- What is gender and why does it matter?
- Gender relations and status in the household
- Intersection of gender and other forms of discrimination
- Gender analysis and mainstreaming
- Further resources
Gender is an important consideration in development. It is a way of looking at how social norms and power structures impact on the lives and opportunities available to different groups of men and women. Globally, more women than men live in poverty. Women are also less likely than men to receive basic education and to be appointed to a political position nationally and internationally. Understanding that men and women, boys and girls experience poverty differently and face different barriers in accessing services, economic resources and political opportunities helps to target interventions.
What is gender and why does it matter?
Before undertaking a gender analysis, it is important to understand the concept of ‘gender’. According to the World Development Report (WDR) 2012, gender is defined as socially constructed norms and ideologies which determine the behaviour and actions of men and women. Understanding these gender relations and the power dynamics behind them is a prerequisite for understanding individuals’ access to and distribution of resources, the ability to make decisions and the way women and men, boys and girls are affected by political processes and social development.
Compared with men, women control fewer political and economic resources, including land, employment and traditional positions of authority. Acknowledging and incorporating these gender inequalities into programmes and analyses is therefore extremely important, both from a human rights perspective and to maximise impact and socioeconomic development. The WDR 2012 highlights the importance of directly targeting the persistent constraints and obstacles to women’s equality (especially in areas of economic empowerment, educational gaps, household/societal voice, and violence against women) in order to enhance productivity and improve longer-term development outcomes. Gender equality is also important for sustainable peace, and there is a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that a higher level of gender inequality is associated with higher risks of internal conflict.
World Bank. (2012). ‘Overview’ in World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, World Bank, Washington DC
This report examines how greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative. Markets, institutions, and households play a role in reducing inequality, and globalisation can provide important opportunities. Domestic actors need to focus on reducing female mortality, narrowing education and earnings disparities, increasing women’s voice, and limiting gender inequality across generations. The international community needs to ensure consistent support, improve the availability of gender-disaggregated data, and extend partnerships beyond governments and development agencies.
The development of gender on the international agenda
The concept of gender emerged with Ester Boserup’s influential work in the early 1970s which challenged the notion of women as passive beneficiaries of development. She called for a focus on Women in Development (WID), to acknowledge the contributions of women’s often invisible labour. Following frustration with the slow progress of WID, other approaches emerged that criticised the WID approach as being one of simply ‘add women and stir’. The Women and Development (WAD) approach emphasised the need for structural changes in the global political economy.
The Gender and Development (GAD) approach followed, focusing on larger inequities and unequal relations. GAD advocates called for a deeper understanding of the socially constructed basis of gender differences and how this impacts on relationships between men and women. They argued for an improved understanding of power relations and the gendered nature of systems and institutions which impact on the lives of women and men. Rather than incorporating women into the current patriarchal system, GAD advocates argued for the transformation of the system into one characterised by gender equality.
Further, states have continued to call for progress towards gender equality through a number of international agreements, regional platforms and conferences. At the 1995 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, the most influential conference to date, states committed themselves (in the Beijing Platform for Action) to establishing mechanisms to promote women’s rights – including national action plans, gender strategies and legal frameworks.
In 2000, states confirmed their commitment to reducing gender inequalities through the United Nations Millennium Declaration. This was articulated specifically in Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 which called for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Three indicators were chosen to represent this goal: i) the ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education; ii) the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector; and iii) the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament. Gender equality is also essential in order to achieve the other seven MDGs. In the post-2015 process to decide what goals, if any, should follow the MDGs, gender has remained a core concern. Some advocates have called for a standalone goal on gender, while others have promoted gender targets within each goal.
While progress has been made to highlight women’s issues and experiences in development programmes, national laws and political decisions, attention to gender is often inconsistent. In addition, insufficient funds are allocated to ensure that gender equality is an important part of these programmes and policies. Many scholars and practitioners argue that the aim of the ‘gender agenda’ – the transformation of unequal, unjust power relations – has been largely ignored.
