Gender mainstreaming has become the dominant development discourse for achieving gender equity in developing regions. It is the most recent in a series of strategies that have had varying success in delivering the feminist goals of women’s emancipation and gender equity in developing regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Gender mainstreaming is arguably a depoliticised and toned-down version of its predecessors, which attempts to avoid direct feminist confrontations while ultimately aiming not to exclude or threaten stakeholders in the development process. Experience indicates that as a result, gender mainstreaming is in danger of becoming yet another ineffective tool to promote gender equity.
Our research indicates that the status of women can only be advanced through gender mainstreaming strategies that are adapted to each specific culture and place, addressing the concerns and aspirations of locally active agents of change. This will entail a shift from currently dominant institutional strategies (which target inputs, structural change and policy implementation) to be balanced with complementary operational strategies (which consist of output-orientated guidelines, training, research and projects). As Bronwen Douglas has argued in relation to Melanesia, we need to appeal to the local level, because the gap between state and civil society is growing and local communities away from state centres are less engaged in state affairs. The solution she offers is to invite international experts to listen to what local people are saying and respond to their needs, rather than to preach ‘developed discourse’.