When properly addressed and implemented, gender mainstreaming is a transformative approach with a great potential for social change, a panel of speakers addressing the first-ever Women in Infrastructure Summit on August 24 agreed.
Gender mainstreaming is, however, a long-term strategy, as every step counts towards this change of approach, and it will require some time until it is fully and automatically integrated into policy-making.
There is wide consensus about the effectiveness of a dual approach towards gender equality, combining gender mainstreaming and specific measures for the advancement of women, to ensure better policymaking and better use of resources, the panellists noted.
In layman’s terms, UN Women gender and trade consultant Nadira Bayat explained, gender mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of planned action, including legislation and policies, in all areas and at all levels”.
The approach, she said, was integral to ensuring that women and men’s concerns were taken into account for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes.
While the fundamental objective of gender mainstreaming is to ensure that women and men benefit equally, and that inequality is not perpetuated, Bayat acknowledged that it had not been successful thus far. Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s combined population but, in 2018, women had only generated 33% of the continent’s collective gross domestic product.
“Women and men are not a homogenous group, and they don’t face equal disadvantages. Women are disproportionally impacted and affected by multiple intersecting forms of discrimination that are based on race, religion, social status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities and [the like],” she lamented.
However, significant progress has been made across the African continent on numerous fronts as it relates to reducing gender inequalities, though Bayat emphasised that “significant gaps remain” when it comes to equal opportunities for women and men.
This, she stated, presents a “huge impediment” to structural, economic and social transformation, which is a priority for all African countries.
Development Bank of Southern Africa stakeholder and strategic partnerships programme manager Thembi Khoza, meanwhile, agreed with Bayat, noting that, as the world faces challenges of underdevelopment and unsafe infrastructure, “it is clear that a lot of vulnerable communities and groups are still excluded, particularly women”.
Looking at South Africa, in particular, she bemoaned the challenges that infrastructure presents at various levels.
With one of these being the inability for women entrepreneurs to access opportunities to provide infrastructure, Khoza noted that another was at the point of consumption, where infrastructure often does not meet the needs of women.
While the physical infrastructure may be there, the softer infrastructure is often lacking and requires that more attention be paid to the interests and needs of women, particularly in ensuring that it becomes user-friendly, and that it does not become a security threat.
For example, while women are able to use bus and transport infrastructure, the times at which these operate (such as early mornings or late evenings) are not always appropriate for ensuring a woman’s safety.
While South Africa has policies in place when it comes to ensuring that everyone is included in infrastructure considerations, Khoza stated that additional consideration was needed to ensure women’s safety, and that their needs were fully met.
Women in Logistics and Transport South Africa representative Margaret Bango agreed that while South Africa had enabling policies, women were still faced with bottlenecks.
The main bottleneck, or challenge, that women experienced was a lack of opportunities as primary users in infrastructure.
She suggested that women needed to focus on pursuing “opportunities with favourable procurement environments”, and that governments “need to shift their focus into investing into an inclusive and sustainable infrastructure”.
Investors, together with government, should also include women in all phases of a project, from roll-out through to the maintenance of infrastructure projects.
“We need to seek funding from development funding institutions who are interested in supporting women initiatives. They need to consider women as primary clients, and not as consumers, of infrastructure,” Bango stated.
Additionally, a mindset change is required.
Traditionally, men are seen as the suppliers and providers of infrastructure, which Bango said “needs to change” as women were as just as capable.
Alternatively, she urged women to “enter the lion’s den” to ensure they were able to access fair and equal opportunities.