Mainstreaming works

Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD)

The importance of promoting gender equality cannot be underestimated. While all seven development goals laid out in this Spotlight are intertwined to a very large extent, a few of them, like reducing poverty, improving education and lowering maternal mortality, would have little hope of being achieved without a more even rapport de force between the sexes.

Inequality keeps women poor, illiterate and unhealthy; it undermines the lives of children; in short, it places a dead hand on economic potential. The question is how to reduce inequality, if not remove it altogether.

Gender mainstreaming is one way. The aim is to address discrimination through programmes and strategies that increase the abilities of women (or men, if they are at a disadvantage) and their opportunities, as well as fostering a better understanding of their rights through information dissemination, training and education. The emphasis has to be on initiatives that help women (and men) to become the agents of their own development and empowerment. An irrigated rice project in Northern Cameroon failed to attract farmer interest because the project designers had not used any gender analysis and failed to understand the intra-household conflicts over labour allocation and compensation. Women were not assigned land, but were expected to work in their husband’s rice fields. According to traditional practices, women were entitled to a cash payment from their husbands in return for work in their rice fields. Many women felt the payment they would receive was really insufficient and therefore they reduced their time devoted to rice cultivation. The good and potentially productive land remained unused.

Development strategies are more successful at addressing women’s and men’s differing needs and opportunities when they are based on a prior analysis of the possible effects of a development initiative. This means estimating the ways in which opportunities, skills, knowledge, income or well-being may be increased or decreased because of a development activity, project or programme. The same activity may be positive for one sub-group of people in a community and negative for another. Often the activity must be adjusted so as to impact more equally on the various groups. One obvious sub-group is women.

Several countries, like the Philippines, Jamaica, and South Africa have gender mainstreaming policies in place and they seem to be bearing fruit. Literacy rates are up, if slightly, and more women are to be found working in civil services and in top business. These may be exceptions, but they are a start.

The key thing is that mainstreaming programmes can work, simply because they ensure that the perspectives of women and men become a normal part of the decision-making processes, from design to implementation and monitoring.

But mainstreaming is not that easy to put in place. In practice a number of criteria are needed. One is the explicit commitment of leaders (development ministers and heads of agencies, ministers within developing countries) to a clearly articulated policy. The establishment of women’s ministries, laws governing the use of gender analysis in policy formulation (South Africa), pro-active election statutes (India), laws for equal rights for women in labour and employment (Philippines) – all these help to institutionalise mainstreaming. They are especially constructive when accompanied by information campaigns to demonstrate the positive effects to the economy and to livelihoods of greater equality.

To make progress, it helps to have a network of concerned individuals in place who can share knowledge, information, experience and best practice, using practical instruments, such as the Internet. These networks do not grow out of thin air, but it can be surprising how quickly groups of interested bodies can come together as a partnership – government, business, NGOs – once the initial efforts are made.

Policymakers can take a lead, such as by equipping their public servants with the skills needed to identify issues and devise action. They can encourage the private sector to do the same. There has to be reporting processes, evaluation and monitoring on a continued and transparent basis. Naturally, for all this to work, financial resources have to be committed. This may be the hard part (and donors can no doubt help); the returns though would make it worth it.

©OECD Observer No 223, October 2000

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.2% Jan 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.5% Jan 2018
Last update: 12 Mar 2018


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Ambassador Aleksander Surdej, Permanent Representative of Poland to the OECD, was a guest on France 24’s English-language show “The Debate”, where he discussed French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2018