Barriers to Gender Equality in Project Management

Gender mainstreaming is a synthesizing concept that addresses the well being of women and men. It is a strategy that is central to the interests of the whole community. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995 pushed the dialogue on gender mainstreaming to the fore at an international level and was endorsed by the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action as the approach by which goals under each of its Critical Areas of Concern are to be achieved. All players in the development sector since the Fourth World Conference on Women have been in agreement that gender matters.

Since then, widespread commitment has been made by governments, donor agencies, non-government organizations and other international and national players to gender mainstreaming. There is substantial evidence to demonstrate that the key players in the development industry have identified gender equity as a priority objective. For example, each donor agency has a gender strategy paper. Some donors require organizations receiving funds to have a gender policy.

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The business of this paper is to identify barriers to gender equality in Project Management.

However, a proper understanding of some basic concepts such as Gender, Gender Equality, Gender Mainstreaming, is immediately essential. Basic concepts Equality, which is the corner stone of democratic nations, successful organizations and a basic human right, are time and space dependent phenomena. At least three historical waves of approaches to equality between the sexes can be distinguished (Horelli, Booth & Gilroy, 1998; Rees, 1998). They are:

•The equal treatment perspective which focuses on the human rights of women and also on those of men.

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The women?s perspective stresses the empowerment of women and the added value that women can bring forth.

•The gender perspective which takes up the relationship between women and men and its structural embededness, which can be seen for example in the vertical and horizontal segregation of labour markets. Gender Gender is different from sex. Sex identifies the biological differences between males and females. Gender refers to the roles and responsibilities of men and women and the relationship between them.

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Gender is seen as the social construction of men’s and women’s role in a given culture or location. These socially determined roles are influenced by historical, religious, economic, cultural and ethnic factors. In essence, gender is all the cultural, social and economic characteristics that make women and men act differently and take on different roles in the home, workplace and society. Gender Equality Gender equality does not necessarily mean equal numbers of men and women or boys and girls in all activities, nor does it necessarily mean treating men and women or boys and girls exactly the same.

It signifies an aspiration to work towards a society in which neither women nor men suffer from poverty in its many forms, and in which women and men are able to live equally fulfilling lives. It means recognising that men and women often have different needs and priorities, face different constraints, have different aspirations and contribute to development in different ways. Gender Mainstreaming Gender mainstreaming is the globally accepted strategy for achieving gender equality. It is a means to an end, a tool integrated into project management cycle to further gender equality.

Gender mainstreaming covers the whole project cycle because the concern for gender inequalities has to be analyzed in all situations and in every phase of the project intervention. Gender mainstreaming is therefore a tool to ensuring that:

•we do not exacerbate any existing gender inequalities through any project.

•we assess whether the project objectives and outputs will have a differential impact on women and men, and if so, how the project can address this different impact.

•we ensure that gender quality is a part of the transformation set out to achieve.

All development projects set out in one way or the other to achieve “transformation” of political, military, economic, environmental, social or cultural institutions and structures. To that extent, it is applicable to integrate gender equality into this transformation process. • Promoting the full and equal participation of women in decision-making in all areas and at all levels; •using gender analysis on a routine basis to identify the differential access to, and impacts on women and men of all projects, programs and policies, and •using such analysis to devise measures to bring about equal participation and equal benefits for women and men.


To achieve equality in any development project, gender must be integrated into ALL stages of the project cycle: Project formulation and design

1. Ensure gender is addressed during fact -finding missions and incorporated into the project concept/outline paper, over-viewing the different roles, functions and needs of women and men in the sector;

2. Ensure gender is incorporated into the terms of reference for the identification/formulation mission to address and analyse the issue;

3. Employ a gender specialist to assist in the design, monitoring and evaluation of the project.

4. Separate data by sex in all baseline studies and identify gender specific indicators from the baseline studies;

5. Undertake participatory rural appraisal activities that actively involve community – level women and men actively;

6. Consult with national women’s machinery at the appropriate level (national, district, community) in the design and monitoring of the project;

7. Obtain copies of, and refer to the post -Beijing national plan of action where they exist and any relevant ministerial plans of action. 8. Assess the gender capacity of the implementing institutions as a part of overall capacity development;

9. Identify gender related linkages with other projects and programmes and incorporate them into the documentation.

10. Care must be taken to identify any anticipated negative impacts of the project on women and men (e. g. increased workload, loss of access to resources such as credit, water, land and technology);

11. Identify any constraints to women’s participation and make concrete recommendations for increasing women’s involvement (e. g. ensure that meetings are not held outside work hours or that childcare needs are considered).