Cornwall, A. (2007). ‘Revisiting the ‘Gender Agenda’’, IDS Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 2, pp.69-78
This article examines how the term ‘gender’ found its way into development and explores the consequences of the transposition of an activist analytical category onto the world of aid. It points out the simplifications and slogans that have accompanied its ‘mainstreaming’ and challenges the assumptions on which these ideas have come to depend. It argues for a renewed focus on analysing and transforming unequal and unjust power relations.
OECD. (2013). Gender equality and women’s rights in the post-2015 agenda: A foundation for sustainable development. OECD And Post-2015 Reflections. Element 3, Paper 1.
This policy paper puts forward the OECD’s position on gender in the post-2015 goals. It recommends that the new goals contain a strong standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as integrating gender-specific targets and indicators in the other goals. It states that making girls and women visible in development agendas encourages governments and donors to take action. It suggests that the post-2015 framework needs to take a holistic approach: 1) addressing girls’ completion of a quality education, 2) women’s economic empowerment, 3) universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, 4) ending violence against women and girls, 5) women’s voice, leadership and influence, 6) women’s participation in peace and security, 7) women’s contributions to environmental sustainability.
See full text
UN Women. (2013). A Transformative Stand-Alone Goal On Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Rights And Women’s Empowerment. In the context of the Post-2015 Development framework and Sustainable Development Goals. UN Women.
UN Women’s position paper on the post-2015 goals on gender equality and women’s rights suggests that a transformative approach is needed. It calls for action to address structural impediments for women’s empowerment, such as violence against women, unpaid care work, limited control over assets and property, and unequal participation in private and public decision-making. The paper suggests integrating gender equality concerns throughout other goals, and a standalone goal covering three core areas, with associated targets and indicators for each: freedom from violence for women and girls; gender equality in the distribution of capabilities; and gender equality in decision-making power
See full text
See also more information about the Beijing Platform for Action and the MDGs.
Data on gender
While high quality data is generally difficult to come by in developing countries, it is even less common that high quality sex-disaggregated data is available. In particular, data related to women’s contributions in the informal economy, gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices is very rare. This makes it difficult to fully understand the experiences of women and men and to ensure that programmes are targeted where they can be most effective. Further, data disaggregated by age is also infrequently available, making it difficult to understand differences between women and girls, and men and boys. Some research and evaluations of development programmes have relied on qualitative data rather than quantitative data. This reliance is criticised by some groups as not being rigorous enough.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that gender- and age-disaggregation of data is only the first step. Data and analysis of the power differentials or underlying causes for these differences is also needed. Ideally, what is required is a mix of quantitative and qualitative data and analysis that presents evidence of what the differences are and why those differences exist.
For further discussion and resources on gender data, see the ‘Monitoring and evaluation’ chapter of this guide.
Gender relations and status in the household
Gender relations are upheld by both informal and formal institutions. Informal institutions are usually referred to as “long-lasting codes of conduct, norms, traditions […] that contribute to gender inequality in all spheres of life” (Branisa et al 2009, cited in Jones et al 2010, p. 10). Formal institutions (economic, political, legal and social) include political systems and labour markets. These two spheres interact with local cultures to determine gender outcomes. Social institutions that have been identified as particularly negative for women and girls include discriminatory family codes, son bias, physical insecurity, limited resource rights and entitlements, and cultural restrictions on women’s movement and other liberties (Jones et al 2010). Formal institutions can have both intended and unintended negative impacts on women. For example, laws, such as Shariah, which specifically state that a man’s and a woman’s witness are of different value have an intended discriminatory effect. A policy which requires land titles as a precondition for receiving agricultural credit may have the unintended effect of excluding women because land ownership is generally concentrated among male family members. Allowing for the placement of two names (a husband’s and wife’s) on land titles could help to address this problem.
