You must have heard about gender mainstreaming, as donors are increasingly demanding that projects take it into account. This is a new framework, a new criterion that is particularly important, but what can be done in concrete terms to integrate it when designing a project? In order to better understand what all this means, I followed the AFD Campus’ MOOC Gender and Development. This article summarizes the main elements you need to know and take into account. Most of the information used comes from the French Agency for Development (AFD). 

1 – What is gender?

Gender inequalities are not new, but they are still present. The COVID-19 crisis has further reinforced these inequalities, with women having, among other things, more precarious jobs than men. “According to the United Nations Development Program, the health crisis will bring an additional 47 million women and girls below the poverty line.”  

Unlike sex, which refers to purely biological, physical and physiological notions, gender refers to a sociological reality” in which women and men are expected to have different behaviors and roles in society. These expectations then lead to situations of hierarchy, stigmatization, power, domination and even exclusion to the detriment of women.  Thus, “the concept of gender allows us to understand that gender inequalities are the result of our cultural, social or religious practices. They can in no way be justified by biological predispositions, but are the result of phenomena that have been invented, constructed and perpetuated by our societies. Gender is therefore a tool for analyzing social constructions and representations.”

In addition, structural factors often reinforce these inequalities: age, ethnicity, a disability, sexual orientation, or living in rural or urban areas.

 2 –  What is gender mainstreaming?

According to the definition of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, it is the fight against gender inequalities and the empowerment of women at the heart of the international cooperation project.” It therefore requires that each project leader take gender into account in all dimensions of a project or program, in order to avoid deepening or accentuating these inequalities, or even to correct them. Some donors, particularly public ones, to define the degree to which gender inequalities are taken into account in a project, can use a gender marker, i.e. a score between 0 and 2.

It should be noted that not all projects concern the empowerment of women and girls and therefore cannot be rated 2, which is normal. On the other hand, taking into account the gender dimension must be central in the reflection around the creation of a project and at all stages of the project cycle.  

Finally, what is meant by empowerment? “In concrete terms, it means enabling each person to acquire the capacity to make choices and to act autonomously in their own lives, their environment, their community or society.  It allows us to implement development actions in a logic of emancipation and access to power for women, whether this is access to knowledge, control of economic and productive resources, participation in decision-making spaces, or the right to have control over one’s own body.”

 3 – How do you integrate gender into your development projects?

As a reminder, the main goal of gender mainstreaming is to avoid reinforcing gender inequalities, regardless of the main objective of your project. 

Every stage of the project cycle is concerned. Here is what to do at each stage:

            a. Identification of issues and needs 

What to do: Conduct a gender analysis to obtain information on the situation regarding gender equality.

A gender analysis is primarily an analysis of the roles and behaviors, access to and control of resources, needs and interests, participation of women and men, and gender relations. This analysis will allow the identification of social and gender inequalities as well as the system of actors that may interfere with the achievement of the overall project objectives.”

The analysis can be conducted at the country, regional, community, sector or project level. 

How to do it

  • Through an analysis at the contextual level: quantitative and qualitative gender data available in the country, on the sector (e.g. the international and national legal framework, the existence or not of a global or sectorial gender strategy, projects and the identification of key stakeholders in the sector)
  • Through a project-wide analysis: this will identify the risks and opportunities of the project in relation to gender inequalities. The analysis will identify barriers and constraints to the participation of women and men in the project and should propose actions to remove the obstacles to this participation.

Practical tool: There are many resources on gender data in a country, such as AFD’s “Gender Country Profile”.

Key question: Should gender inequalities be addressed in this project and why?

            b. Project Design/Planning

What to do: Develop a gender-inclusive logical framework with objectives to reduce inequalities and indicators to measure progress.

How to do it:

  • Define an objective that seeks to transform gender relations, as well as promote women’s strategic interests.
  • Define activities that seek to correct inequalities (specific approach) and/or prevent inequalities (transversal approach).
  • Define gender indicators (quantitative, qualitative or perception indicators) to evaluate the reduction of inequalities. Be careful, we speak of gender-specific indicators when the indicator only provides information on the situation of women and men without progress.
  • Define a budget specifically dedicated to the integration of the gender approach in the project.

Practical tools: 

  • The theory of change, a project roadmap that makes it possible to project the way in which the desired change is to be achieved.
  • The logical framework, a management tool that allows the definition of operational objectives, activities, indicators and means.

Key question: How can we act to reduce these inequalities?

            c. Project implementation

What to do: Develop activities that benefit equality with adequate means.

How to do it: A gender-mainstreaming project relies on 3 pillars:

  • Project activities must ensure that women and men have equal access to them;
  • Gender parity in the composition of project teams, governance and decision-making bodies such as the various committees;
  • Gender-disaggregated monitoring with follow-up indicators on the participation of women and men in activities.

Practical tool: The logical framework to be used as a management tool.

Key question: Does my project effectively reduce inequalities?

            d. Project Evaluation

What to do: Measure the impact of the project on men, women and gender relations

How to do it: “Integrating gender into the evaluation system does not require the creation of a specific system, but rather aims to integrate gender into the evaluation design. Some data collection methods used are more conducive to gender analysis, such as surveys, focus groups, or analysis of activity reports. Similarly, it may be relevant to monitor the level of involvement of stakeholders, including those who benefit from the project”.

Practical tool: Evaluation is built around 5 criteria: effectiveness, efficiency in achieving objectives, relevance, internal coherence and efficiency.

Key question: How has my intervention helped to change inequalities, discrimination and power relations related to gender?


As you will have understood, gender mainstreaming is not a new fantasy; it is essential to ensure real action on the inequalities that pollute our societies and the long-term impact of your projects. It can be integrated at all levels, including within your own organizations! So think about integrating gender internally as well. 

I hope that this roadmap will help you to see more clearly how to systematically integrate gender into all your projects. 

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