Gender Mainstreaming

Gender Mainstreaming

1. What is gender mainstreaming?

The strategy of gender mainstreaming has become known in Austria through the policies of the European Union, but its roots lie in the worldwide women's movement and the experience acquired in the course of enforcing claims vis-à-vis respective governments. The first three world women's conferences adopted recommendations for improving the situation faced by women and enshrined these in documents. National governments voluntarily pledged to follow these recommendations, but at subsequent international conferences it became increasingly clear that this voluntary commitment on the part of governments is not yielding any successes and that the lot of women has hardly improved. In NGOs in particular, these experiences have prompted discussions as to how a worldwide women's policy can break out of its position as a petitioner of governments and how the various legitimate demands can be more effectively implemented. At the Fourth World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995, the new strategy was given a name: gender mainstreaming. In the context of world women's policy this means that in all areas of policy and in each individual instance governments examine the impact of their policy on the situation of women and the way in which planned measures will improve women's specific living situations as defined by the objectives set out in the documents.

At European level, as early as 1993 women succeeded in securing 'equal opportunities for men and women' as part of the reform of the EU's Structural Fund. This was the first time in Europe that the goal of ensuring equal opportunities had been enshrined in a 'general' support concept. The principle of gender mainstreaming was subsequently described in the Fourth Action Programme on Equal Opportunities in 1995. What had been achieved in the EU Structural Fund was extended to all European policy: gender relations should be taken into account in every policy measure, from the planning stage to performance review. The gender mainstreaming principle was further reinforced in the 1996 Amsterdam Treaty, in which all the Member States in the European Union pledged to apply the principle in their policies. Greater specificity and differentiation were provided at EU level in relevant Council Resolutions on the 1999 employment policy guidelines. In future, gender mainstreaming is to be further refined in a Fifth Action Programme.

The approach behind the principle of gender mainstreaming is that of crosscutting policy: equal opportunities between men and women can only be achieved if this objective is pursued in all areas of policy. The gender mainstreaming principle, however, crystallizes this goal by making a clear reference to the decision-making processes in organizations.

Definition of this principle

'Gender mainstreaming is the reorganization, improvement, development and evaluation of decision-making processes in all areas of an organization's policy and work. The goal of gender mainstreaming is to make the perspective of gender relations part of all decision-making processes and enable all such processes to be used to ensure the equal treatment of men and women'.

The name given to this radical principle is often criticized on the grounds that it is unclear and cannot be communicated. The counter-argument to this is that in many fields, especially in media and information technology, the use of English words is becoming natural. Retaining the English term 'gender mainstreaming' has the considerable advantage that it identifies an internationally developed strategy and thus enables better understanding at international level.

What does 'gender' mean?

The English language makes distinctions that are not captured in the same way in German: it has one term for the biologically defined aspects of the German word 'Geschlecht' in the word 'sex' and a term for the social and culturally defined aspects of 'Geschlecht' in the word 'gender'. The term 'gender' cannot be precisely translated into German by a single word. 'Gender' means 'the social and cultural role of the sexes'.

Consequently, a gender policy based on the concept of 'gender' rather than that of 'women' stresses the fact that:

1.     Both sexes and the relations between them are involved: men also have a gender and do not constitute the general human norm.

2.     We are speaking of those relations between the sexes which in principle are viewed as subject to change. Biological differences between the sexes are not accepted as legitimizing social differences between them. Social and cultural gender-related roles for men and women are seen as the result of historical development and being open to political manipulation.

These basic assumptions merely set the direction of gender policy; they do not yet offer specific political objectives. The same is true where applying the gender mainstreaming principle is concerned: it presupposes recognition of the fact that gender relations play a role and that men and women are affected or become affected differently. Gender mainstreaming does not replace the political debate over how gender relations should be politically organized; it does, however, help formulated goals to be better implemented. The EU documents dealing with gender mainstreaming even use the term 'mainstreaming of equal opportunities'. This shows that the word 'gender' by itself does not yet make a political statement, but that terms like 'gender democracy', 'equal opportunities' or 'equality of men and women' have to be added to indicate the direction of the change in gender relations. The term 'gender' merely indicates that the prevailing gender roles are social constructs and can therefore be changed, while not specifying the direction of this change.

