Mainstreaming gender in NHRI investigations

Faso Aishath Updated by Faso Aishath

  • Gender mainstreaming is an important strategy for achieving gender equality.  
  • NHRIs should review current practice and apply a gender lens to their investigation process  
  • NHRIs should include women in investigation design and in their investigations teams  
  • NHRIs should integrate gender equality considerations into all stages of the investigation process, including the final report and recommendations. 


Gender equality is a core requirement of international human rights law and NHRIs must be proactive in meeting that requirement in the work they do and they way they do it. 

Gender mainstreaming is an important strategy for achieving gender equality between all genders. 

The APF defines gender mainstreaming as a “process of assessing and operationalising the implications for all genders of any planned action, activity, advice, policies, programmes and budgeting in its operations”.  

A gender mainstreaming strategy therefore involves identifying and addressing experiences, issues and solutions for people of all genders in different ways. This has obvious implications for the way in which NHRIs select and then undertake investigations. 

Investigations are intended to address a human rights violation and eradicate injustices. Many NHRI investigations will have specific implications for the human rights of women, girls and persons from sexual and gender minority groups. 

When these issues are uncovered, it is important that the investigations team has the knowledge and skills to address them properly through interviews, evidence assessment, report writing and framing recommendations.  

The following steps describe practical ways that NHRIs can mainstream gender in their investigations process. 


NHRIs should conduct a review of all the investigations the NHRI has undertaken and think about how these relate to gender – what it investigates and why. If it hasn’t done so already, the NHRI should develop strategies to engage women including communicating clearly and unequivocally that it is there to protect women’s human rights and that it wants to hear from women. The NHRI may need to think about undertaking investigations that specifically address disparities for women and girls.  


Once the NHRI has decided to undertake an investigation into a certain issue, the investigation team should assess how and why gender differences are relevant to the subject under investigation. Could the investigation process impact women and men differently? Could it promote gender inequality by not recognising the structural, historical and social disadvantages for women or for persons who do not conform to normal gendered norms? The team should identify where there are opportunities to narrow these inequalities or mitigate the potential harm.  


Ensuring women are equitably represented in leadership and investigation roles is an important first step towards gender mainstreaming. The visibility of women among the leadership and staff of the NHRI gives an initial and powerful message that the organisation is inclusive and values the knowledge, experiences and expertise of women.  


All phases of the investigative process should be designed with the involvement of women, including external stakeholders where appropriate. This approach can help identify and address barriers to women’s engagement with the NHRI and its investigations. For example, women can advise on how best to establish a rapport with victims and witnesses they will interview, providing adequate support and referral mechanisms for victims and witnesses, and identifying any other gender-specific issues that may have been overlooked. 


NHRIs should identify what cultural, religious or other barriers exist that have an impact on women’s participation. It is crucial that investigators think about these from the outset, especially in relation to minority or indigenous communities that might be suspicious of an organisation associated with the government. Talking with women from diverse communities in the investigation design can be very helpful.  


The Paris Principles require an NHRI to reflect the make-up of the society it serves, including in terms of gender and ethnicity. This is especially important for front line investigations conducted by the NHRI. To the extent that is possible, women should be represented on all investigation teams. However, it is especially important when investigating an issue that will likely require interviewing women and girls.  


It is important that the investigation report – as with all aspects of the investigation – consider the gender dimensions of the issue. The report should also be clear in how gender mainstreaming was undertaken for the investigation. It should use gender inclusive language throughout and care should be taken in how women are depicted in any images used. Women’s experience must be given full weight in the way the report is written and how the recommendations are framed.  


Investigating any aspect of gender-based violence brings a real risk of re-traumatising victims. This is especially the case when interviewing victims. The key consideration is ‘first, do no harm’. Best practice approaches to trauma-focused interviewing include:  

  • Giving more control of the process to the interviewee than would normally be the case in other interviews 
  • Understanding that compassion and respect are crucial at every stage of the process  
  • Being aware that trauma can result in memory loss  
  • Determining what support may need to be available for the interviewee during and after the interview.  



Chapter 31, Undertaking Effective Investigations: A Guide for National Human Rights Institutions (APF, revised 2018) 



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