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Ethnic minority Nepali woman with ornaments
© Silvia Sartori 

About ten years ago I was working with a large, donor-funded programme that promoted sustainability via some 80 projects across multiple industries in 18 Asian countries. 
As knowledge management expert for the programme, I was regularly collecting and receiving project news, case studies and reports from the different teams in South, Southeast and East Asia. A few months into the job I started noticing that, from some countries, I was only receiving news and updates that featured men. Those captured in project photos were men, project activities – whether policy dialogues or technical training, or else – were making reference only to men, quotes and testimonials were provided by men. 
Where are the women?”, I genuinely started wondering. 
(At best, the only women that came into play were the communications officers that would send me these reports.)

That question triggered a sincere curiosity and increasing interest in exploring issues such as:

  • Do sustainability projects also take into account issues of gender?

  • And if they do, does this yield any different result or finding?

  • Do different genders contribute differently to the sustainability agenda?

  • How can different genders be engaged and empowered to contribute to the sustainability agenda?


These initial questions marked the beginning of my journey with gender mainstreaming. Through further studies, extensive research and collaborations on multiple projects, I have progressively specialised in embedding gender considerations across different interventions, including in topics and sectors that may be typically (and erroneously) viewed as “gender-neutral”, such as energy.

Of my several areas of expertise, working with gender and gender mainstreaming has become my core professional interest. 

What Is Gender Mainstreaming?

Gender mainstreaming is a tool that allows us to assess throughout a project cycle how a given initiative is going to impact on different genders. By addressing questions such as:

  • Will different genders be equally able to participate in the project?

  • What impacts, both positive and negative, is the project likely to generate on different genders?

  • What would it take for all genders to equally contribute to and benefit from the project?

  • Is there any risk that, directly or indirectly, the project may perpetuate or aggravate existing inequalities, or produce new ones?

Gender mainstreaming allows to anticipate the gendered implications of a project, minimise and avoid any potential negative gendered repercussions, measure impacts disaggregated by gender and allocate dedicated resources for addressing gender considerations.

How Does It Work?


My work in mainstreaming gender into a project usually starts with conducting a Gender Assessment on the gender equality context in the target geography, with a specific focus on the project sector(s). 
Based on the findings of the Gender Assessment, I would then produce a Gender Action Plan (GAP) for the project. In a nutshell, the GAP translates the project work plan into gender terms, by incorporating specific gender-related activities, indicators and targets for each applicable component of the work plan (or logframe). 
Once discussed with and endorsed by all stakeholders, the GAP becomes the compass that guides the project along its implementation in addressing and implementing gender-related elements, thus avoiding “surprises” at the end of a project. 
We did not imagine that, by building this infrastructure in that location and according to our plan, we would end up disrupting women’s livelihoods and exposing them to increased gendered based violence” is a typical example of the type of surprises that gender mainstreaming allows to prevent. 

Is It “Only” About Gender Equality?


In integrating gender considerations into a project, it is important to take a further step and acknowledge that each gender is not a homogenous group in itself. Elements such as level of education, age, race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, disability also concur to determine an individual’s level of vulnerability and agency. 
By adopting a so-called intersectionality lens, I strive to capture these co-dimensions, in order to prevent any potential negative impacts on different groups and identify avenues to promote their inclusion.
For these reasons, working on gender is, in fact, more than “just” working with girls and boys, women and men. It is also about mapping any potential vulnerable group – be they migrants, people with disability, ethnic or religious minorities, etc., - helping reduce their marginalisation and promoting their integration and meaningful inclusion into society. 
This is why we speak of “Gender Equality and Social Inclusion” (GESI). 

Why Does It Matter?


Integrating gender equality and social inclusion into a project, from its very onset, is essential to:
•    Ensure that the project does not contribute to generate new or aggravated forms of discrimination or marginalisation, and 
•    Identify how best to leverage the potential of each gender and social group to contribute to and benefit from the project objectives.

For me, mainstreaming gender and social inclusion is in fact not only about avoiding negative repercussions. First and foremost, it is about acknowledging that each gender and social group have their own potential and contribution to offer. In this respect, GESI mainstreaming is about removing barriers that prevent each group from contributing their views, skills, talents and resources in shaping their own society and development pattern.
In so doing, GESI mainstreaming upgrades women and other social groups from mere “victims” or “beneficiaries” to powerful change agents, acknowledging and enabling their own unique right and potential to thrive and drive the global agenda 2030. 


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