Born of a need for a new approach to policy-making that takes into account both women's and men's interests and concerns the concept of gender mainstreaming was first introduced at the 1985 Nairobi World conference on Women. It was subsequently adopted as a tool to promote gender equality at all levels.

When properly understood and implemented, gender mainstreaming is a transformative approach with a great potential for social change. Today, there is a wide consensus about the effectiveness of a dual approach combining gender mainstreaming and specific measures for the advancement of women, to ensure better policy making and better use of resources, as well as progress towards effective equality between women and men. In 1998, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation on gender mainstreaming.  Since then, a gender mainstreaming strategy has been an integral part of the work and activities of the Council of Europe to promote the full realisation of gender equality.