Key Issue Guide: Heteronormativity

Published on 1 November 2013

This Eldis Key Issue Guide is a concise resource on the concept of heteronormativity, its usefulness for development thinking and the and the ways in which it impacts upon gender, LGBT rights, economic justice, health care, human rights and law.

Heteronormativity is considered a very abstract concept by some but it has serious implications for international development. The term heteronormativity grew out of ‘Queer Theory’ and is the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and any other form of sexual desire, expression or relationship is ‘abnormal’ or ‘wrong’. It is underpinned by the assumption that there are only two sexes, men and women, which exist in a binary. Heteronormativity structures institutions like marriage, and this produces a set of ideas and ideals about how sexuality should be organised. Analysing heteronormativity enables us to see how particular understandings of sexuality and gender get to be embedded in and woven through the very fabric of our institutions and everyday lives in ways that are powerful, discriminatory and exclusionary.

Within development there has been research, policy and practice which has offered an analysis of the impact of heteronormativity or challenged bad practice. A desire to question and disrupt seemingly ‘common sense’ positions on gender and sexuality have driven, or been prompted by, work on women’s empowerment, sexual rights and HIV.


Stephen Wood

Research Officer

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published by
Hawkins, K., Wood, S. and Aboud, G.


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