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United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM)


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Research > Definitions                                      


  Some of the most Commonly Used Terms

Gender Mainstreaming
Gender Equality
Women Empowerment

Governance is the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage a nation's affairs. It is the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences. Governance encompasses every institutions and organization in the society, from the family to the state and embraces all methods - good and bad - that societies use to distribute power and manage public resources and problems. Good governance is therefore a subset of governance, wherein public resources and problems are managed effectively, efficiently and in response to critical needs of society. Effective democratic forms of governance rely on public participation, accountability and transparency
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Gender Mainstreaming
“Mainstreaming gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, 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 programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

Gender mainstreaming involves bringing the contribution, perspectives and priorities of both women and men to the centre of attention in the development arena in order to inform the design, implementation and outcomes of policies and programs. It is a critical strategy not only in the pursuit of gender equality – a development goal in its own right – but also in the achievement of other development goals, including economic ones. Indeed, overlooking relevant gender factors in macroeconomic policies and institutions can undermine the successful outcome of those very same policies and institutions”.

Gender awareness is the ability to view society from the perspective of gender roles and how this has affected women’s needs in comparison to the needs of men. Gender sensitivity is translating this awareness into action in the design of development policies, programs and budgets.

Gender Mainstreaming based on
UNIFEM, Focusing on Women - UNIFEM's experience in mainstreaming, 1993
“Mainstreaming” is a process rather than a goal that consists in bringing what can be seen as marginal into the core business and main decision making process of an organization.

Efforts to integrate gender concerns into existing institutions of the mainstream have little value for their own sake. A gender perspective is being mainstreamed to achieve gender equality and improve the relevance and effectiveness of development agendas as a whole, for the benefit of all women and men.

The term “mainstreaming” emerged in the early 1980s when in the midst of the United Nations Decade for Women, the international women’s movement was concerned that the women specific programme strategies had not achieved significant results. Women units and national machineries established during this period had too often been understaffed and marginalized from real decision-making and policy formulation within UN entities and governments.

Furthermore, the little resources that were earmarked for “women targeted” projects resulted in small, side-lined activities that reinforced the marginalization of women in development processes. The women who witnessed these trends began to look for alternative strategies to move women’s issues out of the periphery and into the “mainstream” of development decision making. At this time “mainstreaming” had a number of different meanings and use. For some, it meant including women in development planning. For others, it implied ensuring that institutional budgets included significant resources for “women activities”. Around such various understandings of “mainstreaming” there were intense debates about the advantages and disadvantages of “women targeted activities” versus integrated programming for and with women.
Seven years after the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, the international development community has come to a common use of the term. “Mainstreaming” now most generally refers to a comprehensive strategy that involves both women-oriented programming and the integration of women/gender issues into overall existing programmes, throughout the programme cycle


Gender Equality
The term gender equality has been defined in a variety of ways in the context of development, which means gender equality in terms of equality under the law, equality of opportunity (including equality
of rewards for work and equality in access to human capital and other productive resources that enable opportunity), and equality of voice (the ability to influence and contribute to the development process). It stops short of defining gender equality as equality of outcomes for two reasons. First, different cultures and societies can follow different paths in their pursuit of gender equality. Second, equality implies that women and men are free to choose different (or similar) roles and different (or similar) outcomes in accordance with their preferences and goals.

Gender inequalities exert high human costs and constrain the development of countries. These consequences provide a compelling case for public and private action to promote gender equality. The state has a critical role in improving the well-being of both women and men and, by so doing, in capturing the substantial social benefits associated with improving the absolute and relative status of women and girls. Public action is particularly important, because social and legal institutions that perpetuate and are responsible for gender inequalities are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for individuals alone to change. Market failures, too, mean insufficient information about women's productivity in the labor market (because they spend a greater part of their work hours in non-market activities or because labor markets are absent or undeveloped) and are clear obstacles.

Improving the effectiveness of societal institutions and achieving economic growth are widely accepted as key elements of any long term development strategy. However successful implementation of this strategy does not guarantee gender equality. To promote gender equality, policies for institutional change and economic development need to consider and address prevailing gender inequalities in rights, resources, and voice. And active policies and programs are needed to redress longstanding disparities between women and men. The evidence argues for a three-part strategy for promoting gender equality (Rights, Resources and Voice).


Women Empowerment
Defined as women's level of control in decision making positions, for control over the allocation of resources, the determination of policy, regulations and laws. At the level of the society or the nation, women's empowerment is here measured in terms of the level of women's representation in higher level decision making positions in public institutions.
This is a rather rough measure of women's empowerment: firstly it is concerned only with national level decision making, and secondly it overlooks the problem that some women may occupy public office without actually exercising power ('token women'). By the same token it overlooks the likelihood that some women are actually in background positions which might actually be very important in determining public policy. These limitations are typical of the price paid by using simple 'surface' quantitative indicators of gender gaps, without looking more deeply into the underlying structure.

We here also distinguish between women's empowerment and women's self-reliance, where the latter may be defined in terms of the individual woman's ability to gain access to resources, and to take decisions affecting her own personal life. (This is often - but unhelpfully – termed 'empowerment' or 'personal empowerment'. It is here given the term 'self-reliance' so that it clearly is distinguished from 'empowerment' as defined above). The level of women's self-reliance, relative to men, may be measured by such indicators as levels of literacy and education, skills training, ownership of land and capital, and access to credit.
Women's level of self-reliance is a measure of the extent to which women are in a position to maximise their well-being, and control over their lives, within the existing structure of gender inequality. By comparison, women's level of collective empowerment is a measure of the extent to which women occupy higher levels of decision making in society, so that they are in a position to challenge and change present structures of gender inequality.
The common failure to distinguish between empowerment and self-reliance, and the consequent inter-changeable use of these terms, leads to a failure to distinguish between two quite different forms of women's advancement.







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