Jones, N. et al (2010). ‘Stemming Girls’ Chronic Poverty: Catalysing Development Change by Building Just Social Institutions’, Chronic Poverty Research Centre
Do social institutions result in gender differences in the incidence of poverty? This paper finds that discriminatory family codes, son bias, limited resource entitlements, physical insecurity and restricted civil liberties play a role in chronic poverty, specifically that of young women. It is therefore important to: eliminate gender discrimination through legal provisions; support girls’ participation in decision-making; invest in child- and gender-sensitive social protection; extend services to hard-to-reach girls; strengthen girls’ resource access; and promote girls’ control over their bodies.
Gender relations through the lifecycle
Gender dynamics and relations change throughout the course of the lifecycle. Status in the household is often determined by age, marriage, number of children, disability, economic resources and educational level attained. Girls, including adolescent girls, often have the lowest status in the household, especially in societies where families need to pay dowry and where the daughters are sent to live with the husband’s family upon marriage. Recent research has identified adolescent girls as particularly vulnerable and susceptible to gender-based discrimination including sexual violence, forced and early marriage, dropping out of school and risk of death during childbirth. Early marriage and early pregnancy can have adverse affects on girls’ health, and may inhibit their ability to take advantage of educational and job opportunities.
Daughters-in-law and unmarried women are also considered to have low status in some cultures as they are seen as outsiders or burdens on the family. Widows and married women who have been abandoned by their husbands may also face stigma and lack of status.
Families often choose to invest in boys as the future earners and caretakers of the family. This enables boys to grow up having higher status in the household than girls and better income generating opportunities. While status generally increases according to age for both men and women, it increases disproportionally for men.
UNICEF. (2006). ‘Panel 1: Gender Discrimination Across the Life Cycle’ in The State of the World’s Children 2007: Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality, UNICEF, New York
See full text
See also this guide’s chapter on Gender-based violence.
Household status determines the roles of different family members. Men are often assumed to be the head of the household and responsible for providing financially for the family, while women and girls are responsible for household chores, such as caring for children, cleaning, fetching water and cooking. While women are now increasingly able to take up paid employment, this often does not involve a reduction in their domestic responsibilities, leading to the ‘double burden’ of women’s domestic and productive roles. The time required to perform domestic chores also limits women’s access to paid employment and their participation in civil society and politics.
While investing in boys’ education is often viewed as a long-term strategy, the pressure on men to earn money can in some instances lead to boys being taken out of school to help support the family financially. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to be taken out of school because the family is unable to afford their school fees and/or relies on girls to help with domestic chores and childcare.
Although it is often assumed that households are headed by males, this is not always the case. In situations of conflict, displacement, labour migration or abandonment, female-headed households may be more common. These are often among the poorest and most vulnerable households.
Kabeer, N. (2007). ‘Marriage, Motherhood and Masculinity in the Global Economy: Reconfigurations of Personal and Economic Life’, IDS Working Paper 290, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
Is the rise of women in the labour market changing the perception of their role in the home? This study explores how women and men are dealing with the feminisation of labour markets in the face of the prevalence of male breadwinner ideologies and the apparent threat to male authority represented by women’s earnings. It shows that most working women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of domestic responsibility. Women may be using their newly acquired earning power to challenge the injustice of the double work burden, but policymakers are still failing to provide support for women’s care responsibilities.
Esplen, E. (2009). ‘Gender and Care: Overview Report’, BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton.
This article examines the core issues around care – why it is important, how it conflicts with women’s rights, and addressing the main challenges. It posits that care work should be recognised as important, and that it should not be the sole responsibility of women. It provides examples of programmes which have expanded women’s choices and opportunities. It also reviews policies which can increase the value accorded to care work.
See full text
Control over resources and decision-making
While not always the case, men are more commonly the heads of the household and the breadwinners of the family. This has often translated into men making the family’s financial and non-financial decisions – such as when daughters get married and to whom, whether the wife can work outside of the household, whether to use contraception and who gets the most food. In agricultural societies where women often do most of the work, male family members often own the land and make the agricultural decisions. Because of women’s lower bargaining position in the household, their decision-making is often limited and can be confined to childrearing concerns and domestic tasks. Factors that exacerbate women’s low bargaining positions include large age gaps between husband and wife, which intensify already existing gender inequalities, cultural factors that devalue women’s unpaid work, lower levels of education and economic dependence.
