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Gender Mainstreaming

Gender and poverty are closely interlinked concepts in the development context. Any analysis done on poverty targeting establishes this inseparable relationship. The early eighties have seen a major paradigm shift in policies and approaches of Government as well as other non-governmental institutions. The role of women in development policy and planning has continued to evolve, particularly over the last twenty years. While a variety of past methods and approaches are still being applied, an overall evolution towards participation is taking place. Many have termed this evolution of development policy as Women in Development, to Women and Development, to Gender and Development - WID, to WAD, to GAD. More recently emphasis has been placed upon gender equity and equality.

The role of women in development gained prominence with the publishing of Ester Boserup’s "Women’s Role in Economic Development" in 1970. Boserup argued that modernization, the dominant economic theory at the time, had removed women from their productive roles by reinforcing notions of patriarchy. Women were viewed as relatively passive to the development process, simply "recipients of welfare" (Rowlands: 1997, page 5). "Women in Development" sought to remedy the situation by integrating women into male power structures to ensure equality. While women were incorporated into paid production, the development process itself with its patriarchal hierarchies and structures was not seen as a barrier to development and women’s reproductive, productive, and community roles were often overlooked. "Women and Development" views equality as neglecting the existing social structures, which inhibit women’s productivity. Under WAD, small scale, women-only development projects are implemented, often with the help of non-governmental organizations.

The Nairobi conference at the end of the UN Decade of Women in 1986 allowed for a dialogue between women’s groups worldwide and helped usher in a new focus for development policy. "Gender and Development" emphasizes the importance of gender as a social construct and its relation to creating inequalities in a global context. GAD recognizes the importance of the interaction between women and men and attempts to change the structures that create hierarchies of power along lines of class, race and ethnicity as well as gender. The Fourth Annual UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 reemphasized a commitment to working toward gender equality especially through the empowerment of women and the poor.

Its purpose is to establish a framework for action within which all Community activities can contribute to attain the goal of eliminating inequalities and promoting equality between women and men.

The gender relations approach to women’s development stresses that the problem in women’s development is not “women”, but the socially constructed relationship between men and women, a relation in which women are subordinated. It therefore recommends the empowerment of women and conscientisation of men to transform gender relations and other social relations, which oppress women like caste, class and race. The empowerment of women has become a focus of development projects, along with recognition of women’s many roles and positions in society. Women are recognized not only as individual members of the productive and reproductive spheres of society, but also are understood to be active "agents of social change"(Moser: 1993).

The process of women’s empowerment can be discussed at two levels: material and ideological. At the ideological level, it is concerned with conscientisation of women and organization for change. While at the material level, it is discussed with reference to women’s access to resources, power and decision-making.

Building on a commitment to gender equity and women’s empowerment, the new policy stresses the important links between gender equality, human rights and sustainable development. Ensuring gender equality involves a concerted effort of meeting imbalances between men and women.

"Compared to men, women generally have less access to and control over productive assets, employment and training opportunities, basic services, information, and decision-making mechanisms in the state, judiciary, private sector organizations, the community, and within the household. These gender inequalities contribute to and perpetuate poverty from one generation to the next" (CIDA’s Policy on Gender Equality, 1999, page 11).

Gender equality and women’s empowerment has to go hand in hand in order to ensure poverty reduction. The rural poor women, constituting the labor class are denied access and control to any kind of resources, with minimal participation in many of the decision making forums.


Gender: Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women whereas gender refers to the socially constructed differences between men and women which vary according to cultural, social and historical context. This is generally culture – specific societal norm or edict that is handed down from generation to generation and binding on the individual who seeks acceptance from the society.

Gender based issues arise when the society does not give equal opportunity and respect to an individual because of his/ her sexual identity and / or behavior.

