR and reflect and promote the strong linkages between SRHR and HIV (at policy, programmes, and service levels).


  1. Greater focus on marginalized groups

Adolescent girls and young women, women who use drugs, women in prison, female sex workers, people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics are particularly vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Gender inequality, gender-based violence, criminalization, stigma, and other harmful socio-cultural practices fuel exclusion and are amongst the key factors that prevent them from enjoying their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The third Gender Action should cater better for the specific needs of people most at risk of discrimination, and commit, for instance, to supporting youth-friendly, accessible and confidential SRHR services, addressing the specific legal/policy/social barriers that undermine their access to SRH/HIV services, and engaging youth-led and other relevant organisations in policy/political dialogue with the EU.


  1. Stepping up communities’ involvement

People’s norms cannot be changed for them. Significant and lasting change can only come from people themselves, within themselves, and within their communities. Communities play a key role in advancing gender equality. They can empower and mobilise their peers, use their understanding of the local society and culture to support individuals to make and sustain behaviour change. This is transformative in addressing the drivers of stigma and discrimination and harmful gender norms that underpin gender inequality. As such, acknowledging the role of communities in achieving gender equality, and stepping EU’s support to community programmes is extremely important.

Women at the intersection of oppression on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and/or sex characteristics in middle-income countries also need the EU’s support: as their national income grows, countries transition away from international aid. However, this does not mean that national governments will be willing to fund programmes for communities they discriminate or criminalize (LGBTI, sex workers, and people who use drugs; as well as women-led organisations and youth-led movements). Continued support for groups at risk, especially those operating at the intersection of criminalisation and marginalisation, regardless of countries’ national income, is paramount.


  1. COVID-19 and gender

There is substantial evidence on the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the exacerbation of gender based-violence, a worsening of existing inequalities and discrimination, reduced resources for and access to SRH services. Many HIV prevention programmes have been shut down, and HIV testing and access to medication has been scaled down. The recommendations developed with our PITCH partners were fed into the consultation.


Learn more about Gender Transformative Approach

Gender inequality, resulting in discrimination and violence, is a root cause of the HIV epidemic worldwide. Taking a gender transformative approach will make HIV programming more effective. Access a new edition (2020) of the Big Picture now! Use this guide as your 'how-to' guide for developing a gender transformative approach in HIV programming. 

Big Picture cover Big Picture cover

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