The word “Gender” is one big word that is often misinterpreted to be synonymous with women. A mention of gender equality, gender equity and gender mainstreaming are often presented as a fight against men by women or for women. This should not be so. Gender related issues can be for or against female and male, in different scenarios. Gender is the social and cultural definition of being male or female which defines the relationship between the sexes (man/woman). In summary, UN[i] puts Gender to “refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys…”, That being said, it is obvious that women are mostly and always at a disadvantaged positon. For instance, women are behind men in leadership positions, political participation, being in position of decision making, as well as educational attainment and access to economic opportunities. This should not and cannot continue in a society that prescribes equal fundamental human rights for both genders. Also worthy of note is that women make up more than 50% of the world population.
Gender mainstreaming is that deliberate efforts at achieving balance between the two genders. According to Council of Europe[ii], gender mainstreaming is about “integrating a gender equality perspective at all stages and levels of policies, programmes and projects”. Furthermore, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) puts it that …
“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.”[iii]
A gender mainstreaming approach does not favour women alone but generally considers both men and women who are on one hand equal actors and on the other hand receivers in the development process of society. This is important to safeguard an equitable and sustainable human development. Gender mainstreaming is a situation when ideas, attitudes or activities routinely incorporate a gender perspective and becomes a normal feature of mainstream thinking. In mainstreaming gender, different approaches should be considered, including in ideas, attitude and improved activities from family level to the society at large.
A deliberate gender mainstreaming strategy entitles the infusion of gender perspective into a given policy field, even when there may not be an obvious inequality. It helps policy makers explore how policy objectives affect different sections of the community, how policies are accessed and by who, and whether policies are delivering results for the intended target. This should transcend into a situation where policy makers mainstream gender into policies. It will imply that policy makers should take their time to understand the gap that exist and then systematically & intentionally identify the consequences of such proposed policy on women and on men, in other to ensure that efforts to address any damaging implication that might arise from it in the future, ensuring that it is tackled from the policy development stage.
It is wrong to use ‘gender’ interchangeably with sexes. Sex is about biological make-up of man and woman as against gender role of being female and male. Gender roles are behavior learned or ascribed by the society. There is perception that women are naturally good at kitchen duties and caregicing, just because they give birth to children and care for the family; whereas males too can cook and babysit. Sex is based on biological attributes of being man or woman. For instance, being pregnant and breastfeeding is sex role of women while sperm production is sex role of the men.
“Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, thereby recognising the diversity of different groups of women and men.”[iv] Gender equality (SDG goal 5) is a goal that has been accepted by governments and international organizations towards 2030. It is enshrined in international agreements and commitments. Gender equity through gender mainstreaming is the best strategy towards achieving gender balance and equality. It is fundamental to have it in mind that gender mainstreaming will complement gender equality policies to form a matching trajectory strategy.
To achieve gender mainstreaming in an organization, there should be internal and external commitment from the management and staff as well as from its partners and stakeholders’ relationship. Hence the need to make everyone have clear understanding of the gender concepts and the implications on the organization and society.[v] Gender should be mainstreamed both in speaking and writing. Organization should be intentional in the use of “he or she” and not being generic by only using “he”. Organizations’ documents, strategic documents, procedures and policies should equally reflect that it is gender sensitive. Official reports, publications, use of pictures should depict gender considerations. Simply put, Institutions and organizations should be able to review their documentations, policies and strategic plan that had considered only “He” to read “He/She, Him/Her. Also, in developing contents, concept notes and proposals, institutions should remember to specify the gender perspectives, how the outcome will benefit males and females equitably and how it will impact the females and males differently yet upholding equity.
At every stage of engagement, organizations should have it in mind not to promote one gender at the detriment of the other. During program planning, males and females should be carried along and involved by ensuring that their interests, needs, concerns and opinions are clearly captured. This should be replicated during recruitment or internal review processes of staff. Be deliberate to source and balance the gender that is less dominant. When developing criteria for selection of participants for events like workshop, training, competition etc, it will be pleasant to ensure that invitations are extended to female and male participants. Where possible draw up the list by some percentages. Women should not only be considered in terms of making up numbers of participants but on the other hands, organizations should ensure that gender is also considered when choosing facilitators, and team leads. This is a good measure of impact as it brings female presence and the perspectives of a balance atmosphere. Do not forget to also balance gender during group work/presentations. Not forgetting to encourage that both genders contribute during discussions. Media and communication of every organization should make use of both male and female voices/pictorial for illustrations and voice over.
Male and females, men and women are equal partners in the development process from the family to society levels, hence should have equal access and opportunity to function optimally. Women who make up at least 50% of world population should not be relegated to the background. Their issues should not be given a second thought during planning of developmental issues and policy making. Mainstreaming gender is not a favour to women alone but it is for the better benefit of the entire society. It is understood that different biological roles exist for women and men but women should not accept the back seat even if it is implied but they should make their impacts felt at home, office and society.