The European Green Deal and Gender Diversity


Is the European Green Deal gender blind? How can the EU deal with the danger of a backlash on gender equality in the face of pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis? Which ways forward are there to better connect the feminist and climate movements?

Gender Diversity

Alice Kuhnke, Member of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA and Joanna Maycock, European Women’s Lobby, Brussels in a conversation with Ines Kappert, Director of the Gunda-Werner-Institut, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Berlin.

Ines Kappert: I would like to address the first question to Alice. It seems that the European Green Deal is totally gender blind. Does this come as a surprise to you?

Alice Kuhnke: It came as a surprise to me because I had hoped and I believed that Ursula von der Leyen would back up all her great statements about gender equality and the great importance of the gender perspective in making politics more inclusive.

You mentioned that Von der Leyen has always been promoting herself as one of the politicians supporting gender mainstreaming, but gender equality is also in the Treaty of Lisbon, so it’s nothing new.  Why has it been ignored?

Alice Kuhnke: There was a lot of pressure on this issue and as you said, the gender perspective is nothing new. We also have all the facts about who is vulnerable, who is poor, who needs to be in focus when doing the big transition, but I think that the conservative forces are very strong and very stubborn. To be able to take a green decision and really change the way that we are doing things, you need to be progressive. You need to make decisions that aren’t comfortable for the ones who have the power today.

Alice Bah Kuhnke

Alice Bah Kuhnke

Alice Bah Kuhnke is a member of the European Parliament from Sweden and vice-chair of the Greens/EFA party group. In the ninth legislative term, she served as a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), and as the Greens/EFA’s Coordinator in the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM).

Before she came to the European Parliament, she was Minister for Culture and Democracy in the Swedish Government. Alice has been vocal on issues related to gender equality, sexual and reproductive rights, refugee rights and poverty during her time as a politician. As a feminist, she is deeply concerned about the backlash against women’s rights happening all over the world.

Joanna, does the lack of courage from Von der Leyen and her administration mean that we are facing a new backlash on equality and feminism with the European Green Deal on the European scale?

Joanna Maycock: There’s a risk of that. It’s definitely very disappointing that there was a complete absence of any kind of gender analysis in the proposal. Not only because Von der Leyen has been very vocal about the need for equality between women and men, but also because Frans Timmermans had campaigned very clearly on a feminist platform and he’s the vice president of the EC responsible for the Green Deal.

If you look at the gender equality strategy that the Commission launched on 5 March, it’s very clear that it’s strong on gender mainstreaming, but the pieces aren’t speaking to one another. I honestly also think there’s a lack of feminist thinking and even the capacity within the Commission to understand the true meaning of gender equality. 

An opportunity has been missed. We know that women’s rights have stopped progressing for years at an EU level. 

Alice, you stated that you could see some positive signals by Helena Dalli, the Commissioner that is responsible for gender equality, when you mentioned to her the total absence of the gender perspective. What kind of positive signals could you see?

Alice Kuhnke: I was deeply disappointed that the word ‘gender’ wasn’t even part of what was presented. But when speaking to Helena Dalli, she makes clear that she understands what a gender perspective is and how you work with gender mainstreaming and so forth. But what I have come to know is that she and some of the other Commissioners are really working with the wind in their face because they don’t have support for this kind of perspective. 

On your website, you said that she was blocked and has not been allowed to join the work on the European Green Deal.

Alice Kuhnke: Yes, I think that Helena Dalli suffers from what so many people that want to work towards structural change face. They try to make equality an isolated question. But that’s not what gender mainstreaming is all about – it’s about being part of all levels and policy discussions. Referring back to what Joanna said, this is a backlash when it comes to feminist and gender perspectives.  

When we switch to the role of civil society, we can also see that the intersections of the climate change movement and the different feminist movements are not very well integrated. Does that also play a role in the absence of gender in the European Green Deal?

Joanna Maycock: When it comes to really thinking about the kind of just transition that we need and that we are hoping to be seeing in the coming years, then it needs to be green and it needs to be feminist. That means that we need have the environmental movement to think in a feminist way and for the feminist movement to think in a green way.

Joanna Maycock

Joanna Maycock

Joanna Maycock has been Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) since 2014. 

EWL represents the diversity of the women’s movement across Europe bringing an independent feminist voice and real women’s voices into the EU political arena. Founded in 1990, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest alliance of over 2,000 women’s non-governmental associations in the EU coming together to campaign for their common vision of a Feminist Europe.  

A lifelong feminist, Joanna has 20 years’ experience in leadership positions in Civil Society. 

I participated in a round table with the trade unions, with the environmental NGOs and with some human rights NGOs here in Brussels. The aim is to create a group to start reflecting on the feminist imperatives for the Green Deal, because we recognised there wasn’t a space where we could exchange our different perspectives and have a powerful voice in that context. There is more to be done, but there is a good foundation.

Before I ask you about precise next steps, I would like to add the pandemic, which has worsened the situation for already marginalised groups. Jutta Allmendinger, an important researcher in Germany when it comes to women’s rights and the labour market, recently said that we are going back thirty years now. She was picturing a gloomy future, especially concerning their integration into the labour market. Would you buy into this analysis?

