Mention of the word ‘gender’ has come to evoke a palpable sense of ennui amongst many development practitioners (Molyneux 2004). Its political and analytical bite has been blunted not only by the lack
of specificity in its use, but also by the process of its domestication by development agencies (Molyneux 2004; Cornwall et al. 2007a, 2007b; Sardenberg 2007).
‘Gender’, it seems, has passed into the lexicon of development without troubling business as usual. ‘Gender equality’ is a term that has lost a clear sense of meaning: it is used as an umbrella term for as diverse a set of activities as gathering sexdisaggregated statistics, doing ‘gender sensitisation’ and making women more competitive in the labour market. And ‘gender mainstreaming’ has run adrift, as once-focused energies have been dissipated and made ‘gender’ no-one’s responsibility.
Transplanted from domains of feminist discourse and practice onto other, altogether different and in many ways inherently hostile institutional terrains, it would seem that ‘gender’ has retained little of the radical promise that was once vested in its promotion (Young et al. 1981; Pearson and Jackson 1998). That which lay at the heart of the ‘gender agenda’ – transforming unequal and unjust power relations – seems to have fallen by the wayside.