Is gender gaining ground in the EU Trust Fund for Africa?

by Noemi Cascone and Anna Knoll

© ecdpm 2017

Noemi Cascone is a Junior Policy Officer in the Migration team of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). Noemi assists in the formulation of policy and strategic advice and conducts research on the interaction between migration, displacement and development processes. She focuses on the external and development dimension of the EU’s migration and development policies as well as African narratives, policies and processes on migration.


© ecdpm 2017

Anna Knoll leads ECDPM’s portfolio on migration as Head of the Migration Programme. Anna’s interests and expertise lie in the field of migration in international cooperation between Africa and Europe. Anna coordinates and leads ECDPM’s work on migration and has responsibility for developing analytical content relating to above areas, supervision, strategic leadership, fundraising and external representation on the topic of migration.

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.


© WFP/Mohamed Abdallah

Changing the institutional culture shift on gender in the EU

Our findings show some promising results, although challenges remain in implementing the GAP in the EUTF. While there are many dedicated individuals who promote the GAP II, the implementation of the EU’s ambitious gender objectives in external action is a long-term and ongoing task. We found that there is a growing awareness of gender issues among EU staff at various levels. We also found examples of strengthened leadership on gender equality issues, leading to several initiatives facilitating the institutional culture shift. However, an important emphasis needs to be on staff gaining a better understanding and capacity to operationalise a deeper shift in the institutional culture.

Framing gender aspects of migration in the EUTF

Gender-related vulnerability of migrants plays an important role in defining the focus of the EUTF projects in relation to women or men. Only a handful of the EUTF projects we studied clearly addressed gender inequalities by involving both genders and challenging existing gender power relations. For instance, by disregarding the potential contribution of men to those responsibilities that are traditionally associated with women, some projects seem to allow gender stereotypes and inequalities to prevail. The nature of the EUTF, as a tool for short to mid-term emergency responses, appears to be limited in its ability to address deeply rooted gender issues and long-term gender power dynamics. Gender issues in EUTF projects are often synonym to vulnerability of women and youth. Yet, EUTF projects also go beyond the perception of women as the vulnerable gender. We found that some EUTF projects frame gender engagement as a means to achieve migration-related objectives. For example, in some projects, women are identified as actors in migration processes. In some contexts, it is common for women to encourage their children and/or male partner to migrate, usually irregularly, in order to send remittances back home. Some projects therefore target women as a way to prevent and address outward migration. While this approach may be an effective way of reaching EUTF goals, it also risks targeting female human capital in order to achieve migration-reduction objectives rather than empowering women’s economic power per se. While this can help to reach the objectives set forth by the GAP II objectives, it should be ensured that gendered approaches are integrated into all contexts, and not only in those where migration management objectives can be served.


© WFP/Mohamed Abdallah

Factors influencing how gender aspects are integrated into the EUTF

The incorporation of gender and women’s empowerment strategies in EUTF programming is influenced by a number of challenges and opportunities. For instance, we found that EUTF programme managers in EU delegations (the EU body in charge of the coordination of the EUTF projects) hold a key role in the quality of the gender strategy, since they are responsible for incorporating the approach in the ‘framing’ of EUTF projects. Our findings also show that programme managers need to find a balance between the swiftness in response associated with the ‘emergency’ nature of the EUTF, and the quality of its response to gender issues. Additionally, the leadership of senior managers in EU delegations is central to setting the tone and creating a gender-sensitive working culture, and prioritising gender issues in the activities of the delegations.
Reaching gender-related objectives in EUTF projects relies strongly on the contracted implementing partners (such as EU member states’ development and technical cooperation agencies, civil society organisations, and international organisations) and their internal strategies, monitoring systems and procedures. However, gender expertise is not key when selecting implementing partners (IPs). Irregular communication of the priorities of the GAP II between the EU and the IPs, coupled with a lack of guidance (which EU staff themselves may not be able to provide), can then result in gender issues not being given systematic priority throughout the implementation of EUTF projects.

Way forward

While there are some good practices and ideas, and efforts towards achieving gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment are ongoing, the EU will need to continue with a consistent and long-term approach towards gender that shows engagement and commitment at all staff levels. Being flexible to learn lessons and build on good practices is part of this approach. On this path, the planned mid-term evaluation of the EUTF for Africa can help provide further insights into how gender commitments have been put into practice in the context of addressing migration. The lessons highlighted in ECDPM Discussion Paper (Cascone & Knoll, 2018) paper apply not only to the EUTF but may also be relevant for advancing gender equality in the EU’s more general programming (13 December 2018).

Further reading

European Parliament (2016) Briefing. Gender Aspects of Migration and Asylum in the EU: an Overview, March 2016. 

Debusscher, P. (2011) Mainstreaming gender in European commission development policy: conservative Europeanness? In: Women's Studies International Forum, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 39-49, Pergamon.

Concord Europe (2018a) Partnership or Conditionality? Monitoring the Migration Compacts and EU Trust Fund for Africa, Brussels.

Concord Europe (2018b) EU Gender Action Plan II From Implementation to Impact: Transforming Lives? 19 September 2018, Brussels.

Care and Promundo (2017) Men and boys in displacement. Assistance and protection challenges for unaccompanied boys and men in refugee contexts.

European Commission (2015) Joint Staff Working Document. Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020, SWD(2015) 182 final.

Shreeves, R. (2016) Gender aspects of migration and asylum in the EU: An overview, Briefing March 2016, European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), PE 579.072.