OSAGI Home Gender Mainstreaming Focal Point

Regional Symposium on Gender Mainstreaming 
in the Asia-Pacific RegionESCAP, 
Bangkok, 10-13 December 2001

Overview on Gender Mainstreaming 

Carolyn Hannan 
Director, Division for the Advancement of Women
United Nations, New York


The strong focus on the advancement of women and gender equality through the United Nations over the past three decades has led to increased international recognition that there are important gender perspectives in relation the overall goals of development, such as poverty eradication, human rights, good governance, environmentally sustainable development and peace and security. As a result of this understanding, the 189 Member States attending the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 endorsed gender mainstreaming as a key strategy for promoting equality between women and men. The United Nations and other international organizations were called upon to implement the strategy in their own work and support the efforts of Member States.  

Governments and the United Nations made commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) to implement gender mainstreaming, that is, to consider the realities of women and men and the potential impact of planned activities on women and men, before any decisions on goals, strategies, actions and resource allocations are made.  

Clarity on certain aspects of gender mainstreaming . 

There is today considerable clarity on certain important aspects of gender mainstreaming. We know, for example, that there are very strong and explicit intergovernmental mandates. We can point to the Beijing Platform for Action from 1995, the ECOSOC agreed conclusions of 1997, the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly to follow up the Platform for Action in 2000, and even more recently in the ECOSOC resolution 2001/41, which calls for attention to gender perspectives in the work of ECOSOC and all its functional commissions, as well as in the integrated and coordinated follow-up to global conferences. In addition to these more generic mandates for gender mainstreaming, there are also very specific recommendations for all areas of the work of the United Nations, including the areas which this symposium will be focusing on - such as poverty eradication and national budget processes. The recent Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security is one good example of a very specific intergovernmental mandate on gender mainstreaming

We understand that gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself, but a means, an approach, a strategy for achieving gender equality. There is also increased awareness that bringing gender perspectives to the centre of attention not only supports the promotion of gender equality but also contributes effectively to the achievement of other development goals. It has been clear for decades that women in many parts of the world make key contributions in areas of development such as agriculture and water resources management. Neglecting women in these areas often led to less than optimal effects of development inputs, and at worst negative impacts. Development goals will not be met unless the needs and priorities of all stakeholders are identified and addressed. Even in areas, where gender perspectives were normally considered irrelevant, such as trade and macroeconomics, it is increasingly recognized that sound development must be based on a clear assessment of the contributions of women as well as men, and the potential impact of planned interventions on both women and men and on their productivity. There has been a steady accumulation of evidence that gender differences and inequalities, directly and indirectly, affect the impact of development policies and strategies and hence the achievement of overall development goals.

Some warnings have, however, been raised about the risks of using gender mainstreaming simply as a strategy to achieve other goals, while neglecting the promotion of gender equality itself. Gender equality is a development goal in its own right. Gender mainstreaming must be seen as a process for promoting equality between women and men, which in turn can facilitate the achievement of other developmental goals, including economic goals.

Gender mainstreaming is not simply about integrating or including women in development agendas already decided upon by others. Gender mainstreaming involves a transformative process. It can reveal a need for changes in goals, strategies and actions to ensure that both women and men can influence, participate in and benefit from development processes. This can require changes in organizations - structures, procedures and cultures - to create organizational environments which are conducive to the promotion of gender equality.

We also know that while representation of women is an essential element in gender mainstreaming, increasing the numbers of women is not enough. The mainstream agenda can only be transformed when the perspectives of both women and men inform the design, implementation and outcomes of policies and programmes. This requires analysing the gender perspectives in each and every area of development. It further requires examining the institutional mechanisms through which development is done.

While we recognize today that gender mainstreaming is a critical strategy for gender equality, at the same time we acknowledge that gender mainstreaming does not eliminate the need for targeted activities to promote the advancement of women and gender equality. Such women- or gender-specific activities are still required to address serious gaps which must be urgently tackled; to support women's empowerment and develop women's leadership capacities; and to test ideas and approaches which may then be applied to the mainstream development process.

