In 2015, over one million migrants, including asylum seekers, came to Europe fleeing conflicts, violence, persecution, or and/or looking for better life and economic prospects. In response, the EU set up a funding mechanism, better known as the ‘Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa’ (EUTF for Africa), which was officially adopted in Valletta, in November 2015. The purpose of the fund was to address irregular migration by supporting the migrants’ countries of origin, transit and destination in Africa. Amidst this increase in migration flows, the different experiences of men and women in the migration process have come under the spotlight (Shreeves, 2016). Taking these differences in experiences and needs between men and women into consideration is important to ensure an effective response to migration.
Simultaneous to the creation of the EUTF, the EU adopted its second Action Plan to promote gender equality and women's empowerment (also known as GAP II), titled ‘Transforming the lives of girls and women through EU external relations for 2016-2020’. The most notable innovation in this Action Plan is the focus on thematic elements which have been identified as having great potential for the transformation of the lives of women and girls. The four strategic objectives of the GAP II are: (i) Ensuring girls' and women's physical and psychological integrity, (ii) promoting the social and economic rights/empowerment of girls and women, (iii) strengthening girls' and women's voice and participation, and (iv) shifting the Commission services’ and the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) institutional culture to be able to more effectively deliver on EU commitments. The Action Plan applies to all the EU’s external funding instruments, including the EUTF.
In order to get a clearer picture about the extent to which the objectives of the GAP II are reflected in the EU’s response to (irregular) migration, we analysed the EU Trust Fund for Africa - both in terms of how gender has been a thematic focus as well as the process of mainstreaming gender during the programming cycle (Cascone and Knoll, 2018). We examined 129 EUTF project documents and interviewed a selection of actors involved in the EUTF at the EU headquarters, in EU delegations, and among implementing partners. Below, we share some key reflections.