Women have in some instances been able to find ways of negotiating control over resources and decision making. Women are frequently tasked with budgeting for the household either through resources provided by the husband or through petty trading and agricultural labour. In some cases, women are seen as household financial managers. In other cases, while women may not control the household income, they adopt various strategies to ensure they can access part of these resources. These may include hiding money and lying about expenditures, to ensure that they can pay for food and children’s schooling. Interventions aimed explicitly at strengthening women’s control over resources, such as conditional cash transfers, can be particularly beneficial.
Apusigah, A. (2009). ‘The Gendered Politics of Farm Household Production and the Shaping of Women’s Livelihoods in Northern Ghana’ in Feminist Africa, No 12, pp 51-68
How does the gendered politics of farm household production affect women’s livelihoods? This study focuses on livelihoods-based interests in farm land and non-violent conflict situations in northern Ghana. It argues that the social positioning of women and whether they work on the land or not are important determinants of their livelihood possibilities.
Doss, C. (2013). Intrahousehold bargaining and resource allocation in developing countries. The World Bank Research Observer, 28(1), 52-78.
This article provides an overview of the quantitative literature on intra-household resource allocation, and summarises the main observations and insights relevant to policy-makers. It reviews theoretical models from the last thirty years, and examines different forms of bargaining – between spouses, between parents and children, and between other household members. It reviews the possibility of showing causation rather than correlation, and which outcomes of women’s bargaining are reasonably well-established. It concludes women’s bargaining power affects household decisions, although it is hard to prove causality.
See full text
Intersection of gender and other forms of discrimination
Unequal power relations do not fall only along gender lines. In addition to gender, individuals can be discriminated against for a number of reasons including ethnicity and race, religion, caste, age, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and geographic location. When gender intersects with other axes of marginalisation, women are more likely to experience multiple layers of discrimination. In some cases, these other forms of discrimination can be more intense than gender discrimination. An ethnic minority man can be less powerful and more discriminated against than a middle class woman from a majority ethnic group, although a female from this same ethnic minority group could face even greater discrimination.
Intersectionality is a tool used to better understand how these discriminations materialise and intersect. It is based on an understanding that men and women have layered identities which have resulted from social relations, history and power structures. Through a deeper appreciation of multiple identities and consequent patterns of discrimination, more effective responses can be tailored.
Chow, E.N., Segal, M.T., & Lin, T. (2011). Analyzing Gender, Intersectionality, and Multiple Inequalities: Global, Transnational and Local Contexts. Volume 15 of Advances in gender research. Emerald Group Publishing.
This book collates papers from a 2009 conference on “Gender and Social Transformation: Global, Transnational, and Local Realities and Perspectives”. It contextualises experiences of intersectionality and inequality, social exclusion and powerlessness. It situates these experiences theoretically and provides connecting overviews on how those facing intersectional challenges are the most vulnerable.
See full text
Hankivsky, O. (2012). Women’s health, men’s health, and gender and health: implications of intersectionality. Social science & medicine, 74(11), 1712-1720.
This paper examines the specific intersectionality of gender with equitable access to health. It examines the difficulties of understanding the different factors which influence access to health. It states that gender and/or sex are usually the primary dimensions used to understand health experiences, but this simplifies and undermines the complexities of access. Using an intersectional analysis transforms the understanding of access to healthcare. Gender is not always the most salient or meaningful category, and it may be more beneficial to use an intersectional approach. This should allow a deeper and more nuanced analysis and policy prescriptions.
See full text
Watson, C., Hamilton Harding, J. & Harper, C. (2013). Adolescent girls, capabilities and gender justice: Review of the literature for East Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia. London: ODI.
This Background Note synthesises the results of three extensive gender literature reviews exploring the extent to which gender justice for adolescent girls is shaped by formal and informal laws, norms, attitudes and practices that limit them in the attainment and exercise of their capabilities. It describes the political, social, economic and cultural context in which girls live, and describes the intersectional poverty of being both young and a girl.
