UN System-wide Gender
Focal Point Study
As a part of the follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action
and the implementation of the Agreed Conclusions on Gender Mainstreaming,
the Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality (IACWGE)
decided at its third meeting on February 25-27 1998 to undertake
a survey to review the functions of gender focal points in the
United Nations system. UNFPA was appointed task manager for
the study with the following terms of reference:
- An inventory of gender focal points and identification
of a typology of gender focal point's functions;
- An organizational profile of gender focal
points including their structural locations, linkages with
internal and external structures;
- An assessment of the existence of policy
statements to guide the work of gender focal points, including
management dimensions, and the work of the focal point as
- Review of the scope of responsibilities of
gender focal points, their job descriptions, skill profile,
qualifications and appointment process;
- Identification of resources available to
gender focal points.
In developing the methodology UNFPA was assisted
by a working group comprising of UNAIDS, UNICEF and UNDP. Two
types of self-administered questionnaires were developed - one
for gender focal points and the other for supervisors. After
pre-testing they were sent out through the office of the Chairperson
of the IACWGE. The total number of questionnaires that were
finally analyzed were 288 consisting of 179 for gender focal
points and 109 from supervisors.
- Most of the agencies have responded to General
Assembly resolutions on gender mainstreaming by taking actions
to improve either gender balance among staff, addressing gender
concerns within respective substantive mandates and enacting
appropriate polices. Almost three quarters now have specific
gender policies and strategies, and only less than ten percent
do not. A few also now incorporate gender concerns in office
or individual work plans and in performance appraisal reviews.
- All agencies now appear to have gender focal
points. However over ninety percent are women. They are drawn
overwhelmingly from the junior cadre of staff (i.e. assistant
programme officers, junior programme officers and some national
programme officers). Three quarters are officially designated
as gender focal points, but one quarter are not. Half were
nominated by their offices, regardless of their level of competency,
specialization or professional interest. Only one-fifth were
recruited against a formally established position.
- One third of gender focal points function
without the benefit of a description of their roles and responsibilities.
Less than one fifth stated that their organizations' policies
accurately reflect their work plans. For the majority, working
on gender issues is not expected to be a full time function.
Only 7 percent stated they are expected to spend 100 percent
of their time to gender issues. In general, only one quarter
of the gender focal points spend their time exclusively on
- The majority combine gender focal point functions
with as many as five as other sectoral responsibilities such
human rights and/or reproductive rights, information and communication,
interagency liaison, NGO, youth, HIV/AIDS, refugee/internally
displaced persons, education, environment and agriculture.
- Tasks are also very diverse and diffused
widely. They include provision of technical and advisory support
to other units, advocacy support, project management, inter-agency
coordination, participating and/or organizing gender-related
meetings, organizing training workshops and seminars, organizing
conferences and recruitment. Most supervisor's recognize that
gender focal points carry a very heavy workload.
- Accountability for gender mainstreaming remains
ambiguous at all levels - among supervisors as well as among
gender focal points. This is reinforced by the regular use
of an eclectic collection of methodologies, all measuring
very different things, for assessing or evaluating gender
mainstreaming interventions. The commonest appears to be a
minimalist approach, using a checklist.
- The level of gender focal points' involvement
in decision-making remains low and it is largely a function
of 1) position within the organization as determined mostly
by job titles; 2) sizes of departments and 3) sizes of duty
stations. There is more involvement in smaller departments
or duty stations. Almost one fifth have no involvement in
decision-making on gender issues at all.
- Although gender training is provided by a
large number of agencies, its direct impact on the tasks and
outputs and of the focal points is not clear. The content
is too diverse. Many supervisors still consider the expertise
of gender focal points insufficient.
- There is an overwhelming dependence on short-term
consultants to perform normative work. This forestalls the
accumulation of a stock of knowledge among regular staff and
may probably introduce too many new approaches and conceptual
issues, sequentially, that could be confusing.
- Gender focal points work with extremely scarce
financial resources. Besides the small amounts that are usually
allocated, most do not have earmarked funding. This therefore
precludes a systemic approach to gender mainstreaming in favour
of small disconnected projects. Tracking the cumulative experience
of gender mainstreaming, including distilling best practices,
therefore becomes very difficult.
- Both supervisors and gender focal points
identify earmarked human resources allocation, not matter
how limited, as essential to an organization's gender mainstreaming
- The terms of reference for gender focal points
should clearly spell out their technical functions, roles
and responsibilities and should also distinguish between two
different types of focal points - the cooperate senior gender
advisors and the technical gender focal points. The role of
gender focal points should be understood as that of a facilitator,
catalyst and advisor, and not as the accountable for the implementation
of gender mainstreaming in their organizations.
- It is vital that gender training and recruitment
to ensure gender balances be located and institutionalized
in the personnel, training or human resource units or divisions.
These units/divisions should develop a cluster of core gender
competencies and skills that should be acquired by staff at
various levels, including gender focal points and senior managers.
Staff induction should include gender-mainstreaming knowledge
and promote peer support and team building.
- Responsibility and accountability for gender
mainstreaming should rest with senior managers who should
develop the necessary commitment and competencies to lead
policy-making for gender mainstreaming, which gender focal
points can draw on for operational guidance.
- It is necessary to close the gap that has
been observed in location and level within individual organizations,
whereby the majority of gender advisors and gender focal points
do not have access to decision-making that impact on gender
mainstreaming. Entry points should be created to involve them
in internal decision-making processes.
- It is recommended that staff on regular
posts be designated as gender focal points in order to create
a durable stock of knowledge and experience on gender mainstreaming.
The existing high dependency on junior staff employed for
limited durations and on short-term consultants should be
reduced. Diversity should be ensured also by designating more
men as gender focal points.
- It is evident that there is a great
demand from government and partner organizations for the technical
services that gender focal points can provide. The many positive
contributions of gender focal points to the realization of
gender mainstreaming should be recognized. To better respond
to demands for gender services, agencies should strengthen
the gender networks in the field and pool their resources
on gender (focal points, senior gender advisors etc.) together
as much as possible.
- The provision of budgets earmarked for BOTH
WOMEN AND GENDER activities is an essential instrument for
the implementation of the ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions on Gender
Presented by Task Manager UNFPA, at the Sixth Meeting
of the IACWGE: February 27March 2, 2001