Gender Mainstreaming Experiences
from Eastern and Southern Africa
Embracing the Concept of Gender
The concept of mainstreaming gender issues into society was clearly established as a global strategy for promoting gender equality at the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (China) in 1995. The conference highlighted the necessity to ensure that gender equality is a primary goal in all areas of social and economic development.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Agreed Conclusions 1997/2 on Gender Mainstreaming defined the concept of gender mainstreaming as follows:
Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality.
In practice, gender mainstreaming means identifying gaps in gender equality through the use of gender-disaggregated data; developing strategies to close those gaps; putting resources and expertise into implementing strategies for gender equality; monitoring implementation; and holding individuals and institutions accountable for results.
Mainstreaming includes gender-specific activities and affirmative action whenever women or men are in a particularly disadvantageous position. Gender-specific interventions can target women exclusively, men and women together, or only men, to enable them to participate in and benefit equally from development efforts. These are necessary temporary measures designed to combat the direct and indirect consequences of past discrimination.
This work explores the experiences of Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia from Eastern Africa; and Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Swaziland from Southern Africa. All cases show the varied attempts to mainstream gender at national, institutional, and civil society levels, including grassroots experiences.
The gender-mainstreaming struggle is not necessarily a new one in the Eastern and Southern African countries, especially when traced from their historical backgrounds. Many African nations upon gaining independence (except for Ethiopia and Swaziland) immediately recognised that poverty, illiteracy, and poor health are a major obstacle to development and growth of the newly emerging nations/states. They also emphasised the need to incorporate women in the development agenda. This is an important aspect given the enormous contribution of women in the liberation struggle and in the reconstruction of the economy in their respective countries.