Cover Image
close this bookUNRISD Annual Report 1998-1999 (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development , 1999, 46 p.)
close this folderCompleted Research
View the documentILO Gender Focal Point System
View the documentWar-Torn Societies Project

ILO Gender Focal Point System

In this project UNRISD and the ILO used an action-research methodology to explore the critical role that gender focal points can potentially play in gender mainstreaming.


This project was elaborated by UNRISD and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in response to the 1997 ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) Agreed Conclusions on mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes of the United Nations system. Set up in 1989 in all headquarters departments and the field structure of the ILO, the gender focal point system was designed to support efforts to mainstream gender concerns in the organization's activities - ranging from standard setting and technical co-operation to research and policy advice. Ten years on, lessons can be drawn from the ILO's experience that contribute to wider debates about the strategy of gender mainstreaming and the kind of institutional and policy changes that might support its implementation. The main findings of the joint UNRISD/ILO research, outlined below, are based on questionnaires, structured interviews and a participatory, process-oriented methodology involving professional staff from the field structure and headquarters, carried out between March 1998 and January 1999.


The research found that despite some positive initiatives in this direction, institutional arrangements for the integration of gender concerns remain relatively weak. The research points to three main sets of issues that have undermined the gender focal point system as a tool for main-streaming gender concerns.

Ad hoc nature of the system

The gender focal point system is not fully institutionalized: it has functioned in an ad hoc manner since it was created. In part, this is a result of the inability of the central Women in Development (WID)/gender unit to play a co-ordinating role across the institutional structure. It is also related to the composition of the gender focal point system itself. As in many other organizations, the designated gender focal points are a mixed group in terms of grade, knowledge and experience on WID/gender issues. At one end of the spectrum are staff members who work full-time on WID/gender issues in WID/gender units or posts. At the other are those who have the gender focal point function “added on” to their regular job description, many of whom admit having little knowledge or experience on gender issues and neither the time nor the authority to promote attention to gender concerns in their department.

WID/gender units not systematically supported

Structures such as the central WID/gender unit and the gender focal points, which are already relatively weak, have not been supported in any systematic way by procedures “to make routine” attention to gender concerns in the activities of the ILO. Guidelines on the integration of gender concerns into programmes and projects are discretionary and appear to be used very unevenly by staff members. Anecdotal evidence suggests that opportunities for promoting attention to gender concerns in the main ILO programming mechanisms, such as the Programme and Budget Exercise for each biennium and the Country Objective Exercise, have been insufficiently used. Gender staff claim that their inputs into these processes are often dropped at later stages.

Gender mainstreaming strategy

Third, the research raises broader questions about the gender main-streaming strategy itself. For many years, development institutions have taken up gender mainstreaming unquestioningly as an appropriate strategy for the integration of gender concerns. Attempts to translate political commitment into practice, however, have exposed gender main-streaming as a contested terrain. Differences are evident in the understandings of “gender” that are being mainstreamed. They are also apparent in using “mainstreaming” as a strategy. It therefore needs to be acknowledged that while slow progress in mainstreaming gender concerns is often put down to bureaucratic resistance, in practice, resistance also comes from WID/gender staff themselves. Some reject the term gender main-streaming on the grounds that its obscurity confuses and alienates colleagues - an assertion that was supported by the research - although in practice they work to mainstream gender concerns.

The preliminary findings emerging from the questionnaires and interviews were fed into experience-sharing and capacity-building workshops in which gender focal points participated during this reporting period. A gender main-streaming policy and action plan for the ILO is being drafted to include a strengthened gender focal point system, taking into consideration many of the issues raised in the research. This process has already led to some positive outcomes, such as the organizational strengthening of the central WID/gender unit, which will report directly to the Director-General of the ILO.


A synthesis report of the findings was circulated to gender focal points and ILO management in January 1999. A final report, including analysis of the research process, is being prepared for publication and dissemination.

War-Torn Societies Project

WSP aimed to respond to a growing recognition by the international community that current assistance to post-conflict societies often fails to achieve its objective of rebuilding war-torn countries and consolidating peace.


The 1990s saw the end of the Cold War, which gave rise to great expectations that a new era of peace was coming. Instead the world experienced conflict and suffering on a scale not seen since the wars of a half century before. Billions of dollars spent in war-torn countries have delivered no sustainable peace and have left the international community searching for new approaches to external assistance.

In 1994, the War-torn Societies Project (WSP) was set up as a pilot project using methods of participatory action-research to explore the challenges involved in post-conflict rebuilding, and to begin to define where and on what terms external assistance might complement local and national efforts to reconstruct in a way that would contribute to sustainable peace. Over the past five years the project has been implemented in Eritrea, Guatemala, Mozambique and Somalia.


With three of the four country projects completed, field-level work during the reporting period was concentrated in Somalia. Work at the Central Co-ordination Unit in Geneva involved publishing and disseminating WSP's findings and setting up a successor body

Puntland, Somalia

The following four entry points were identified for further research and dialogue during the main phase of the project, which began in September 1998:

· basic institutions of governance at the local level;

· transformation toward a regulated economy;

· opportunities for the improvement of essential services; and

· implications of the Puntland conference for social integration (with special emphasis on youth and militias).

