Horizon Europe funding for transformative research project RE-WIRING

Realising Women’s Inclusion, Representation and Empowerment

The research proposal Realising Girls’ and Women’s Inclusion, Representation and Empowerment (RE-WIRING) has been awarded funding by the European Union. The aim of the project is to properly identify the structural root causes of 'gendered' (gender-blind or gender-neutral) power hierarchies in European countries and elsewhere, and – through transformative research – to ‘re-wire’ institutions in order to prevent and reverse existing gender inequalities.

RE-WIRING will use innovative ways to map out how interrelations of power and specific barriers shape gender (in)equality and exclusion within the political, social, economic and cultural spheres, and how these can be effectively changed. The groundwork for this approach has been laid within Utrecht University's interdisciplinary research network on Gender, Diversity and Global Justice. It rests on the premise that effective transformation and women’s empowerment can only come about when simultaneous action is taken on the institutional, experiential and symbolical levels. The project is a collaboration between several European universities, and one from South Africa, and will be coordinated by Utrecht University. 

The project involves extensive research in six countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Poland and the UK, and collaboration with a variety of stakeholders. The project team will carry out a survey and interventions, in addition to qualitative data collection, media discourse analysis and legal policy analysis. Relevant sectors that the research will address are Education, Media & Art, Health, Finance, and Sustainability & Innovation. The project will result in tangible policy recommendations for targeted and pragmatic programmes that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goal for the empowerment of women and girls (SDG 5).

Gender gaps

Notwithstanding the laws, policies and institutions that have in recent decades been established in the EU and Africa to enhance gender equality, statistics across the globe reveal that these efforts have not done enough to bring about real change in practice. According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap has of late significantly increased (rather than diminished) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The gender gap concerns girls’ and women’s economic participation and opportunity, education, health and survival, and political empowerment. The EU's Gender Equality Index shows a similar picture.

Two key explanations can be identified. First, the social expectations and biases that still exist about women’s capacity, aspirations and desires, including parenthood and work-life choices. Second, the lack of institutional commitment, ownership and responsibility to change this situation – still reinforced by the dominant, individual ‘fight for your right’ approach engrained in legal anti-discrimination approaches, whereas a review of gender equality litigation across the EU shows the many hurdles women face in pursuing the legal path. So, the gender gaps go hand in hand with legal implementation and enforcement gaps.

'Re-wiring' the public and private domain

To counter these gaps and to realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment in all spheres, it is therefore necessary to shift the focus to all those who bear responsibility for bringing about change at all required levels to move from being 'gendered' (gender-blind or gender-neutral) institutions to gender-sensitive and transformative ones. The focus of the RE-WIRING project will thus be on the fundamental re-thinking and re-design of existing institutional approaches and systems, to secure intrinsic change and behaviour towards transformative equality in all domains of society. The need to 're-wire' applies not only to rulemaking, implementation, monitoring and enforcement systems of equality laws and policies as such, but also to the policies and actions of all societal stakeholders, in the public and private domain.

Three levels need to be addressed, simultaneously

RE-WIRING presents a novel three-dimensional framework that builds upon the premise that effective transformation and women’s empowerment can only come about when simultaneous action is taken on the institutional, experiential and symbolical levels – see figure below. These levels can be elucidated, respectively, by the following (research) questions: What are responses to inequality and exclusion on the institutional level, including laws and policies? How do women and girls and (non-)dominant group members experience the many forms of inequality in the context of social institutions (such as the workplace, educational settings, the family) and how do they experience institutional measures aimed at correcting these inequalities? How are women and girls and (non-)dominant groups and their societal roles represented in the linguistic, narrative and visual structures that shape society?

Elements of the RE-WIRING Transformative Equality Approach

Transformative Equality Approach

An analysis along the above lines will not only advance the scientific theorisation and knowledge of the (gendered) power relations across the political, social, economic and cultural spheres, and the key underlying intersectional dynamics and causal mechanisms that shape them. By engaging relevant actors and stakeholders, it will also provide the basis for a much needed multidisciplinary Transformative Equality Approach. Key elements of this approach are:

  • To co-create and validate interventions with diverse stakeholders (such as the OECD) at several geographical and political levels, and establish a stakeholder network
  • To identify and test practical tools and innovative solutions for mainstreaming gender-transformative equality in society and institutional settings
  • To synthesise findings into tangible policy recommendations for targeted and pragmatic programmes that contribute to SDG 5 for the empowerment of women and girls

The project thus aims to ‘re-wire’ institutions, so as to dismantle the structural root causes of gendered power hierarchies, and at the same time catalyse processes of change by actively involving stakeholders in the research process, thereby generating "socially robust" knowledge which is needed for sustainable, enduring transitions towards a more equal and inclusive society.

The RE-WIRING project, funded by Horizon Europe, will be coordinated by Utrecht University, the Netherlands, with professor Linda Senden acting as project leader. The other participants are: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), University of Portsmouth Higher Education Corporation (UK), Centre for Inclusive Leadership (CFIL, the Netherlands), Universidad de la Iglesia de Deusto Entidad Religiosa (Spain), University of the Western Cape (South Africa), Uniwersytet Gdański (Poland).

This project builds on Utrecht University's interdisciplinary research into Gender, Diversity and Global Justice (part of the university-wide theme Institutions for Open Societies, IOS). The Gender, Diversity and Global Justice Platform (formerly known as the Gender and Diversity Hub) – which is currently co-o chaired by Linda Senden, Belle Derks, Rosemarie Buikema, Ruth van Veelen and Sandra Ponzanesi – has started to develop the three-dimensional (institutional, experiential and symbolical) research approach in the past years, by working from the disciplinary perspectives of law and governance, social sciences, and gender, media and culture studies.

The RE-WIRING project – including IOS Gender, Diversity & Global Justice members Birte Böök, Rosemarie Buikema, Belle Derks, Julie Fraser, Eva Midden, Linda Senden, Lorena Sosa and Ruth van Veelen – will develop this approach further, by connecting the three-dimensional approach to institutional change and nudging theories from the fields of political science, humanities, sociology and psychology. This will help to identify what is needed to bring about intrinsic change and a better practical implementation of a gender transformative approach on the ground of institutions. 

Europese Unie
Horizon Europe is funded by the European Union