Gender mainstreaming is a strategy for achieving gender equality. The approach seeks to reorganize and restructure policies, institutions, and social programs by taking women’s and men’s perspectives, experiences, and needs into consideration. Gender mainstreaming does not replace, but supplements, specific targeted interventions to address gender inequality such as affirmative action.
Gender mainstreaming was first introduced when UNIFEM (the women’s division of the United Nations) was restructured. At the Third UN World Women’s Conference in Nairobi in 1985, gender mainstreaming and empowerment were adopted in development policies due to the persistent marginalization of women with respect to access to resources, information, and decision making, replacing the earlier ‘‘women in development’’ (WID) approach. The goal of gender mainstreaming is to support women and to ensure their involvement in decision making processes and agenda setting. UNIFEM conceives gender mainstreaming as a double strategy: gender differentiation and taking into consideration the different living conditions and interests of men and women in all developmental programs and project interventions at the macroeconomic and macro political level, as well as women specific measures in those instances where gender analyses revealed inequalities with respect to resources.
Ten years later, the systematic incorporation of gender as a factor in policymaking was formally adopted at the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995. Due to extensive lobbying of the European women’s lobby, gender mainstreaming was included in the Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union (EU), which was signed in 1997 and ratified in 1999 (Mazey 2001). The treaty declares gender mainstreaming as a core task of the EU and thus requests that member states (and those countries which seek to join the EU) mainstream gender into policies developed in their countries. Thus, the new member states which joined the European Union in May 2004 were required to adopt gender mainstreaming. The EU enlargement process thus provided important policy instruments for increasing equality between men and women. The implementation of gender mainstreamed regulations is monitored by the EU, but has to be carried out by the national governments.
Gender mainstreaming involves analytic tasks, taking into account inequalities in political power within households and in the domestic and unpaid sector, differences in legal status and entitlements, the gender division of labor in the economy, violence against women, and discriminatory practices. Furthermore, it encompasses policy analysis and policy development: the formulation of the policy outcome to be addressed, the definition of the information needed to assess policy options, the assessment of the implication of different options by gender, the determination of who will be consulted and how, and the formulation of recommendations for policy choices. It is based on research and informs data collection, analysis, and dissemination. Gender mainstreaming in technical assistance draws on national commitments to women’s rights and gender equality, ensures that the expert team includes members with gender analysis experience, and includes the consultation of local experts on gender equality (United Nations 2002).
In addition to development, gender main streaming was also introduced in other institutional arenas, for example international peacekeeping, education, and medicine. In October 2000 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, recognizing the urgent need to mainstream gender perspectives into peacekeeping operations, the importance of specialized gender training, and the need to understand the impact of armed conflict on women and girls. This includes the acknowledgment of sexual violence. In local societies, in which women constitute the majority of the population, it is especially beneficial to include a significant number of women in peacekeeping since female peacekeepers more easily establish dialogue with local civilians than their male partners because women may be perceived as less threatening and cultural norms might prohibit women to interact with men who are not family members. Security procedures such as body searches of women are easier if they are carried out by female peacekeepers (Olson & Torunn 2001). Gender mainstreaming of the education sector is based on the assessment of the educational status of girls and women, boys and men and involves the review of policies, laws, regulations, plans, and programs from a gender perspective, the analysis of the impact of educational policies and programs, and recommendations for more effective mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming in the health sector guarantees that the different needs of men and women are addressed, rather than extrapolating from male specific findings to women. Strategies include taking full account of diseases and disabilities from which women suffer because of their sex, which are more prevalent in women, which affect women more severely than men, which have more adverse effects on women during pregnancy, and against which women are less able to protect themselves. Men have a higher death rate from acute medical conditions such as cardiovascular or cerebra vascular episodes. Furthermore, men’s workplace conditions, as well as gender stereo typing that discourages men from articulating their problems and emotions, need to be taken into consideration.
Gender mainstreaming represents a paradigm shift with respect to equality policies in as far as it declares all policy fields as relevant for women, in contrast to earlier gender policies which focused on women and developed political units (e.g., gender desks or women’s ministries). This means that instead of helping women to adapt to structures which benefit men, the goal is to change the gendered structures in order to become more women friendly. Gender mainstreaming is future oriented in that it tries to anticipate gender processes in the planning and decision making stage, while earlier strategies to achieve gender equality retroactively sought to remedy past decisions and social inequalities.
- Mazey, (2001) Gender Mainstreaming in the EU: Principles and Practice. Kogan Page, London.
- Olson, & Torunn, L. T. (Eds.) (2001) Women and International Peacekeeping. Frank Cass, London.
- Rai, I. (2003) Mainstreaming Gender, Democratizing the State? Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women. Manchester University Press, Manchester.
- United Nations (2002) Gender Mainstreaming: An Overview. United Nations, New
Back to Sociology of Gender