Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a strategy used to achieve the goals of national gender equality policy. Gender mainstreaming research can focus on whether gender mainstreaming is a good strategy to achieve gender equality, or on what the requirements are to make gender mainstreaming successful.

Gender mainstreaming is a way of planning the work in an organisation so that all decisions made take into account how they affect the (im)balance in power between women and men. It concerns the political governance, decision makers at different levels and everybody else who can influence the work in an organisation. The point of gender mainstreaming is to prevent gender equality work from being carried out in isolation alongside with and not integrated into an organisation’s regular operations.

What research has been conducted on gender mainstreaming? There is both research that has evaluated the gender mainstreaming work performed in various organisations and research that compares gender mainstreaming with other strategies. The criticism of gender mainstreaming can be divided into four major types:

  • Gender mainstreaming recreates gender differences.
  • Gender mainstreaming is nothing new in relation to previously used methods.
  • Gender mainstreaming is too complicated to be implemented.
  • Gender mainstreaming as a strategy and the activities it involves have become an end in itself, in place of gender equality.

Making gender mainstreaming successful

There is also research that has evaluated gender mainstreaming projects and that is more positive to the strategy. This line of research has identified ‘springboards’ for successful gender mainstreaming and increased gender equality.

These springboards can be divided into four categories:

  • The responsibility of policy makers: The research points out a number of policy measures that must be in place in order for gender mainstreaming to be successful. For example, public actors must be given clear assignments and goals for the work.
  • Education and knowledge: The research has also shown that training on gender equality, gender perspectives, intersectionality and gender mainstreaming of practical relevance to the respective organisation is a key factor for success.
  • Information, measurable objectives and dialogue with citizens: It is important to have knowledge both about the gender inequality in the organisation and about how the operations affect both women and men, through for example communication and personal interaction.
  • Experts and coordination: Organisations need knowledge support in the form of expert co-workers, consultants or researchers. They also need to collaborate and share experiences with other organisations in the same field.

In addition to these factors, the research recommends plenty of patience. Societies are in a constant process of change, which means that all types of organisations and the work to increase the gender equality in our societies must change continuously, too.

Mainstreaming internationally

Gender mainstreaming as a strategy is of course used in many international contexts. Since the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, gender mainstreaming is the main strategy to achieve gender equality in the UN’s efforts. UN General Assembly and the Secretary General has taken a number of decisions which underlines the importance of gender mainstreaming. When UN Women was established in 2010, the unit was assigned to support the use of gender mainstreaming in other UN bodies.

Also the EU institutions and the Council of Europe has decided to use the gender mainstreaming strategy.

Read more on gender mainstreaming internationally on the European Institute for Gender Equality, EIGE’s, website.

Author Swedish secretariat for gender research. Published 31st of March 2016
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