Integration of gender equality: a matter of responsibility, commitment and quality

October 10, 2005 - nr.25

Equality between men and women and in their social and economic status, including rights, duties and responsibilities, has yet to be achieved on a worldwide basis. Donors and developing countries have nevertheless committed themselves to pursuing this goal by signing and ratifying numerous international agreements. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that economic growth and development are difficult to attain in the absence of gender equality.


Awareness of the value and necessity of integrating gender equality increased significantly between 1975 and 2001. As the world changed, gender policy changed with it, and itself influenced the changes that were taking place, since it strengthened the position of women. In the Netherlands, it was a flexible process which initially centred on external policy implementation and later, of necessity, on internal organisation.

Now that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is introducing new policy themes and launching new processes for policy implementation, the opportunity has arisen for sustainable integration of gender equality. However, progress is impossible, without changes to the Ministry’s organisational structure. In this advisory report, the AIV puts forward recommendations for the effective integration of gender equality into both the implementation of external foreign policy and the Ministry’s internal organisational structure.

The AIV has adopted the Council of Europe’s definition and advises the Minister to do likewise: ‘Gender mainstreaming is the (re-)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policymaking.’

According to the AIV, the best strategy is to combine general policy and gender policy. That is a mutually binding process which calls for:

  • transparency in the process and objectives of integrating gender equality;
  • personal involvement; granting responsibility and demanding accountability;
  • thematic expertise and coordination, both in a gender unit and ministry-wide;
  • capacity building and support in partner countries, as well as good donor coordination.

Internal integration of gender equality
On the basis of its findings, the AIV issues the following recommendations for integrating gender equality into the Ministry’s organisational structure.

The Ministry’s political leadership and senior civil servants are responsible for the process of integrating gender equality. It is a process that requires constant support and management. The AIV therefore recommends appointing a gender coordinator at the highest possible level within the political and civil service hierarchy. This official should be responsible for coordinating and monitoring gender equality in the implementation of Dutch foreign policy.

Management and staff should be more closely involved in gender policy. This may be encouraged by increasing expertise. Staff and management will also have to establish where and how gender equality fits into their policy areas. They will subsequently be responsible and accountable for integrating gender equality into these policy areas.

An affinity with and knowledge of gender equality should carry more weight in the recruitment and assignment of civil servants. The AIV therefore recommends that regular in-service training sessions should be organised, that gender issues should be incorporated into management training courses and into courses leading to assignments abroad, and that gender orientation should be included as a criterion in staff evaluation.

The AIV recommends appointing gender coordinators at embassies in relevant theme countries, and not just at the embassies in the ‘19 + 3’ countries. Wherever possible, these gender coordinators should be local experts.

Finally, for effective integration into the Ministry’s organisational structure, the AIV recommends devoting attention to gender equality in the new annual plan cycle. The AIV also recommends explicitly addressing the issue of gender equality in discussions at the missions on the integration of poverty reduction. The memorandum on the relationship between poverty and gender equality of June 2001 can be used for this purpose as a background document.

The analytical framework in Annexe II of this report can be used as a qualitative yardstick to measure level of gender orientation.

External integration of gender equality
With regard to the external integration of gender equality into the implementation of foreign policy, the AIV has reached the following conclusions.

The AIV calls on donors to work towards closer coordination of policies on promoting gender equality, and the relevant funding and procedures, both among themselves and with their partner countries. Donors can thus put their diversity to more purposeful use and strengthen their positions in multilateral organisations. Coordination already takes place at embassy level in partner countries and in the DAC Working Party on Gender.

A conflict of interests can sometimes arise during consultations with partner countries. While donors are no longer free to impose their ideas on partner countries, Dutch policy has adopted certain priorities, such as poverty reduction and gender equality. A DAC study funded by the Netherlands shows that other donors have also identified this problem. The AIV recommends drawing the attention of partner countries and other donors to this study.

The AIV has identified new themes in Dutch foreign policy that lend themselves to the integration of a gender-oriented perspective.

With regard to sustainable poverty reduction, the AIV recommends encouraging the use of gender budgeting in drafting national budgets since it can be used to measure their effects on the development of men and women. The AIV also recommends that the Netherlands should consistently draw attention to the status of women in PRSPs and to their role in drafting them at international conferences and in its dialogues with partner countries.

With regard to peacebuilding and conflict prevention, the AIV recommends involving gender and other experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence in the coherent implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325. This resolution emphasises that women need more protection than men during conflicts and should be involved in conflict resolution.

Finally, the AIV recommends giving explicit support to gender-oriented initiatives in the field of good governance and treating gender equality as a fundamental component of human rights policy, in particular with a view to combating illegal trafficking in women.

Advice request

2 March 2002


To the Chair of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
Professor R.F.M. Lubbers
P.O.Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague



Dear Ruud,


Following a commitment I entered into in talks with the Permanent Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Government Expenditure on 15 June 1999, I hereby request the Advisory Council to report on the integration of gender policy in development policy. A few points are clarified below.