Development efforts in the last forty years have by and large not addressed the root causes of women's subordination, and have therefore failed to impact gender inequality in a significant way. Most mainstream approaches to women's development have not been based on analyses of the overall reality of women's lives, but have focused either on their roles as mothers and housewives, or as economic agents. The development of women was seen as an issue of "letting them participate" in projects which they were not involved in determining, on terms decided by others.

The emphasis later shifted to targeting women through separate women-only projects. While many of these were innovative and catalytic, most were small, isolated and under-funded initiatives which had very little lasting impact. Where women's components have been included in large mainstream projects, the objectives and priorities of these projects were seldom influenced or informed by women's needs and concerns.

It is now widely accepted that gender inequality is not a result of women's integration or lack of integration in development, or their lack of skills, credit and resources. The root cause of the problem lies in the social structures, institutions, values and beliefs, which create and perpetuate women's subordination. The issue is not merely one of "adding on" women to various processes, but of reshaping these processes to create the space for women's involvement not only in implementing the development agenda, but also in agenda setting.

Gender equality cannot come about only through changes in women's condition - it requires transformation of the structures and systems which lie at the root of women's subordination and gender inequality. This transformation cannot be induced by external interventions. Women must themselves become active agents of change.

Gender equality therefore demands women's empowerment, a process that leads to greater participation in social and political processes, greater decision-making power and to conscious action for social transformation.

The process of empowerment is not sectoral - it encompasses women's multiple roles and interests, and addresses the inter-relationships between them, leading to women gaining greater control over their own lives. Empowerment thus has many dimensions.

Gender Mainstreaming is to build a critical understanding of the causes and processes of disempowerment. It is for enhancing self-esteem and altering self-image, gaining increased access to natural, financial and intellectual resources. Acquiring the confidence, knowledge, information and skills to understand and intervene in social, economic and political structures and processes. Increasing participation in and control of decision-making processes within and outside the family and community. Moving into new roles and spaces, which were hitherto seen as exclusively male domains. Coming together to question, challenge and change unjust and iniquitous beliefs, practices, structures and institutions, which perpetuate gender inequality.

The process of women's empowerment challenges the basic assumptions, which govern age-old social institutions, systems and values. It is, therefore, inevitable that it should encounter resistance from existing power structures. It is easier for collectives of women, rather than individual women, to take the process of empowerment forward in the face of this resistance.

A major cause for the crisis of development is the dominant world view which sees only polarized realities - which marginalizes and renders invisible not only women's realities, but also the realities and priorities of all powerless groups - the poor, children, tribal communities and the oppressed castes.

Women and the poor together form the majority of the world's population. The perspectives and experiences of poor women can be a major source of transformation of the way in which we understand development. Gender mainstreaming is therefore a strategy for addressing and reversing the current crisis of development.


giftypearl.abenaab's picture


I salute you and all men on this communityi.
am glad to hear a male's voice today about the important roles women play in development.
Keep the good work

Gifty Pearl Abenaab
Greight Foundation

jodelight's picture

development and empowerment


Thank you for your informative and compelling post. I am joyed that you as a man, also see the complexities and obstacles that women around the world face. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.


LauraB's picture


It is wonderful to see and hear in so many places- such as your post- that men and women in all levels of government, NGOs, education, and citizens throughout the world are tapping into the power and healing of women and girls. We are living in a time of great change- thank you for this very informative post.


Mr. Mayank,

Thank-you fro taking the time to make this very enlightening post. I agree with all you have written and would like to add one more compelling point. As women begin to take their legitimate positions in leadership roles, many, many assumptions will be questioned. One of the first that should be challenged is that the use of violence and wars is an acceptable way to resolve conflict between humans and nations.

I think this is the most important assumption to be challenged. I also strongly believe that non-violent conflict resolution will be the new wave of activism that empowered women will successfully employ to address the worlds' problems and challenges.

For this to be realized, we must begin to question the utility of spending trillions on warfare, while the problems of the poor or the world and global climate change are placed on the proverbial "back burner."

Respectfully Yours,

Joan Bartos

marietta64's picture


a very usefull article

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