Hurrying to add gender to EU’s next framework programme

2012-04-23 11:43

On 30 November 2011 the European Commission presented a draft of Horizon 2020, which will replace the EU’s seventh framework programme in 2014. The research shall be aimed at responding to shared societal challenges more than in the past. There will be a focus on innovation. But what is the role of gender research in all of this?

When Horizon 2020 goes into effect, the EU’s funding of research and innovation will become coordinated under one roof – instead of, as today, being split into one framework programme for research and one for competitiveness and innovation, CIP.

Minna Salminen-Karlsson is a Assistant Professor in Sociology and a member of the Swedish Research Council’s expert group on gender. She was critical of the discussion material that the European Commission presented in the spring of 2011 as part of the work to develop a new framework for research and innovation. The fact that the word gender was not even mentioned in the material is due to lack of knowledge about what it means and about how it is relevant to research, says Salminen-Karlsson.

‘Discussions about gender have generally concerned the need for more female researchers. It’s like if we can only solve that problem, everything else will fall into place. Women are looked upon partly as a resource and partly as those who add a different perspective. The women are supposed to bring in the gender perspective,’ she says.

This lack of knowledge implies that it is important that Swedish researchers, and gender researchers in particular, monitor the processes surrounding the EU’s research policy, says Salminen-Karlsson. The framework programme extends over several years, and includes yearly calls for applications.

‘Although the framework texts do state that the gender dimension shall be considered in the research, this instruction is rather vague, and it doesn’t seem to be assigned much weight when it comes to sanctions. This is due to the fact that the level of knowledge necessary to turn the requirement into specific projects is low. The gender dimension needs to be included in all calls for applications, and it is also important to monitor how it is dealt with in practice. This monitoring function hasn’t worked well. If you don’t know what gender in research means, it goes without saying that it is difficult to monitor,’ says Salminen-Karlsson.

The European Commission’s final framework programme draft presented in November clearly states an ambition to see to it that gender differences are reflected in the calls for applications and in the evaluation process, when appropriate. The Commission writes that increased female participation increases the quality of research and innovation by responding to the shortage of highly qualified researchers.

Dan Andrée is the head of the innovation agency Vinnova’s office in Brussels. He feels that the Commission’s priorities are understandable.

‘It’s easier for the Commission to increase the share of females in expert panels and assessment groups. Participation in research projects is more difficult to control – it almost has to be done at the national level.’

Research in Humanities/Social Sciences Downplayed

Salminen-Karlsson was also critical of the observation that research in the humanities and social sciences has been downplayed in the discussion material presented.

‘Our tax money is used to solve the societal challenges – a task that I don’t think is possible without the involvement of the humanities and social sciences. If you don’t believe that the technical sciences will be enough, it’s important to also include research in these areas. In addition, the EU attitude affects the national research policy. It’s a discourse that goes round and round.’

After the Commission had presented the discussion material, it received almost 900 written comments from both national and international actors within the research sector. For example, Swedish higher education institutions, with Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor as chief signee, wrote a joint response emphasising that research in the humanities and social sciences should be assigned greater importance. In the Commission’s final draft presented in November, the humanities and social sciences have been included in the new challenge-oriented and interdisciplinary approach.

Opens Up to Social Innovation

The Innovation Union – a strategy under Europe 2020 – includes formulations about social innovation. Salminen-Karlsson sees this as an opportunity to give attention to other disciplines besides technical and medical research.

‘Europe 2020 is characterised by words such as innovation, growth and entrepreneurship, so the concept of social innovation fits in well. It emphasises that the social and not just the technical sciences are needed in order to generate growth,’ she says.
However, although social innovation is included in the EU’s growth strategy, it does not hold a very prominent position.

‘And it is not linked to gender. My take on it is that it is not perceived as relevant. There is a lot of talk about abstract citizens and their behaviour. As a gender researcher, you know that that abstract citizen tends to be a man.’

Dan Andrée believes that the general emphasis on innovation puts new demands on all research areas.

‘This is especially true for the humanities and social sciences, which will disappear as separate themes. It’s going to be important to make sure that they are included in the societal challenges in the yearly calls for proposals.’

It is now up to the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers to each develop a new draft based on what the European Commission has presented. Following extensive review and revision, these drafts will eventually be used to finalise the framework programme that is scheduled to be passed in late 2013.

show more news ›