Gender equality and violence against women

What’s the connection?
ACSSA Research Summary No. 7 – June 2014

Issues in the implementation of gender equality policies

The discussion in this section relates mainly to the strategy of gender mainstreaming that is now a key plank of institutional promotion of gender equality at the organisational level. It involves the incorporation of gender issues into the mainstream management of an organisation and requires analysis of gender in respect of all facets of that body's processes and policies (WHO, 2009). In a theoretical sense, gender mainstreaming is the process of reconsidering concepts and definitions to acknowledge that the world operates in a way that is impacted by differences in genders and to conceptualise and allow for these differences (Walby, 2005).

Feminist concerns regarding the process of gender mainstreaming include apprehension about what success will look like in terms of equality, (i.e. is it sameness or accommodation of difference?) The problem is that separate gender norms and standards mean that differences could be absorbed into an equality that is set at the standards valued by the status quo - male favoured structures. This has been identified as a concern in that the mainstreaming of gender issues detracts from the primacy of issues that females face that are different to men. Mainstreaming could result in men and women being treated the same, with the indirect effect of disadvantaging women (Pease, 2008). In Australia, this was seen in a policy context whereby women-specific services and policy were closed as unnecessary (Pease, 2008); however, such actions clearly miss the point of gender mainstreaming.

An alternative approach is to consider whether female gender norms and standards can instead be equally valued (Flood, Fergus, & Heenan, 2009). Walby (2005) noted that even if the goal of gender mainstreaming is gender equality, there is disagreement as to how this is done and what it would look like - whether it means accepting and valuing existing gendered differences? Her analysis noted that gendered domains that have the capacity to impact on gender equality, for example employment, family care, education, need to be examined to understand whether changes in one will have ripple effects and implications for the other domains.

Gender and intersectionality with other types of disadvantage

One of the key criticisms of gender mainstreaming is that it is limiting in its ability to incorporate other forms of inequality by which people are grouped socially such as race and economic disadvantage. Gender becomes the main perspective of application of equality without acknowledging that this can be a homogenising process that doesn't appreciate the complexity of other types of compounding disadvantage. Intersectionality describes theoretical analysis of power imbalances occurring across multiple systems of advantage and disadvantage. In this way, no single dimension of social inequality or social characterisation, for example gender, is prioritised.

The technicalities of implementing gender mainstreaming are also a subject of debate. It is easier to talk about incorporating gender mainstreaming while not considering the expertise that is likely to be required to implement it. Where policy-makers and political players have a high level of understanding, the implementation of gender mainstreaming strategies will be less problematic (Walby, 2005). But how will strategies be implemented in an environment where this is not the case and where the input of expertise from sources external to government may be required?