Experiences of the EuroFem – Gender and Human Settlements Network

Liisa Horelli, PhD, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland.

European women interested in planning and development issues had the opportunity to meet one another in several international conferences during the first half of the 90s. Not only NGOs, like the Dutch women´s organisations supported by the European Commission (cf. Ottes et al. 1995) but also the Council of Europe (1990 and 1994) and the OECD (1995) organised events to discuss “the challenges facing European society with the approach of the year 2000” and the role of women in the city. These international meetings led to the founding of the EuroFEM – Gender and Human Settlements network, in 1994. It has been supported both by the European Commission and the Finnish Ministry of the Environment. The network held its first international conference in Hämeenlinna, Finland, in June 1998 ( The event gathered 300 grassroots, women entrepreneurs, researchers, administrators, and politicians from all over the world.

Although the participants came from diverse backgrounds and cultures, women seemed to share a common interest, namely the yearning for supportive networks and innovative solutions in their neighbourhood. These would enable them to care for their families and to get involved in employment and community related activities. Another shared characteristics was the willingness to participate in the development processes of their communities. Their interests could be defined as the collaborative creation of an ´infrastructure for everyday life`. Women´s focus on the development of the content and the mode of implementation in environmental planning can be seen as part of a larger European transformation process in which economic, social and political structures are being shaped in a new way changing both the relations between and within the sexes.

The aim of this presentation is to display the results and impact of the network as well as to discuss the future challenges.


EuroFEM received funding under the EU`s Fourth Action framework of equal opportunities for Women and Men, 1996-2000, to evaluate some 60 projects covering all EU countries. It allowed to elaborate the concept of infrastructure of everyday life, as well as to analyse the approaches and methods in which women have been mainstreaming planning.

Many of the pioneers of EuroFEM came from the Nordic countries. They had criticised severely the spatial separations of everyday activities in a decade long project, called the New Everyday Life (Horelli and Vepsä, 1994). The latter did not only comprise a critique of present conditions but also a vision of a harmonious, creative and just society. The central motives of action would be children´s and women´s needs, as well as the social reproduction of all people and nature. This yearning for personal and collective wholeness and integration was inspired, not only by the early utopians and American material feminists (Kanter, 1972; Hayden, 1982), but also by the critical texts of Gortz (1980) and Lefebvre (1971).

The central concept in the Nordic approach was the creation of the so called intermediary level between the private households and the public and commercial world of enterprizes. The intermediary level is a new structure in the neighbourhoods comprising environmentally friendly housing, services, employment, and other activities which support the residents, irrespective of age and gender (Horelli and Vepsä, 1994).

The scope of the EuroFEM network comprised in its first phase clusters of projects dealing with four major themes around the infrastructure of everyday life (cf. Figure 1; Booth and Gilroy, 1998). They were gender sensitive planning and development, job creation and local initiatives, models of involvement, and the reorganising everyday life around housing. These thematic clusters, in addition to other projects which joined the network later on, contributed to the objectives of the EU Fourth Action framework for promoting equal opportunities. The latter comprised mainstreaming all policies, promoting equal opportunities in labour market and education, promoting gender balance indecision making, and reconciliation between family and work (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The scope of EuroFEM: thematic clusters of projects around the shared purpose of creating a supportive infrastructure for everyday life, contributing to the EU objectives of equal opportunities.

The original model of infrastructure for everyday life was gradually expanded not only in terms of scope, but also in that of stretching from local settings to regional, national and even transnational levels (Gilroy & Booth, 1999). The negative effects of globalisation, which are reflected all over the world in the constraints preventing effective social reproduction (Yun, 2000), raised new issues around “glocalisation”. How can women master locally the tensions brought forth by globalisation, became one of the central questions.

