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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

When you educate the women, you educate the nation

A successful training course is one where you learn from not only the material and the course leader, but from deep discussions, debates, and interactions with fellow attendees. This is what made participating in the training course on gender mainstreaming in development institutions, organized by the Impact Training and Development Institute South Africa, extremely valuable. The main focus of the course was on discussing definitions concerning the different aspects of gender mainstreaming, where case studies and examples from the field led these discussions. 

Gender mainstreaming

Within the training course, gender mainstreaming was defined as: ‘The process of integrating a gender equality perspective in the project cycle, with a specific strategy for achievement of gender equality’.

The definition managed by UN Women is: ‘Gender Mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy for promoting gender equality. Mainstreaming is not an end in itself but a strategy, an approach, a means to achieve the goal of gender equality. Mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities – policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects’ (www.un.org).

Gender equality

Gender equality is:Equality between women and men referring to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development’ (www.un.org).

Practical gender needs versus strategic interests

Important to remember is that there is a distinction between practical gender needs and strategic interests. Practical needs are, for example, the concrete, immediate and often essential needs for human survival, such as water, food, money, shelter, etc. During the course it appeared that especially concerning these practical needs, there can be found gender differences, where women, for example, are mostly responsible for collecting water, etc. However, achieving these practical needs does not change gender roles and stereotypes that inform gender inequality and therefore does not achieve more strategic goals such as sustainable gender equality. Because of this, gender mainstreaming encompasses strategic interests, which, when met, challenge and change the power relations between women and men. They are long term and less visible. Examples are access to political decision making, credit, land-rights, etc. (UNAIDS, 2005).

Photocredit: Manon Koningstein

Mainstreaming gender and a clear distinction between practical needs and strategic interests, has not always been successfully integrated in the design of development projects  with the consequence that in the end more harm than good can be done. This was explained by an example from one of the South-African participants of the course:

I have the example where, in a rural village in South Africa, development workers came in, and saw that we, women, have to walk 5km each day to fetch water. After a while, they had created water holes in our village. However, young, unmarried girls were not that pleased with it. Fetching water is the ideal way to meet boys from the other village and get married. Also, the fetching water is often used as an excuse to be with a boy, when you are not married yet. Everyone knows this is just an excuse, but it is accepted. And now, how will they get a chance to meet a possible husband?

Stereotypes and cultural values

During the course it also appeared that it is of crucial importance to have an understanding of the cultural values and local stereotypes of the project area. Many development projects intending to integrate gender in their strategies will encounter many stereotypes and cultural values, making gender-sensitivity difficult. Some examples of this ignorance were given by African participants in the course, from things they had heard during their field work:

I know of a project where development workers placed hygienic vestibules in town, one per family. But in the end it was the man who was using it, and the women would still go to the bush. How can they forget that men and women are not allowed to use the same bathroom?!

To integrate gender mainstreaming it is important to invest in the development of awareness, knowledge, commitment, and capacity of the professional staff.

In conclusion, the African participants of the course all voiced that ‘when you educate the women, you educate the nation’ and that it is ‘important to target the heads. Target the men as head of the household, and target the heads of state’

The training course on Gender Mainstreaming in Development Institutions took place in held in Johannesburg, the 2nd until the 6th of December 2013.The course was organized by the Impact Training and Development Institute South Africa. The main topics were: understanding the gender conceptual framework; links between gender equality and development; historical development of gender equality, approaches and frameworks; analyzing gender issue and gender needs in development programmes; mainstreaming gender issues and gender needs into development programmes and policies; gender responsive budgeting; monitoring, evaluation and reporting in gender mainstreaming.

For more information:

Candida March, Ines Smyth and Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay, 1999, ‘A Guide to Gender Analysis Frameworks’, London: Oxfam Publishing

Moser, Caroline O.N., 1993, ‘Gender Planning and Development: Theory, Practice, and Training’. London: Routledge

UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Gender and HIV/AIDS (2005), Operational Guide on Gender and HIV/AIDS. A rights-based approach. Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), KIT Development Policy and Practice


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