What are we mainstreaming when we mainstream gender?

Gender mainstreaming has become one of the most important policy tools for promoting gender equality and women’s rights globally. Even Security Council, in its resolutions to promote gender equality and women’s rights in peacebuilding, calls for action through gender mainstreaming (UNSCR 1325, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, 2422). Resolutions also specifically request gender expertise, gender analysis, and gender-sensitive training to ensure capabilities for implementing gender mainstreaming.

Since the formal acknowledgement of gender mainstreaming principle in 1995 at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing,  I’ve had number of roles as a) an advocate for the integration of gender equality policies in Finnish development cooperation and overall Finnish government policies b) gender trainer in European civilian and military crisis management operation and UN military observer pre-departure trainings, c) evaluator of the effectiveness of the gender mainstreaming programme in post-conflict statebuilding context of Bosnia-Herzegovina; and d) gender advisor of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

During those years, however, I was getting more and more troubled that concepts such as ‘gender mainstreaming’ or ‘gender equality’, or ‘women’s empowerment’ are political concepts: they carry meanings that are results of negotiation processes, although when turned into policy advocacy or tools, they often appear as neutral and natural.

From 2005 onwards, when I began my PhD studies, instead of asking how well gender mainstreaming is implemented, I became more interested in understanding what gender mainstreaming does. Thus, rather than seeing gender mainstreaming as something that has been already been set in stone, i.e. we always already know what it is, my research aimed at arguing, illustrating with the examples from Aceh, Indonesia, that it is an active process of negotiating norms: gender norms, but also importantly other norms, such as nationalism, religious identity, class, socio-economic status, sexuality and so on.

Here are the slides of a lecture I gave on gender mainstreaming on 28 September 2016 at the Gender, Conflicts and Security in a Globalised World course organised by Valpuri, Faculty of Social Sciences Gender Studies Teaching Basket at the University of Helsinki.


My 2010 PhD thesis (International Politics, University of Aberystwyth, Wales) ‘Becoming Better ‘Men’ and ‘Women’: Negotiating Normativity through Gender Mainstreaming in Post-Tsunami Reconstruction initiatives in Aceh, Indonesia was funded by European Community Marie Curie Host Fellowship for Early Stage Researchers Training, 2006-2009 and Academy of Finland funded project ‘Gendered Agency in Conflict: Gender Sensitive Approach to Development and Conflict Management Practices’, 2007-2010.

An edited version was published in 2013 by Routledge as Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Indonesia: Negotiating Normativity through Gender Mainstreaming Initiatives in Aceh.