Have you heard anyone talk about gender mainstreaming? Today, the 8th March is International Women’s Day. It is celebrated every year to applaud women’s achievements. Also, it draws attention to women’s human rights and fundamental freedom to participate in all aspects of social, economic, cultural and politically life.

But what is gender mainstreaming? It was established as a major global strategy for the promotion of gender equality in the Beijing Platform for Action from the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) agreed on some important overall principles for gender mainstreaming.

While mainstreaming is clearly essential for securing human rights and social justice for women as well as men, it also increasingly recognized that incorporating gender perspectives in different areas of development ensures the effective achievement of other social and economic goals. Mainstreaming can reveal a need for changes in goals, strategies and actions to ensure that both women and men can influence, participate in and benefit from development processes. This may lead to changes in organizations – structures, procedures and cultures – to create organizational environments which are conducive to the promotion of gender equality.

The mainstreaming strategy emerged as a result of dissatisfaction with earlier approaches to narrowing gender gaps. These earlier strategies often focused on women (providing them with more education, more resources, etc.) and on specific targeted initiatives.  While these projects (or components within larger initiatives) were often well intended, it became apparent that gender inequalities were not going to be resolved through marginal initiatives but rather that broad processes of change, particularly at policy and institutional level, were needed. Throughout the last few decades, women’s movements in the global south developed a critique of development models and institutions. They argued that it was not enough just to ‘bring women in’ to current institutions and processes. The answer was not greater participation in an unjust and unsustainable development process. Rather there was a need to rethink structures and practices that perpetuate inequalities of all kinds.

There was also recognition that inequality between women and men was a relational issue and that inequalities were not going to be resolved through a focus only on women. More attention needed to be brought to the relations between women and men, particularly with regard to the division of labour, access to and control over resources, and potential for decision-making. There was increased understanding of the importance of seeking out male allies and in working with men to jointly redefine gender roles and relations. Thus, there was a need to move away from ‘women’ as a target group, to gender equality as a development goal.

Therefore, the goal and challenge for communities and governments is to actively promote a policy of gender mainstreaming. The aim should be to incorporate a gender mainstreaming perspective in all our ‘modern day’ activities. As the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 recommended, an analysis should be made of the effects on women and men prior to the development of any programs and policies.

On International Women’s Day we should not forget or ignore the lessons of the past when we discuss gender equality. Let’s start the conversation on gender mainstreaming. Let’s talk about rethinking the structures and practices that perpetuate inequalities for both genders. Let’s start now!

P.S. The information in italics is taken directly from the paper by the United Nations, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, New York, 2002.

If you want to read more about gender mainstreaming, click on the link here.

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