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Keywords:

  • gender mainstreaming;
  • gender;
  • women;
  • governmentalities;
  • policy;
  • development agencies;
  • NGOs;
  • the Netherlands

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

Dutch development agencies have actively taken up gender mainstreaming strategies since the mid-1990s. This article considers two gender mainstreaming instruments, gender targets and gender assessments, and investigates their transformative effect. A five shifts approach is applied to both the instruments' design on paper and the implementation in practice. The analysis reveals two disconnections, which undermine their transformative potential: between organisational and operational level of policies and between the administrative and conceptual aspects. The emptying and narrowing down of the concept of gender is made possible because the desired transformation of policy is made an individual affair rather than institutional affair. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

When gender mainstreaming (GM) was put on the agenda as a core strategy to ensure gender equality at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), it carried the promise of institutional transformation in support of gender justice. This promise does not seem to have been realised yet; gender has been away-streamed, depoliticized and instrumentalised (Mukhopadhyay, 2005). A range of publications have pointed out that many bilateral donors, international agencies, and Northern and Southern non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have formulated GM policies but that ‘evidence is mixed’ with regard to their implementation (Moser and Moser, 2005: 19; OECD, 2007; NORAD, 2006; Rao and Kelleher, 2005). Gender-rich policies tend to turn into gender-poor practice (Piálek, 2008). GM has been embraced and at the same time been vulnerable to evaporation.

This article seeks to unravel the paradox between the general acknowledgement of the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment on the one hand, and the weak implementation and resistance to GM on the other. In order to do so, I scrutinise a specific set of GM instruments of four key Dutch development NGOs. These four agencies have been frontrunners, both nationally and internationally, in gender equality and GM policies (see Roggeband, 2013; van Eerdewijk and Dubel, 2012). All four agencies address the promotion of gender equality in their highest policy objectives and employ a dual track approach to GM, which means they have both a stand-alone and an integration track. In the first half of the 1990s, when top level commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment had been generated, gender specialists introduced gender policies and mainstreaming instruments. In the second half of the 1990s, however, the GM efforts watered down and met increasing resistance (e.g. Sprenger, 2006; VCE, 2007; van Eerdewijk and Davids, 2011a, 2011b). Because GM seems well taken care of on paper, this Dutch case allows us to look at institutionalisation beyond the world of paper.

I focus on two mainstreaming instruments that were designed in the mid-1990s: gender assessments and gender targets. The gender assessments are used to assess the project proposals of counterpart organisations and to support and monitor their implementation. The gender targets capture numerical objectives on gender, and mainly concern budget targets, formulated in input or outreach terms. These instruments are designed to counter the gender bias and make organisational processes more responsive to gender concerns. I investigate to what extent these instruments contribute to the mainstreaming of gender and what exactly is being mainstreamed by them. My interest is not only to analyse what is written down on paper but to look specifically at what happens in the implementation: how are these instruments used in daily practice? By scrutinising the practice of these instruments, I look inside the mythical beast of GM, to speak in terms of the introduction to this special issue. The ready adoption of GM by development agencies has created a demand for manuals, trainings, checklists and tools, which were expected to bring about institutional transformation. By scrutinising the actual practice of two of such particular instruments, I seek to grasp why they failed to bring about the desired change. In the next section, I elaborate the conceptual and methodological approach of this article in the next section.

A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

Gender mainstreaming is a strategy that targets policy processes as its object of change, in the sense that it seeks to reorganise, transform and alter policy making and implementation. The definitions provided by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (1997) and the Council of Europe (1998) (see van Eerdewijk and Davids, 2013) point out that GM refers to all policies and legislation, at all levels and in all areas and to all stages of the policy cycle. It is important to underline that the transformation of policy processes has a specific objective: the achievement of gender equality. In the field of international development, GM marks a break with earlier approaches to women and gender issues, because it does not isolate women's empowerment to separate projects or programmes, but seeks to make it an integral dimension of all policy making. It is also considered transformative, because it is not focused on women as such, but on the structural and institutional dimension of gender inequality (Moser, 1989). GM thus seeks to challenge all aspects of policy making by infusing feminist conceptualizations of gender. For the analysis of GM in this article, I distinguish two dimensions of GM. Firstly, I investigate which levels, areas and phases of, as well as actors in policy making are affected and transformed by GM instruments. This is the process dimension. Secondly, I look at the substantive dimension: what notion of gender is actually being mainstreamed?

