Developing gender mainstreaming and ‘gender respect’

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Gender mainstreaming has become the dominant development discourse for achieving gender equity in developing regions. It is the most recent in a series of strategies that have had varying success in delivering the feminist goals of women’s emancipation and gender equity in developing regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Gender mainstreaming is arguably a depoliticised and toned-down version of its predecessors, which attempts to avoid direct feminist confrontations while ultimately aiming not to exclude or threaten stakeholders in the development process. Experience indicates that as a result, gender mainstreaming is in danger of becoming yet another ineffective tool to promote gender equity. 

Our research indicates that the status of women can only be advanced through gender mainstreaming strategies that are adapted to each specific culture and place, addressing the concerns and aspirations of locally active agents of change. This will entail a shift from currently dominant institutional strategies (which target inputs, structural change 

and policy implementation) to be balanced with complementary operational strategies (which consist of output-orientated guidelines, training, research and projects). As Bronwen Douglas has argued in relation to Melanesia, we need to appeal to the local level, because the gap between state and civil society is growing and local communities away from state centres are less engaged in state affairs. The solution she offers is to invite international experts to listen to what local people are saying and respond to their needs, rather than to preach ‘developed discourse’.

In order to effectively mainstream gender in a local context, a two-pronged approach is necessary, implementing operational strategies while applying institutional strategies to reflect and support practical change. Thus, as concerned global feminists, we need to rethink our approach and work with new, locally coined terminology. We need to be able to repackage gender so that it can be utilised more effectively. We need more local- context specific strategic terms, which necessitate the elimination of universal terms that privilege the voices and power of Western consultants.

In practical terms, this means that women and men at the forefront of mainstreaming gender (focal points, consultants, experts, trainers) would be required to:

  • spend time in location listening to the people who are the focus and key stakeholders of the mainstreaming activity; and

  • work with local communities to adapt training materials, strategies, policies, etc to that particular context before they are presented, implemented and/or ratified.

    Initial groundwork on gender relations could work to adapt and customise generalised information and training tools on gender mainstreaming, which are freely available through development agencies and the web. In this way, gender mainstreaming can then occur effectively, at a pace and in a way that is locally appropriate, rather then just being another workshop, training exercise or policy formulation meeting that forms part of an international obligation.

    We are advocating a new approach that first acknowledges and maps changes and challenges in relation to women and gender issues in the local context. Taking this as a point of departure, generic training materials can be adapted and examples from other contexts can be used to stimulate discussion and a future agenda. 

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