This IDS Bulletin reflects on the contested relationship between feminism and development, and the challenges for reasserting feminist engagement with development as a political project. It arises from the ‘Gender Myths and Feminist Fables: Repositioning Gender in Development Policy and Practice’ workshop held at the Institute of Development Studies and the University of Sussex in July 2003.
Centred on how to ‘reposition’ gender and development, debates pointed to the politics of discourse as a key element in social transformation. Participants explored how, after initial struggles to develop new concepts and languages for understanding women’s position in developing societies, feminist phrases came to be filled with new meanings as they were taken up into development policy and practice.
Gender’s generalities have been both a success and a hindrance. Reflecting on years of effort, articles critique understandings and outcomes of discourse, as well as different views of the pitfalls and compromises of political engagement. Feminist engagement with development has required the embrace of simplifications, and as a result, vigilance and struggle to avoid women being represented as cardboard victims or heroines, in order to capture instead nuances, ambiguities and complexities in their lives and choices.