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The Flemish Green Party – do they practice gender mainstreaming?

The Flemish Green Party in Belgium is a political party which aims to be inclusive and diverse in its goals and policies. But is it as progressive as party leaders want us to think? The party already successfully practices environmental mainstreaming – is the same true for gender mainstreaming? An analysis.

The Flemish Green Party – its beginnings until now

The Flemish Green Party began in the 1970s as a social movement named Agalev which is short for “Anders gaan leven” (“Start living differently”). The main political goals were to protect the environment and raise environmental consciousness.

The logo of the Flemish Green Party

The logo of the Flemish Green Party

In 1983 the Flemish Green Party officially became a political party, and focused primarily on environmental pollution and Third World poverty at that time. In 1999 they joined the Federal and Flemish cabinet. Some of the key issues they pushed through were opting out of nuclear energy[1], legalizing same-sex marriage and enacting an anti-discrimination law. In 2003 they lost the elections and therefore developed a new strategy and relaunched their party with a different name, Groen! (Green!). They chose to be an opposition party. In 2012 the party changed its name again: Groen (Green). Their slogan became “Werkt voor iedereen” (Works for all) to highlight that the party fights for themes such as diversity and social commitment. Since 2015 their campaign slogan is “Samen beter doen” (Doing better together) and they actively use the hashtag #hetkananders (#itcanbedifferent) to underline their opposition against the current right-wing government. The Flemish Green Party regularly proposes alternatives for current government policies with an emphasis on diversity, social security and ecology.

The concept of Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a concept that was first publicly used in policies by the United Nations (UN) in 1995. It analyzes how policies will affect the lives of both women and men and advises on how to rewrite policies so that nobody feels harmed or discriminated against because of their gender.  Gender mainstreaming is incredibly useful because it does not treat women and people with a non-normative gender identity as a separate issue, but rather includes them into the decision-making and -writing process of important policies.

“In addressing the lack of adequate recognition and support for women’s contribution to conservation and management of natural resources and safeguarding the environment, Governments and other actors should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes, including, as appropriate, an analysis of the effects on women and men, respectively, before decisions are taken.”
United Nations Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, p. 105

As we can see from the UN quote above, gender mainstreaming should be present in all policies including those related to environmental issues. One should think that a party like the Green Party, with its inclusive approach, would take this advice to heart and consistently follow it. But is this really the case? I selected two publications as a study object: the party’s election program for 2014 and their positions on a range of topics as published on their website.

Gender mainstreaming of environmental issues in the Flemish Green Party

Looking at the election program, there is a separate section regarding gender present in the manifesto. The “Vision” acknowledges an important structural cause of gender inequality, namely the presence of gender stereotyping. However, it does not really address the power imbalances between women and men. Besides, the “Vision” states that gender inequality in the law nowadays is virtually non-existent. I would disagree: One example is abortion, which is still illegal and found legal only in certain circumstances. In another section of the election program, LGB and transgender people are named in the same breath. This approach is wrong – proposals to improve the lives of transgender people should be placed under the title “gender”, as there is a difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

Nature's heart beats for all, men AND women. That's why gendermainstreaming is so important

Nature’s heart beats for all, men AND women. That’s why gender mainstreaming gender is so important.
Photo credit: Tobyotter via Foter.com / CC BY

In addition to a separate section, the party program addresses gender within certain themes (e.g. “Domestic violence” under the theme “Well-being”) and separate articles within certain sections (e.g. “Closing the wage gap” under the theme “Work”). Often however, the issue of gender only seems to have been added as an afterthought, which is exactly what the concept of Gender mainstreaming seeks to avoid. One of the few examples where gender mainstreaming is actually put into practice is the section about a woman-friendly pension under the theme “Pensions”: Here the party suggests a basic pension above the poverty threshold and takes into account that women who stepped aside in their career to look after their children should get a reflective portion of the pension in the case of divorce. As for environmental issues, there only seems to be a focus on gender present in the topic “Healthy living environment”, but again no real gender mainstreaming. This is particularly disappointing, as the UN has demonstrated that climate change has a huge impact on the lives of women everywhere and while the election program of the Flemish Green Party contains a section about how to help developing countries,gender mainstreaming is nowhere to be found. .

As we can see, the Flemish Green Party still has a lot of work to do if gender mainstreaming is to be incorporated in its election manifesto. And mainstreaming is possible – this is demonstrated by the fact that environmental issues are mainstreamed throughout the program.

Position of the Flemish Green Party nowadays

Unfortunately, this observation also holds true for the positions of the Flemish Green Party on topics such as poverty, health or education, as published on its website: some kind of environmental mainstreaming is present, but no gender mainstreaming. Moreover, there is no separate section for gender, apart from one sentence within the section “diverse society”. If we look at the party positions, we see that there are separate sections addressing themes like “elderly” or “kids and youth”, but no such thing for “gender” – this makes me question whether gender is actually a priority for the party.

To conclude, it does not seem as if the Green Party really grasps the notion of gender and gender mainstreaming accurately. This is certainly true for other political parties and for the different governments in Belgium as well, however, it is specifically disappointing for a supposedly progressive party.

If the Flemish Green Party was to incorporate gender mainstreaming more effectively in its next election program, this could be seen as a strong signal towards voters that the party leadership actually understands the importance of incorporating a gender perspective. Such an approach would surely provide a more convincing message to voters looking for a more diverse and inclusive approach to politics – and, ultimately, make the party more credible.

[1] The plan was to phase out nuclear power by 2025 but the current Federal Government, after being elected, started to postpone the original deadlines.

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