Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges

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The political project of reasserting feminist engagement with development has proceeded uneasily in recent years. This book examines how the arguments of feminist researchers have often become depoliticised by development institutions and offers richly contextualised accounts of the pitfalls and compromises of the politics of engagement. Speaking from within academic institutions, social movements, development bureaucracies and national and international NGOs, the contributors highlight on-going battles for interpretation and the unequal power relations within which these battles take place. They engage with the challenges of achieving solidarity in the context of increasingly polarised geo-political relations, and advance a diversity of critiques of simplified ideas about gender, and how these ideas come to be interpreted in institutional policies and practices.

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This book explores contested relationships between feminisms and development as political project, not to mention the challenges in reasserting feminist engagement in development. The authors of the chapters in the book also touch upon ‘empowerment’, which has been reduced from a complex process of self-realization, self-actualization and self-mobilization to demand change, to a simple act of transformation bestowed by a transfer of money and/or information (p.7). This book basically shares how ‘women empowerment’ in development context also in my opinion relates to access, if not the endowment of resources to empower women in the process.
Furthermore, the book also discusses social transformation by feminist engagement in development, which creates political spaces. Various forums and international network of researchers have also contributed to stimulating debates and engagement in dealing with gender inequalities. (p.2)
Interestingly the book also underlines that social transformation demands not only activism but also engagement in content and processes of international development policy, including 0.7% target of GDP on most states for their aid budget. Aside of the failure to meet the target, according to the authors, the spending on aid and loans has been rising for the last twenty-five years and been considered as major government revenue for many poor countries. (p.3)
The authors also mention background of gender mainstreaming concepts which was officially adopted by the UN in 1995 during the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing. Feminists have seen this concept as a way to ‘integrate women’ in development policy and practice, although one of the authors argues that the implementation of this concept has to deal with technocratic challenges which redress as well as suppresses differences amongst women. (p.3).
In my opinion, the book is helpful in providing various experiences of feminist engagement in development policy and practices in further promoting social transformation. Through the book, the authors seem to acknowledge positive contribution of international networks, collaboration of various stakeholders in addressing gender inequalities, including through international aid and international assistance which promote gender mainstreaming through their programming.


Announcing a new dawn prematurely? Human
a view from
Dangerous equations? How femaleheaded households
Back to women? Translations resignifications
gender myths in the British
the African woman
reframing the debate
the perils of mainstreaming
feminist studies in African
from crosscutting obscurity to sectoral
The NGOization of Arab womens movements
gender ennui and the changed
Notes on contributors

what is it about and should

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About the author (2007)

Andrea Cornwall is Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. She is co-editor of Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (1994), Realizing Rights: Transforming Sexual and Reproductive Wellbeing (Zed 2002) and editor of Readings in Gender in Africa (2004).Ann Whitehead is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sussex. A contributor to foundational debates on feminist engagement with development and on theorising gender, she has had a wide engagement with national and international feminist politics. Elizabeth Harrison is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sussex. She is the co-author of Whose Development? An Ethnography of Aid (Zed 1998).

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