Gender mainstreaming in research

Gender equality refers to the equal rights, liabilities, opportunities and responsibilities of men and women across all sectors of society (including labour market and education) according to the Estonian Gender Equality Act.1 There is no single concept of gender equality internationally: various countries as well as the central policy documents of the European Union give different explanations to this term and though most of the definitions try to stay gender-neutral, the overall tendency is focusing on women’s rights (equality in decision making and rights, gender balance on labour market, work-life balance).

Equality between men and women is a fundamental value of the European Union clearly stated in the Treaty of European Union.2 The European Union considers equality of citizens as human value as well as sees in gender equality a driver for economic growth3. The latter has been emphasised by the OECD bringing out that aging societies need to use more effectively all talents, despite the gender.4

Gender mainstreaming – strategy towards realizing gender equality and integration of gender perspective into design and implementation of policies. It means that needs, interests and experiences of both genders are considered and impact on gender-equality is pre-evaluated for planned policies ensuring that neither of both genders is put at a disadvantage.

Gender mainstreaming in research is important since diverse research groups are more successful and able to consider the needs of both genders resulting in creating better solutions for society (for example in product and service innovations, policy creation etc.). Moreover, women’s research potential is an essential resource that has been largely underused. In the EU28 the share of women among PhD graduates was 47,3% in 2012. Nevertheless, those highly skilled female professionals could not find positions in academic world equally with men. In higher education sector the share of women among Grade A positions (professors) was only 23,5% in the EU28 (same for Estonia) in 2015 and the share of women among heads of institutions was 20,1% (15,4% in Estonia) in 2014.5 For better exploitation of women’s potential in research, Horizon 2020 set three objectives to underpin gender equality: fostering gender balance in research teams, reaching the target of 40% of under-represented sex in panels and groups and of 50% in advisory groups and integrating the gender dimension in research and innovation.6

European Research Area (ERA) highlighted gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research as its fourth priority (out of six) suggesting that various national equality legislations have to be translated into effective action to address gender imbalances in research institutions and decision making bodies and improving the integration of gender dimension into research policies, programmes and projects. Within ERA, three main indicators have been selected to regularly monitore this priority: share of women in Grade A research positions (professors) and heads of institutions in the higher education sector and gender dimension in research content (based on bibliometric analysis).7

Estonian Research Council has participated and represented Estonia in various working groups at the European Union level helping to monitor the situation of women researchers and to prepare gender policy proposals for the governments at member states: Science Europe gender and diversity working group, COST TN1201 Gender STE and Helsinki Group on Gender in Research and Innovation. Estonian Research Council has also organized events on gender mainstreaming (materials are available here).


Loone Vilumaa
R&D analyst
Tel +372 730 0377


Find references 1-7 here.