Inter-Agency Meeting on Women
and Gender Equality
Workshop on Approaches and methodologies for gender mainstreaming
New York, 1 March 2001
Methods and tools development
to promote gender mainstreaming:
Experiences from the United Nations Secretariat
Principal Officer for Gender Mainstreaming
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement
The Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement
of Women is mandated to support gender mainstreaming efforts in
the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Offices in
Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, and the regional commissions. OSAGI
works in a catalytic manner, assisting managers and professional
staff understand and give more attention to the gender perspectives
in their work. This presentation largely focuses on the Secretariat,
although some of the conclusions also apply to the three regional
commissions which have been visited by OSAGI in the past 18 months
- ESCAP, ESCWA and ECE.
It needs to be noted that the Secretariat
is in a unique situation in terms of access to gender specialists
and training, compared with other parts of the United Nations
system. There have never been gender units or gender specialists
in the Departments in the Secretariat, although gender focal points
have been appointed in most Departments in recent years and a
network of these focal points will be established to facilitate
the provision of training and support. In addition, the Secretariat
has only very recently (since 1997 and in three Departments only)
been provided with any form of competence development. The constraints
which have been identified in the Secretariat need to be placed
in this context.
The need for support within the Secretariat
is great. In its different forms of collaboration with the Departments,
OSAGI attempts to work in a consultative and collaborative manner
- not doing the work for them but working with them to ensure
the development of responsibility and accountability for gender
mainstreaming. This involves a slow process of change, sometimes
difficult to measure, which does not produce quick, "glossy"
Identifying the constraints
Collaboration has been initiated
with the Departments through a process of consultation with senior
managers and professional staff. In this process constraints and
potentials are identified and approaches, methodologies and tools
needs to be developed to tackle these. Four key constraints have
been identified which will be addressed in this presentation:
lack of understanding of basic concepts; poor knowledge of intergovernmental
mandates on gender mainstreaming; lack of knowledge on the linkages
between gender and the areas of work of the different departments;
and lack of capacity to incorporate gender perspectives.
It has often been claimed that the
main reason gender mainstreaming is not implemented is because
professional staff do not know how to implement it. The approach
taken is a very technical one - all that is required is the provision
of methods and tools to staff and they will be willing and able
to do gender mainstreaming. Addressing the question of "how"
in organizations which still have serious problems around the
"why" and "what" cannot, however, be successful.
Within the Secretariat there is considerable
confusion on what gender mainstreaming is, as in many other parts
of the United Nations system, but the lack of understanding of
concepts is even more complex, including a lack of understanding
of the very basic concept of gender equality. Many professional
staff equate gender equality with gender balance in the Secretariat.
This confusion may come from the fact that Member States have
historically raised questions on gender balance but not on gender
mainstreaming in the Secretariat. It may also be connected to
the fact that some focal points in the Secretariat have had responsibility
for both gender balance and gender mainstreaming but, for different
reasons, have given more attention to gender balance issues. A
third possible reason is that there has simply been a lack of
interest to investigate the concepts further. For whatever reasons,
conceptual confusion exists which seriously hinders effective
implementation of gender mainstreaming and must be specifically
Related to this is the second constraint
identified, that most Departments are not conversant with the
general intergovernmental mandates on gender mainstreaming, let
alone the more specific mandates gender mainstreaming on their
own areas of work. Most professional staff have heard about Beijing
and Beijing +5 but have not reflected on the implications for
their own work. Professional staff are focused on the specific
mandates relating to their own areas of work and give little attention
to the interlinkages with mandates on gender mainstreaming in
these areas. Provision of greater clarity on sector and issue-specific
mandates could be very instrumental in securing greater management
commitment to gender mainstreaming in the Secretariat.
A third major constraint is the lack
of knowledge on why gender would be a factor in the substantive
work of Departments. The process of consultation has revealed
that many Departments have never addressed gender perspectives
in their work. Promoting a greater understanding of why and how
gender perspectives are relevant to their work is an important
element in improving gender mainstreaming. The dual rationale
for incorporating gender perspectives into their work, both to
secure gender equality from a human rights and social justice
perspective and to ensure effective achievement of the goals set
for their work, must also be widely promoted.
The fourth constraint is a lack of
capacity to incorporate gender perspectives into substantive work.
This is dependent, of course, on adequate understanding of all
the issues discussed previously - concepts, mandates, rationales
and the linkages between gender perspectives and their substantive
work. However, even with better understanding of the "why"
and "what" questions related to gender mainstreaming,
professional staff need to be supported with the "how"
- for example, to identify the entry-points in their work and
develop methodologies so they can effectively integrate gender
Methods and tools to address the
To address the lack of understanding
of concepts, three short 2-page notes on gender mainstreaming
have been prepared which specifically address concepts. One provides
a historic background to the development of gender mainstreaming;
the second provides more specific discussion on the different
concepts underlying gender mainstreaming; and the third introduces
the basic concepts in a discussion of mandates for gender mainstreaming.
The two-page model is used to introduce concepts because non-specialists
with little prior exposure to gender perspectives need to be introduced
to the issue with tools which are accessible, manageble and not
overwhelming. A two-pager can be an ideal means of reaching busy
professionals who are not convinced of the relevance of gender
equality issues for their work. These notes have been used in
different contexts, depending on the specific needs, and have
been distributed broadly. Confusion over concepts is also specifically
addressed in the competence development programme on gender mainstreaming,
as will be discussed further on.
A short paper has been prepared as
an introduction to the gender mainstreaming strategy. This will
be complemented with a more operationally-focussed paper which
will address approaches and methods for gender mainstreaming.
