which is uninformed by and insensitive to women's realities could in fact be worse
than neutral, and actually mask (and therefore collude with) inequity and discrimi-
nation against women.
Inequity and discrimination against women are often found in personal and
family relations (the private sphere), which are commonly ignored in guidelines
and processes that seek to promote justice and fairness. Equally, the problems
of injustice and unfairness are commonly seen to be largely located in society
broadly (the public sphere), without regard to the fact that all persons are gendered
social beings, and that their public personality is a reflection of power relations in
their private life.
Women's freedoms are circumscribed by everyday patriarchal norms, practices
and structures in society. Men are freer than women, even if they belong to the
same social class or ethnic group. Women's freedom to speak in political gather-
ings is circumscribed by cultural norms and traditions, as exemplified by the San
[A]lthough we have traditionally our ways of making decisions there are certain skills
needed before a San woman joins the mainstream, talks about issues openly … And when
there were meetings women culturally were not talking openly; they were supposed to just
listen. So many of the San women have still that cultural practice and in most cases they
are shy to talk in front of many people. 14
There is clear evidence that in various types of societies, women are either
absent from or silent in such gatherings. 15 It might seem like common sense to
interpret their silence as assent, but this is not always appropriate.
What initially seems just and fair to a researcher or to sponsors of research,
or to men in the community, could therefore be unfair and unjust to women. The
exclusion of women from bodies that are supposed to represent the whole commu-
nity is patently unjust and unfair. According to the evidence, any assumption that
these bodies represent women effectively, or that women are included in commu-
nity consultations, is erroneous. However, such thinking becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy: if no attention is paid to the circumstances on the ground that prevent
women from representing themselves or participating in these processes, then
there appear to be no barriers to their participation, and therefore no mechanisms
are developed to overcome these unacknowledged barriers. The Nagoya Protocol
has now formally recognized the need to address such issues, but it is too soon to
make any assessment of its impact.
In the past two decades, a number of strategies have been tried in order to end
gender discrimination, one of which is gender mainstreaming.
Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for
women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in
all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns
and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and
14 Personal communication from Victoria Haraseb, July 2008.
15 For example, this is the experience of women in pastoralist and rural societies in Africa (see
Kipuri and Ridgewell 2008 ; IFAD 2004 ).