Similarly, it is also very clear today that gender mainstreaming does not do away with the need for gender experts. On the contrary, improving the implementation of gender mainstreaming at national level by Member States, and within the United Nations, over the coming decade will require the strategic inputs of such experts, working in a catalytic manner to deepen the awareness, knowledge, commitment and capacity of all professional staff. Additional, not fewer, resources will be required to support the important work of gender specialists and gender focal points.

Some key misconceptions

Two important and pervasive misconceptions of gender mainstreaming need to be dealt with here. Firstly, gender mainstreaming is not about gender balance within organizations, although this is an important element of overall efforts to promote gender equality. Every organization must have a dual strategy - efforts to promote gender equality within the organization itself, combined with efforts to promote attention to gender perspectives within the work of the organization. Gender mainstreaming is focused on the work programmes of organizations - the goals, strategies, resource allocations and planning and implementation processes.

Secondly, separate specially targeted activities for women are not gender mainstreaming activities but a necessary complement to gender mainstreaming. As the term `mainstreaming' implies, gender mainstreaming means bringing gender perspectives into regular "mainstream" activities - research, analyses, policies, programmes, etc. - which are not specifically targeted to women. Gender mainstreaming is the strategy utilized in programmes where the principal objectives are related to other development goals than gender equality - such as improvements in health status, greater agricultural productivity, improved transport, more efficient energy consumption, etc. Gender mainstreaming involves linking the goal of gender equality to these other development goals, in the context of "mainstream" development policies and programmes.

Implementation of gender mainstreaming

Although gender mainstreaming is now well established as a global strategy for promoting gender equality, we still have considerable work to do before gender perspectives are routinely incorporated into all areas of development. While it is relatively easy to secure agreement that gender mainstreaming is an important strategy, implementation of the strategy has proven more difficult than originally anticipated. Implementing gender mainstreaming can require significant changes in how business is done. Trying to bring the realities of both women and men - their contributions, perspectives, needs and priorities - to bear on data collection, analyses, policy development, planning, implementation and monitoring in all areas of development, requires specific knowledge and capacity. There can be a need for changes in awareness (and in some cases even in terms of attitudes), in knowledge on gender issues and in methods and approaches. Ability to work with gender mainstreaming should be regarded as a professional competence required of all staff.

Two key obstacles are a lack of real understanding of what gender mainstreaming actually means and the fact that the practical implications of gender mainstreaming are not fully understood in many areas of development, for example, in economics or in more technical areas.

An authoritative definition of gender mainstreaming is contained in the ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2:

"Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality."

Gender mainstreaming involves bringing relevant gender perspectives to the centre of attention in substantive work - both in more socially-oriented sectors or issues such as health, education, agriculture where the gender perspectives are relatively well understood and accepted, and in sectors and issues where the linkages to gender equality are less well recognized, such as economics, energy, transport, disarmament, etc. Gender mainstreaming further involves ensuring that these gender perspectives, once identified, are incorporated into the many different types of activities through which development objectives are achieved. This requires explicit, systematic attention to gender perspectives in all types of activities.

Practical steps to be taken

An important starting point in the implementation of gender mainstreaming is ensuring that the initial definitions of issues/problems across all areas of activity are done in a manner which allows for the identification of gender differences and disparities. Assumptions that issues/problems are neutral from a gender equality perspective should never be made - gender analysis should always be carried out, separately or as part of existing analyses. All analytical reports and recommendations on policy or operational issues should take gender differences and disparities fully into account. Plans and budgets should be prepared in such a manner that gender perspectives and gender equality issues are made explicit and can be specifically addressed.

The first step required is an assessment of the linkages between gender equality and the issue or sector being worked on, that is, to identify the gender implications of, for example, poverty elimination, good governance, enterprise development, and peace and security issues. This involves understanding why promotion of gender equality is important from a human rights/social justice perspective, as well as for achievement of other development goals.

  • The lack of implementation of gender mainstreaming in many areas can often be directly related to the fact that relevant gender perspectives have not been identified. Important questions about the linkages between gender and different sector areas or development issues need to be raised. For example:

  • What are the differential impacts of trade development on women and men?

  • Are the existing contributions of women as well as men taken into account in development of peace processes?

  • What potential contributions could women make to disarmament processes, if given a little more support?

