chapter  5
14 Pages

Mainstreaming European ‘equal opportunities’

Marginalising UK training for women
WithJacky Brine

The education and training policies of the European Union (EU) are related to its central concerns of economic growth and peace, and to the construction of the regionalised bloc itself (Brine 1995a). Within the European Union there has been a long-standing relationship between training policy, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European labour market. The founding Treaty of Rome (EC 1957) provided the legal basis for the European Commission’s (EC) activities in each of the three interlinked concerns of this chapter: vocational training, the European Social Fund, and equal opportunities. This initial equality legislation, based on the demand for equal pay between women and men, was driven by the concerns of economic growth: it was to prevent member states gaining ‘unfair’ advantage by undercutting wages by paying women less. Importantly, this legislation provided the route for all subsequent equality policies and actions (Meehan 1992; Prechal and Senden 1993; Brine 1998). Of significance to this chapter is the fact that European equal opportunities was, until the mid-1990s, defined solely as gender equality, and this remained the remit of the Equal Opportunities Unit referred to below. This meant that throughout the EC’s training policy, the inequality experienced by women was addressed solely as gender inequality, and the solution to this was equally gender based: women were to be given access to that which men had. There was a general failure within the EU to understand that women also experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity, social class, age and geographical location as well as their gender. The move in the 1990s to ‘mainstream’ equal opportunities programmes implied a more sophisticated view of the complex nature of discrimination and an appropriate strategy for positive action. However, because women continued to be defined solely in relation to their gender the net effect of mainstreaming was a reduction in and dilution of training programmes for women.