June 23, 2020

A Developmental Approach to Gender Mainstreaming

By Makam Khan Daim

Gender mainstreaming has been critiqued as having diluted and depoliticised struggles for gender equity. Is this the case? If so, why? If not, why not? What are the principal challenges to contemporary efforts to promote gender equity?


The field of gender mainstreaming plays a central role in the debate of critical feminist International Relations (IR) theorists. Reading the influential work of Enloe 2014, regarding the locations and the roles of women in the subject of IR, it brings women into the central discussion of international studies (Enloe, Lacey and Gregory, 2016). However, some of the feminist IR scholars defy the negligible participation of women in the international political theory and practice (Steans, 2003).

This research doesn’t ignore the fact that there are different streams of thought regarding some aspects of feminism. However, it is worth mentioning that this research/paper discussion leans more towards a feminist theoretical approach, hence, the research will use references of both liberal and postcolonial feminist theories in most of its discussion. The rationale behind using both schools of thoughts is that the two schools agree on gender inequality and discrimination; however, both their approaches ontological and epistemological, and their methodologies to interpret scenarios differ (Peterson, 2005).

The discussion begins with gender mainstreaming contributions to feminist IR, specifically relating to equity which decomposes the current unequal distribution of power and social power status between male and female and posits such injustices can be tackled by providing the same access females in all aspects. Therefore, for those feminist scholars, the concept of gender mainstreaming is a pathway to bring equity in the society, or bringing women to the same level as men by advocating for gender improvements in equal representation, roles, and participation in decision-making processes (Owens, Smith and Baylis, 2014).

Gender mainstreaming from theory to practice

Gender mainstreaming has been instrumental in formulating and shaping development in gendered approaches. For some experts of gender studies, gender mainstreaming is a positive process and so far, has demonstrated positive results; however, another school of thought believes that gender mainstreaming has had the opposite effect, namely it resulted in slowdown or even derailed the feminist political mission.

The concept of Gender and Development (GAD) was embraced following critical feminist thoughts. Approaches of GAD focused on bottom up participation, or, as one of thinker on the subject believes, GAD looked to the debate by analysing the level of effectiveness and efficiency produced by the women’s labour force in the market; this approach also deepens the feminist economic and political projects of theories of emancipation and equity (ed. Laura J. Shepherd, 2014). For feminist IR scholars, one of the great achievements was the resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council (UNSC) which brought the Women’s Peace and Security agenda to the UN security council (Skjelsbæk, 2012). This was a traditional ange regarding women’s security on both national and international levels. UNSC Resolution 1325 was highly praised by activists and feminist scholars because it was a major achievement for feminist IR scholars. Moreover, Resolution 1325 discussed women’s role and participation in peace keeping, peace building, and post-war/post-conflict  reconstructions (Mcleod, 2016). The resolution specifically addressed issues and reaffirmed the relevance of gender to Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) by delineating the different needs for men and the needs for women.

There are a number of distinguished structural changes that have taken place because of the concept of gender mainstreaming, such as in the World Bank (WB), UN sub organizations such as United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and many others. However, there are still concerns that changes in some organizations such as the UNDP and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have been nominal. The rationale behind this argument is that on practical levels, such as women’s equal rights, equal payment, and poverty reduction, there has been a lack of progress (Razavi and Miller, 1995).

For feminist IR scholars, human rights remain a debatable issue, whereas the diversion in the trajectory of gender mainstreaming from focusing just on inclusion of Women in Development (WID) to women’s needs and a rights-based approach is highly appreciable step. Patricia believes that gender mainstreaming is a pushing actor for recognising and accepting women’s diversity as well as fostering  campaigns against gender-based violence (GBV) and violations of gender rights in contemporary human rights theory (Owens, Smith and Baylis, 2014).

Emergence of Models in Development

Discussion asking to what extent women have been benefited (or not) from the development has given rise to the following three models. These approaches show how men and women are affected in different ways because of the development or how the lives of women in particular are affected.

Women in Development (WID)

By the 1970’s, the reality that women are subjugated and left far behind in the process of development became clear and widely recognised. In some areas, this recognition even acknowledged development has further worsened the status of women, for example, the exclusion of women from the main development projects. The Women in Development (WID) approach proposed the inclusion of women into programs related to development. WID was a successful initiative that strengthened the consideration of women as integral part of society. The decade of 1975 to 1985 was even declared the decade of women. However, this approach was problematic, as WID did not focus on structural changes in social and economic systems, which were necessary for discussion. Furthermore, this approach was not enough to bring women to the mainstream of development successfully (Muyoyeta et al., 2007).