2. What new philosophy lies behind gender mainstreaming?

If gender relations are made the foundation of any analysis of social relations and women's policy is underpinned and supplemented by a gender policy, then old attributions lose their validity and are replaced by new viewpoints. The common assumptions often faced by traditional women's policy are invalidated below by the new perspectives of gender mainstreaming.

No longer:
Women are being oversensitive when they criticize the dominant values and norms.

But rather:
The dominant values and norms are scrutinized and modified in terms of gender-specific considerations.

No longer:
Women have specific problems.

But rather:
Socially determined circumstances place women in difficult situations and positions. Women are not the only ones responsible for such circumstances.

No longer:
Women have specific interests based on their gender.

But rather:
Specific interests of women are reflexes to living conditions (e.g. intense cohabitation with small children) which fall to women as the female sex. Men would have the same interests if they were to share women's living conditions.

No longer:
Women have shortcomings which have to be eliminated.

But rather:
Women have strengths which men do not (yet) have. These strengths are recognized and conditions created so that they can be applied. Existing shortcomings are not due to gender but because of the socially defined gender role; the same is true of men.

No longer:
Women approach decision-making centres as petitioners and seek to attract support for their concepts.

But rather:
Decision-making centres must take account of the gender mainstreaming principle. Women are consulted as experts on specific situations of women's lives. Initiatives by women themselves are warmly welcomed as an additional stimulus because they can improve the decisions made even more.

No longer:
Women's policy deals with marginal problems which enjoy prominence depending on the general political situation.

But rather:
Gender democracy and equal opportunities between men and women are central policy objectives.

No longer:
Women are responsible for solving women's problems.

But rather:
Women and men accept responsibility for changing gender relations.

3. How does gender mainstreaming work?

3.1 Conceptual premises

Gender is becoming a category by which decision-making processes are examined. Those adopting the gender perspective start out from the assumption that the living conditions to which political decisions are related have something to do with gender relations. In this context, analyses and findings of studies on women and gender are taken seriously which prove that gender relations very fundamentally determine social relationships, deciding the distribution of work, money and power. The results of gender stereotyping can be found in all areas in statistics and in descriptions of differences between the sexes

3.2 Responsibilities

The responsibility for applying the gender mainstreaming principle in an organization lies first and foremost with its leadership. Unless the leaders approve, support and advocate the modification of decision-making processes in their organization in terms of gender considerations, a process of this type will not work. The organization's leadership has to provide the financial, labour-related and organizational environment. From this perspective, therefore, we are talking about a classic top-down process.

The male and female participants who prepare, carry out and monitor the decision-making processes are those responsible for the application of the gender mainstreaming principle. No one in an organization may feel they are not committed to it. Herein lies another specific new feature of this principle: whereas previously women in particular have normally concerned themselves with so-called women's issues, when the gender mainstreaming principle is applied, the gender of those participating in a decision is completely insignificant. Women who repeatedly point out that there is something wrong with the gender relations and that women are discriminated against have also been held responsible for changing the situation. This changes when the gender mainstreaming principle is applied: everyone, regardless of gender, has to change the decision-making processes and eliminate inequalities in opportunities between the sexes.

3.3 Methods of analysis and monitoring from the gender viewpoint

The term 'gender controlling' is ambiguous. On the one hand it denotes the principle of generally monitoring all decision-making processes in terms of their gender-related implications, in which case it means the same as 'gender mainstreaming'. But the same term also refers to the procedures used to examine whether gender relations have been properly taken into account and whether certain objectives have successfully been attained. In this sense gender controlling is therefore part of the gender mainstreaming process, namely that of evaluation.

Generally speaking, an upstream evaluation is more effective than a post-hoc evaluation. This means that the issue of gender relations is not merely raised when decisions have already been taken and all that can be done is check their impact. Instead, the evaluation can kick in early on in the decision-making process and be performed in parallel through all stages of that process. The methods used in the gender mainstreaming process and which are designed to improve the decision-making processes can be broken down into analytical, consultative and participatory techniques (Bösenberg 1998).