See full text
Gender analyses and programmes have often come to define gender as ‘women’, forgetting or ignoring the different ways in which men and boys are affected by gender power structures and systems and how this intersects with different axes of power. Like women, men play diverse roles in society, the economy and household. Men have multiple ‘masculinities’, some of which involve dominance and others subordination (Cornwall et al, 2011). Recent discussions of masculinity have emphasised the need to engage with the structures that sustain gender inequality.
Excluding boys and men from gender analysis reduces the impact interventions can have on gender inequality. Putting the pressure on women as the only agents of change can also be considered an ethical issue, given the number of other challenges that poor women are forced to confront.
Where men and boys are included in analysis, they are often framed as problems, rather than as positive actors. For example, unemployment and the structural exclusion of young men has been linked to an increased risk of engagement in violence. Young men in such instances are often perceived as a security threat. In many contexts, however, youth who suffer from exclusion do not get involved in violence and can be positive agents of change.
In addition, older men are often seen as barriers to women’s empowerment. While small-scale programmes that work with men and boys demonstrate some success towards more gender equitable attitudes, focusing on or including boys and men remains controversial. Some feminists fear that such a focus diverts both attention and resources away from women’s rights work.
It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that there is a need to better understand how the gendered identities of boys and men are formed and how they can be better mobilised as a force for gender equality. For example, Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012-2018) highlights the importance of male champions in ensuring the security of women and girls. Men and boys can be powerful advocates for gender equality, helping to reduce and prevent violence against women and ensure that women’s needs are taken into account and included as crucial elements in peace negotiations and at international fora.
Van der Gaag, N. (2011). ‘Because I Am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2011: So, What About Boys?’, Because I Am A Girl Series, Plan International
This annual report on the state of the world’s girls addresses boys and men. It argues that they should be involved in addressing gender inequality, both as power-holders and as a group suffering from negative gender stereotypes. It emphasises the role of fathers, families and schools in shaping gender relations. Fathers can set an example for their families by sharing household responsibilities, expressing emotions, and treating his sons, daughters and wife equally. In schools, both pre-school and secondary schooling for boys have positive effects on gender equality, through learning positive behaviour, and decreasing violence against women and girls.
See full text
Cornwall, A., Erdström, J. and Greig, A. (2011). ‘Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities’, Zed Books, London
This book challenges the neglect of the structural dimensions of patriarchal power relations in current development policy and practice, and the failure to adequately engage with the effects of inequitable sex and gender orders on both men’s and women’s lives. It calls for renewed engagement in efforts to challenge and change stereotypes of men, to dismantle the structural barriers to gender equality, and to mobilise men to build new alliances with women’s movements and other movements for social and gender justice.
See full text
Hilker, L. M. and Fraser, E. M. (2009). ‘Youth Exclusion, Violence, Conflict and Fragile States’, Report prepared for DFID, Social Development Direct, London
What is the evidence on the links between youth exclusion, violence, conflict and fragile states? The paper highlights factors which can contribute to youth violence, and makes recommendations for DFID’s work on youth exclusion and violence. There is statistical evidence of a link between high relative youth populations and an increased risk of armed conflict. However, statistical relationships have their limitations. They cannot be used as a sole predictor of conflict in specific areas and reveal little about the causal processes. It is also important that youth are not generally viewed as a security ‘threat’. A key factor driving youth involvement in violence is the structural exclusion and lack of opportunities faced by many young people. These block the transition to adulthood and can lead to frustration, disillusionment and, in some cases, participation in violence.
Australian Government. (2012). ‘Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, 2012-2018’, Australian Government Office for Women, Canberra
The NAP consolidates and builds on the existing programme of work to integrate a gender perspective into peace and security efforts, protect women and girls’ human rights, particularly in relation to gender-based violence, and promote their participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution.
See full text
Barker, G., Contreras, J. M., Heilman, B., Singh, A. K., Verma, R. K., & Nascimento, M. (2011). Evolving men: initial results from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES). Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Promundo.
