April 14, 2017


In order to ensure sustainable development, it has become imperative to recognize the importance of the two sexes (male and female) as complementary biological entities and  moreover, to respect full equity and equality of each of the two genders, i.e., of the social roles that men and women assume in their lives. These roles, it must be emphasized, are socio-political and cultural constructs, which have evolved through history, and vary from one society to another. The fact that the roles attributed to men and women are not static and eternally valid but, on the contrary, that these roles change, have changed and are prone to further change, is essential in explaining why the term gender is not in the forefront on the debate, and why it is not interchangeable with the term sex but is, in fact, complementary to it. 
Since 2008 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has made gender equality on a global scale a priority.  In 2014 the UNESCO, Priority Gender Equality Action Plan (2014 – 2021) (GEAP II) was published, in which the organization makes a promise to the world about how it will address gender inequality. This paper hopes to summarize the varied indices in UNESCO’s addresses to Gender Inequalities.


Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behavior, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female (ABC Of Women Worker’s Right, 2000, p. 48). By the end of the eighteenth century, daring social thinkers were beginning to argue that the winds of emancipation and equality blowing across the Atlantic world should extend to women. Two major women’s demands (developed throughout the two succeeding centuries) were: 1) political equality, especially the suffrage, and 2) access to most traditionally male forms of employment. Women’s suffrage is now given in all the world’s democracies; and the last barrier, access to the highest political offices is crumbling. 
Women have always worked, both inside and outside the home. What they sought in the nineteenth and increasingly in the twentieth century was access beyond traditional women’s work. World Wars I and II, with the men folk in arms and the need for economic mobilization for total war brought women many new job opportunities. Middle and upper-class women struggled to enter the professions from which an increasingly antiquated idea of women’s intellectual capacity still too often barred them (Encyclopedia of Sex, XVI). To the growing numbers of women in the knowledge-production-and transmission business, aka the professoriate, it was obvious that traditional curricula tended to ignore half the human race, that is, women. From this perceived lack, Women’s Studies was born. Women’s Studies work to restore women’s place in history, economics, literature, and the arts. 

This academic field has shone a bright light, not only on the activities of women but also on the image of women and the conceptions of women held by the dominant patriarchal society.
One of the things that women’s studies scholars and feminists swiftly discovered (both through their research and the resistance they encountered in their professional careers) was that roles for and attitudes to women were inextricably tied to attitudes to masculinity vs. femininity (that is, gender) and to sexuality and the body. It would not be possible to liberate women, many began to feel, without also liberating attitudes to sexuality and the body. In the process, Women’s Studies have given birth to Gender Studies. The psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, because of its emphasis on the primacy of the sexual drive, has also contributed mightily to the recognition and exploration of the role of sexuality in modern life and this shall be discussed under the science of equality (Encyclopedia of Sex, XVII). 

Photo Credit: Art from internet

Between the sexual revolution of the 1970s and the renewed push associated with second-wave feminism, other groups oppressed by the traditional patriarchal order of sex and gender also demanded dignity and equality. The HIV/AIDS epidemic helped force male homosexuality out of the closet and contributed to the mainstreaming of gay culture. Other sexual minorities followed suit, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites, intersex individuals, transgendered individuals, etc. As the law struggles to catch up, we deal with the gay marriage debate even in unofficial circles in Nigeria (cf. Encyclopedia of Sex, XVII). 

For UNESCO gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. It implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is a human rights principle, a precondition for sustainable, people-centered development, and it is a goal in and of itself. UNESCO’s vision of gender equality is in line with relevant international instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is also informed by the reflections concerning the post-2015 development framework (UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan, 11).
The process of reform of UNESCO and the preparation of a new six-year strategy for 2001-2006 provide(s) a unique opportunity to integrate fully into its planning, programming, implementation and evaluation of gender mainstreaming practice – which is advocated by the United Nations and other major intergovernmental bodies (OECD, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Union, the Council of Europe, etc.), private foundations and non-governmental organizations, especially since the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in September 1995. 
The implementation in the period between 1995 and 2000 of UNESCO’s major commitments regarding the achievement of gender equity and equality is presented in three parts. Part I outlines major policy decisions, adopted since 1995 by the General Conference, linked to relevant UN decisions on matters concerning the advancement of women and gender equality, and explains what gender mainstreaming means. Part II summarizes UNESCO’s achievements of the past five years, while Part III, “Elements for UNESCO’s Future Gender Mainstreaming Strategy” is a preliminary outline, indicating (i) gender equality issues that have emerged as priorities and for which UNESCO has a comparative advantage because of its multidisciplinary mandate, and (ii) how a gender mainstreaming can be integrated into the Organization’s work both in terms of policy and 