A new visionary “model” for gender mainstreaming local and regional development was created (Figure 2; Horelli et al. 2000). The idea behind the model is that the creation of a range of varying supportive structures (intermediary levels, women´s resource centres), within inclusive collaborative planning and governance, will assist in achieving equality of roles and access to resources. The latter might be conducive to social, economic and ecological development benefiting both women and men, young and old, and the environment. Thus, the concept of equality is expanded to include age, social class and ethnicity.

The vision will be implemented by adopting various mainstreaming methods, which have an impact on the individual, interpersonal, structural and symbolic levels. However, as women are often criticised of remaining in small circles, the model urges women to seek critical friends even among global actors and to engender global institutions as well, such as the EU and WTO. Ideally, in the long run, the structural change and transformative glocal activities might enhance sustainable and fair order of the world.

Figure 2. The visionary model for mainstreaming gender and intergenerational equality into local and regional development.


A holistic and even idealist vision can only be carried out with participatory democracy – big and small. Only few of the EuroFEM actors have had a clear mandate – political or administrative – to engender planning and development. Consequently, women have had to seek other ways to deal with the lack of “juridical” power (power as a right or a commodity). They seem to have been aware of the microphysics of power, which circulates in the form of a chain or resides in the multiple interconnections of networks without precise location (Foucault, 1976; Haraway, 1991). The successful response of women in this “formally powerless” situation has been characterised by the following strategies (cf. Booth and Gilroy, 1998,41):

  1. adoption of a multidimensional, holistic approach, meaning that the project leaders operate simultaneously on the levels of agenda setting, policy discourse, and organisational structures,
  2. sensitivity to the cultural, social and political context in which women deal with top-down and bottom-up actors simultaneously. Seizing the moment – carpe diem – is part of this sensitivity not only in terms of the Italian speciality of time planning, but also as appropriate timing of events and interventions,
  3. re-conceptualising agendas to provide opportunities of entrance into the mainstream, for example in environmental and mobility issues,
  4. balancing the product and process, for instance in conducting health and safety audits among ethnic women,
  5. building a broad base of support, consisting of interest groups from different fields and levels of society, formal and informal,
  6. creating effective and appropriate organisational structures and cultures through sharing openly the core values and trying to build forms of organisations that enhance the interior and exterior functioning of the project,
  7. adoption of innovative methodology, including imaginative ways of working with analytic, visionary and process tools,
  8. reflecting role, meaning that project leaders analyse, how they perceive themselves and how they are seen by others in the organisation and outside.

Central to this process of humanizing settlements has been the capacity building of those groups, who were willing to get involved. The EuroFEM Toolkit (Horelli at al. 1998; 2000; Gilroy & Booth, 2000), which is a collection of methods and stories taken from women´s projects across Europe, from southern as well as northern contexts, is a major resource pack for capacity building in collaborative planning and development (Healey, 1997).

The Toolkit demonstrated that women´s participation has taken place through the various stages of the development cycle by anchoring the project, getting organised, byimplementing and evaluating the process and results. Women have adopted a vast array of methods and techniques to run and assess their projects. Worth mentioning are the innovative enabling tools, which allow the participants to make a diagnosis of the context, to dream their visions, to conceptualise the process, and to invite political acceptance.


The results of the EuroFEM-network and its projects have been both material (co-housing examples in Sweden), ecological, (environmental protection in the Netherlands), economic (job creation within women´s resource centres in Finland, Sweden and Italy), social (residential services in the UK, the Northern Feminist University in Norway), psychological (programmes for supporting ones self-esteem and confidence), organisational (new networking organisations), and methodological. The results have not been trivial, but they have remained fragmented.

Perhaps the most significant impact of EuroFEM has been in the field of policy.

The major policies of the European Union, in terms of resources, are the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural and Cohesion Policies conducted through the Structural Funds. They account for more than 80% of the EU budget. The principle of Equal opportunities between women and men has been recognised in the application of the Structural Funds, since 1994. Two years later, the European Commission (1996) adopted officially gender mainstreaming as one of its strategies of promoting equality. Mainstreaming is currently being defined as the “(re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies, at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making” (Council of Europe,1998,15).

