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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Gender Mainstreaming: Obstacles and Opportunities

Date: 9 Sep 1995

A panel, jointly sponsored by UNRISD, UNDP and the United Nations Volunteers, entitled Gender Mainstreaming: Obstacles and Opportunities, was held at the Official Conference in Beijing. The panelists included gender researchers and practitioners, some of whom had been involved in the Phase I activities of the project. The aim of the panel was to critically assess progress in institutionalizing gender issues within different policy-making bodies over the past decade.

Participants outlined some of the advances that have been made in promoting attention to women's concerns within government institutions and development agencies, including the setting up of women's units and the design of guidelines and action plans on women's issues. Anne Marie Goetz reflected on the factors that have contributed to such gains, particularly at the national level, including strong top-management support; strategic use of changes in political systems that provide opportunities to insert women's concerns into new power configurations; and a "critical mass" of women within public institutions and in civil society organizations.

While speakers pointed to a heightened gender sensitivity amongst development institutions, they also expressed concern about the incremental pace of change. Carol Narcisse raised questions about the gains that could be made from the setting up of gender checklists and guidelines aimed at "mainstreaming" gender when the overall policy environment, defined by the neo-liberal market agenda, effectively constrained progress toward gender equity. Rounaq Jahan questioned the desirability of the "integrationist" approach to gender mainstreaming pursued by most development agencies, whereby gender concerns are simply added on to pre-conceived policies. Jahan argued instead for an "agenda-setting" approach in which women are able to play a role in defining development goals. The importance of strong women's constituencies able to promote gender issues as legitimate economic and political concerns was reiterated by all speakers.

Anne Marie Goetz, Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, Brighton
Rounaq Jahan, Columbia University, New York
Carol Narcisse, Association of Women of Jamaica, Kingston
Imelda Nicholas, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Philippino Women, Manila

Rosina Wiltshire, Manager, Gender in Development Programme, UNDP, New York