From 2009 to 2010, household surveys were administered to more than 8,000 men and 3,500 women ages 18 to 59 in Brazil, Chile, Croatia, India, Mexico and Rwanda. The key findings are that there is general trend for younger, more educated men and men with gender-equitable role models show more gender-equitable behaviour. Most men were not in delivery room for the birth of their last child, but nearly half do some daily caregiving. 25 to 40 per cent of men reported physical intimate partner violence. Between 16 percent and 56 percent of men say they have paid for sex at least once.
See full text
Farre, L. (2013). The role of men in the economic and social development of women: implications for gender equality. Washington D.C.: The Worldbank.
How does male behaviour affect female outcomes in the promotion of gender equality? This survey first summarizes recent studies on the distribution of power within the family and identifies several factors that have altered the bargaining position of men and women over the last decades. It then reviews empirical work on the contribution of men, as fathers and husbands, to the health and socioeconomic outcomes of women in both developed and developing countries. Finally, it discusses a set of economic policies that have intentionally or unintentionally affected men’s attitudes and behaviours. The main implication is that policies meant to achieve gender equality should focus on men rather than exclusively target women.
For further resources, see the Masculinity section of Eldis.
Gender analysis and mainstreaming
National governments and donors (such as CIDA, DFID and DFAT) have developed a number of strategies, tools and resources to ensure their development programmes take account of gender inequality. These strategies include organisational gender mainstreaming, conducting gender analysis, and gender assessments to determine impacts of programmes, strategies and laws.
Progress in implementing these strategies and thus increasing gender awareness and gender equality has been slow and ad hoc. Reasons for this include a lack of commitment on behalf of stakeholders and insufficient resource allocation. Gaps in the collection, compilation and reporting of gender-sensitive data also present a significant challenge to effective gender analysis. While gender issues are often acknowledged as important, states and donors often give them lower priority, considering other aspects of development – such as democracy, poverty or conflict – more urgent.
AusAID. (2011). ‘AusAID’s Promoting Opportunities for All: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’, AusAID, Canberra
This paper lays out the Australian government’s strategy for opportunities for all. It develops four pillars:
- Pillar 1: Advancing equal access to gender-responsive health and education services
- Pillar 2: Increasing women’s voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building
- Pillar 3: Empowering women economically and improving their livelihood security
- Pillar 4: Ending violence against women and girls at home, in their communities and in disaster and conflict situations
Pillar 1 has had the most investment and success. There are persistent challenges in the other pillars. See full text
DFID. (2011). A New Strategic Vision for Girls and Women: Stopping Poverty Before it Starts. Department for International Development.
This is DFID’s strategic vision paper from the coalition government. It takes a different direction from the previous Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) for 2007-2010. Its four pillars for action are: 1) delay first pregnancy and support safe childbirth; 2) get economic assets directly to girls and women; 3) get girls through secondary school; and 4) prevent violence against girls and women. It draws on empowerment theory about widening girls’ and women’s access to choices. A variety of programmatic approaches are recommended.
See full text
UNIFEM. (2010). ‘Making the MDGs Work Better for Women: Implementing Gender-Responsive National Development Plans and Programmes’, UNIFEM, New York
This policy report from the UN draws on good practice from the last ten years in strategies for accelerating progress towards the MDGs. It recognises that many donors and governments have expressed strong commitment to gender equality, but find it challenging to turn this into action. The paper outlines some lessons on how this can be achieved.
See full text
Gender analysis and assessments
Gender analysis is the process of assessing the impact that a development programme may have on men and women and on gender relations in general (Hunt 2004). Gender analysis can be used for a number of reasons including: i) to ensure that men and women are not disadvantaged by any particular activities or strategies; ii) to identify priority areas for action to promote equality; iii) to assess gendered differences in participation or resource allocation; and iv) to build capacity and commitment to gender equality.