Women and Development (WAD)

This approach was critical in nature and arose in the late 1970’s using Marxist feminist (critical) thoughts. As its nature, the Women and Development (WAD) approach criticised WID because of an increasing gap between men and women. According to WAD, the idea of women’s inclusion was wrong because women already contributed substantially to society, yet they were not receiving the benefits of their contributions, and WID further contributed to global inequalities. The main rationale of WAD was to increase interactions between men and women rather than just implementing strategies of women’s inclusion. Besides, WAD considered the class system and unequal distribution of resources to be primary problems, as it’s not only women, but also men, who suffer from the current system. On a theoretical level, WAD strongly endorsed changes to the class system, however it proved impractical as it ignored the reason of patriarchy and failed to answer the question of social relationships between men and women (Muyoyeta et al., 2007).

Gender and Development (GAD)

In the 1980’s, further reflection on development approaches started the debate of Gender and Development (GAD). As GAD followed and learned from the weaknesses and failures of WID and WAD, it was a more comprehensive approach. GAD paid particular attention to social and gender relations and divisions of labour in society. The GAD approach strove to give greater rise to the voices of women while simultaneously emphasizing the productive and reproductive roles of women, contending taking care of children is a state responsibility. As a result of GAD, in 1996, the Zambian government changed their department of WID to the Gender and Development Division (GADD). These changes made it easier for women to raise their voices in a more productive way in an African country. Gender development is a continuous, current phenomenon. Women have choices today that they did not have in prior or even the last generation (Muyoyeta et al., 2007).  The main point is that instead of discussing whether to mainstream gender or not, but it needs to be discussed that how it can happen in a better way. Gender mainstreaming is considered a theory of change in GAD (Derbyshire, Ahluwalia and Dolata, 2015).

The above discussion has offered an overview of how gender mainstreaming’s theoretical approaches and expectations have met with the practice/praxis; however, some scholars critique the concept for depoliticising and/or diluting struggles for equality. These considerations are also worth inquiry, and accordingly are discussed below.

Gender Mainstreaming: A Depoliticising Project

The main aim of gender mainstreaming is to achieve gender equity in all spheres of life (social, political, economic). It is without any doubt that gender mainstreaming has had central role in pushing the strategy of realisation of gender equity since the concept’s inception. However, feminist IR scholarship admits that it is not the best approach, or in other words, the right pathway concerning feminist struggle. There are many other approaches and mechanisms in which such dissatisfaction is conveyed, nonetheless, at the axis of Postcolonial Feminist scholars debate gender main streaming depoliticises the concerns of feminist scholars. Feminist studies shows that theoretically the change of structuring of gender equity determinations from women to gender in gender mainstreaming perhaps contradicted achievements made to bring women from the periphery to the centre of Feminist IR (True, 2010).

Feminist scholars do not consider gender synonymous to women; this school of scholars argues that the women are not necessarily signifying to one’s exual character, rather it is social composition that is enforced by the people (society). Rubin argues that when analysing the imposition of sexual detachments by culture, it is also significant to guarantee that a socio-political feminist approach is provided for the purpose to wind-up men’s subjugation (‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’, 2012).

Feminist IR scholars admit that gender equity is both a technical and political procedure (Arora-Jonsson, 2007). Despite this dual nature, the conceptualization and execution of gender mainstreaming followed a top-down approach. Moreover, doing so because of policy focused approach undermined the political ambitions of gender mainstreaming, as due to the policy-centred approach of experts, there is no space for civil society groups to implement it (Verloo, 2005).  In her paper Verloo, also highlighted the discussion of gender mainstreaming that European Council was perceived by some experts without including Feminist movements and social activism regarding this cause.

Given that the gender mainstreaming track has further side-lined female by looking to both male and female, therefore, the alternative approach must make it sure to bring women to the centre of the debate.

Principle challenges to Promote Gender Equity

Surrounding the discussion of gender equity, there is slightly an ambiguity that many people and even professionals confuse it with gender equality. The idea of gender equality is mostly connected with the agenda of human rights which was adopted in 1948. It talks about non-discrimination and equal rights for both men and women. Gender equity can be a mean in order to reach to the goal of gender equality, where gender equity is a process that paves the way for gender equality, or in other words, it is a pre-requisite for gender equality. Gender equality is an umbrella structure gender equity comes under. Consequently, for the purpose to achieve gender equality it is necessary to have gender equity (Staff, 2018).