To start with the latter, the substantive dimension concerns the extent to which feminist conceptions of gender and women have entered policy making. Do policies merely speak of women, or do they address structural and institutional aspects of gender inequality? This is of pivotal importance, because ‘gender inequality as a policy problem is subject to a variety of interpretations’, and many GM policy definitions tend to be empty signifiers, in the sense that they do not specify what should be understood by gender equality (Lombardo and Meier, 2006: 152). It therefore becomes pertinent to identify in what way policies embody and represent feminist and transformational understandings of gender. Lombardo and Meier have formulated five criteria to make such an assessment (2006: 152–154). GM policy and practice can be considered transformational, when five shifts have taken place:

  1. A ‘shift towards a broader concept of gender equality’, beyond a concern with women (Ibid.: 152). This means a focus on the structural inequalities in gendered power relations and multiple interconnected causes that sustain and reproduce them in different areas of life (cf. Cornwall and Anyidoho, 2010).
  2. ‘The incorporation of a gender perspective into the mainstream […] agenda’ (Lombardo and Meier, 2006: 152). This implies a reorientation of policy ends and means and the prioritisation of gender objectives (cf. Mukhopadhyay, 2005).
  3. Equal representation of women and men in decision-making. This to ensure that women are, at least numerically, part of the mainstream but also that male norms in the distribution of resources and hierarchy are challenged.
  4. Changes in the institutional and organisational cultures of decision-making, and particularly policy-processes, mechanisms and actors. The acquisition of profound gender expertise is part of this shift (cf. MacDonald, Sprenger and Dubel, 1997).
  5. A shift towards an inclusive mainstreaming agenda not only of gender but of diversity. This shift also requires the participation of civil society and feminist movements in policy making (cf. Mohanty, 1991).1

I apply the five shifts to assess the transformative nature of the GM instruments in terms of substance, that is, to grasp what notion of gender is being mainstreamed.

In order to investigate the process dimension, this article employs a practice perspective, which is inspired by the ‘practice turn’ in organisational studies (e.g. Yanow, 2006). The practice perspective allows for considering the interplay between the formal policies of an organisation and the actual daily practice among the members of that organisation. ‘The analytical focus is on organisation or work practices—that is to say, on what people say and do in their social interaction within organizations [….] Organizational practices operate on multiple levels and, as such, are sometimes inconsistent’ (van der Brink, 2009: 25). Because GM expects the transformation of policy processes to come about by the actors who are ‘normally involved in policy-making’ (Council of Europe definition, in Verloo, 2005: 350), it is pertinent to look at how staff members use, resist or alter the norms and formal policies available.

This article investigates the way gender assessments and gender targets transform the way these development agencies work and where and how they incorporate gender equality concerns. I look at the way these GM instruments are designed on paper as well as implemented in practice. I investigate both what levels and stages of policy making they affect (the process dimension), and the way in which gender equality is conceptualised (the substantive dimension of GM). In Section 3, I apply the five feminist shifts to the two GM instruments as they are designed on paper. In Section 4, I discuss the experiences of staff in implementing the instruments and apply the five shifts to GM practices.

The analysis in this article is based on four large Dutch non-governmental development organisations (NGDOs): Oxfam Netherlands Organisation for Development Assistance (Novib), Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos), Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO), and Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid).2 In the first months of 2009,3 I collected documents from each of these organisations, and conducted 21 semi-structured interviews (13 women and eight men). The organisational documents concern gender policies and evaluations, and gender manuals, tools and instruments. In each organisation, interviews were held with five staff members in different positions: the head of the gender unit, a top executive representative, and three staff members in non-gender programmes or departments.4 The interviews with the gender unit head and top executive representative focused on the rationale of the two GM instruments and their views on the implementation. The interviews with the three staff members in the non-gender departments focused on experiences in the implementation of the instruments.

GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES
Gender targets

In the four NGDOs, gender targets have been formulated as either input or outreach targets. In both cases, they provide directions on how the organisation's budget should be spent. Budget targets can be formulated in two ways. One way is to reserve a fixed percentage of the organisational budget for stand-alone gender programmes and initiatives. A second way is to define what percentage of the budget of the non-gender programmes is to be spent on gender programmes and partners. This is a way to push other sectors into spending resources on gender equality. Hivos has decided that all non-gender programmes have to spend at least 15 per cent of their resources on gender, which is judged on two criteria. Firstly, the financed projects have objectives which are fully in line with the objectives of empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality. Secondly, when 80 per cent of the beneficiaries of a project are women, this also falls into the 15 per cent target (Hivos, 2006). The second criterion is actually also an outreach target. Oxfam Novib has not specified an input target for the non-gender programmes, but it has formulated an outreach target for the organisation as a whole: 70 per cent of all its beneficiaries should be women (Oxfam Novib, 2007: 17–18).5 Input and outreach targets are the most common gender targets, but the four Dutch agencies also use other kinds of gender targets. ICCO and Cordaid, for instance, monitor the percentage of women's organisations in their partner portfolio.

When applying the five feminist shifts to these targets, it becomes clear that the targets embody different concepts of gender (shift one). When budget targets are explicitly related to empowerment objectives, they point to a broader concept of gender, incorporating a change in gender relations and norms. The outreach targets, however, narrow it down to women as a homogeneous group. This narrowing down to women beneficiaries implies an integration of women into existing interventions and policies rather than changing the mainstream agenda (shift two). The targets set on spending budget on reaching the objectives of gender equality and justice, however, do intend to transform mainstream policies, and are meant to bring about a reorientation of priorities, in particular at the level of the Dutch agencies themselves. The third shift of women representation in decision-making is not captured by the targets. By formulating and monitoring progress on the gender policy indicators, the targets seek to affect the Dutch agencies' organisational cultures and processes (shift four). Diversity and voice are touched upon by the targets on women's organisations in the partner portfolio even though this type of gender targets is not very prominent in the GM policies (shift five). Finally, the women's organisation targets do not portray an inclusive and intersectional concept, because they fix gender in terms of gender equality and women's empowerment, and exclude aspects of a broader diversity agenda.

Gender assessments

Gender assessments are the second important instrument in the NGDOs' mainstreaming strategies. They form part of the overall assessments of proposals of (potential) partner organisations and standardise the elements on which a decision on a partner's proposal is based. They include issues related to financial sustainability and accountability of the partner organisation, relationship with the target group, organisational capacity, planning, monitoring and evaluation system, staff composition, track record and so on. All four NGDOs include specific indicators on gender in these assessments.

The four assessments carry many resemblances, although each NGDO emphasises specific elements. The gender assessment criteria can be divided into ones that concern the gender character of the partner organisation and ones that address aspects of the proposed project of that partner. To start with the former, important organisational criteria are whether the partner organisation has taken up gender in its organisational objectives and how many women work in the organisation, especially in top management positions. The presence of gender expertise and of an internal gender policy, as well as availability of gender analysis are also commonly used assessment criteria, as are external contacts with women and gender actors.6 With respect to the assessment of the proposed project, the use of sex-disaggregated data, the formulation and monitoring of gender indicators and regular reporting on gender are important criteria. Other commonly used criteria are the formulation of gender objectives for the project and the identification of strategies to include women. Some assessments also ask to what extent the project challenges gender stereotypes, how many women beneficiaries it reaches or to what extent female leadership is promoted.

By providing scores to these different types of criteria, the gender sensitivity and capacity of the partner organisations is assessed. The four agencies do not use the assessment results in the same way. For ICCO, the gender assessment has a signalling and agenda-setting function in both proposal assessments and dialogue with partners. Yet, ICCO has not set targets with respect to what partner organisations should score on the gender elements nor on what part of the partner portfolio should have high gender scores. The signalling function is also important for Cordaid, Oxfam Novib and Hivos, but for these latter three, the gender scans also have a more directive function, as they aim to increase the percentage of partner organisations in their portfolio with a positive score on the gender assessments.

The gender assessments embody several of the feminist shifts. With respect to the concept of gender (shift one), they portray a mixed picture; they aim for changes in gender relations and for the empowerment of women. This is, for instance, reflected in aspects like the presence of a gender policy, a gender analysis, gender objectives, gender indicators or gender expertise. However, some of the parameters in the assessments tend to rely on the concept of women, for instance when pointing to the representation of women in the organisation, and in particular when focusing on inclusion of and outreach to women beneficiaries. The background information accompanying the assessments clarifies the broader concept of gender equality and justice behind the criteria. In theory then, the gender assessments have a transformative potential. Incorporation of gender into the mainstream agenda (shift two) is the intended effect of the scans, which are meant to bring about a reorientation of priorities at both the level of the Dutch agency and the counterpart organisations in the South, especially when they are connected to targets.

