Gender indicates the characteristics, positions and roles of women and men in all social relationships. Gender equality, on the other hand, indicates that men and women have equal positions and roles; are given equal conditions and opportunities to develop their capacities for the development of the community, family and equally enjoy the achievement of that development. It means equal visibility, empowerment, responsibility and participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life. Ensuring and considering gender equality in policy making is an essential ingredient for the protection of human rights, practical democracy, respect for the rule of law, and economic growth.
Gender mainstreaming is an approach to policy-making that evolved as a result of the need to develop a new approach to policy making that takes into consideration the interests and concerns of women and men. The concept of gender mainstreaming was first introduced at the 1985 United Nations Third World Conference on Women. It was established as a strategy in international gender equality policy through the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the 1995 Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, and subsequently adopted as a tool to promote gender equality at all levels. Gender mainstreaming emphasizes the recognition of the differences in the needs and living conditions of women and men, including unequal access to and control over power, money, human rights, justice, resources and decision-making. This differs based on age, social origin, region, ethnicity and other factors. It therefore calls for a more critical look into the human implications of any activity, showing the inequalities and differences between women and men and thus the potential differential impact of policies on both women and men. The result of this being, designing policies that benefit girls and boys, women and men equally.
There are global patterns to inequality between women and men. For example, women tend to suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners more often than men; women’s political participation and their representation in decision-making structures lag behind men’s; women and men have different economic opportunities; women are over-represented among the poor; and women and girls make up the majority of people trafficked and involved in the sex trade. All of the above listed and many other issues need to be properly addressed to ensure gender equality. This process will entail changes in attitudes and relationships, changes in institutions and legal frameworks, changes in economic institutions, changes in political decision-making structures and in so many other areas.
The aim of gender mainstreaming is to ensure that all of these differences are considered when designing, implementing and evaluating policies, so that they benefit both women and men, and decrease inequalities. It is therefore a tool for achieving gender equality. The mainstreaming strategy emerged as a result of dissatisfaction with other approaches to bridging gender gaps. These earlier strategies mostly focused on women (providing them with more education, more resources, etc.) and on specific targeted initiatives. While these projects were often well intended, it became obvious that gender inequality was not going to be resolved through marginal initiatives but broad processes of change, particularly at policy and institutional level, were needed.
The last few decades have witnessed women’s movements in the global south which resulted in the critiquing of development models and institutions. The argument being that it was not enough just to bring women into current institutions and processes. The solution was not greater participation in an unjust and unsustainable development process but a rethinking of structures and practices that promote inequalities of all kinds. Decisions regarding public policies and services, which do not wholly take into consideration the needs and situations of beneficiaries may lead to inappropriate solutions and an inadequate allocation of public funds. Gender mainstreaming is an inclusive strategy to improve the quality of public policies, programmes and projects, ensuring a more efficient allocation of resources. Better results mean increased well-being for both women and men, and the creation of a more socially just and sustainable society. It has to do with paying attention to the broad effects of policies on citizens’ lives, aiming at the well-being of both women and men. Gender mainstreaming should lead to better informed policy-making and therefore better government. It challenges the assumption that policies are gender neutral and could lead to a fairer allocation of resources and better transparency in policy process.
Gender inequality is both a major cause of poverty and a major constraint to sustainable development, and ultimately harming all members of society. Societies with large, persistent gender inequalities pay the price of greater poverty, malnutrition, illness and other deprivations. Economic growth is more effective in reducing poverty in societies that have higher levels of gender equality. Gender mainstreaming can be viewed as tool in achieving good governance because it seeks to ensure that the needs and priorities of all members of a society are considered and met; that all members of society participate and contribute to the process of governance; and that the benefits of development are distributed equitably amongst all members of society.
Some challenges in gender mainstreaming
- Gender inequality
- Inadequate human, technical and financial investments
- Weak coordination and monitoring mechanisms
- Insufficient data and research
- Limited attention to neglected groups and issues
- Limited scope and coverage of services and interventions
All government staff responsible for the design, implementation, review, monitoring and evaluation of policies, projects, programs, budgets are responsible for gender mainstreaming.
- They must take responsibility for understanding the different roles, responsibilities, experiences, and inequalities between women and men in relation to the issue being addressed.
- Identify opportunities to actively involve women as well as men in the consultation process.
- Act on women’s and men’s priority concerns.
- Identify ways to promote benefits for women and men.
- Identify strategies to reduce gender disparities and promote gender equality.
This article was written by Zigwai Tagwai