Project implementation and monitoring

1. Involve national and international gender specialists in project onitoring;

2. Consult with the national machinery and women’s groups to ensure that women’s needs are addressed in project activities;

3. Devise and measure gender indicators to differentiate male and female beneficiary outcomes;

4. Ensure programme staff monitor project disbursements to ensure that inputs are used in such a way as to ensure women have equal access to project resources and benefits;

5. Strive towards equal representation of women and men in project management and meetings (meeting the 30% UN target set in the Beijing Platform for Action as a minimum);

6. Ensure gender issues are raised/on the agenda for meetings and reviews;

7. Ensure progress reports detail data disaggregated by sex and that they analyse gender issues;

8. Conduct gender analysis training for staff and implementing partners;

9. Encourage on- going learning and training on gender for all staff;

10. Integrate gender issues as part of the curriculum in all training courses;

11. Encourage women and men to apply for non – traditional jobs and head-hunt qualified women/men if an adequate number do not apply. Ensure a gender balance on interview panels;

12. Strive towards equal representation of men and women in all training activities in-country and overseas (meeting the 30% UN target set in the Beijing Platform for Action as a minimum);

13. Implement family friendly work practices, for example flexible work hours;

14. Develop a plan for strengthening the capacity of implementing body to be gender responsive in the long term.

Project Review and Evaluation

1. Ensure that mission terms of reference (TOR) require relevant gender expertise/ experience;

2. Brief all staff members on relevant gender issues and provide documentation;

3. Ensure the programme staff understands and applies gender indicators of success; and

4. Review draft evaluation report carefully to ensure that gender related omissions and successes are reflected.


Despite the tremendous progress in policy development and the abundance of information available on gender mainstreaming, all players in the sector, including multilateral and bilateral agencies, consulting firms and non-government organizations are the first to say that translating gender ainstreaming policy objectives to true outcomes in the field are challenging. This section aims to identify some of the factors that result in gender still being an add-on as opposed to being an integral part of the process. Some general observations about the challenges in gender mainstreaming have been identified below.

Focus on technical aspects: When priority is given to the more technical aspects of the reform process, gender often is not a consideration.

For example, in projects involving privatization, which usually result in workforce downsizing, the solutions designed to deal with labour redundancy issues are often based on the needs of a broad target group, the majority of whom are male and who often have differing issues and needs from women. Generally, women are less skilled or work at lower-skilled jobs that are easily replaced by technology. Differing working schedules of women due to competing family responsibilities mean that women can be left out of the consultation process unless there are strategies in place to ensure their full and active participation.

The differing demographic factors can also mean that compensation packages do not adequately cater to women’s needs. Sources of technical specialists: The technical specialists required for some type of projects often include a requirement for very senior specialists who have the necessary status to give credibility to the reform process and to ensure that the project management meets societal and institutional cultural norms. For example, in legal and judicial reform projects, tender selection panels tend to take into consideration ‘status issues’ so that the team is seen to be credible and able to engage at senior levels.

The general pool for both international and national consultants who fit this criterion comprises active senior public servants, former senior public servants and academics. Lack of experience: While these specialists may be highly competent and skilled in their particular field of expertise, many international technical specialists, particularly those who fit the ‘status’ criteria, have had little or no experience in developing countries or their developing country experience is limited to high-level negotiations or involvement as members of official delegations and conference participants.

All these experiences are relevant but limited. Implications of the lack of women as senior decision-makers in the resource pool of specialists: There are proportionately fewer women in senior decision-making positions in both developed countries and developing countries. Consulting firms thus have great difficulty in putting together a gender-balanced team.

