The UN on Gender Mainstreaming

Jo Morris talks to us about UN efforts to achieve gender equality through gender mainstreaming

Gender Mainstreaming sounds complicated – but basically means integrating a gender dimension into all policy and practice decisions. In other words it means that we all need to wear a ‘gender lens’ when we think about any policy area of public and private life – after all more than half the world’s population are women, yet women suffer the effects of many ‘gender blind’ policy decisions.

Unfortunately gender mainstreaming – a concept we have to understand if we engage in development policies – is too often another way of saying ‘lets kick it into the long grass’. The intention of the Bejing Platform for Action (I was there when the ground-breaking PfA was debated and agreed!) was spot on. But some institutions that had special structures to ensure that gender is a serious policy consideration have used the excuse to ‘bring gender into the mainstream’ to dilute their focus. Gender implications can be lost through ‘mainstreaming’ – one of the reasons that the term has a somewhat tarnished reputation.

But there is no doubt that integrating gender into policy is vital.

The concept of bringing gender issues into the mainstream of society was clearly established as a global strategy for promoting gender equality in the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. It highlighted the necessity to ensure that gender equality is a primary goal in all area(s) of social and economic development.

In July  the United Nations Economic and Social Council defined gender mainstreaming as: “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 perpetrated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

The goal of integrating gender – or ‘mainstreaming’ goes beyond increasing women’s participation; it means bringing the experience, knowledge, and interests of women and men to bear on the policy and development agenda – including the workplace and collective bargaining. The goal of gender equality is to transform unequal social and institutional structures to ensure equal and fair outcomes for both men and women.

Mainstreaming includes gender-specific activities and affirmative action, whenever women or men are in a particularly disadvantageous position. Gender-specific interventions can target women exclusively, men and women together, or only men, to enable them to participate in and benefit equally from development efforts. These are necessary temporary measures designed to combat the direct and indirect consequences of past discrimination.

Basic principles of ensuring gender is integrated into policy and practice

According to the UN there are some basic principles to observe when designing programmes and policies:

  • Adequate accountability mechanisms for monitoring progress need to be established;
    The initial identification of issues and problems across all area(s) of activity should be such that gender differences and disparities can be diagnosed;
  • Assumptions that issues or problems are neutral from a gender-equality perspective should never be made;
  • Gender analysis should always be carried out;
  • Clear political will and allocation of adequate resources for mainstreaming, including additional financial and human resources if necessary, are important for translation of the concept into practice;
  • Gender ‘mainstreaming’ requires that efforts be made to broaden women’s equitable participation at all levels of decision-making;
  • Gender ‘mainstreaming’ does not replace the need for targeted, women-specific policies and programmes, and positive legislation; nor does it do away with the need for gender units or focal points.



Jo Morris is  Visiting Professor in Practice, London School of Economics and Political Science, Gender Institute.  She is FWF’s gender expert.

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