Behind the scenes: support for the development of EU gender action plans

Gender Equality

Meet the Gender Support Service team helping the Commission put womens' and girls' rights at the heart of the global recovery for a gender-equal world

The Gender Action Plan (GAP) tries to provide support to women, girls, men, and boys in all their diversity around the world, through partnerships, alliances, projects and campaigns. I have enjoyed witnessing the passage from GAP II to GAP III, and applaud the renewed and intensified focus on human rights, intersectionality and gender transformative approaches.

Margherita Zambelli, member of the EU Gender Support Service team

This month, we took time to check in with the core implementation team of one of our more interesting European Commission projects: the Gender Support Service. All four team members are experts in their respective fields and work with the Commission in its implementation of Gender Action Plans – or GAPs as they are more commonly known. NIRAS has been supporting the Commission since 2016, and this team was closely involved in the development of indicators for the third phase (GAP III), which was launched a year ago. They also  produced key thematic and methodological guidance for Commission staff and EU Member States to support GAP III implementation.

An array of experience all for a common cause

Blerina Vila leads the all-woman team who work with 20 EU delegations around the globe in setting up country gender profiles and gender sector analysis. Blerina has more than 20 years’ experience in supporting sustainable development cooperation, with a focus on gender equality, gender mainstreaming, and applying a human rights-based approach to project implementation. She’s provided policy advice, and been involved in institutional capacity building, organisational change processes and project implementation. Together with her colleagues, she leads the preparation of GAP III country-level implementation plans (CLIPs) and assessed 110 CLIPs along with over 60 Multiannual Indicative Plans that set out the priorities identified and the road ahead.     

“I enjoy working with this project because of the contribution I am bringing to advance the rights of women, gender equality and a feminist agenda in the work done by the EU. It is challenging at times but when I take time to take stock of the work done with my colleagues, I find encouragement and strength to push on. I am very happy to be able to work with my colleagues whose shared feminist values and personal strength have been valuable to me personally,” Blerina says.

The team from top left Blerina Vila, Margherita Zambelli (top right), Helen O'Connell (bottom left) and Carla Pagano.

85 %

of all new actions throughout external relations will contribute to gender equality and women's empowerment by 2025

80 %

of people displaced by the impacts of climate change are women

A gender mainstreaming specialist, Margherita Zambelli is passionate about peace and security, as well as improving the institutional culture for equality and inclusion through capacity building and knowledge management. Margherita reflects that working on GAP implementation has been a learning journey filled with both enthusiasm and joy as well as setbacks and moments of disappointment, as is often the case when you work with promoting gender equality. The project has afforded her the opportunity to deepen her knowledge on institutional structures, in and outside EU institutions, and how important negotiation processes are to ensure that gender equality becomes a high priority on the EU agenda.

Margherita emphasizes that the GAP is THE policy framework for gender equality in the EU, women’s empowerment, and women's rights in external action. She feels privileged to have been part of its implementation together with the team as well as all the individuals around the globe who have united to pursue its objectives. “GAP taught me when there is a strong passion, whether it is shared with one or thousands of other people, the commitment is found every day, as well as the joy to work for a global cause of justice and human rights.”

Fellow team member Helen O’Connell has 40 years of professional experience under her belt. Awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2010 for services in the advancement of equal opportunities, she has worked on gender equality and mainstreaming in the development cooperation sector and worked to uncover the impact of discrimination and the multiple layers of inequality that exist in society. The project has increasingly reminded Helen about how critical it is to fund feminist and women’s organisations and other civil society organisations to enable them to act collectively for rights and equality. “Their actions will ensure women and girls and men and boys, in all their diversity, can enjoy and exercise their full human rights, and seek redress when these rights are denied or abused,” she explains.  “My ambition is that the project will contribute to efforts to secure and guarantee these rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, end gender-based violence, foster quality education and decent work, close the gender digital gap, and further the green transition.” 

If we see the Gender Support Service team as modern-day Muskateers fighting on behalf of gender equality, then Carla Pagano rounds off the team perfectly with her with expertise in capacity development of public administrations on mainstreaming gender in policies and programmes of public service delivery. Carla says that gender equality and diversity have always been the spice of her personal and professional life, where she has enjoyed helping to create and better structure the wealth of knowledge on gender equality in the EU's external action. She echoes our thoughts as well as those of her fellow team members on the exceptional expertise within the team: “What I have appreciated most in this project has been working with a team of strong feminists, gender equality advocates and highly qualified professionals. This has been a source of continuous motivation and peer-to-peer learning and sharing.”

The project runs until April this year. In the remaining three months, the team will deliver an analysis of the first year of implementation of GAP III and continue to support the EC Gender Focal Persons network including through direct assistance, knowledge sharing and the dissemination of the network newsletter.  

Anastasiia Yermoshenko

Anastasiia Yermoshenko

Country Director Operations

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 588 318 01