Gender Mainstreaming

Noam Rabinovich, Project Manager


There’s an old joke in the world of NGOs that in order to achieve gender mainstreaming, one simply inserts the words gender or women every few words into a funding application or report. The premise of the joke is that no one really knows what gender mainstreaming is and how to put it into practice, and therefore the mere inclusion of the word is enough to placate the increasingly prevalent demand for gender mainstreaming in NGO’s programs and activities.


At its most basic level, gender mainstreaming is the concept of assessing the different implications for women and for men of any planned policy action, in all areas and levels. It compels organizations and individuals to ask themselves how gender affects their work and is affected by it and by their philanthropic investment.


For philanthropic foundations, this means looking at both the structure and culture of the foundation itself, as well as at the organizations and projects it supports. Ideally, self-reflection should lead to concrete operational decisions. For example, if a philanthropic foundation finds that too few of its grantees are organizations led by women or with women in managerial positions, it should consider how to modify its application process or selection criteria to reach out to, encourage and facilitate applications by female-led organizations.


It would be a shame to see gender mainstreaming as an imposed demand by donors to be halfheartedly addressed out of obligation, rather than an opportunity for genuine self-reflection on how the organization considers gender in its daily operations, its programs and in the impact of its work.


For funding bodies, encouraging gender mainstreaming within partner organizations can happen in several ways. First, foundations can set clear criteria for gender breakdowns as part of their project assessment: number of women on staff, on the board and in managerial positions; percentage of woman beneficiaries or participants in the organization’s programs. A second option is for funding bodies to require staff of partner organizations to undergo capacity-development workshops and trainings on gender, with the aim of introducing new mechanisms for gender mainstreaming and to enhance self-awareness and improvement.


For partner organizations, being compelled by donors to dedicate time and resources to engaging in such initiatives or reflecting on the issue of gender in their work can often seem unnecessary and forced. However, that response perhaps speaks to the wariness of engaging with such issues. It is the donors’ responsibility to create opportunities and incentives for organizations to grapple with broader questions and with the social impact of their work. In the long run and despite initial reluctance, organizations will only be bettered by such introspection and by pursuing policies that think about and respond to questions about gender and equality.


Gender mainstreaming is not a one-and-done exercise. It is an ongoing and dynamic process of introspection and investigation, meant to ensure that organizations are conscious and vigilant about the social impact and implications of their work. To use it as a buzzword or trend that is destined to pass is to miss a crucial and welcomed opportunity to grow and improve as an organization. So next time we are asked to address the gender implications of our work, let’s do better than simply cramming in the word “women” as much as possible.