By Dutch gender policy I mean integrating the specific needs, interests and potential of women in recipient countries into mainstream Dutch development policy so as t

  • promote equality between men and women (in both a qualitative and quantitative sense) in recipient countries and to increase women’s autonomy;
  • increase the efficiency and sustainability of development activities;
  • enable women to influence social and economic transition so as to bring nearer the ultimate goal of a just, democratic, safe and peaceful global society.

To this end, the Netherlands supports activities that contribute t

  • the empowerment of women. Direct support to the women’s movement and support for the development of gender policy in recipient countries are central here;
  • integration of gender policy into the mainstream of Dutch development cooperation.

The integration of gender policy in the mainstream of Dutch development cooperation is achieved:

  • through bilateral cooperation, (via financial and plan-based macro support), through the sectoral approach, and through policies aimed at supporting the development of national gender policy, national institutions in this field and efforts to improve the expertise and capacity of the national women’s movement;
  • through multilateral cooperation (UN, World Bank, regional institutions), focusing on putting into effect the findings of international conferences (Beijing 1995, Cairo 1994, Copenhagen 1994, the 1993 ILO convention, Vienna 1993 and CEDAW 1982). It has emerged that this could not be achieved without using a special fund (the Women’s Fund) and deploying gender expertise at embassies and in multilateral organisations (OSCE, DG 8, EU, etc.), as the IOB confirmed in its 1998 assessment of Women and Development policy and its implementation between 1985 and 1996.


As I indicated in my response to the IOB’s findings in the Lower House, additional efforts are still needed to integrate gender policy in the mainstream of development policy.

The draft report ‘Review of progress in the implementation of the DAC high level policy statement “Gender equality: moving towards sustainable, people-centred development”’ of November 1999 refers to problems affecting donor gender mainstreaming, notably staff shortages, attitudes held by and lack of management commitment, budgetary problems and a lack of both systematic monitoring and assessment procedures and the proper indicators necessary to demonstrate accountability and measure progress.

The following specific questions emerge:

  • is the Dutch concept of gender mainstreaming appropriate?
  • is the approach that has been chosen to integrate gender policy sufficiently strategic and sustainable?
  • is the mainstream sufficiently accountable for the implementation of gender policy?
  • to what extent do the problems identified by the DAC affect Dutch policy?
  • is there sufficient coordination with multilateral partners (especially the World Bank, the UN and the EU) and bilateral partners in this field?
  • on the basis of your findings, how do you think that the integration or mainstreaming of gender can best be promoted?

I look forward to your report on ways of improving the integration of gender policy in development policy.


Yours sincerely,

Eveline Herfkens

Minister for Development Cooperation

Government reactions

Office of the Secretary-General
Parliamentary Information Service
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
2594 AC Den Haag

Advisory Council on International Affairs
F. Korthals Altes, Chair
Postbus 20061
2500 EB The Hague



Re: AIV report on gender equality


.. March 2002



Dear Mr Chairman,

We read with great interest the report entitled Gender Equality: a matter of responsibility, commitment and quality, drawn up by the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV). The report clearly presents and takes advantage of the latest developments in the field of emancipation and integration of gender equality into the Ministry's general policies and strategically incorporates the five conditions set out in the Government's position paper on gender mainstreaming. Its recommendations do not break new ground but are most certainly ripe for implementation in the short to medium term.

As requested, your report mainly looks at organisational factors, such as the extent to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is equipped to incorporate gender equality into every aspect of foreign policy. It devotes less attention to the substance and implementation of gender policy itself. As a result, the subcommittees contributing to the report had to adopt a different way of working and adjust their thinking on the structure and organisation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We much appreciate their flexibility and creativity.

We share your preference for the Council of Europe's short definition of the term gender mainstreaming, since it identifies the need to improve work processes so that they can make an adequate contribution to achieving gender equality in policy. Policy officers and their superiors are then responsible for sustainably incorporating gender equality into policy. Ideally, policy should be assessed for its positive and negative effects on men and women from the moment of its conception. The report points out that adjustments made to the Ministry's general policy as a result might well improve its overall quality.