Organizational/practical considerations (Gender equality and equity, 2000, 4). By promoting gender equality and equity, UNESCO advocates a new partnership between women and men, girls and boys, i.e., a partnership based on mutual respect, dialogue and the sharing of public and private responsibilities. World-wide experience has shown that by marginalizing women a society locks up half of its potential, and thereby denies itself a chance for genuine development. Given its mandate, UNESCO is expected by the world community, and particularly the UN system, to play a major role in advocating and affirming women’s rights, and gender rights more broadly, through its work in education, science and social and human sciences, culture and communication (Gender equality, 10). 


GEAP II identifies some key actions to be taken globally. One of these is targeting research initiatives. It is hoped that data gaps can be plugged by approaching data collection in new ways, particularly for those forms of gender equality that UNESCO has an interest in. the organization is particularly keen to support centres of excellence for research into gender equality issues. Preventing violence towards women is another target area. The levels of violence against women are disturbing and have a significant impact on society. The World Health Organization’s latest figures state that 35 per cent of women have experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime and this is a major obstacle to achieving gender equality. The intent of the GEAP II is to promote social change about violence towards women and girls.
Whilst the Inter-Parliamentary Union reported that in 2013 the average representation of women in parliaments is nearly 22 per cent, UNESCO believes that women still do not have fair representation in leadership and decision-making processes around the world. It is believed that ultimately this leads to many of the inequalities for women persisting. It is for this reason that developing women’s leadership capacity and training through targeted programmes is seen as a key focus area for GEAP II. The final key action is designed to address how stereotypes undermine gender equality. A particular focus GEAP II is to look at the stereotypes promoted by media, as well as those used in educational resources, and analyze the best ways to change these into more positive ones (UNESCO GEAP II Impact Magazine, 38).

The Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995), proposed gender mainstreaming as a key strategy to reduce inequalities between women and men. Gender mainstreaming, known also as mainstreaming a gender perspective, is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action including legislation, policies, and programmes, in any area and at all levels.” It is a call to all Governments and other actors to promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programs, so that before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively.
According to Agreed Conclusions on Gender Mainstreaming (1997), Gender mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men for any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making Women’s and men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension in all design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.” (8) As stated in key UN documents, and in those of other major international organizations, gender mainstreaming means:
Forging and strengthening the political will to achieve gender equality and equity, at the local, national, regional and global levels.

Incorporating a gender perspective into the planning processes of all ministries and departments of government, particularly those concerned with macroeconomic and development planning, personnel policies and management, and legal affairs.

Integrating a gender perspective into all phases of sectorial planning cycles, including the analysis development, appraisal, implementation, monitoring and evaluation policies, programmes and projects.

Using sex-disaggregated data in statistical analysis to reveal how policies impact differently on women and men.

Increasing the numbers of women in decision-making positions in government and the private and public sectors.

Providing tools and training in gender awareness, gender analysis and gender planning to decision-makers, senior managers and other key personnel.

Forging linkages between governments, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to ensure a better use of resources.
The three key principles of gender mainstreaming as defined by the Commonwealth Secretariat are:

– which means having control over the decisions and issues that affect one’s life. It means having representation in decision-making bodies, and control over the distribution of resources. Where women are underrepresented in decision-making fora, deliberate action to redress the imbalance is necessary. Participation in planning and decision-making processes has an additional benefit of increasing a sense of commitment to and ownership of the plan’s objectives.

– which underlines that change within an organization and within society cannot be achieved unless the people who constitute these feel motivated to do so. Motivation for change can be encouraged through positive means such as incentive systems – which provide rewards for the achievement of specific goals, or through less positive means such as boundary systems – which define what behaviour is acceptable/unacceptable, what are the minimum standards of achievement and what sanctions are imposed if these standards are not attained.

