Critical‌ ‌Evaluation‌ ‌of‌ ‌Gender‌ Mainstreaming‌ ‌Efforts‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ State‌

Simi Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta, Anshula Mehta

Gender Mainstreaming strategies have been adopted by the Indian states for about two decades. To critically analyze these efforts and discuss the way forward the Centre for Human Dignity and Development IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute and Centre for Development, Communication and Studies (CDECS), Jaipur organized a talk on “Critical Evaluation of Gender Mainstreaming Efforts by the State”, as part of its series on The State of Development Discourses #CohesiveDevelopment.

Binitha V Thampi Critical Evaluation of Gender Mainstreaming Efforts by the State 2

Prof Sunil Ray Former Director, A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna began the session by introducing the topic of discussion and encouraging the discussants to use the insights from the presentation to identify the underlying paradigms of change and go beyond the machine of reproduction of knowledge.

Dr. Binitha V Thampi Associate Professor of Development Studies, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras, Chennai started her presentation by contextualizing the concept of gender mainstreaming as part of the larger global women’s movement and its relationship to development throughout history. 

History and Context

Various studies over the years have looked at the role that women played in economic development as well as how they were excluded from it. The exclusion was systematic and its particular manifestations and the responses of women varied by geography. While the first world was concerned with equity, and the second with peace, the third world was contending with development.

The Indian state’s approach to gender tackling inequality in the 1950s to the 1970s was that of welfare.

Women were seen as occupying a reproductive role in society and would-be recipients of development with no active engagement from their side. In the 1970s, equity became the prominent approach- inclusion and equal opportunities and rights became the focus, and laws like the Equal Remuneration Act in 1976 were passed.

By the 1980s, the global approach to mainstream gender moved on to efficiency. Welfare spending was reduced, coinciding with the stabilization and adjustment policies to combat the declining world economy, and new interventions like microenterprises, credit to women, and supplementary income generation programs were focused on by NGOs and governments.

The 1985 Third World Conference of Women in Nairobi brought the recognition that the needs of women could not be seen as uniform across the world, and there was a need to pay attention to environmental and debt issues which affected the lives and livelihoods of women too.

The Global South pointed out that the Women Integrated in Development (WID) approach followed before often involved women facing the brunt of both capitalism and patriarchy, and thus came the Women and Development (WAD) approach which noted that the structures of society were inequitable and the state had to intervene through affirmative action to combat these inequalities. Empowerment gained importance and grassroots movements like the Grameen Bank and SEWA participated in the development.

The Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 79 was ratified by 186 countries in 1981 and provided a framework to deal with gender inequality. The discourse moved to question the idea of women as a universal category, the importance of intersectionality, and towards Queer studies and men and masculinity studies.

Male bias, rights, and capabilities being the basis for judging bias instead of endowments and preferences, rights, critiques of the household model in economics, care work, etc. were the major highlights to come out of this era. It was recognized that the development process could continue perpetuating inequalities and collective action was needed to create change.

Gender Mainstreaming and efforts in Kerala


Gender Mainstreaming involves assessing the gendered impact of policies at all levels. It brought out ideas of gender training, quotas for women in governance, gender budgeting, gender-friendly taxation, etc.

In Kerala, gender mainstreaming efforts were used since the 1990s and raised questions of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Affirmative action was put into place for women in local governance and women would acquire and develop the skills to run the office but struggled to free themselves of male domination within political parties. Movements like Dalit feminism helped to bring attention to the marginalized and other women questioned the hegemony of the feminine and masculine conceptions.

In the 1990s with the advent of the empowerment approach, women’s organizations increased collaboration with the state and State Feminism emerged. Examples of the same include organizations like Kudumbashree, Mahila Samakya, and Gender Park. While these efforts did lead to induction of women into politics, women are still unable to access local political institutions and there remains a demarcation between governance and politics.

Kudumbashree became the face of state-supported civil societies and works with microenterprise and credit with over half the households in Kerala.

However, some problems that remain are the exclusion of marginalized groups from the program, an over-stretched state, and a narrowing of the anti-poverty agenda by managing poverty through women’s efforts.

Kerala’s Women Component Plan (WCP) emerged as a gender budgeting tool that set up funds and local gender-specific need-identification. Gender Training has also played a significant role in empowerment. It is conducted out of training workshops run by state-level institutions and women’s organizations. 

