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