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Empowering women in the developing world is crucial for greater equality between the sexes.

The EU's new action plan on gender equality will use development aid to promote its goals outside the EU. Announced on International Women's Day (8 March), the plan is intended to breathe new life into promises made at the 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing - a defining moment in the fight for women's rights. Since then, though, progress has been limited.

The new initiative is a measure of the EU\'s commitment to gender equality - both within its borders and beyond. The issue embraces equal rights, access to resources like land and education, and participation in decision-making. And as the EU is the world's biggest sponsor of gender equality, donating 60% of global development aid every year, its dedication reaches around the globe.

Aid includes funding for grassroots work to improve conditions for women in struggling countries. In Botswana, for example, the EU has contributed €370 000 to the work of Women Against Rape , a charity that campaigns for laws to protect women against abuse and prosecution of offenders.

Gender equality is also one of the millennium development goals - targets for helping the world's poorest supported by 192 countries and 23 leading development institutions.

The EU also works to raise awareness of women's rights - for instance through an annual drawing competition open to boys and girls living in other parts of the world. A panel of 50 children in the EU will pick their favourite drawings for each participating region, and every winner will receive €1 000 for their school. The children's task is to use art to illustrate two visions: gender equality, and how men and women can together make the world a better place.

The idea is that by making children aware of gender equality issues, tomorrow's adults will be ready to stand up for parity between men and women on a global scale.

Women's rights in EU external policy

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