Joanna Maycock: I am a hopeaholic. We often have to denounce terrible things, that’s part of our job, but I think it’s really important that we also offer a narrative of hope for the future. 

However, I do think she’s right that there is a real risk that if we do not organise and fight for a better future that we could be going backwards. We fear that with what is predicted to be a massive recession, women will be under pressure to leave jobs to care for their children, to work part time, etc. Even if you think about going into teleworking as a new norm, what does that mean for women and men, and what is the feminist perspective on boundary setting and care work?

But my point is that it’s not inevitable. So, we have to be organised to avoid women stepping back from decision-making. We have to make this a positive turning point to advance on equality between women and men.

Alice Kuhnke: I don’t think I am a hopeaholic. I am a flame fanner because I am so mad, and I am always telling people to get mad because what we are seeing right now is totally unacceptable. So, what are we waiting for? I think if we don’t get mad, the we start to accept what’s happening right now. I can’t understand that we still have to argue about gender mainstreaming in 2020.

Do we need to change the idea of saying we need more women because that means more gender equality? Von der Leyen proves that wrong, doesn’t she?

Alice Kuhnke: Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she puts political policies in place that are good for women. Experiences matter and the knowledge of being a woman could matter, but that’s not the only indicator. We also need to have some intellectual discussion about policies that are good for women with a minority background, for the LGBTI people and so on. 

What is your perspective on the German presidency of the EU Council?

Alice Kuhnke: I have so much hope. The Greens in Germany have quite a big influence, so they could put the issue on the agenda. But we also need pressure from civil society organisations, also from the environmental movement, especially the youth.

As far as I saw, the critique of gender blindness in the European Green Deal hasn’t been very prominent. 

Alice Kuhnke: There were discussions on that. I am the coordinator for the Greens in the FEMM committee, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that gender wasn’t part of what was presented. So I wrote a letter to Timmermans together with Bas Eickhout who led the work with the Green Deal from our side. If we want a fair and just transition, we need to have a gender perspective.

We certainly can agree that the Greens are the most progressive, but still not very outspoken when it comes to feminist issues. Joanna, how do you see it?

Joanna Maycock: Our members are sometimes disappointed in Green parties, especially when in power, for their lack of concrete support for feminist issues. However, there are amazing Green MEPs, many women, like Alice, who are incredible and always ready to take the fight on women’s rights for gender equality.

But I am a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more outcry for example from the Greens in the European parliament and also beyond in the member states about how can we have a Green Deal that really doesn’t reflect people’s reality and women’s rights. 

What are your tools during and beyond the pandemic to push for these issues? Is there a recommendation you want to share? Is there a political field, a strategy or a specific point where we can start? 

Alice Kuhnke: Well, first I would like to underline that we did do a lot of work from the green group, including the German Greens. When it comes to the gender perspective in the amendments in the resolution, they came from us. But we can also raise our voice, invite commissioners, write letters, connect with civil society organisations, etc.

I would like to add something about the anti-discrimination directive that has been blocked for 10 years. That is also something that I hope that the Germans will reconsider. 

Joanna, do you want to highlight what should be amongst the first steps of the German presidency from the gender point of view?

Joanna Maycock: I really like what Alice was saying. And I think we should also talk about reframing what we talk about as a cost and what we value as societies. The project of reframing is very much at the heart of our feminist economics approach. My optimist side feels that we’re closer to challenging the fundamental and patriarchal basis of the neo liberal economic model than we ever have been.

I am not anticipating the German presidency adopting a feminist economics model straight away, but there are a couple of things they can do which are absolutely doable: first, as they are going to be in charge during the MFF discussions and the recovery fund discussions, they can make and host conversations. So, absolutely nothing should be happening unless it has a very clear gender impact assessments and we ask is for a gender perspective to be adopted and to make sure that women benefit equally from the new funds in the recovery plan and to make sure that all programmes and all actions of the EU working for women. The second thing the German presidency must do is to change the precondition that the ministers for gender equality never meet. They often have informal meetings during some presidencies but most of the ministers don’t come to those meetings. So, they could host a formal meeting of gender equality ministers and propose to have a permanent council formation, it could be linked to the EPSCO council (employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs) which already discusses gender equality sometimes. And third, I would love to see the finance ministers meeting in autumn, having an entire session on gender budgeting. There needs to be some kind of process of educating our finance ministers and holding them to account for the EU’s commitments to gender budgeting.

It’s not given that the EU’s gender equality strategy that was adopted in March will be implemented. We are concerned that it will just disappear under the Covid avalanche, so we need to keep that alive. That’s also an important thing for the Germany presidency. We can’t take it for granted because some might say “We’ll get to the women’s rights thing later when we have sorted this particular crisis.” Instead, we need to understand that women are half the population and more than half of the solution.  

Alice Kuhnke: I agree with Joanna’s last words. Thank you for inviting me.

Thank you both!


The conversation took place on 26 May 2020.