26 August 2009

Gender: everyone sighs?

One of the first IDS Bulletins that was published after I joined the Institute noted a quote from a development agency staff member that "when gender is mentioned everyone sighs".

Gender issues have been on my radar screen more than usual these past few weeks. We had a visit from Isatou Jallow, Chief of the Gender, Policy Strategy of the World Food Programme to discuss WFP's new Gender Policy. She met with the Bridge team and some of our Fellows. One of the progressive things about WFP's new gender policy is that it is making a big effort to incorporate understanding of masculinities and men's roles in promoting gender equity. Then a couple of articles on the Katine site (The Guardian newspaper) on brideprice. The debate was around whether brideprice is necessarily a violation of rights---some said it represented an informal and nominal gift and others said, no it was a contract that commodified women. Still others said, it does not matter what it is, don't judge other places according to UK cultural values. I also caught Douglas Alexander the DFID Secretary of State being grilled by Kirsty Wark on BBC's Newsnight about how could the UK government spend resources supporting the Afghanistan government when it had just passed a law stating that food could be witheld from wives who refuse sex from their husbands (glad I did not have to answer that one). Then the Caster Semyena controversy (the South African runner being "tested" for how female she is) and what it means to be a man or a woman. And finally an article in Foreign Policy on the financial crisis saying that the recession is turning into a "he-cession" as more than 80% of the job losses in the US have fallen on men. Fascinating stories all.

How is it that the development profession has managed to turn such a vital, contested and essential part of the human condition--the relations between men and women and the factors that govern them--into such an anodyne topic?

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