A number of tools have been developed to assess gender equality progress within organisations and programmes. These include: i) participatory gender audits, which aim to promote organisational learning on how to practically and effectively mainstream gender; ii) project toolkits such as checklists which are lists of questions to help programme staff remember gender differences and potential gendered impacts; and iii) scorecards which contain concrete performance indicators to assess progress. Most development organisations have developed their own gender analysis tools to suit their needs.
Gender mainstreaming is the process of ensuring that gender is considered at all times, both within agencies (institutionally) and programmes (operationally). As these are closely interlinked, gender mainstreaming must be implemented both institutionally and operationally to be successful. A donor agency unable to recognise the challenges faced by its own female staff, for example, would struggle to understand the gender impacts of its programmes.
Since committing to the Beijing Platform for Action, most donors, national governments and NGOs have put in place gender mainstreaming policies. Some donors have also incorporated other intersections of discriminations: UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming Strategy is considered an example of international best practice.
However, progress with gender mainstreaming remains inconsistent, and often suffers from insufficient commitment (usually from senior management), insufficient resource allocation and insufficient understanding of gender issues by staff at all levels. For example, an evaluation of gender mainstreaming in UNHABITAT found that while the agency has sought to mainstream gender into core areas of its work, these efforts are not uniform in strength across the agency. In addition, a key challenge of gender mainstreaming is the possibility that if gender is a concern to all staff (rather than a specific gender unit), there may be a tendency for no one to actually draw attention to gender issues and to take action. To counteract this problem, gender experts now recommend a twin-track approach using both mainstreaming and gender-focused units.
Thomas, V. and Beck, T. (2010). ‘Changing the Way UNHCR Does Business? An Evaluation of the Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming Strategy, 2004-2009’ UNHCR, Geneva
The evaluation concludes that despite some good progress UNHCR still has difficulties in achieving its strategic goals, and in successfully mainstreaming age, gender and diversity at all operational levels. The strategy signalled a significant shift in direction, and as such, needs a long timeframe to implement. It shifted away from a legal understanding of protection for refugees, to one which includes social and economic aspects. It has rigorous accountability, but does not have a clear vision of what the organisation should look like.
See full text
USAID (2010). ‘Guide on How to Integrate Disability into Gender Assessments and Analyses’, USAID
See full text
Earle, L. and Mikkelsen, B. (2011). ‘Evaluation of Gender Mainstreaming in UN-HABITAT’, UNHABITAT, Nairobi
This evaluation assesses UN-HABITAT’s efforts to mainstream gender, finding that it has maintained good efforts in mainstreaming, but with uneven application across contexts. It has several staff members and units responsible for gender mainstreaming. It has produced a number of research documents on men’s and women’s different shelter needs, and has provided capacity building on gender to local government institutions. It has also supported women’s legal rights to property and land ownership.
See full text
Special Issue: Beyond Gender Mainstreaming, Gender & Development, vol. 20, no. 3. (2012).
This special issue contains 14 articles on gender mainstreaming at the current time. It ranges from micro level programme analysis to macro policy issues, and looks at how we can move forward from persistent problems with mainstreaming. Despite gender’s prominence in most agencies and policies, most actors still remain focused on economic development goals, rather than transformative human development goals.
See full text
Risby, L. A., & Todd, D. (2012). Mainstreaming gender equality: A road to results or a road to nowhere?. Operations Evaluation Department, African Development Bank Group.
This paper synthesises gender mainstreaming experiences from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies to highlight trends, commonalities, challenges and good practices. This synthesis looks at 26 thematic and country evaluations undertaken between 1990 and 2010. The main finding is that gender mainstreaming has not been widely carried out, and there is poor data on whether changes in gender equality have been achieved.
See full text
Mcloughlin, C. (2010). ‘Child Marriage’, GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report, GSDRC, Birmingham
For further information on donor approaches to gender analysis and mainstreaming, see the ‘Donor approaches to gender’ section of this guide.
- Gender mainstreaming on Eldis
- Women Living Under Muslim Laws
- The Because I am a Girl series by Plan International
- The section of the World Bank’s website on gender tools.