[page-number of print ed.: 7]

1. The Issue under Discussion

Modes of organization and strategies concerning the issues of women and gender are in the process of changing. Divisional responsibilities at the level of the national and provincial governments are being shifted and the appointments of equal opportunity officers are being questioned in the process of administrative reforms. Ministries for Women’s Affairs are being dissolved and there is disagreement on whether this constitutes a loss of power for women’s issues or a qualitative improvement. Large trade unions are amalgamating without an answer to the question of whether these amalgamations will lead to a specific form of exclusion of women. In contrast, a new strategy is gaining ground: mainstreaming. Developed at an international, and especially a European level, mainstreaming appears to offer the opportunity of resolving the gender issue once and for all and of emancipating women from their inferior status. Positive action for women is regarded as out of date, cross-ministerial responsibilities for women’s issues reproached of lacking in partisanship for women, and mainstreaming is defined as a post-modern innovation of pro-women activities instead. Yet there are also those who regard mainstreaming as „déja vu", a repeat of efforts made for a very long time of handling women’s issues as a cross-disciplinary responsibility. And some regard mainstreaming as modern merely because it means adapting to men and male ways of thinking which has been long overdue.

Organizational transformations, and also concrete forms of resource allocations, are coming under fire as a result of strategic considerations: has the time come for integration (mainstreaming), for alliances with men and for reducing funds for women-specific projects, or do we still require a consistent pro-women policy in view of more intensive gender hierarchies and reduced public funds, and thus reduced political scope for manoeuvre? Is this in fact the right moment for a more independent pro-women policy, for more support of autonomous projects and movements? Has a policy of balanced quotas for appointments even become obsolete as a result of mainstreaming, or does it provide the very foundation for such a balance? How do these two political strategies relate to a policy of positive action for women?

In order to find an answer to these many and varied questions and to evaluate the different viewpoints, an attempt is made in the following to present an evaluative overview of gender theories. There are equally diverse perspectives and viewpoints in these new discourses, but they may shed some light on people’s attitude on these issues. Each pro-women political strategy can be linked to a specific view of the gender issue and supplies a specific answer to the question of women’s self-perceptions and the role of the category of gender. In addition, gender theories offer an explanation of the fact, often deplored, that not all women take a feminist attitude or feel discriminated against, and that not all women regard as necessary programmes of positive action. Can this be explained as due to lack of information which could be changed by means of education or direct exposure to discrimination, or is it merely due to gender theories, in particular those related to day-to-day experience, which are not able to come to terms with realities? With reference to the new discourses on mainstreaming and the old ones on positive action, quotas and autonomous (project) measures, an attempt is being made to answer the question of which gender theory confirms the one or other strategy. In other words, it is intended to relate theoretical concepts to pro-women political practice and to shed some light on this relationship.

[page-number of print ed.: 8]

To start with, the gender-theoretical foundations of various political strategies are explained; in a second step, the various strategies concerned are analyzed in the context of their respective legitimations and limitations.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Dezember 2001

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