Gender equity is an idea that is based on fairness for both men and women according to their needs. The myth with gender equity is that many thinks it only talks about women’s rights, but the idea actually proposes providing opportunities and treatment for both according to their necessities. The core point is that both men and women have different needs (Mencarini, 2014). Currently, there are number of challenges that hinder efforts in achieving gender equity. The most key challenges are as follows.

Religious and Cultural Barriers

In many Muslim countries, it is widely believed that there is a clear distinction in the roles of both men and women. In Muslim societies, when women are raising their voices and campaigning against gender discrimination in all the forms, this goes against the norms and values of the culture and religion. It is considered against the law of nature that men and women are equal; the rationale employed is that the main duty of a woman is to be the mother and take care of the child rather than working outside the home.

Taking Turkey as a case study to analyse women’s rights, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly opposes the idea of equality and equity. Moreover, he also accused the liberals and feminist IR scholars of not understanding the special status of females that is given to them in Islam. The Turkish president stated it is “against the law of the nature,” a statement he supports with the justification men and women are different biologically, and because of that, women are not fit for some jobs as men are (Dearden, 2014).

Roles of both men and women are distributed in a number of ways culturally, as women are mostly confined to the domestic affairs such as house chores, child care, and so on, whereas men are supposed to work, feed the family, and take part in economic and political activities as well. One of the reasons many communities give superiority to men over women is that within these communities, men are considered the source of income and provider of food (Gaynor and Cronin, 2016).

Social Values, Norms, Mores and Folkways

There are also social beliefs that men are stronger than women, including a question of “power.” Without naming the societies, Sarah Mosedale’s research illustrates the real picture of many societies and discusses that if a girl goes to school or receives formal education, the question arises of who will do the housework. As a further contention, education can also bring about social awareness in women, such that the girls ask for their fundamental rights. Mosedale also contends in these societies, education can also harm the reproductive activities of women. In many societies it is believed that investment over male education is more beneficial than education for girls, especially when they cannot afford the expenses related to the education of girls. Another interesting fact is that if a girl receives formal education, her family (mother/father) will not be the benefiters, but rather the benefit of her education will go to her husband and father-in-law’s family (Mosedale, 2005).

The impact of gender inequity affects the socio-cultural system of daily life. The direct impacts are on the health of women’s and girls, in particular in countries where women are facing issues because of social norms.

Lack of access to equal opportunity

Incontrovertibly, the current system of the world is based on prejudice and the societies we are living in are patriarchal. Taking the economic sector as an example, it is very clear that women are paid less than their male colleagues and women do not occupy many or the same top-level decision-making positions. Women in general do not have access to the same education as men, however, even in some countries like the US, where women do have access to the same quality education, they still lack access to same opportunities as men. There is a long way to go to bring equality and equity with the current gender gap. In countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for instance, women need permission from their males to enter into schools or even go out of their homes (Alex Wong and Getty Images, 2019).


Undeniably, gender mainstreaming was highly supported by NGO’s and local and global institutions for giving an “audacity of hope” for the global gender equity concept, however, there is still a lot of work need to be done to achieve desired goals. Gender mainstreaming is a two-way flow that focuses on institutional reforms through citizens’ participation on the one hand and a technical angle on the other.

Year 2020 is a significant year for gender equity. The number of women representations in all sectors have increased tremendously, particularly in politics. A number of women are running for presidential elections in the US, and more women are serving in the US Congress than ever before (Chappell, 2019).  Globally, 2020 marks 25 years since the UN held its fourth world conference on women in Beijing. Human rights and women’s rights are interlinked. The idea of human rights is not achievable without empowering women in all areas, from social to cultural and political to economical. Gender inequity has not only a severe impact on the social and political spectrums of our system, but it also effects our economic system. Overall, the concept of gender mainstreaming is a very significant and useful strategy. However, with all these great achievements and gains, gender equity remains elusive for many women across the globe.

It is arguably the idea of gender mainstreaming that has contributed to the approach of the gendered based social concept of gender that promotes masculinity (women), and also undermines the unbalanced impediments. As a universalized method to tackle gender inequity, the idea of gender mainstreaming has effectively, depoliticised women’s (feminist) struggles which are unescapable across frameworks and require intersectional approaches.

