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Gender mainstreaming: What is it and how can you use it to achieve gender equality?

7th September 2021

Woman and man at a computer screenAs a women-owned business in the health supply chain sector, PSA is a minority. Health logistics and supply chain is traditionally a highly male dominated profession, especially in Africa.

Despite a number of countries across the continent having a comparably high number of female entrepreneurs, including Ghana and Uganda, this is often fuelled by a lack of opportunities for women in the formal sector and a necessity to financially provide for themselves and families. A study by the World Bank highlighted the hardships that many female-owned businesses face, including a consistent lack of financial support, rendering them less productive and successful than those owned by men.

The impacts of a lack of gender diversity within the health supply chain was highlighted earlier this year when we shared a blog about why gender inequity in supply chain management limits success. PSA’s own female and African founder, Pamela Steele, documented how this creates a failure to understand and meet the needs of beneficiaries, economic loss, and missed opportunities to use critical knowledge held by women. Knowing how to address working –  yet structurally unequal – systems is pivotal to make change.

Gender Mainstreaming – a policy-making approach

Gender mainstreaming is a policy-making approach that incorporates a gender equality perspective at all stages and levels of programmes and projects. It is an approach that is endorsed and recognised by many multinational organisations, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe, aiming to create greater gender equity.

So how does it work in practice?

Planning for structural change

Mainstreaming is not a goal, but an approach; a strategy to achieve the goal of gender equality. In order for it to be successful, it is particularly important to prioritise at the planning stages of a project; when the needs and concerns of all genders can be defined and addressed by developing projects. Therefore gender analysis and gender impact assessments are crucial tools for gender mainstreaming. These tools support the practical implementation of gender mainstreaming and enable continual and measurable evaluation over time.

According to research PSA conducted in July 2020 with expert HR professionals in African parastatal health supply chain organisations, it was found that the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, known as KEMSA, implemented a gender mainstreaming committee, which focuses and investigates how they can ensure that each and every gender is not compromised.

This committee conducts different analysis and evaluation of gender within their organisation. For example, exploring the ratio of women to men within the organisation and the gender split at different levels. This includes questioning how many women are in Director or managerial positions, or how many there are in the lower cadre of staff.

Visibility, Accountability and Inclusion

The active presence of a gender mainstreaming committee enables and promotes constant awareness of possible challenges and concerns. By promoting gender mainstreaming action, both Uganda’s National Gender Policy and Tanzania’s National Strategy for Gender Development demonstrate the role of publishing new guidelines, designing effective awareness programmes about the benefits of involving women, and regularly and transparently reviewing gender equality. These methods promote and create an environment which encourages change and gender visibility, accountability and inclusion.

Targeted and appropriate policy action

The implementation of gender mainstreaming throughout an organisation, with active committees, published guidelines and gender awareness programmes, builds a long-term foundation upon which organisations can successfully identify areas of success and concern to create policies that are suitable for the needs of each company and culture.

PSA’s research determined that KEMSA’s gender analysis investigating the ratio of women to men contributed to their affirmative action policy, following the 70:30 male/female composition principle, considers gender when recruiting, as well as looking the gender split at different levels. This includes recording, analysing and questioning how many women occupy directorial and managerial positions or how many men are employed in the lower posts.

Uganda’s National Gender Policy and priority given to gender mainstreaming has uncovered and resulted in targeted action to tackle the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment throughout its Ministry of Health. Interviews conducted by PSA for previous research found that Uganda National Medical Stores have a clear policy regarding attracting, maintaining, and motivating an equal workforce, and employee induction includes a comprehensive review of these policies. In certain cases, to increase gender parity, the NMS hiring committee also considers giving preference to female candidates.

These policy actions are important to take strides towards possible gender equality. They follow recommendations from organisations, such as the Chartered Institute or Personnel and Development, CIPD, that suggests employers should implement policies that actively tackle gender pay, managerial positions, harassment, and flexible working. Publishing and clearly communicating these policies throughout an organisation are essential.

Gender mainstreaming is therefore a broad policy approach that affects all aspects of an organisation. Its emphasis on planning for structural change, visibility, accountability and inclusion, and ability to create targeted and appropriate policy action makes it an important approach for enabling greater gender equality. This approach is of particular importance for the health supply chain sector, not only to increase women’s opportunities and empowerment when employed within the sector, but to ensure that the health supply chain provides successfully for all the genders it serves.

The team at PSA has written about different aspects of gender mainstreaming in previously published material, read more about it here.