This article is about taking stock of experiences of mainstreaming gender. It addresses two related concerns.
First, that after three decades of feminist activism in the field of development – both at the level of theory and practice – most development institutions have still to be constantly reminded of the need for gender analysis in their work, policymakers have to be lobbied to “include” the “g” word and even our own colleagues need convincing that integrating a gender analysis makes a qualitative difference. Second, by constantly critiquing their own strategies, feminist advocates have changed their approaches, but institutional change continues to be elusive (except in a few corners).
Gender and development advocates cannot be faulted for their technical proficiency. Making a case for gender and development, developing and implementing training programmes, frameworks, planning tools and even checklists, unpacking organisational development and change from a gender perspective, have all contributed to building technical capacity and pushed forward technical processes for the integration of gender equality concerns in development. The literature also acknowledges that gender equality is as much a political as a technical project and efforts have been directed towards creating “voice” and influence, lobbying and advocacy.
So who are “we”? I situate myself among those of us who started out in the development movement of the 1970s in a Third World country. I was shaped by the feminist movement in India, was groomed by the international gender and development movement in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, and am now in a northern institution which does research, training and technical assistance in development policy and practice. My job involves working with international organisations, national governments and national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to integrate a gender perspective in policy and practice. In this article, I use my own experiences to interrogate how the concerns of feminists from similar locations with the political project of equality are being normalised in the development business as an ahistorical, apolitical, de-contextualised and technical project that leaves the prevailing and unequal power relations intact. This normalisation is happening at both the level of discourse and material practice.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.4 (2004) Mainstreaming Gender or “Streaming” Gender Away: Feminists Marooned in the Development Business