Mainstreaming gender in public health: what does it mean?
Gender mainstreaming (GMS) in health is about changing behaviours, attitudes and practices that are harmful to women or men’s overall health status. It is a two-tiered strategy aimed at achieving gender equality.
Tier 1: Programmatic or operational gender mainstreaming
Programmatic or operational GMS is based on human rights principles of equality, participation and non discrimination. Through the systematic application of gender analysis methods, programmatic GMS considers the ways in which life conditions, opportunities and environments affect the health of women and men, girls and boys.
Programmatic GMS does the following:
- Addresses how certain health problems affect women and men differently
- Focuses on women's empowerment and women-specific conditions as a way of addressing the historical wrongs women and girls continue to face
- Examines the ways that gender norms, roles and relations influence male behavioral, health outcomes, and the ways these interact with the role of men in promoting gender equality
- Adopts a broad equity approach - looking at issues of age, socio-economic status, ethnic diversity and other forms of population divisions that may lead to inequities
- Provides an evidence-base to enable appropriate, effective and efficient health planning, policy-making and service delivery
For an example of programmatic GMS within WHO, check out AMRO's work on gender and HIV:
Tier 2: Institutional gender mainstreaming
Institutional GMS looks at the way organizations function: policy development and governance, agenda setting, administrative functions and overall systems-related issues. This tier of GMS acknowledges that institutional structures must be equipped with mechanisms to create an enabling environment for programmatic GMS - and to ensure that the functioning of the organization in question does not reinforce patterns of gender inequality in its staffing, functions or governance.
Institutional GMS seeks structural changes and calls for the transformation of the public health agenda to enable women (and other marginalized groups) to participate in defining and implementing public health priorities and activities. Institutional GMS addresses:
- Organization of human and financial resources, organizational policies:
- Recruitment and staff benefit policies
- Establishment of work-life balance
- Creation of mechanisms of participation for male and female staff in decision-making procedures
- Sex parity and gender balance in staffing
- Equal opportunities for upward mobility
- Inclusion of gender and health in strategic agendas, policy statements and monitoring:
- Development of tools and processes to address gender in planning activities (both institutional and programmatic planning)
- Mechanisms of accountability on gender and health via advisory bodies, steering committees
- Building staff capacity to implement gender analysis methods required in programmatic gender mainstreaming
For examples of institutional GMS, visit some Regional websites related to capacity building activities with Member States and integrating gender into the work of health professionals. These examples will contribute to improved programme outcomes and include an emphasis on the processes to get there:
- WHO gender mainstreaming strategy
- Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean
- Regional Office for the Western Pacific