Gender mainstreaming cannot be achieved unless such questions are raised and the full implications of the roles, responsibilities, contributions, priorities and needs of women as well as men are taken into consideration in all areas.

Secondly, once these gender perspectives have been identified in different areas of development, the opportunities and entry-points for addressing these in the regular processes and procedures should be identified.

Thirdly an approach or methodology has to be identified for successfully incorporating gender perspectives into these work-tasks in a manner which facilitates influencing goals, strategies, resource allocation and outcomes. Different strategies will be required for different types of activities, such as research and data collection, policy development, planning and implementation of programmes, training, etc These can include the systematic use of gender analysis, sex-disaggregation of data, and commissioning of sector-specific gender studies and surveys if necessary. Efforts to ensure equal representation of women are also important elements.

Institutional development

Institutional development, in terms of clarifying roles and responsibilities, establishing accountability mechanisms, developing guidelines, utilizing gender specialists, providing competence development for all personnel, etc., is also required to support gender mainstreaming. Overall responsibility for implementing the mainstreaming strategy should rest at the highest levels within Governments and other organizations. Management levels should be responsible for developing accountability mechanisms to monitor progress with mainstreaming. One means of ensuring accountability is to establish clear indicators of progress which can be monitored over time by management.

Assessing progress in gender mainstreaming

To monitor progress in implementation of gender mainstreaming within an organization it is necessary to look at:

a) the institutional environment - including structures, cultures, procedures and processes;

b) the explicit attention to gender perspectives in the work programme - in all areas of the work of the organization;

c) the extent to which progress is monitored and evaluated, through both regular and special processes, especially in relation to how the work of the organization impacts on the situation of women and men on the ground.

Some key elements which must be present in a conducive institutional environment include:

  • Explicit elaboration of goals, strategies and expected outcomes in a policy statement. 

  • Explicit management commitment - promoting, demanding and monitoring attention to gender equality issues in the work programme.

  • Common understanding among staff on what the organization should be seeking to achieve with respect to gender equality issues - the overall goals.

  • Adequate understanding among staff, in relation to their specific areas of work, of:
    the relevant gender perspectives - how and why gender is a factor which should be taken into account at policy and programme levels; the potential entry-points in the work programme - where and how gender perspectives can be given attention; and the methods required to address the gender perspectives identified.

  • Perception of work with gender equality issues as a professional responsibility shared by all staff, and the knowledge and capacity required to address gender equality issues is seen as a professional competence in the organization.

  • Inclusion of gender perspectives in guidelines, manuals and management instructions which guide the work of professional staff.

  • Adequate access to information resources and contacts (specialists), both within and outside the organization, needed to work effectively with gender equality issues - knowing where to go for support. 

  • Explicit attention to the need to incorporate gender perspectives in work programmes in all job descriptions for staff and long-term consultants.

Elements required in relation to the work programme include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Gender perspectives are taken into account in project planning processes, including problem identification, data collection and consultation exercises as well as implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

  • Efforts are made to increase the participation of women, alongside men, in decision-making processes.

  • Statistics are sex-disaggregated and efforts are made to ensure that data collected covers all issues of relevance from a gender perspective.

  • Gender perspectives are raised in meetings, seminars and training.

  • Reports and publications incorporate gender perspectives as relevant.

  • There is explicit reference in the Terms of Reference for all projects and consultant assignments to the need to incorporate gender perspectives in the work.

Critical elements in relation to monitoring and evaluation include the development and application of indicators of progress on gender mainstreaming, including indicators to measure the extent to which all the efforts of the organization are contributing towards greater equality between women and men.


In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that implementing the mainstreaming strategy at national level by Member States, and within the United Nations system, is one of the most important means to further the advancement of women and promote gender equality throughout the world. Gender mainstreaming should be promoted both because it is a matter of equality and human rights and because it provides an important means of ensuring that development goals are achieved in an effective, sustainable and people-centred manner. Leaving out 50% of the population - ignoring their contributions and neglecting their needs - can never be considered an effective strategy for sustainable development in any area.

Thank You.  


Focal Point for Women.

Gender Mainstreaming IANWGE Contact
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
United Nations, Two United Nations Plaza,
44th St. 12th Floor, NY ,NY 10017
URL: http://www.un.org/osagi