Should we continue with gender mainstreaming?

Should we continue with gender mainstreaming?

The fact that gender mainstreaming has become de-politicised and undermined is a reality. This has resulted in a blurred focus on addressing the factors that drive gender inequality while a tokenistic approach to addressing women’s empowerment, takes primary significance. So what then should be done? Change how we frame gender mainstreaming or a radical shift from it?

For me, there are two approaches to gender mainstreaming: (i) integrationist and (ii) the more radical, agenda setting/transformative. The integrationist approach fits in the needs of women and men within projects while the agenda setting approach targets the gender inequalities that cause those needs. In other words, while the integrationist approach addresses the more downstream practical women’s needs, the transformative confronts the more upstream drivers of gender inequality.

Some are of the view that the integrationist approach is dependent on the transformative approach for its success. Others however believe that a combination of integrationist and agenda setting approaches are more appropriate.  I would say that both perspectives are based on a common ground that an integrationist approach should not exist alone. The transformative approach politicizes gender mainstreaming. I believe it is the radical edge of gender mainstreaming.

Now let us consider these questions: has the integrationist approach been prioritised at the expense of the agenda setting approach? Are development projects designed to ignore drivers of gender inequality and merely focus on tokenistic interventions?

One way to explore these questions is to see if and how, our notions of resource efficiency, and effectiveness may conflict with the agenda setting approach. We prioritise the efficient use of resources, and evaluate projects based on this priority. Evaluation is mostly designed to measure quantifiable indicators of effective resource use. Within this context, gender mainstreaming has been modified into a tool that will ensure that we meet quantifiable targets. Thus, the political and social factors that drive gender inequality, have perhaps remained largely ignored by these projects.

The constraints caused by the lack of an effective system to evaluate transformative gender mainstreaming, thus influences a tokenistic approach to project planning and implementation, particularly in the global south. Is it true that measuring the impact of transformative gender mainstreaming is ‘difficult and costly’? Perhaps this is the case, but nevertheless we are in dire need of a paradigm shift.

A modification of the strategy may well be a promising alternative - one that will entail developing a robust and effective way of measuring the impact of transformative gender mainstreaming.  Also, continuously framing gender mainstreaming as a strategy within the purview of contextual national policy may provide the much-needed shift to a transformative approach to gender mainstreaming and evaluating it. 

The caveat here, however, is that for this strategy to be successful, contextual gender power dynamics have to be comprehensively understood. Gender mainstreaming should be local and contextual. The important thing to note here is that ‘local’ does not necessarily imply simple. It rather implies unique, complex and bottom-up.


This blog was written by Lara Plang, Managing Partner at Trupact. Lara will be contributing ot the world café breakout session on 'Approaches to tackling violence against women and girls' at our Annual conference on 25 September 2019. 

Check out the full programme and book your place today!