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EU Foreign Policy and how it can empower girls and women as key drivers of change

10 July 2020
The European Parliament’s Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM Committee) will adopt a report on Gender Equality in EU’s foreign and security policy on July 16. The report, which will be voted in Plenary in September, calls for the systematic integration of gender equality in the EU’s external policies. Plan International welcomes the report as an opportunity to reinforce the EU Women, Peace and Security Action Plan adopted in 2019, and to influence the EU’s Gender Action Plan III (2021-2025) that will play a central role in delivering the vision set in the report. Plan International calls on the report to recognise and empower girls and women in all their diversity as key drivers of change.

The report of the FEMM Committee comes at a critical moment: not only is it marking the 20th anniversary of UNSCR1325 setting forth the Women, Peace and security agenda, and is it coinciding with the drafting of Gender Action Plan III (2021-2025), it is also arising in a specific context. The disproportionate and unique impact of crises and conflicts on girls and young women is exacerbated by the global COVID-19 crisis and its longer-term consequences. Girls globally have told Plan International that the crisis has impacted their access to education and health care, particularly menstrual hygiene, and their responsibilities in the household and livelihoods[1]. The current context is revealing that a shift of mindset in the EU’s external action is needed to adequately overcome inequalities. Mainstreaming gender equality is instrumental to operating that shift and to delivering the vision of an EU’s foreign and security policy that is fit for everybody, and that truly leaves no one behind.

Putting gender equality at the centre of EU’s foreign and security policy

A foreign policy that mainstreams gender equality is first and foremost about operating a shift towards human security by putting people at the centre[2]. To do so, addressing unequal power relations and adopting an intersectional perspective are paramount.

While in the Women, Peace and Security agenda and in the EU’s foreign and security policy the dominant narrative on gender is often understood as “women”, Plan International wants to reaffirm the necessity to consider intersecting identities and that “women” are not one homogenous group. In particular, we call for the recognition of “girls” as a distinct category as they face double discrimination due to their age and gender. Girls are widely marginalised in conflict and recovery processes, as they are commonly considered as victims rather than as active agents. Conflict resolution and recovery processes that do not take into consideration the voices of the most impacted will undoubtedly fail to yield a positive and long-lasting outcome.

Our asks to the EU


Adopting a life cycle approach
Girls, adolescent girls and young women are made invisible when they are seen as part of wider groups such as “women” and “youth.” The report is an opportunity to address the blindspot of the EU Women, Peace and Security Action Plan which fails to recognise the different stages of a woman’s life and the specific needs and challenges attached to each of them. Girls face heightened risks to sexual violence, forced child marriage, early pregnancy or sexual exploitation, and lack access to education and to sexual and reproductive health services[3]. This is particularly the case for unaccompanied girls in camps.

Recognising girls and young women as key drivers of change in conflict resolution and recovery
As girls bear the biggest burden to conflicts and crises and are the ones who are experts in their own lives, it is essential to build their agency and to support their safe, meaningful and inclusive participation in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and recovery. Girls and young women want to contribute to peaceful and sustainable futures and to have their voices heard, however they face specific obstacles to their participation such as time poverty[4]. Plan International calls on the EU to strengthen its engagement to promote the participation of girls and young women from local to national levels of decision-making, as well as to support youth-led organisations.

Renewing commitment to tackling sexual gender-based violence and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services
Plan International calls on the EU to renew its commitment to tackling sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and to providing access to sexual and reproductive health services, and to make it a priority in its humanitarian operations. Empowering girls and women in conflicts and crises cannot be achieved without ensuring first that they are protected against any form of harm and have access to adequate and quality reproductive health services. In particular, we call for adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services, for psychosocial care for victims of SGBV, and for the prevention of SGBV by involving boys and men in the discussion.  

Calling for ambitious funding targets to deliver the EU’s commitments on gender equality 
To deliver the vision set in the report and the commitments of the European Union on mainstreaming gender equality, it has to be matched with an ambitious level of resources backing up its implementation. Plan International strongly supports the request to specify in Gender Action Plan III that 85% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) go to programmes which have gender equality as a significant or principal objective, and that within this broader commitment 20% go to programmes which have gender equality as a principal objective. This is essential to ensure that appropriate funding is allocated to EU external action initiatives that have gender equality at their core and not just as an add-on.