My journey through the module has been challenging, with a lot of obstacles and confusion; but it has also been exciting because it has provided me with new perspectives. The lectures, and my own reading and discussions with colleagues have all broaden my views on gender and development.
First, several times, the module has forced me to reflect on my work experience in Egypt. Before I came to the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the dominate notion I had of gender was “something about women”, and I thought that gender and development was “something about women’s empowerment”. In Egypt, I rarely questioned my work, which was to support income-generating activities for local women, and thought that women’s economic empowerment was good for them, and should thus be promoted. However, I found that the global debate on gender and development is much wider and deeper. Now, I realise that economic empowerment activities can have negative effects, such as reshaping gender roles, bringing down the social structure, increasing the burden of women’s work, and so on. If I had been aware of such outcomes, my approach in Egypt would have been very different. At IDS, I learned that attempting to redress the balance for women as a subordinated group is too optimistic to grasp the whole situation around gender issues. Moreover, I recognised that development programmes and interventions designed to address the problems faced by women and girls can have a devastating impact on society, especially in terms of gender norms.
Nevertheless, these new viewpoints have sometimes confused me. We constantly sought to critique existing principles of and practices in gender and development. For example, we discussed the film The Girl Effect (2010), concluding that it simplifies the gender problem in suggesting that girls’ empowerment is an essential solution. On the one hand, this film brought me critical perspectives on girls’ and women’s empowerment. However, on the other hand, we also have to remember that this view tends to undervalue the significance of girls’ and women’s empowerment. We cannot deny the fact that the message of this film has universal appeal and can motivate people to raise funds or contribute to the global debate on gender issues as well. Yet, here, I feel that there is a huge gap between academia and development practice; and how such a gulf might be narrowed will be a major personal challenge from now on.
At the same time, taking a critical approach to Western-oriented development and feminism has brought considerable insight, too, encouraging me to rethink the practices of Japanese agencies for example. I have learned that the Western world view has faced many dilemmas and struggles with local contexts. Pigg’s (2001) study is a case in point, revealing the incongruity between international knowledge of HIV/AIDS and local Nepali life. Given that Japan has a different history of gender and development from Western countries, reflecting on Pigg’s (2001) research, I am now curious that how the outcome differs between Japanese approaches and Western’s one. Of course, there would be gaps between Nepali and Japanese attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, but I assume that the context between us are closer geographically and culturally than those of the West. I therefore feel that if I wish to be effective in the future, I should stop directly applying the theories and concepts of Western-oriented gender and development: I need to seek an alternative means of development which fits the Japanese context.
Yet, I still have some reservations about gender and development per se. Everyone agrees that its goal is to achieve social equality and justice, but I still do not have a clear view of where and how I set my positionality in terms of striving for gender equality. As I wrote in my first blog, situations differ according to positionality and whether agents are insiders or outsides. As long as I am an outsider in a developing country context, I will always impose foreign views and values on local communities in seeking to achieve gender equality. But who decides that there is gender inequality in the first place? Who sees women as subordinated or violated? Eyben (2014) argues that, as aid workers, we must be constantly aware of our position, the influence we have, and the political relationships between donors and beneficiaries. I now strongly believe that gender and development aid workers should bear in mind these invisible power relations because their programmes can directly impact a society and change its gender norms.
To sum up, in my journey through this module, I have definitely learned that there are multiple perspectives on gender and development. At the same time, it has led me to reassess past practices and encouraged me to continue seeking my position. Therefore, my challenge and goal for the remainder of my course at IDS is to seek appropriate positionality as an aid worker in gender and development.
Eyben, R. (2014) International Aid and the Making of a Better World: Reflective practice. Abingdon: Routledge.
Pigg, S. L. (2001) Languages of Sex and AIDS in Nepal: Notes on the social production of commensurability. Cultural Anthropology 16(4): 481–541.
The Girl Effect (2010) The Clock is Ticking . Available from: http://youtu.be/1e8xgF0JtVg (Accessed 2 December 2014).