We agree with you that gender policy is not always combined systematically with general foreign policy in a mutually binding process which presents sufficient opportunity for relevant gender differences to lead to adjustments to general policy. However, we would point out that in the past few years progress has been made in the policy areas you refer to, i.e. sustainable poverty reduction and PRSPs, human rights and good governance, macroeconomics and gender budgeting, and peace, security and stability. Policy officers and gender specialists at both the ministry and the missions work closely together, so that they influence each other, as you urge, and adjust policy accordingly. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is a good example, to which you refer in your report. The Ministry, under the leadership of the Security Policy Department, is currently working with the Ministry of Defence to compile a list of measures taken by the Netherlands to implement this resolution. The integration of gender into the new poverty reduction policy is, as you recommend, a priority. The departments involved work closely together and will continue to do so. Cooperation between our departments and with counterparts outside the ministry to involve Afghan women in the reconstruction of their country is another good example. Finally, in response to your recommendations concerning trafficking in women, we can report that many activities have been undertaken since the early 1990s, particularly in Southeast Asia, and that the impact of these activities is shortly to be analysed. The outcome of the analysis may provide the basis for new initiatives. The Ministry also works closely together with the National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and we are now working hard to ensure that our policy is more effective. Your report provides a good point of departure for gender mainstreaming policy at this ministry. On the basis of the reports issued recently by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment on the implementation of Government policy on gender mainstreaming, a Plan of Action, to be approved at senior civil servant level, will shortly be drawn up setting out aims and results in greater detail. It will take account of new ideas on strengthening organisation and expertise (e.g. skill mix), integration of gender into the Explanatory Memorandum to the annual budget and annual plan cycle, and enhancing staff members' knowledge.

The report also examines the importance of personal involvement, and emphasises the need for staff to be responsible and accountable for integrating gender equality into their policy areas. We consider this a particularly important factor, given the government's current result-driven working methods. This leads you to put forward proposals for gender training and in-service training sessions, inclusion of knowledge of and affinity with the subject of gender as criteria in the recruitment and selection of new staff and in staff assessments, and integrating gender issues into management training courses and courses leading to assignments abroad. All of these activities are already in full swing. Gender has been fully integrated into the training programme for newly-recruited policy officers and into the development cooperation courses for staff at both the missions and the ministry. Since all draw a close link between gender equality and poverty reduction, they will undoubtedly fuel the debate you urge on the subject at the missions. The Recruitment and Selection Unit has been advised on assessing knowledge and skills in order to promote gender integration, and consultations will shortly be held with the Personnel and Organisation Department on including gender indicators in the new staff assessment system.

In your report, you recommend appointing a gender coordinator at the highest possible level within the political and civil service hierarchy. We can inform you that the Deputy Secretary-General was appointed gender coordinator for general ministry policy in the spring of 2001. In this capacity, he is a member of the steering committee of the Interministerial Coordinating Committee for Emancipation Affairs, which is chaired by the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment. This illustrates the importance we attach to the visible involvement of senior management in integrating gender equality.

This brings us to your conclusion that specialist gender expertise is needed at both the missions and the ministry if gender and general foreign policy are to be combined successfully. We are planning to maintain gender expertise at its current levels, but would point out that development cooperation policy sets new requirements of these specialists, particularly in relation to their knowledge of good governance, macroeconomics, poverty reduction and institutional development. The skills they require include networking, advising, working with others, and conducting policy dialogues at government level with partner countries. Apart from the gender experts, other members of staff at the missions will also need to possess relevant, albeit less extensive, gender knowledge. Heads of Mission and heads of development cooperation at the missions will need to address the subject in coaching, supervising and assessing these staff members. At some of the missions in the 19+3 countries, First Secretaries assigned from the Netherlands have been replaced by local experts. This was often, though not always, accompanied by enhanced knowledge of gender equality among other mission staff. It is important that the courses referred to above continue to boost this knowledge to ensure that responsibility for gender mainstreaming is borne across the entire organisation. We will consider your recommendation that local gender experts should be appointed in theme countries. This issue must be resolved on a case-by-case basis. The missions in some theme countries already have a local or assigned member of staff responsible for gender issues.

We particularly appreciated your recommendations on the importance of donor coordination, including financial and multilateral institutions, and on the dilemma of ownership versus donors' urging partner countries to focus on gender equality. We share your conclusion that donor coordination is essential for result-oriented gender mainstreaming, since donors have adopted different approaches to the commitments ensuing from the Beijing Platform for Action and from agreements reached at earlier UN Women's Conferences. That is why the Netherlands has been Vice-Chair of the DAC Working Party on Gender Equality (HWP-GEN) for the past year. Partner countries also adopt different approaches to agreements on women's right to self-determination, and on enhancing the role they play in development processes. It is not always evident that partner countries are seeking to achieve sustainable integration of gender equality in their policies. Ownership, linked to partnership, is making it increasingly possible for donors not to expound their own views but to enter into a pragmatic dialogue, and to identify, with their partner countries, the initiatives needed to integrate gender equality into PRSPs and sector programmes. One condition is that donors insist on involvement of and cooperation with local women and their organisations. Otherwise, their voice will not be heard. The Women's Fund presents the Netherlands with excellent opportunities to support these actors.

The long period between the request in March 2001 and publication of the report in January 2002 has in many ways made your recommendations more relevant. In our opinion, the Government position paper on gender mainstreaming, published in June 2001, offers the greatest potential for developing policy on the subject, both government-wide and in relation to the ministry's objectives and implementation modalities. By providing a manageable summary of the commitments entered into by the Government, your report has given us a new incentive to work on further initiatives at ministry level, and to take up new challenges in ensuring the sustainable integration of gender equality.


Yours sincerely,


Minister of Foreign Affairs

Minister for Development Cooperation

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