These papers are seen primarily as a means to develop greater
capacity for catalyst roles among gender focal points in the Secretariat,
but can also be used by interested professional staff.
One of the short notes on gender
mainstreaming specifically addresses the overall mandates for
gender mainstreaming contained in the Platform for Action, the
ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions 1997/2 and the twenty-third special
session of the General Assembly. In addition, the specific mandates
for different areas of work of the secretariat, such as disarmament,
peace support operations, statistics and macro-economics, have
been compiled from different sources of intergovernmental legislation,
including resolutions and agreed conclusions. The mandates for
all areas of the work of the Secretariat will be compiled in this
To assist in developing understanding
of the linkages between gender perspectives and the work of the
Secretariat, a number of series of briefing notes are under preparation
on macro-economics, trade, statistics, disarmament, the environment,
population and public administration. The briefing notes are four
pages long and contain three sections. The first introduces the
linkages between gender perspectives and the issue being discussed;
the second section provides some ideas on what might need to be
done differently as a result of understanding these linkages;
and the third section provides a resource listing with good references,
websites, etc., to assist in developing a deeper understanding
of how to bring gender perspectives to the centre of attention
in relation to the issue/sector under discussion.
These briefing notes are not simply
developed for the Departments but must involve a process of consultation
within the departments. The process involved has differed for
the different series of notes, depending on the specific situation
in the department, or division within a department. The notes
on disarmament were initiated, for example, through a process
of consultation with managers, to get information on their ideas
and experiences. Close consultation was also initiated with NGOs
working in this area. This was essential in relation to disarmament
because there was so little materials available on gender perspectives.
In the development of the notes in other difficult areas, such
as on macro-economics, trade and statistics, reference groups
of experts on gender in these areas were set up to provide inputs.
It was interesting to see how such experts from academia or activism
had to struggle to package their knowledge and experience in a
concise form that would be relevant to policy-makers and planners.
Production of the briefing notes
must involve a process of learning and they need to be "owned"
by the substantive departments, i.e the substantive departments
have to sign off on them, after close review of the final results.
The value of this method has been particularly evident in relation
to disarmament. These are the first to be completed and will be
presented at a panel in conjunction with the forthcoming session
of the Commission on the Status of Women.
A fourth area of work has been the
development of a competence development framework for gender mainstreaming
in collaboration with the Office of Human Resource Management.
Through competence development programmes it is possible to develop
the awareness, knowledge, commitment and capacity required for
gender mainstreaming and to address all the constraints mentioned
above, in relation to concepts, mandates, rationales and capacity.
However competence development should not be seen as a panacea
and has proven only to be successful if followed-up adequately.
The collaboration with the Office of Human Resources Management
also involves the development of a resource-base of good facilitators
for competence development on gender mainstreaming.
The approach and methodology utilized
in competence development is also critical. To move away from
the one-off training workshop approach, a four-pronged approach
is being utilized in the on-going competence development programme
for all professional staff in the Department of Economic and Social
Affairs. The programme is carried out division by division to
ensure an adequate focus on the specific work programme of each
division. An introductory meeting for the whole division, led
by the Director, introduces the programmes, its aims and processes,
and the commitment required from staff. In the second step working
group sessions are held with smaller groups of professionals,
usually by branch, in which the work programme is discussed in
more detail, as well as the extent to which gender perspectives
have been brought into account in their work. These sessions serve
to provide a greater understanding for the consultants on the
work of the professionals, their knowledge of gender perspectives
and the constraints they face. It also provides an opportunity
for the professional staff to start considering gender perspectives
in their work. The third stage is a one-day workshop for groups
of no more than 20-30 professional staff where there is opportunity
for discussion of concepts, analysis of case studies to further
develop understanding of the linkages between gender and the areas
of work of the division, and work on developing capacity for integrating
gender perspectives. The participants are encouraged to arrive
at concrete steps which could be taken in their work to better
incorporate gender perspectives. Once all divisions in the department
have participated in the programme there will be a "town-hall
meeting" of the entire deparatment, led by the Under Secretary-General,
where all Directors of divisions will be required to present their
plans for bringing greater attention to gender perspectives in
their work programmes.
A constraint to using competence
development as a means of improving gender mainstreaming is a
certain scepticism in the Secretariat to training in general;
the feeling that even one and a half days is too long to give
to any one issue in busy work schedules; and a lack of openness
to the possibility that a programme on gender equality issues
might be interesting and useful for their work. The limits to
what can be expected from a one and a half day programme need
also to be kept in mind. To ensure adequate follow-up it is also
important to ensure that the facilitators document the process
and outcomes in sufficient detail.
The need to focus more on the planning
processes in the Secretariat, moving beyond integrating gender
perspectives in the Medium-term plan and the Biannual Programme
Budget, has been recognized. The process by which professional
staff translate the objectives and expected accomplishments in
the Programme Budget into concrete activities need to be identified
and addressed. Similarly there is need to promote the incorporation
of gender perspectives into the monitoring and evaluation processes.
Work will be carried out in close collaboration with the Office
of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts and the Office of Internal
Oversight Services, as the logical next step in supporting gender
mainstreaming in the Secretariat.
As part of these efforts, greater
attention will be given to identifying and documenting examples
of good practice. In departments where it is felt that everything
has been done, that could be done, to give attention to gender
perspectives, documentation of good practice in a consultative
manner is an excellent means of both identifying the good practice
that does exist and developing clarity on gaps and missed opportunities.
All of the above materials will be
on the WomenWatch website in the near future.