How gender mainstreaming in South Africa can improve infrastructure projects

Every country across the globe is challenged by gender barriers that hinder women from participating and acquiring opportunities to better their lives. These gender barriers manifest in private and public psychosocial and socio-economical settings. 

The repercussions of gender barriers continue to be felt and experienced in these settings by women who are working hard to gain an equal footing in a “man’s world”. To this day, women struggle to access job opportunities. If they do, the pay they receive is not equal to that of a man who holds the same qualifications, responsibilities and other related factors. 

Women struggle to find financial resources for projects designed to benefit themselves and their communities. Truth is, the scale is always tipped in favour of men, and that is why critical redress is necessary. 

What is gender mainstreaming?

Gender mainstreaming involves centring gender barriers in communication on all activities, such as policy research, policy dialogues, policy developments, legislation and resources allocation. The United Nations Women organisation defines gender mainstreaming as a strategic approach to dismantle gender discrimination and segregation, to achieve gender equality commitments. 

Essentially, it aims to put women at the forefront of all activities in all of their lifecycles; from research to implementation and sustainable maintenance.

Why is gender mainstreaming important?

Well, without gender mainstreaming, the processes that currently cause opportunity blockages for women will remain in place and generations of women will continue to face this challenge. Gender mainstreaming mandates improve on the quality of opportunities, programmes, projects and resource allocations made available to women employees. 

What role does gender mainstreaming play in infrastructure

Gender mainstreaming in South Africa, particularly in the infrastructure development sector, has to be treated as high priority to help accelerate regional and national development goals. The growth of our economy relies heavily on such projects being gainful. 

DBSA’s gender mainstreaming programme 

Through our gender mainstreaming programme, we have the ability to procure finance of large scale and small scale infrastructure, with women organisations within the four sectors; energy, information communication and technology, transport as well as water and sanitation. 

The Bank focuses on these following four key pillars, which have the primary purpose of streamlining the processes to ensure the quality and success of the programme.

  • Promoting investments in women-owned projects.
  • Adapting strategies, policies and procedures to enable gender mainstreaming across the DBSA.
  • Providing capacity building and knowledge sharing.
  • Building partnerships with public and private partners who share our vision for gender equality.

How to overcome gender mainstreaming challenges

The above pillars are key to overcoming gender mainstreaming challenges. Through the promotion pillar, we have identified a cross-functional team which has been working on redefining the DBSA’s lending and technical assistance processes for smaller projects. This ensures that we meet our objective of financing women-owned projects. 

It also ensures that we measure performance indicators by the number of projects, rather than the size of the projects. This allows us to provide sufficient finance across the DBSA’s value chain. Our association with various investment firms such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) ensure that gender assessments and Gender Action Plans (GAP) are included in applications for project finance.

Another challenge is that the policies and procedures related to the acquisition of projects tend to lean more on the gender-neutral side. In this case, the Bank will examine the relevant policies and procedures to ensure that women-owned businesses have an opportunity to enter our value-chain and obtain finance and support on a long-term basis. 

In the capacity building and knowledge sharing pillar, we focus on workshops aimed at creating an ecosystem that supports women-owned projects. Through partnerships with organisations such as the African Development Bank, other government departments linked to our mandated sectors, international development and financial institutions, we catalyse investments to ensure that we are linked to the right partners to further our mandate. 

All of these pillars work together to ensure that we work efficiently. It provides us with a clear direction on how to finance infrastructure development projects lead by women.

Final thoughts

Gender mainstreaming is about promoting women empowerment, creating equal opportunities and overall gender equality in the workplace. The policies and activities, which are designed to keep out women, need to be redesigned. Fortunately, gender mainstreaming opens up that opportunity. Our programme does this, not only to balance sustainable development in infrastructure but also to empower women to contribute to economic growth.