Gender blindness within the pool of specialists: The combination of the above listed factors often leads to teams who are highly skilled, but have little experience in the developing country context, with the added ‘baggage’ of not having gender on the agenda. Even if women are included on teams as technical specialists, this does not necessarily mean they have the specialist gender skills that are needed to put gender on the agenda, particularly in developing country contexts.

Gender as an add-on: While some terms of reference set out the requirement for technical specialists who have experience in gender, problems can still arise at the implementation stage because, for example, the technical input requirements are small; the team member responsible for gender has to contend with resistance and biases of other specialists who are more focused on the technical aspects of the project; or because of existing biases within the project executing agency. The end result is that gender considerations become mere add-ons.


It is widely accepted that mainstreaming is not about adding a ‘woman’s component’ or even a ‘gender equality component’ into an existing activity. It goes beyond increasing women’s participation; it means bringing the experience, knowledge, and interests of women and men to bear on the development agenda. With this framework in mind, some broad recommendations that arise from observations discussed above to incorporate gender mainstreaming at a practical level are:

1. As a starting point, gender mainstreaming strategies need to be increasingly integrated into the important sectors that are the focus of the project.

3. All technical specialists should be provided with at least base-level training on gender mainstreaming concepts and tools.

4. When terms of reference are developed for projects, gender mainstreaming should be built in as a key requirement.

5. An ongoing dialogue on gender awareness and gender mainstreaming needs to be built-in across the board, at all levels and across all stakeholder groups.

This should not be dealt with as a separate issue, but integrated into all aspects of staff development.

6. While doing stakeholder analyses for the project sectors in question, it is essential to identify target groups such as civil society and professional groups, within and outside the organisation and internationally and nationally, which have gender on the agenda to discuss project implications in relation to gender mainstreaming.

7. At the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation stages, the technical team, or members of the technical team should be trained to create the space for women to actively participate in the project cycle, to have the necessary ‘listening’ and analysis skills to ‘hear’ what the women are saying, and to capture such analysis and findings into all aspects of the project cycle.

8. Gender-disaggregated baseline data, information and quantitative/qualitative and contextual analysis should be included as a matter of course at all stages of the project cycle.

The baseline information at the design stage should be tested at the project inception and implementation stages, and developments tracked at the monitoring and evaluation stages. Lessons learned and successful gender mainstreaming in the particular project’s context should be well recorded, collated and made widely accessible. This information while classified and collated in the ‘gender’ section of knowledge management systems and processes, should also be included upfront within core project information so that it is not seen as a side issue.

9. Consulting firms should be strongly encouraged to institutionalize gender mainstreaming within their own internal organizational environment through strategies which include having:

• an in-house gender specialist who advises on all aspects of the project process, including an audit of technical proposals submitted for tenders;

• an ongoing process of gender-awareness raising and training within the organisation, which involves business development, senior management and project management teams as a part of staff development strategies;

•a briefing on context specific gender mainstreaming as part of the briefing rocess for mobilisation of teams;

• a process to capture lessons learned from past and current projects on gender mainstreaming which is accessible and shared internally and across teams directly involved in project implementation; and

•active involvement in ongoing dialogue process at institutional, national, regional and international levels on gender mainstreaming;

10. Gender specialists need to be included in the tender assessment process. If there is a presentation as part of the tender assessment process, team members should be tested on their thinking on gender mainstreaming within the specific project context.


Effort must be made to ensure gender fatigue does not jeopardize the translation of policy into practice. A fine balance must be maintained, so as to minimize any perceptions of gender mainstreaming being ‘forced’ on projects and so undermining the credibility of efforts. At the same time, gender mainstreaming should be given the full attention it deserves as a strategy for improving effectiveness at the implementation stage of projects. This process of bringing the issue onto the radar screen, and incorporating it effectively, requires sensitivity and skill.

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Barriers to Gender Equality in Project Management. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Barriers to Gender Equality in Project Management

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