Journal of Comparative Asian Development 14(3) pp 377-413

This study presents critical discourse analysis of gender mainstreaming in India and Nepal. Mainstreaming is a United Nations policy objective subscribed to by 180+ states. It aims to embed gender equality concerns in every stage of the policy process. Complementarity theory emphasizes how politicians attempt to cope with complexity by engaging civil society in policy formulation, thus not only strengthening input legitimacy but also policy efficacy through the pursuit of shared cognitive maps for action. Political elites in both countries have espoused such engagement. However, the findings show that instead of securing the anticipated complementarity effects, the current practice is aligned to an instrumentalist, ‘expert-bureaucratic’ policy intervention. This is because of the pronounced power asymmetry between the government and civil society. This manifests itself in marked contrasts in policy framing and issue prioritization. The overall effect is state-driven policy delivery. This undermines the capacity of the civil sphere to challenge the traditionally male-dominated power structures and hampers progress towards the normative vision of gender equality set out in the UN policy.