of effort, as well as a high degree of analysis and co-ordination are necessary in order to ensure that gender mainstreaming functions as a holistic approach aimed at the transformation of the structures that create and perpetuate gender inequalities, rather than focusing on piecemeal interventions. Integration is necessary at different levels and in different sectors of government, society and individual organizations. It is necessary also in order to reflect the diversity in society, as “women” and “men” are not homogenous categories, but include other constructs such as race/ethnicity, class/caste and age. Gender inequalities cannot be addressed adequately unless the inequalities arising from there other variables are also addressed. Nonetheless, it is important to underline that the gender mainstreaming strategy cannot stand alone. Women-specific programmes and projects remain as important as ever, but they should be seen as complementary to gender mainstreaming efforts rather than as the main, or even single, purpose (Gender equality, 6).
The “gender and development” (GAD) paradigm, proposed in the process leading to the Beijing Conference, is perceived as an evolution from the hitherto dominant “Women in Development” (WID) approach. As explained in the 1995 Commonwealth Plan of Action, “the WID Approach focused on how women could be better integrated into the existing ‘men/male made world’ and corresponding development initiatives. Targeting women’s productive work to the exclusion of their reproductive work, this approach was characterized by income-generating projects for women which failed to address the systemic causes of gender inequality.”
The WID approach tended to view women as passive recipients of development assistance, rather than as active agents in transforming their own economic, social, political and cultural realities. A key outcome was that women’s concerns were viewed in isolation, as separate issues, leading to their marginalization in the state system and other social structures. In practical terms, WID lead to distortions such as the “tag on reflex” (i.e., it was deemed sufficient to simply allocate a part of program resources for “women projects” in order to honour one’s commitment to the WID requirements) and, beyond this, to treating “women issues” as basically unrelated to major development concerns such as human right issues, democratic governance, protection of environment, globalization, peace and disarmament, etc.
The “gender and development” approach seeks to integrate gender awareness and competence into mainstream development, while recognizing that development activities may affect women and men differently (due to sexual differences as well as historic circumstances), and therefore emphasizing the need to apply appropriate gender planning in order to ensure that the resulting conditions and results are equitable to women and men. This approach recognizes that:

Women and men have different and special needs;

Women do not constitute a homogeneous group because, while being of female sex, each woman is also marked by her race/ethnicity, class, age, sexual preference and other factors;

Women tend to be disadvantaged compared to men in terms of their access to and control of the means of production, and of their welfare in general;

Gender differences can, however, also result in men being disadvantaged in certain societies, although presently, in most parts of the world it is above all women that are victims of discrimination (Gender equality, 7).


All United Nations agencies, including UNESCO, are required to promote gender equality within the framework of their mandates. UNESCO has a unique role to play in this area as the agency with five distinct major programmes, each with a specific mandate, who can work together to promote gender equality in a holistic manner and thus make an original contribution to development outcomes in terms of gender equality. Gender equality is inextricably linked to the Education Programme where efforts to promote the right to education for all. The Programme aims to address persisting gender disparities and to promote gender equality throughout the education system: in participation in education (access), within education (contents, teaching and learning context and practices, delivery modes, and assessments) and through education (learning outcomes, life and work opportunities).
In Natural Sciences, UNESCO works towards providing strong role models for women in science, building capacities of women in natural sciences and engineering, and supporting the unique contributions of men and women to scientific knowledge generation and dissemination to advance sustainable development. In Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO works to ensure that gender equality considerations are fully integrated into policies for social inclusion and social transformation. In policies and programmes aimed specifically at young women and men, express consideration is given to the distinct needs, expectations, and aspirations of young women in disadvantaged positions. Through its various programmes, the Programme will also develop capacity-building activities that target men and young boys to become strong gender equality advocates. In the field of Culture, gender equality signifies ensuring that women and men equally enjoy the right to access, participate and contribute to cultural life. 
In recognition of the importance of gender equality for both human rights and cultural diversity, the Conventions aim to include all members of communities in their implementation, and thereby to encourage women and men to equally benefit from heritage and creativity. The Communication and information Programme is spearheading various interventions that are unique within the United Nations system to empower women and girls, through initiatives such as the Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media (GSIM) and the promotion of gender-sensitive Open Educational Resource policies (UNESCO Priority, 12). This has been the singular purpose of this paper, namely – from the aforementioned – to dissect the varied indices, as well as the recommendations and views of UNESCO in the response towards addressing gender inequalities in our world. This report also concluded that gender equality is a non-negotiable component of any policy, programme or activity relating to sustainable development: ‘Any development pathway will only be sustainable if it enhances women’s capabilities, respects and protects their rights and reduces and redistributes their unpaid care work’ (37).


ABC of Women Worker’s Right And Gender Equality. ILO, Geneva, 2000.

Agreed Conclusions on Gender Mainstreaming. ECOSOC, 1997.

Fediva Malti-Douglas. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Vol. 1. USA. The Gale Group, 2007.

Gender Equality and Equity, 2000.

UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan – 2014- 2021.

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