Gender Mainstreaming: An Overview

Monday, February 14, 2011
Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)

Gender mainstreaming 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 ECOSOC agreed conclusions (1997/2) established some important overall principles for gender mainstreaming. A letter from the Secretary-General to heads of all United Nations entities (13 October 1997) provided further concrete directives. The General Assembly twenty-third special session to follow up implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (June 2000) enhanced the mainstreaming mandate within the United Nations. More recently, the Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution (ECOSOC resolution 2001/41) on gender mainstreaming (July 2001) which calls on the Economic and Social Council to ensure that gender perspectives are taken into account in all its work, including in the work of its functional commissions, and recommends a five-year review of the implementation of the ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2.

Clear intergovernmental mandates for gender mainstreaming have been developed for all the major areas of the work of the United Nations, including disarmament, poverty reduction, macro-economics, health, education and trade. The Security Council resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, outlines the importance of giving greater attention to gender perspectives in peace support operations. Specific mandates also exist for ensuring that gender perspectives are taken into account in the major planning processes and documents within the United Nations, the medium-term plans, programme budgets and programme assessments (for example, General Assembly resolution of December 1997 (A/Res/52/100).

The ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2 defines 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 perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.” Gender mainstreaming entails bringing the perceptions, experience, knowledge and interests of women as well as men to bear on policy-making, planning and decision-making. Mainstreaming should situate gender equality issues at the centre of analyses and policy decisions, medium-term plans, provi gramme budgets, and institutional structures and processes. This requires explicit, systematic attention to relevant gender perspectives in all areas of the work of the United Nations.

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. Over the past decade the understanding of, and commitment to, gender mainstreaming has increased significantly within the United Nations. Across the United Nations system policies on gender equality and strategies for implementing gender mainstreaming have been developed; research on gender perspectives in different areas and the sex-disaggregation of data has increased; considerable knowledge of the gender perspectives in different areas of work of the United Nations has been documented; and important institutional measures have been adopted to increase the awareness, knowledge, and capacity of professional staff for implementing gender mainstreaming, including training programmes and gender focal point systems.

A number of persistent constraints remain, however, to be addressed, including conceptual confusion, inadequate understanding of the linkages between gender perspectives and different areas of the work of the United Nations and gaps in capacity to address gender perspectives once identified. Strategies have been put in place to address these constraints, including fact sheets on the concepts underlying gender mainstreaming, briefing notes on the linkages between gender and different sectors and competence development programmes. The lack of understanding of "HOW" gender perspectives can be identified and addressed remains one of the most serious constraints. This publication has been developed with the specific purpose of providing support in this area. Further materials will be developed to increase the capacity of professional staff to incorporate gender perspectives into their work.

An important point, which should be raised in all discussions of gender mainstreaming, is that the strategy of gender mainstreaming does not in any way preclude the need for specific targeted interventions to address women's empowerment and gender equality. The Beijing Platform for Action calls for a dual strategy – gender mainstreaming complemented with inputs designed vii to address specific gaps or problems faced in the promotion of gender equality. Similarly, gender mainstreaming does not do away with the need for gender experts or catalysts. On the contrary, improving the implementation of gender mainstreaming within the United Nations over the coming decade will require the inputs of such experts, working in a catalytic manner to deepen the awareness, knowledge, commitment and capacity of all professional staff. Additional, not fewer, resources will be required to support the important work of gender specialists, gender focal points and gender units throughout the system.

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Gender Mainstreaming: An Overview