4. How can gender mainstreaming be successfully implemented in an organization?

4.1 Areas of application so far

International development cooperation (IDC) is the area of application where gender mainstreaming is practised most intensively and has the longest-standing tradition. Indeed, an evaluation of decades of development work revealed that the difference in life expectancy between men and women has grown even greater in the wake of modernization processes and that despite the many assistance projects implemented, access to resources like work, loans and land has tended to decrease. It had become clear that women were usually assigned a passive role in processes of project identification and planning and were not involved at all in the preparatory and implementation processes. For several years now the gender perspective has been integrated into development cooperation, not least of all thanks to the lobbying work done by women at international level. This has been achieved by imposing conditions on funding; in other words, the only project applications approved are those which feature a gender perspective. This tool of linking the funding of measures to the inclusion of the gender perspective in applications for funds is proving extremely effective, for it is forcing all project sponsors to expand their knowledge and build up their information on gender relations and come up with corresponding applications. There are a number of aids for doing this, ranging from the training of development experts to checklists used when applying for project resources or to the sponsors' appointment of 'gender officers'.

4.2 Means of implementation

The example of international development cooperation work shows that making the allocation of resources conditional upon the inclusion of gender mainstreaming processes at the application stage is highly effective. The same conditionality can be used wherever funds are spent for organizing relations.

Before the gender mainstreaming principle can be implemented in an individual organization, a gender policy goal must be formulated for the organization in question. Such a commitment on the part of the organization will serve as an anchor to which subsequent demands to implement the principle in all areas can be tied. However, so far it has not proven possible to make the principle of gender mainstreaming legally enforceable, despite the facts that the equal treatment of men and women is enshrined in Germany's Basic Law and the EU directives and Amsterdam Treaty should be regarded as the bases for political action. At present, these legal bases serve to support efforts made with a view to attaining gender equality but cannot enforce them.

In practice it will initially be women, either women's representatives or women's officers, who ensure that the idea of gender mainstreaming is made known and that individual organizations voluntarily embrace that principle.

4.3 Risks of misuse

Although the gender mainstreaming principle is still relatively young, there are already numerous examples of its misuse. Such instances are all based on playing off this new gender policy strategy against the old, established forms. Either out of ignorance or intentionally for political ends, gender mainstreaming is declared the all-encompassing strategy, thereby rendering other strategies apparently superfluous. Even at EU level the specific programmes designed to promote the status of women and women's projects were supposed to be cut back, the justification used being that all funds were subject to the gender mainstreaming principle. In this instance the principle was not only misunderstood, it was also misused. For one thing, the application of the gender mainstreaming principle does not at all rule out the establishment of special support budgets for women, but can instead signify an entirely consistent measure in the application of that principle. Secondly, at European level too it may not be assumed that the gender mainstreaming principle has already been adopted and implemented everywhere. This relatively speedy cut in funds for special women's projects is also taking place at various levels, though it must invariably be identified as misuse, since to date the gender mainstreaming principle has not been consistently adopted anywhere. Similar instances have also occurred at municipal level, where mayors believed they could already abolish their Equal Opportunities Committee merely by proclaiming their intention to establish gender mainstreaming processes in the near future. This can only be regarded as a deliberate misunderstanding, since the positions of Equal Opportunities Committees and women's officers are valuable factors for optimizing gender mainstreaming processes, and they are absolutely indispensable if gender-related issues are dealt with in all areas. In many administrations, it is primarily women's officers and the members of Equal Opportunities Committees that boast knowledge of gender-related issues; indeed, women's officers are the people most likely to know the interests of the women employed there and are also best placed to bring in experts on gender questions.

The abolition of independent women's ministries at Länder level should be judged ambivalently: on the one hand, it can result in a loss of power if the women's minister has a strong position within the cabinet, but on the other hand it can also constitute the first step towards the implementation of a gender mainstreaming strategy by the entire administration of the federal state in question. This being the case, the need remains for a minister to be made responsible for gender-related issues and for making progress with gender mainstreaming processes. In the long run, abolishing a women's ministry in favour of setting up gender departments in all other ministries can result in more effective gender policies.

Wherever gender mainstreaming is extolled as the supposedly newest and most effective strategy and is used to do away with old encrusted strategies, it is more than likely that there is a power struggle going on between the sexes which will be settled to the disadvantage of women. The most effective means of testing sincerity is still analysing the number of persons involved, the extent of the funding and the mobilization of the organizational potential used to change the gender relations in question. These must all greatly increase as gender mainstreaming processes are introduced; any decrease points to an intention to obscure gender questions, rather than take their true significance seriously.

