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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

The Strategic Use of the Subsidiarity Argument in Battles around Gender Equality

Contentious Politics
European Parliament
Petra Ahrens
Tampere University
Petra Ahrens
Tampere University
Anna Van Der Vleuten
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

Gender equality and intersectionality have become a new battleground in supranational European Union politics. So-called anti-feminists and anti-gender activists attack gender equality policies and gender studies with the objective of re-installing essentializing and naturalizing ideas of gender roles, sexual identities, and gender identities. The role of the EU in steering social progress and barring gender inequalities is continuously contested, as are actors promoting gender equality. Likewise, the system of multi-level-governance and the norm of subsidiarity shapes which gender equality policies are decided where, with the supranational institutions given an important yet not sole responsibility.

In this paper, we examine recent debates in the EU on gender studies and complex gender equality questions and ask how the norm of subsidiarity shapes debates and decisions. More specifically, we investigate the supranational debates around the elimination of gender studies in Hungary and various attempts in other member states to cut funding, support and academic recognition for gender studies. We take the European Parliament as one major arena and analyse recent committee debates of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) and how actors pull the subsidiarity card in a discursive move to avoid effective actions against actors attacking gender equality on member state level. We also explore, which (if any) role gender equality plays in EP discussions on triggering article 7 for breach of rule of law by Poland and Hungary.
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