The concept of gender mainstreaming was borne out of the UN system. In an attempt to address the power imbalance that exists between men and women which results in economic, social and health disadvantage for women in most societies the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) agreed that ‘Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective into all Policies and Programmes of the United Nations System’ be performed. The Council defines gender mainstreaming as:
‘Integration of gender concerns into the analyses, formulation and monitoring of policies, programmes and projects,
with the objective of ensuring that these reduce inequalities’
In medicine, gender mainstreaming means that gender concerns be integrated into medical research, education and clinical practice with the objective of reducing inequity. Mainstreaming a gender perspective into and organisation is a process, not a single concept. For example, in medicine, it begins with a gender analysis to demonstrate where gender-blindness has resulted in adverse outcomes for male and female patients. Introducing gender competence to identified information, processes, teaching styles and practice environments results in more equitable outcomes.
In the public sector it may be undertaken to reduce inherent bias that exist unseen within the public service, but that results in a lack of access to support and services for men or women as employees or clients of the organisation. In the private sector gender mainstreaming can apply to the examination of policies and practices of an institution that result in a lack of equity for male or female employees. For example; for men in access to parental leave or flexible work arrangement considerate of family time, and for women, lack of access to advancement or equal pay for equal work.
Expressed more simply, the goal of gender mainstreaming is:
“to identify where difference on the basis of gender exists and provide balance when needed”.