Gender Mainstreaming

            1. Overview

            2. Words

            3. Defeinitions

1. Overview:

            1. What is gender mainstreaming?

. History

. Definitions

            2. What new philosophy lies behind gender mainstreaming?

            3. How does gender mainstreaming work?

.Conceptual premises


.Methods of analysis and monitoring from the gender viewpoint

            4. How can gender mainstreaming be successfully?

.Areas of application so far

.Means of implementation

.Risk of misuse

2. Words


die Taktiken








durchführend, erzwingend

presuppose recognition

bedingen Anerkennung


die Ansprüche




die Empfehlungen




vor dem Nichts stehen








als Sicherheit hinterlegt


äußere Umstände




die Kohabitation


der Kläger




die Anforderungen


jmdm. etw. ans Herz legen

planned measures

die Maßnahmen


die Anregung




an der Grenze liegend




die Bedeutung




geprüfte Kopie














council resolutions

Gemeinderats- Beschlüsse







cross cutting

das Querschneiden




kann erreicht werden











die Aufbesserung











3. Some Gender Mainstreaming Definitions

Capacity Development

The process by which individuals, organizations, institutions and societies develop their abilities individually and collectively to perform functions, solve problems and set and achieve objectives. (Results-oriented Monitoring and Evaluation Handbook - UNDP)


The process of gaining control over the self, over ideology and the resources which determine power. (Srilata Batliwala - "Empowerment of Women in South Asia, Concepts and Practices)


Be the cause of (a situation or condition). Example: some people believe that poverty engenders crime. (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary: Fourth Edition, Indian Edition)


Gender and Development. GAD looks at the larger inequities of unequal relations between the rich and the poor, the advantaged and the disadvantaged and within that, the additional inequities that women face.


Gender-related development index - from UNDP Human Development Report


Gender Empowerment Measure


Refers to the comparative or differential roles, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men in a given society.

Gender Balance

Participation of an equal number of women and men within an activity or organisation. Examples are representation in committees or indecision making structures.

Gender Blind

Interventions which appear neutral as they are couched in abstract, generic categories but are implicitly male biased.

Gender Disaggregation of Data

The collection of data on men and women separately in relation to all aspects of their functioning - ethnicity, class, caste, age, location.

Gender Equality

Refers to norms, values, attitudes and perceptions required to attain equal status between women and men without neutralizing the biological differences between women and men.

Gender Equity

Fairness in women's and men's access to socio-economic resources.  Example: access to education, depending on whether the child is a boy or a girl. A condition in which women and men participate as equals and have equal access to socio-economic resources.

Gender Mainstreaming (UNDP)

Taking account of gender equality concerns in all policy, programme, administrative and financial activities, and in organisational procedures, thereby contributing to a profound organisational transformation.
Bringing the outcome of socio-economic and policy analysis into all decision-making processes of the organisation, and tracking the outcome.
This includes both the core policy decisions of the organisation, and the small every-day decisions of implementation.

Gender Neutral

Interventions targeted at the actors - be they women or men, which are appropriate tot he realization of predetermined-goals, which leave the existing division of resources and responsibilities intact.

Gender Relations

Ways in which a culture or society prescribes rights, roles, responsibilities, and identities of women and men in relation to one another.

Gender Sensitive

Recognition of the differences and inequities between women's and men's needs, roles, responsibilities and identities.

Gender Specific

Targeted only at the needs and interests of either women or men, as in separate categories.


Make gender sensitive


Gender in Development Programme


Gender Mainstreaming


Human Development Index


Human Development Report


Signal that reveals progress (or lack thereof) towards objectives; means of measuring what actually happens against what has been planned in terms of quantity, quality and timeliness. Example: women's annual income from small-scale and micro enterprises assisted by a project over a five-year period, to show if there has been an increase in the women's level of income as planned. (Results-oriented Monitoring and Evaluation Handbook - UNDP)


Non-governmental organisation


The biological differences between men and women, which are universal, obvious and generally permanent. Sex describes the biological, physical and genetic composition with which we are born.


United Nations Development Programme


United Nations Development Fund for Women


United Nations Volunteers


Women and Development. WAD recognizes that women have always been economic actors and emphasizes structural change of the global political economy. It does not address the linkage between patriarchy and economic exploitation.


Women in Development. A WID approach seeks to integrate women into the development process by targeting them as passive beneficiaries of programming.





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