The criteria on women's representation in management and senior positions acknowledge the gendered nature of decision-making processes (shift three). Some assessments also include criteria on women's leadership or the presence of gender expertise at senior and management levels, but the focus is more on numerical representation than on explicitly challenging male norms the in decision-making processes. All assessments capture organisational and institutional cultures (shift four) by including criteria on the presence of gender expertise, gender analysis, the monitoring and reporting on gender indicators and disaggregated data, and to workplace policies or internal gender policies. Institutionalised connections with women's and feminist organisations are included and, as such, recognition is given to the importance of women's voices (shift five). The assessments, however, mainly focus on gender concerns and tend to exclude an intersectional approach of diversity.

When combining the shift analysis on both the targets and assessments, the formal GM instruments embody many of the feminist shifts that a transformative GM strategy would require. The instruments depart from a broad concept of gender and include elements of voice by addressing women's representation in decision-making, presence of and links with women's organisations, and attention for organisational procedures and institutional cultures. Moreover, they are intended to push agencies into setting more gendered priorities in their policy and practices. On a more critical side, the assessments and targets also rely on more narrow gender concepts and fix gender in terms of women as a group. In this process of fixing gender, it becomes more difficult to connect gender policies to other issues of diversity and inclusion. What happens to these instruments when implemented in practice is discussed in the next section.

FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

Both the targets and assessments are generally supported by most staff; the organisational objective to promote and contribute to gender equality and women's empowerment is not questioned as such. Yet, both GM instruments also arouse frustration and complaints, meet with resistance and are not consistently and strongly implemented. I start with discussing the practice of the gender targets and then turn to the assessments.

Gender targets in practice

With respect to the gender targets, a first source of frustration for some non-gender staff members is that they experience difficulties in meeting them. This does not count for all targets: Oxfam Novib's 15 per cent target was for instance already reached in 2008. Nor for all staff members: some of the thematic programmes of Hivos spend more than the 15 per cent input target. In other cases, the staff argue that it is hard to match the gender objectives with the other objectives of the programme. Although the rethinking of those thematic objectives is exactly what GM intends to do, it is also obvious that this cannot be realised without struggle on the part of staff members. The seemingly seamless link between gender equality goals and other development objectives is not as straightforward as often assumed. This possible conflict surfaces at the operational level of organisational practice.

A second source of the frustration is that the gender targets reduce gender to numbers. Staff members who are committed to GM feel that the quantitative targets do not properly capture the qualitative dimensions of their gender equality and empowerment work. As such, the targets do not do justice to the results that are being realised. Both gender and non-gender specialists questioned whether these targets genuinely put gender issue on the table. Especially with respect to the outreach targets, it is argued that the number of women beneficiaries reached says little about whether a project has had an empowering impact.

A third source of frustration is that the gender targets create negative energy. The quantitative definitions in combination with their annual monitoring makes that staff members experience them as ‘policing’. ‘While it is generally acknowledged that tracking and control mechanisms are a crucial part of any mainstreaming effort, staff know it is important to balance this with processes and mechanisms that energise, generate creative new ideas and develop and shift agendas’ (Sprenger, 2006: 9). When staff do not so much doubt the relevance of gender objectives but are particularly struggling with the ‘how’ question, the negative effect of this policing becomes even stronger.

Gender assessments in practice

The gender assessments are valued by most staff for ensuring that gender issues do not disappear; yet, they are also critically questioned. One major concern is that in the assessment of programme proposals of (potential) partners, many different aspects are being considered. The weight of gender concerns in the overall assessment of proposals and partners is regularly questioned. If a partner is doing important poverty reduction work in line with the programme's objectives, if their financial and accountability systems are strong and so on, how much weight should their gender capacity have? Staff also question whether the gender capacity ‘we are asking from counterparts’ is realistic and not over-demanding. Moreover, staff in different programmes indicate feeling uncomfortable to raise gender issues in the dialogue with the counterparts.

