Gender mainstreaming was established as a major global strategy for the promotion of gender equality in Beijing Platform for Action from the fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It entails bringing the perceptions, experiences, knowledge and interests of women as well as of men to the domain of policymaking. Mainstreaming should situate issues of gender equality at the centre of analysis and policy decisions.
Keeping in view the level of participation of women in social, economic and political fields, it is not difficult to ascertain as to why we lag behind other nations in terms of socioeconomic development. It is increasingly recognized across the globe that incorporating gender perspectives in different areas of development ensures an effective achievement of other social and economic goals. For example, research on economic growth and education shows that failing to invest in women’s education can lower the Gross National Product (GNP). All other things being the same the countries in which the ratio of female-male enrollment in primary or secondary education is less than 0.75 can expect levels of GNP that are roughly 25 percent lower than countries in which there is lesser gender disparity in education.
There are glaring patterns of inequality between women and men in our society. For example women are more vulnerable and tend to suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners more often than men; women lag behind men when it comes to political participation and representation in decision-making bodies, they have different economic opportunities, women and girls constitute majority of the people being trafficked and involved in sex trade. These issues, among others, continue to hinder development of women and society on the whole.
Gender has become an issue these days because of the fundamental differences and inequalities between women and men. These differences/inequalities are manifested in a variety of ways. Let’s have a look at some glaring inequalities women generally experience in their daily lives.
Women are underrepresented in political processes across the globe. Thanks to quota system, women in Pakistan have fair representation. But, unfortunately, the beneficiaries of the quota system are the women of political elite because our political institutions are not inclusive in nature. Women from other segments of society are still under-represented and far from taking active part in politics. For majority of the Pakistani women, politics is like a no-go area. Resultantly, national, regional and even specific needs of community are often defined without seeking meaningful contribution from women who constitute half of the population. How can the policies yield the desired results when interests of half of the population are ignored?
Despite the constitution and some international instruments that proclaim equal rights for women and men, there exist many gaps either by law or by practice where equal rights to personal status, property, inheritance and employment are denied to women. For example, women in Pakistan have legal right to inherit property but practically, in most of the cases, they are denied the same.
In our society, it is women who shoulder the responsibility of nurturing the family. They also extend assistance to male members of family in economic activities. Women in villages make an important contribution to food and other agriculture produce. Working women in both rural and urban areas are doing the same by adding to their family income. These tasks add to women’s workload and hinder them from engaging in political and social activities. This contribution of women often goes unnoticed. They are not even encouraged, not to speak of reward for working in unpaid sector. The government must come up with the policies to encourage and facilitate women so that they can play their due role and take active part in social and political activities.
Gender-based violence is another manifestation of gender inequality. Almost every woman faces violence in one form or another during her lifetime. Despite the existence of various laws, violence against women in our society is on the rise.
Gender inequalities are not confined to economic and political spheres only but are reflected in almost every sphere of life and often in ways that are difficult to measure. The discriminatory behaviour women have to face is often grounded in gender stereotypes and patriarchal nature of our society. These ideas and practices further complicate gender inequalities.
In order to narrow the gender gaps, we are treading the path already abandoned by the global south — the developed world. On every International Women’s Day, the government comes up with some initiatives with an aim to provide the women with more representation in the form of quotas and allocating more resources on specific targeted areas. These are well-intended, yet cosmetic, moves and will not yield the desired results of narrowing the gender gaps and empowering women thereof. Such marginal initiatives sometimes put women and men in opposition to each other. For example, women quota reserved in civil services was challenged by the male candidates of Punjab on the ground that the male candidates appearing in CSS examination were already facing tough competition and that the quota would make the selection process even more competitive for them.
Gender mainstreaming, on the other hand, reinforces that women and men are equal partners in development and the interests of the both are to be taken into consideration while formulating policies. The mainstreaming strategy in the West appeared as result of dissatisfaction with the earlier approaches of narrowing gender gaps. These earlier approaches focused on quotas and giving concessions to women. However, gender mainstreaming is not just bringing women to current institutions and processes by creating greater participation in an unjust and unsustainable manner. Rather it’s about rethinking and redesigning structures and practices that perpetuate inequalities of all kinds. Achieving greater equality between women and men requires changes at many levels including changes in attitudes and relationships, changes in institutions and legal frameworks, changes in economic institutions and changes in political decision-making structures. Without these changes, the plight of women cannot be mitigated and they will be suffering, like ever, unheard and unseen.
For achieving gender equality and socioeconomic development, it is important to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of societal development. Sustainable development is possible only when gender perspectives are identified and addressed. If we are interested in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, priority must be given to gender mainstreaming as an important means of attaining them.