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  • What is Gender Mainstreaming and Why Does it Matter?

    Equality policies in general and particularly gender mainstreaming within candidate and potential candidate countries are relevant in the terms of European integration as “insurance of equal opportunities is seen as one of the major social political issues at the accession negotiations.

    Short Overview of the History of Gender Mainstreaming and its Meaning in Europe

    The European Union is an acknowledged forerunner in terms of gender equality policy, as the inception of an equal opportunities policy development in the EU was incorporated in the founding Treaty of Rome as early as 1957. The EU Member States, specifically Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, played a significant role in developing the concept within the framework of the United Nations, which were initiators of the World Conference on Women and the promulgators of the Action Platform, and emphasized the relevance of incorporating a gender aspect in public policy. EC’s gender perspective approach was developed in the mid-90s, following an initial equal treatment approach to equality, and a pursuit of women targeted policies. Thus, in order to ensure a holistic conceptualization of gender equality, the Union takes into account the three complementary and interconnected perspectives.[1] While the equal treatment perspective depicts actions prescribing women and men with same rights and opportunities, a woman’s perspective instigates initiatives favoring women and allocating them preferential treatment as a rectification of disadvantages from the past. Finally, the gender perspective promulgates an overall transformation of policy-making so as to tackle systemic and structural causes of gender inequality.

    Therefore, it can be concluded that gender mainstreaming was not conceived as an end in itself, but as a horizontal strategy employed in order to include sensitivity to gender issues across the entire EU public policy spectrum.[2] According to the Council of Europe Framework, which is referred to as a benchmark document and is abided by in in the context of the EU as well, the added value of gender mainstreaming is in ensuring greater well-being of a society by paying due attention to the diversity of particular individuals rather than abstractions.[3] Following the Third and Fourth Action Program on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, the European Commission spearheaded the principle of gender mainstreaming, which is evident from its proposal to “bring a gender perspective into all EU policy-making in a ‘coherent and systematic way’.”[4] Finally, the commitment to the mobilization of all Community policies with the aim of promoting gender equality was established as a priority in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Thus, the women’s and gender perspective are not mutually exclusive, as it has often been misunderstood. Rather, the opposite is true as they reinforce one another and should therefore not be applied in isolation but make use of their complementarity through a synergy.

    Gender Mainstreaming in European Integration

    Equality policies in general and particularly gender mainstreaming within candidate and potential candidate countries are relevant in the terms of European integration as “insurance of equal opportunities is seen as one of the major social political issues at the accession negotiations.”[5] Additionally, as further enlargement represents a challenge for the preservation of EU’s commitment to established principles, Serbia should not only harmonize its legislation with the acquis communautaire but also transpose and incorporate European values and strategies.[6] For instance, the EU has failed to mainstream gender in the accession negotiations with the Central and Eastern European countries, and restricted equality issues merely to the legal aspects of the acquis, which led to a deterioration of women’s status in those countries and compromised the level of the EU equality policy.[7] Still, within the Strategy for equality between women and men for the period 2010-2015, the promotion of gender equality persists as a priority in the enlargement process.[8] In this vain, gender mainstreaming should be incorporated at all stages of the policy process, but especially in regards to the preparation and planning stage when problems and challenges are being acknowledged, decision making stage when addressing the previously identified problems and challenges and placing them on the political agenda as priorities, implementation stage when concrete actions are being developed and undertaken, and finally, the evaluation stage when the effects of policies on current gender relations are assessed.[9] Bearing in mind that mainstreaming demands procedural changes, reorganization of the policy processes, reconsideration of policy making approaches, and inclusion of actors beyond the state organization (e.g. NGOs) which entails the creation of new methods of consultation, in order to enhance the chances for its success within the Serbian framework, adequate country specific research on the topic needs to be embarked upon.

    Gender Mainstreaming Public Policies in Serbia

    Moreover, up to this date, in the Serbian context the concept of gender mainstreaming remains elusive outside the gender equality mechanisms, as gender equality and gender mainstreaming are persistently being used interchangeably even as terms. As Verloo argues, this confusion between the goal and the process of gender mainstreaming is one of the main difficulties in defining the concept.[10] Despite the fact that relevant institutional mechanisms are in place in Serbia (the Directorate for Gender Equality within the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy as the central executive mechanism, the Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality on the legislative level, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and Deputy Ombudsperson as independent and autonomous authorities), they lack actual power and capacities to incorporate a gender perspective across policy areas and are denoted by the European Commission’s report  to be in need of strengthening.[11] Additionally, despite a general national framework, local self-governments are labeled as lacking the necessary preconditions in order to perform mainstreaming. Even though gender mainstreaming has become a buzzword in the European Union, its development and implementation has remained unexamined and undermined in Serbia. Thus, in the perspective of opening the accession negotiations and the overall EU integration process, the issue of incorporating gender as a horizontal aspect in policy as well as decision making should draw more attention and draw discussions.


    [1] Booth, Christine, and Cinnamon Bennett. “Gender Mainstreaming in the European Union Towards a New Conception and Practice of Equal Opportunities?” European Journal of Women’s Studies 9, no. 4 (November 2002): 430-46.

    [2] Pollack, Mark A., and Emilie Hafner-Burton. “Mainstreaming gender in the European Union.” Journal of European Public Policy 7, no. 3 (2002): 432-56.

    [3] Gender Mainstreaming: conceptual framework, methodology and presentation of good practices. Final Report of Activities of the Group of Specialists on Mainstreaming. Strasbourg, May 1998.

    [4] Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the European Union. COM (96) 650 final. Brussels, February 12 1997.

    [5] Harrach, Peter. “A basis for Gender equality.” EU conference on equal Pay and Economic Independence. Stockholm. 3 November 1999. Address.

    [6] Bretherton, Charlotte. “Gender Mainstreaming and Enlargement: Th.” The European Union in International Affairs, National Europe Centre, Australian National University. Canberra, Australia. January 2002. Address.

    [7] Bretherton, Charlotte. “Gender Mainstreaming and EU Enlargement: Swimming Against the Tide?” Journal of European Public Policy 8, no. 1 (2001): 60-81.

    [8] Strategy for equality between women and men  2010-2015.  COM(2010) 491 final. Brussels, September 21 2010.

    [9] Gender Mainstreaming: Conceptual framework, methodology and presentation of good practices. Final Report of Activities of the Group of Specialists on Mainstreaming. Strasbourg, May 1998.

    [10] Verloo, Mieke. “Gender Mainstreaming: Practice and Prospects.” Report for the Council of Europe. Strasbourg, 2000.

    [11] Petričević, Ivana. “Women’s Rights in the Western Balkans in the Context of EU Integration: Institutional Mechanisms for Gender Mainstreaming.” European Parliament.

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