Even though the decision to support a partner cannot take place without the gender assessments, this does not guarantee that the gender assessment is carried out in an in-depth and conceptually strategic manner. Programme officers who are critical of the gender assessments can tick the boxes of the questions without necessarily basing their decisions on gender concerns. The assessment is then turned into an administrative task. Even though the gender assessments include an explanation of how the criteria have to be understood and how the scores are to be attributed, other concerns than a proper and strong gender analysis come into play in practice. There is room for staff to work around the gender scores, also because of the relatively high degree of autonomy they have in their work. They can, for instance, indicate ‘that there is no reason to assume that the proposed project does not benefit women’ and can give mid-range scores in order to get the proposal approved. Given the diverse ways in which the assessments are applied, it becomes unclear what a mid-range score exactly entails.

Some staff also point out the limits of the assessments in fundamentally changing work practices. Support to counterpart organisations is tailor-made and requires creativity from the programme staff, as one explained:

The gender assessments do contribute to having an eye for gender concerns, but insight into how and in what way gender issues play a role for that partner and should or could shape their programmes does not logically result from processing the proposal in the gender assessment. You need to do more than filling in the gender assessment tool. That is more something which is in people's heads.

If one wants to make more out of the gender assessments than the ticking of boxes, the crucial factor is what is ‘in the head’ of the programme staff. Doing gender is a sort of intangible skill that you develop at some point, or you do not. And then, it does not necessarily add anything to provide more trainings, instructions or analytical models.

The tasks of programme staff are at the same time administrative and analytical-strategic. The capacities of individual staff members to analyse and discuss gender issues are an essential part of the work process and of the inputs into the relationships with partner organisations and so are their lack of such capacities and their gender biases. The gender assessments do enter into the administrative part of the work process (although potentially in an inconsistent way) and, it is not guaranteed that they translate into the analytical aspects of the work of individual staff and impact on their day-to-day judgement.

Shift analysis of GM practice

When applying the five shifts to the practice of targets and assessments, it becomes clear that the notion of gender is stretched in order to make it work in the mainstream. This indicates that it is easier to make gender fit into the mainstream than to fit the mainstream to gender. With respect to the first shift, contradictory tendencies can be observed in the implementation of the GM instruments. In order to meet targets, the staff turn to targeting women beneficiaries rather than designing interventions that address gender inequality. In order to produce ambiguous scores on the gender assessments, notions of gender are bent and narrowed down to women as a category (cf. Chant and Sweetman, 2012). Ironically, part of the discomfort with GM is expressed as resistance to reducing gender to counting women. Yet, the staff indicate that they find it difficult to translate a broader concept of gender to their work and claim not to know how to integrate gender equality into their work. As a consequence, many attempt to leave the gender equality work to the stand-alone programme rather than integrating it into their own programme and domain, and this undermines the fifth shift of linking up with women's organisations and voices. Shifts two and four most prominently capture what happens in the implementation of GM instruments. The struggle over targets and the ambiguity in scoring the assessments point to the resilience of mainstream practices to setting new priorities and redirecting policies (shift two). The experience of negative energies underlines that the transformation and reorganisation of policy processes and practices is a frustrating and painful process for staff, as it touches upon underlying structures and norms (shift four). Women's representation (shift three) does not surface prominently as an issue of concern in the practice analysis.

I observe two disconnects which contribute to the evaporation of GM in its implementation. The first concerns the disconnection between different policy levels in the agencies. The gender targets and assessments have to be implemented at the level of individual staff, operating in programmes with set objectives. The mid-level of policy formulation, that is, at the programme level which bridges organisational objectives and the decisions made by individual staff, is not explicitly targeted by these GM instruments. The gender assessments are implemented at the level of individual counterpart organisations but do not push for a gender analysis at programme level. The targets are monitored and discussed with programme managers during strategic meetings; yet, these discussions do not focus on analysis and strategic exploration of gender issues within these thematic policy areas. When the mid-level of policy making does not take gender on board in its conceptual analysis and strategic choices, a catch-22 situation arises: staff are left with the responsibility to meet gender targets, in a context that lacks the required strategic choices to meet these objectives. This missing middle explains the difficulties programme staff experience in meeting the input and outreach targets, as well as their strategies to downplay the weight the gender assessments.