So far only one of the entry points has enjoyed the close attention and commitment of the aid community: improvement of essential services. The other three entry points have either been largely overlooked, or have proved too complex and sensitive for external actors to be able to play a constructive role.

Despite this, between October 1998 and March 1999, the WSP team conducted intensive research into subthemes within each of the main entry points. Workshops have already taken place to examine the following topics:

· poverty among militia groups (social integration), in Gaalka'yo;
· health services (essential services), in Qardho;
· productive sectors (economic transformation), in Qardho; and
· revenue collection and management (governance), in Jirriban.


Preparatory work for a WSP project in the northwest began in early 1998. During this period it became evident that Somaliland already possesses most of the expertise, experience, and professional and intellectual capacity it needs to move forward, and that WSP's key effort should therefore be to better organize this professional and intellectual potential in the country, and to harness its energies to rebuilding and growth.

WSP thus reached an agreement with the Somaliland government that work should be carried out by a local partner, one with a more profound and long-term commitment to Somaliland's development than WSP alone could offer. The establishment of the Somaliland Centre for Peace and Development (SCPD) by WSP was a first step in this process.

The SCPD is a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster self-determining behaviour in civil society through participatory research and dialogue, and to prepare the ground for a more effective partnership between Somalilanders and their international partners in the common goals of consolidating peace, rehabilitation and development. Specifically, SCPD aims to facilitate the efforts of the government and its partners in the reconstruction and development of Somaliland.

Although both the Puntland and Somaliland projects are largely autonomous in terms of administrative capacity, WSP's Nairobi office remains responsible for project support and financial oversight for their duration.

Global communications strategy

Activities have aimed to go a step beyond the traditional research outputs to make WSP results more directly relevant to and useful for project interlocutors.

The global communications strategy devised in spring 1998 aimed to translate the WSP experience into materials for a range of target audiences, and to deliver these in appropriate, cost-effective formats. In October and November 1998, WSP went “on the road”. Meetings with a number of carefully targeted groups of stakeholders facilitated the transfer of lessons learned through WSP to those who might adapt and integrate them in their work. These groups ranged from internal United Nations audiences to the international press. Each event was accompanied by many individual or small-group meetings.


WSP aimed to present a complete picture of its original objectives, overall accomplishments and lessons learned by publishing a series of core papers:

· WSP in Eritrea: An Account of the Project in Eritrea;
· WSP in Guatemala: An Account of the Project in Guatemala;
· WSP in Mozambique: An Account of the Project in Mozambique; and
· WSP in Somalia: An Interim Report on the Project in Somalia.

Another report, mainly for external assistance actors, was produced as a reference document for the dissemination meetings:

· Rebuilding after War, a Summary Report of WSP: A Review of the Lessons Learned.

Two related reports will be published soon:

· WSP in Practice: A Report on the Operational Experience of the Project; and
· WSP, the First Four Years: An Overview Report of the Project to End-December 1998.

In addition, WSP is co-publishing relevant material from the country projects. In Guatemala and Mozambique, a “companion book” to the country assessments is in progress. Post-Conflict Eritrea: Prospects for Reconstruction and Development, edited by Martin Doornbos and Alemseged Tesfai, was published in March 1999.

A paper on the role of women in post-conflict rebuilding, Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources, by Birgitte Sen, has also been published, and the final volumes of The Challenge of Peace and the Research Update were issued.

WSP Transition Programme

In November 1998 multilateral agencies and bilateral donors met in Geneva to discuss a proposal for the establishment of a WSP successor body. A consensus was reached to support the establishment of such a body, and the necessary start-up funds were pledged. However, a number of important questions relating to the precise mandate and the institutional and financial basis of a successor body remained to be clarified. A preparatory period was thus deemed necessary, and a decision was taken to initiate the WSP Transition Programme (WSP-TP) as of 1 January 1999, following the conclusion of the WSP pilot project.

The objectives of the WSP-TP are the following:

· to prepare and launch a WSP successor body by clarifying outstanding questions relating to its mandate, institutional set-up and financial basis;

· to follow up and continue selected WSP activities, primarily related to the publication of final reports, and the dissemination of WSP's main lessons and recommendations. The WSP-TP will also continue to backstop the ongoing Puntland and Somaliland projects and to aid their transition to autonomy; and

· to assist former WSP teams in Eritrea, Guatemala and Mozambique as necessary to consolidate their WSP experience in view of possible collaboration with a WSP successor body.

The Transition Programme will last approximately nine months. The principal output of WSP-TP will be a fully functional WSP successor body, with a clearly defined mandate and assured funding, supported by a core group of governments and international agencies.

WSP-TP has been established in Geneva as a joint initiative of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme and the Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. The three parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding to this effect. WSP-TP inherited all institutional rights and obligations of the former WSP. The United Nations Office for Project Services executes the project.