The strategy of gender mainstreaming was anchored in the platform of action adopted by the 1995 Beijing UN Conference on Women. As a result, this concept, which originated in the field of development cooperation, was able to attain worldwide relevance, because the ratifying states were obliged to monitor the introduction of gender mainstreaming and to develop a national plan for its implementation. In addition, the 1999 Amsterdam Revision of the European Treaty contains a binding directive for the member states to constantly keep equality in mind and to promote it actively.
Definition: Gender mainstreaming requires governments, state agencies, and institutions to assess what effects planned laws and projects will have on women and men. All measures should aim at equal rights and gender equality.
„To mainstream” or “mainstreaming” means making something commonplace and self-evident, that is, introducing the equality of women and men as an issue at all levels. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) defined gender mainstreaming in 1997 as the “process of assessing the effect on women and men of all planned actions, including laws and political programs. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences felt in political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally and injustice is no longer perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender justice.“
Many countries adopted the English term “gender mainstreaming” instead of finding expressions in their own language – with some unintentionally comic results. The feminist activist Sanam Naraghi Anderlini reports about a workshop in Cambodia, in which “gender mainstreaming” was translated into Khmer. “The participants laughed their heads off, because the most suitable translation in Khmer was: Men and women jump into the river together.”
In practice, gender mainstreaming is often confused with the promotion of women and, because of this, is brushed aside or even deliberately boycotted by many government officials. Therefore, up to now, the results of gender mainstreaming in the ministries of UN member states are disappointing. And where states are fragile or have failed, as in some countries of the South or countries in conflict, hardly any government departments still exist and thus there is nothing left to mainstream.