Secondly, the practice analysis points to a disconnection between the administrative handling of projects and programmes and the conceptual work in which staff make decisions about the directions of programmes, support to counterparts, extensions of contracts and support trajectories offered. The space individual staff have to work around formal policies and targets, combined with the ambiguity with which the gender assessments can be applied, reveal the fluidity of policies in actual practice, in which gender equality objectives are distorted. The question of whether the targets and gender assessments are dealt with in an in-depth manner depends on the commitment and gender competences of individual staff. The targets and assessments mainly affect the administrative part of the work, but do not necessarily touch upon the conceptual and strategic analysis and decisions that staff make.

IN CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES

The five shifts analysis reveals that the transformative potential of GM loses its edge in practice because the concept of gender is applied in an ambiguous way and because the reorientation of policy priorities as well as organisational culture are avoided. The actual deliberation of how gender is part of development problems and how the promotion of gender equality relates to other development objectives has to take place at the programme level, the mid-level of policy formulation. The qualitative aspects of the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment, which are insufficiently addressed by the input and outreach targets as well as the gender assessments, can be given more consideration at this level as well. If gender analysis and reprioritization of programme objectives does not take place at this mid-policy level, the integration of gender concerns eventually takes place after other strategic choices have been made. Moreover, the possible tensions between different development priorities are played out at the level of individual staff members and, in the case of NGDOs, the counterpart organisations. Because the assessments and targets do not profoundly affect the conceptual and strategic judgements ‘in the head’ of operational staff, the transformative gender agenda then has to be negotiated against the individual interests of staff members.

The two observed disconnections add to the ‘prognosis-diagnosis tension’ in GM. Whereas the diagnosis points to gender problems in structural terms, the solution of GM ‘is based on assumptions of voluntarism, that is, policy makers or regular actors are seen as easily able and willing to correct their gender bias’ (Roggeband and Verloo, 2006: 620). When the strategic analysis and integration of gender at the level of thematic, sectoral or departmental programmes is weak, individual staff lack the institutional structure and ‘enabling policy environment’ to translate a political gender agenda into their work (van Eerdewijk and Dubel, 2012). This leads to a practice in which the meaning of gender becomes vulnerable to depoliticization and instrumentalisation. The fact that not all policy areas and levels that are reached actually makes the emptying of the notion of gender possible. As a result, some policy areas or levels do integrate gender but not necessarily in a transformative way.

Because of the way the gender targets and gender assessments are designed, the gendered biases of the Dutch development agency itself go unchallenged. GM is turned into an individual rather than an institutional affair. In fact, the agency of staff members in organisations is overestimated. Staff members are, however, not free agents but do their work embedded in organisational and societal hierarchies and gendered deep structures (Rao and Kelleher, 2005; Parpart, 2013). The expectations of the transformative effect of the gender assessments and targets in these four NGDOs have to be tempered when realising how deeply organisations are gendered. There are clear limits to what such GM instruments can bring about. They fail to bring about institutional change, because they individualise the responsibility to mainstream, and by-pass institutional priorities and norms, as well as individual interests and values. This does not mean that we should abandon GM but that it requires experimentation with more institutionally challenging strategies.

  1. 1

    I have adapted this fifth shift. Originally, it entails ‘a strategy of both displacement and empowerment’ (Lombardo and Meier, 2006: 154).

  2. 2

    All four agencies work with civil society organisations in developing countries and assist them financially and technically. All four are NGOs that have a long-standing history as well as financial relation with the Dutch Ministry for Development Cooperation and represent different segments of Dutch society. The protestant ICCO was founded in 1964. In 2000, the organisations Cebemo (1961), Mensen in Nood and Memisa (1925) merged into Cordaid. In 1968, Hivos was founded. In 1994, the non-religious organisation (Novib since 1956) joined Oxfam, and became Oxfam Novib.

  3. 3

    The analysis in this paper does not cover the period from 2010 onwards. The GM strategies have been further developed since then.

  4. 4

    In one organisation, two gender experts were interviewed.

  5. 5

    The outreach target was abandoned in Oxfam Novib's 2011–2015 business plan.

  6. 6

    One organisation included the extent to which the partner organisation was a strategic gender player in its assessment.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. A PRACTICE PERSPECTIVE ON GENDER MAINSTREAMING
  5. GM INSTRUMENTS ON PAPER
  6. FRUSTRATION, NEGATIVE ENERGIES AND AMBIGUITY
  7. IN CONCLUSION
  8. REFERENCES
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