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Commission delays gender guidelines

The European Commission has shelved plans to publish a recommendation and guidelines for member states to improve gender equality policies at universities and other research institutions.

The European Research Area agreement said that a recommendation would be published in 2013, but a spokesman for the Commission confirmed that this had not happened. “This is not to say that the issue was not considered important,” says the spokesman, adding that research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn would address gender in a report on the ERA later this year.

But the Commission spokesman could not confirm whether a specific recommendation on gender would be made in the future.

“I think the Commission has bigger fish to fry at the moment, which is unfortunate,” says Katrien Maes, chief policy officer at the League of European Research Universities. “It often happens this way—gender is one of these issues that, when the going gets tough, it gets pulled. But I don’t think this is a deliberate move against gender actions; a different type of cross-cutting issue could have met the same fate.” Nonetheless, it “would have been a very helpful signal to send to the member states”, as differences in national policies have a very real effect on gender equality in research institutions.

Claudine Hermann, vice-president of the European Platform of Women Scientists, agrees. She says that the prominence of gender on national agendas changes with governments and ministers, so a push from Brussels would have been helpful. “There are big differences between the member states’ policies. Of course we would have been happier if this recommendation had been issued, but hopefully it will come out in the future.”

Maes adds that there are positives to be taken from the gender policies set out in Horizon 2020, such as having a gender expert in each work programme’s advisory group. She says they are “significant improvements” on those in Framework 7.