BRIDGE Report 36: National Machineries for Women in Development: Experience, Lessons, and Strategies for Institutionalising Gender and Development Policy and Planning

Author: S. Baden, B. Byrne, K. J. Laier
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: May 1996
What are national governments doing to promote the status of women? Governments have created women's committees, divisions, and bureaux, but have these had any impact? This report reviews the experience of these so-called 'national women's machineries' (NWM), drawing on cases from developing countries. The mandates, status and effectiveness of NWMs have been constrained by lack of commitment and funding from governments. In order to be more effective, NWMs must restructure themselves so that women's concerns are fully mainstreamed into the strategies and activities of both governments and non-governmental organisations(NGOs).

National machineries are bodies formally recognised by national governments as institutions dealing with the promotion of the status of women. These were first identified as valuable in 1962 by the United Nations (UN) and endorsed in 1975 at the conference launching the UN Decade of Women. Initially, they were thought of as temporary measures for accelerating the achievement of gender equality. But with their relative lack of progress, they have become regarded as a permanent requirement. Some of the problems identified with NWMs include:

? Dependence on external funding and technical assistance. This introduces several problems, including accountability, lack of real commitment to the issues among governments (but willingness to accept funds for them), and the introduction of projects that are fixed term rather than ongoing.
? Their lack of formal legal status as organisations and ability to function independently of other arms of government.
? Under-funding and vulnerability to budget cuts due to the perceived low priority of their work within governments.
? Lack of a clear, strong vision of exactly what it is they should be doing.
? Little support for or membership in NWMs among government officials.
? NWMs are often developed from the top down, rather than emerging from the priorities of local level groups tackling gender inequality. Strategies to improve the effectiveness of NWMs include:
? Formulation of clearly defined terms of reference for NWMs.
? Efforts to build up support and funding for NWMs from within the government (at all levels) and civil society. Awareness of gender inequality and commitment to overcome it should be present at all levels of government, particularly local.
? Focus on forming and strengthening links between NWMs and other areas of government (such as health, education, economic policy) and NGOs; in other words, gender issues must be mainstreamed.
? Efforts to ensure that gender issues are not marginalised or buried during downsizing, where government restructuring is taking place.
? Focus external agency interventions on supporting training, establishment of focal points and co-ordinating committees, convening public workshops, data collection, building coalitions and policy advocacy. In low-income countries, some funding to the NWM itself will also be necessary, to reduce its vulnerability to budget cuts.