Members of the EuroFEM-network collaborated with the gatekeeper women and critical friends in the Commission, especially the former Commissioner Monica Wulf-Mathies. This resulted in the mainstreaming of structural policy, in the following ways:

The Commission ordered studies on ERDF (European Regional and Development Funds) interventions from a gender perspective in Finland, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. This allowed to apply an analytic methodology in the assessment of the state of the art of regional policy in the chosen countries. The method comprised an analysis of the different roles of women and men, their asymmetrical access to and control of resources, and their varying practical and strategic gender interests (Levy, 1996; Horelli, 1997). The results indicated that the role of women in the different phases of decision-making and implementation of structural fund interventions had been limited and that the programmes were mostly gender neutral or in fact gender blind. Nevertheless, the Structural Funds did have a positive effect on women´s possibilities to participate in local and regional development (Helander, 1998).

The Commission organised four mainstreaming conferences on structural policy, in Brussels (1996), in Chia Laguna, Sardinia (1997), in Hämeenlinna (1998), and in Viana do Castello, Portugal (1998). These conferences were, besides networking and consciousness raising events, also collective capacity building processes in which know-how on programming, implementation and evaluation from the gender perspective was created and disseminated. For example, new models for programming and evaluating regional development, based on holistic economics, were presented and discussed (cf. Horelli et al. 1999).

A special theme of Equal Opportunities was inserted in the EU RECITE II and Ecos Ouverture Innovative Pilot Programmes, funded under Article 10. This resulted in the creation of almost 30 women´s resource centres all over Europe, which are being networked and clustered according to both geographical areas and functional themes, such as tourism, promotion of women´s enterprises, protection of cultural heritage etc. The endeavour has had a tremendous mobilising effect, at least in the remote region of North Karelia, along the Finnish border to Russia as well as in the Italian regions of Lombardia and Sicilia.

The new General Regulations on the Structural Funds for the period 2000-2006 contain substantially new features on the mainstreaming of equality. The key provisions on equal opportunities in the regulations comprise the obligation to eliminate inequalities and to promote equality between men and women. They assure that partnerships covering the preparation, financing, monitoring and evaluation will be strengthened in terms of equality. They also require the provision of monitoring indicators that are gender relevant and broken down by sex (European Commission, 2000). The General Regulations and the explanatory technical documents seem to have had at least some impact on the partnership formation and the content of the structural fund programmes, which will later on affect the processes of regional development in several European countries.


The analysis of the “history” of a European women´s movement interested in the collaborative creation of supportive structures for everyday life reveals, how gender mainstreaming means the expansion of and re-conceptualising of both the process and substance of planning and development. Central to this endeavour are the demands for an ethical stance in the praxis of planning and the efforts to tame power relations by adopting a holistic, multilevel approach. The latter means, however, not only the involvement of women, but also that of men in the transforming of societal structures. Last but not least, the lessons from EuroFEM disclose that the capacity building of diverse actors, from the bottom to the top, in gender-sensitive concepts and methods, is a requisite for successful mainstreaming.

The future challenges are both theoretical, practical and political. More theoretical work is required to connect the concepts and approaches around gendered planning processes and infrastructure of everyday life to the theories on regional innovation systems and learning regions in which “social capital is the missing ingredient” (Cooke et al, 2000).

The practical challenge deals with the nature and opportunities of NGO networks, like EuroFEM, whose potential impact is dependent on the access to resources. No network can function only on voluntary basis. Currently, EuroFEM lies in a latent Cinderella-like phase. It waits to liase with a “beau” or bella in the form of a more established network, resource centre or institution, which would be interested in joining the forces to humanise settlements. Maybe the partnership can take place under the EU Fifth Action framework of equal opportunities.

Nevertheless, the most urgent challenge concerns the implementation of many supportive examples in a variety of contexts. These might make the decision makers realise that the hard and soft infrastructure are two sides of the same coin – that of a viable and exciting everyday life.


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