Overall, by means of the current literature in the feminist subject (scholarship) discussions in gender mainstreaming, the article emphasized the demand for feminist scholarship and social activism to create the commitment to the feminist administrative/legislative mission of equity in all the angle of their priori.


Alex Wong and Getty Images (2019) ‘What Are the Biggest Problems Women Face Today?’, POLITICO Magazine. Available at: https://politi.co/2TB4n8t (Accessed: 25 March 2020).

Arora-Jonsson, S. (2007) ‘Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges, 2007’, Social Change, 37(4), pp. 202–204. doi: 10.1177/004908570703700410.

Chappell, C. (2019) ‘There’s not just one women’s lane’: A record number of female candidates running for president, CNBC. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/12/record-number-of-women-running-for-president-in-2020.html (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

Dearden, L. (2014) Women’s equality is ‘against nature’, says Turkish President, The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkish-president-equality-between-men-and-women-is-against-nature-9879993.html (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

Derbyshire, H., Ahluwalia, K. and Dolata, N. (2015) 20 years of gender mainstreaming: how can we do it better?, Gender and Development Network. Available at: https://gadnetwork.org/blogs/2015/3/6/20-years-of-gender-mainstreaming-how-can-we-do-it-better (Accessed: 28 March 2020).

  1. Laura J. Shepherd (2014) Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations, 2nd Edition (Paperback) – Routledge 2015. 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Gender-Matters-in-Global-Politics-A-Feminist-Introduction-to-International/Shepherd/p/book/9780415715218 (Accessed: 24 March 2020).

Enloe, C., Lacey, A. and Gregory, T. (2016) ‘Twenty-five years of Bananas, Beaches and Bases: A conversation with Cynthia Enloe’, Journal of Sociology, 52(3), pp. 537–550. doi: 10.1177/1440783316655635.

Gaynor, N. and Cronin, M. (2016) ‘Community based approaches to tackling Gender-based violence in Malawi: Lessons and challenges of involving women and men’, p. 81.

Mcleod, L. (2016) ‘The Women, Peace, and Security Resolutions: UNSCR 1325 to 2122’, Handbook on Gender in world politics. Available at: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-women-peace-and-security-resolutions(929454ba-cc64-47ba-a125-fe3b685ebf1c)/export.html (Accessed: 24 March 2020).

Mencarini, L. (2014) ‘Gender Equity’, in Michalos, A. C. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, pp. 2437–2438. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_1131.

Mosedale, S. (2005) ‘Assessing women’s empowerment: towards a conceptual framework’, Journal of International Development. (Journal of International Development), 17(2), pp. 243–257.

Muyoyeta, L. et al. (eds) (2007) Women, gender and development. Wicklow, Ireland: Women for Change, Zambia and 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World, with support from Development Coooperation Ireland and Concern.

Owens, P., Smith, S. and Baylis, J. (2014) The globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations. Sixth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/dcu/items/960995 (Accessed: 25 March 2020).

Peterson, S. V. (2005) ‘How (the meaning of) gender matters in political economy’, New Political Economy, 10(4), pp. 499–521. doi: 10.1080/13563460500344468.

Razavi, S. and Miller, C. (1995) ‘Gender Mainstreaming: A Study of Efforts by the UNDP, the World Bank and the ILO to Institutionalize Gender Issues’, 4.

Skjelsbæk, I. (2012) ‘Responsibility to Protect or Prevent? Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Violence Crimes in Armed Conflicts’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 4(2), pp. 154–171. doi: 10.1163/187598412X639683.

Staff,  writer (2018) Gender Equity Vs. Gender Equality: What’s the Distinction?, Pipeline Equity. Available at: https://www.pipelineequity.com/voices-for-equity/gender-equity-vs-gender-equality/ (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

Steans, J. (2003) ‘Engaging from the Margins: Feminist Encounters with the “Mainstream” of International Relations’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 5(3), pp. 428–454. doi: 10.1111/1467-856X.00114.

‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’ (2012) in Rubin, G. S., Deviations. Duke University Press, pp. 137–181. doi: 10.1215/9780822394068-006.

True, J. (2010) ‘Mainstreaming gender in international institutions’, Gender Matters In Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations, pp. 189–203.

Verloo, M. (2005) ‘Displacement and Empowerment: Reflections on the Concept and Practice of the Council of Europe Approach to Gender Mainstreaming and Gender Equality’, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 12(3), pp. 344–365. doi: 10.1093/sp/jxi019.

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