Historical Status Quo
The subordination of women to men throughout history, in most of the world's societies, is a documented fact. Patriarchy and other pervasive philosophies and mindsets were translated into decidedly unequal relations between men and women in just about every sphere of endeavour.
These have manifested themselves in both quantitative and qualitative dimensions; in wage and wealth differentials, in unequal sexual power relations, in disparities in social status; typically all favouring men.
The Push for Gender Equality
One key factor that contributed to an eventual change in the status quo was the absence of men in their usual numbers on the productive front during the Second World War. With men occupied on battlefields (and perishing in large numbers) women, in addition to fulfilling their time-honoured domestic obligations also had to engage in economic tasks, which were normally the exclusive domain of the male of the species. With this unavoidable shift in the male/female "balance of power", eventually organised opposition to the long-entrenched second-tier status of women was fomented, leading to the creation of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1960s.
In turn, as a result of this initiative, various approaches to empowering women were conceptualised and emerged as reasonably coherent concepts with differing degrees of real-world applicability, and practicality. The first such was the Social Welfare concept, which included the Women in Development (WID) approach pursued in the 1970s. This approach however, focused heavily on women's reproductive role rather than their productive role and viewed women as passive recipients of welfare and not as active participants in development or as creators/owners of wealth in their own right.
In an effort to correct this limitation, the Women and Development (WAD) approach was introduced in the early 1980s. This model sought not only to combine the reproductive role with its productive counterpart but also to address the systemic roots of gender inequality by integrating women in the development process.
Even so, at the approach of the mid-1990s, it was recognized that women's equality could best be achieved by considering the differential emphases and needs of women and men in national development policies. This idea was conceptualised through the Gender and Development (GAD) approach, which spearheaded a shift from Women to Gender.
The GAD perspective gave rise to the concept of Gender Mainstreaming; Gender Mainstreaming being seen as a strategy or a tool towards the attainment of the ultimate goal - Gender Equality.
Definitions of Gender Mainstreaming
What then is Gender Mainstreaming? There are many definitions, but despite differing slants and emphases, just about all definitions point essentially to the integration of a gender equality perspective in sectoral policies and programmes. The definition as articulated in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) agreed conclusions of July 1997 speaks of gender mainstream ing as:
the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and social spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality. (Gender Mainstreaming: An Overview, United Nations 2002).
The definition by the Group of Specialists on Mainstreaming is as follows:
Gender mainstreaming is the (re) organization, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all states by the actors normally involved in policy-making. …