These efforts carry the underlying assumptions that a more equal society can be achieved through these non-confrontational strategies and that the trainers embody empowerment and are themselves unaffected by the patriarchy. This is not a platform for the mutual exchange of knowledge and does not facilitate women to network across geographies and backgrounds to challenge patriarchy.

Rethinking State-led Gender Mainstreaming 

Intersectionality and changing feminist politics need to be inculcated in gender mainstreaming efforts. Dr. Thampi gave examples of the Kiss of Love protest and the WCC calling out anti-women attitudes in the Malayam film industry to illustrate how feminist politics was happening outside of the state. She concluded that state-led gender mainstreaming had to be critically evaluated and reformed to help it facilitate broader solidarity among women.

Reflections and Questions

Dr Priyadarshini

Dr Anamika Priyadarshini Lead, Research, Sakshamaa: Initiative for What Works, Centre for Catalyzing Change commended Dr Thampi’s efforts to contextualise the discourse in so much detail and she had noticed a trend of depoliticisation, historicity, and decontextualisation in development and gender studies. She pointed out that many efforts of gender mainstreaming ended up reinventing patriarchy through their work and that the state’s cooption of women’s movements was worrying when one could see falling rates of women’s labor participation.

Women seem to be coming out and participating but suffering newer manifestations of patriarchy-Dr. Anamika Priyadarshini

Prof Ray 1

Prof Sunil Ray remarked that while the problem of inequality was stark, it wasn’t at clear how to rectify it without pitfalls. He wondered how the tensions identified by the discussants could be instrumentalized and their outcomes improved. Dr. Priyadarshini replied that it would have to start by recognizing women’s contributions to the economy and remunerate them. It is also important to think about how most NGOs today work with the government instead of autonomously.

Dr Mohanty

Dr. Aditya Mohanty Assistant Professor of Development Studies, Central University, South Bihar too expressed his concerns at the disappearance of autonomous NGOs as excessive collaboration with the government created a ‘state-organized civil society’, corroding the purpose of civil society.

Dr. Aditya Mohanty noted that the idea of gender mainstreaming loses meaning when interventions are always women-only i.e identifying women as a separate category sometimes further highlights their differences.

He compared the condition of women being considered as victims of patriarchy to them being considered empowered once they sign up for say an SHG to Judith Butler’s distinction between precariousness as an ontological condition of vulnerability and precarity as political mobilization. He said that Kudumbashree could not be easily replicated in other states due to its problems of socialization, particularly in Kerala.

Dr. Aditya suggested that identifying marginalized groups and targeting programmes towards them could help in achieving intersectionality and avoid the patronization of women through the state via programmes like SHGs. Dr. Priyadarshini agreed, commenting that state-led reforms did lead to greater participation but also led to limited, cosmetic changes in many instances.

Dr. Mehta

Dr. Simi Mehta felt that bureaucratic interference was a major obstacle in state-led efforts. She also said that these reforms tended to focus more on fiscal and administrative reforms and neglected how institutions could serve women and address accountability failures.

Dr. Simi Mehta noted that mainstreaming failed most significantly at the operations level.

Concluding Remarks

Dr Thampi

Dr. Thampi reiterated the importance of history, echoing Dr. Priyadarshini. She talked about the functioning of Kudumbashree and said that while she did agree that women contended with new forms of patriarchy, she wasn’t in favor of the idea that they ‘reinvented’ patriarchy. Kudumbashree managed to bring women respectability by making them conduits of welfare transfers.

The income generated through self-employment however was not very high and women did not quite feel the difference between profits and the wages they received before. Dr. Thampi mentioned that in the past 20 years, India saw no change in household work allocation between men and women and this fact showed the limited capability of the state to create social and cultural change. The state could only facilitate these changes.

She disagreed with wages for housework as she felt they would reinforce the division of labour between men and women. Instead, childcare centres could be created so that women could obtain employment and be recognized as a part of the labour force. Men and women have to share household work too.

Dr. Thampi said that the collectivization of women was necessary to demolish the patriarchy and so the women’s movement must be critically responsive to governments. 

Prof Sunil Ray thanked the discussants and suggested that from the contradictions, a synthesis was bound to emerge, and it would have to be one based on solidarity across genders.

Acknowledgement: Sonali Pan is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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