Gender mainstreaming: the appropriation of feminist discourses in development?
Location F
Date and Time 9th December, 2008 at 15:30


Suzanne Clisby (University of Hull)
Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Gender mainstreaming is a response to feminist and anthropological critiques of gender disparities in development. This panel calls for an analysis of gender mainstreaming from a feminist anthropological perspective and aims to critically explore issues of ownership and appropriation therein.

Long Abstract

Gender mainstreaming' is heralded as a major global strategy for ensuring the incorporation of gender perspectives and the promotion of equality in all areas of social development. Placing gender mainstreaming on the international development agenda can be perceived as a successful outcome of feminist/GAD and anthropological discourse and activism. The question is, how has this policy been translated in terms of practice and what are the real consequences of that discourse? The incorporation, for example, of 'gendered' terminology into policy without the corresponding implementation at all levels can serve to blunt women's calls for change on the grounds that their concerns have already been addressed. More critically, is gender mainstreaming being subverted as a tool for the appropriation of women's knowledge, interests and concerns in social development arenas? Does the terminology of gender obscure women and facilitate the continuation of male dominance over development processes? Does it impose an inappropriate model of womanhood on non-Western women? Has, then, the incorporation of feminist critiques into international development discourse subverted feminist theories of ownership and appropriation? Finally, to what extent has the requirement for 'gender mainstreaming' in international development discourse become an extension of a neo-liberal/neo-colonial project to control and 'civilise' developing economies? Is a putative concern for gender equality in development being used as another means to distinguish between the modern, civilised One and the colonial, traditional Other? We invite papers that explore one or more of these questions: we would especially welcome contributions from feminist anthropologists engaged in development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The ownership and control of 'Gender Mainstreaming': feminist transformation or neo-colonial appropriation?

Author: Suzanne Clisby (University of Hull)

Short Abstract

The success of feminist discourses of development and their incorporation into international development agendas, largely in the guise of ‘gender mainstreaming’ should be celebrated, but with some caution. This paper explores the ownership and control of gender mainstreaming and asks to what extent these discourses have been appropriated by neo-colonial politics.


This paper provides a critical introduction to this panel. It initially explores the emergence and growth of gender mainstreaming in global development and suggests that the success of international feminist movements and analyses in forcing gender onto the development agenda should be celebrated, but with some caution. The second part of this paper then outlines a number of reasons for caution. This is a critical period in the 'mainstreaming' debate, and without continued vigilance, gender mainstreaming could become - or, more critically, remain as - a purely mechanistic, semantic 'reclothing' of WID as GAD (Pearson, 2005:160). As I have argued elsewhere (Clisby, 2005:32), it is all too easy to provide a gendered discourse at the policy level, but with little concomitant 'engendering' of development processes. Moreover, questions need to be raised as to the extent to which the requirement for 'gender mainstreaming' in international development discourse has become an extension of a neo-liberal/neo-colonial project to control and 'civilise' developing economies. Is a putative concern for gender equality in development being used as another means to distinguish between the modern, civilised 'One' and the colonial, traditional 'Other'? Through raising and beginning to explore these questions, this paper provides an introductory framework for the subsequent panel papers.

Force of circumstance: feminist discourse in a matrilineal society

Author: Eleanor Rimoldi (Massey University)

Short Abstract

This paper analyses the appropriation of Bougainville women during a complex civil war, peace process, and the current aid/development phase in ways that serve ideological, political and economic interests of outside agencies but undermines the matrilineal structure of their society.


My paper will discuss some of the ways feminist discourse was articulated on Bougainville during, and after the secessionist war that took place on the island between 1989 and 2000. Inspired by feminist discourse, NGOs have appropriated Bougainville women into newly organized spheres of influence (as moral agents, peacemakers or victims) that have in turn the potential to distort the matrilineal structure of their society which is the true source of the women’s power and authority. The feminist analysis of male-female relationships is at odds with the way in which these relationships are traditionally negotiated in Bougainville society and expressed in their central significance in the mutual construction of kinship, clans and authority on the island. Gender mainstreaming has become a major platform for social and political change managed by outside agencies in what is now the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. However, there is often little understanding of the traditional power of women by political and economic advisers which frequently results in a tokenism which falls far short of their central position at the very heart of Bougainville culture. The problem for feminist anthropology is the recognition that many contemporary Bougainville women now advance their own, and their family’s interests through and with such agencies, along with education and business enterprise. The contradiction is in the potential for a dissembling of the traditional obligations that both privilege and constrain Bougainville women in a society built on matrilineal principles where women were secure as “mothers of the land”.

Expectations for couple relationships among Maori and Pacific peoples living in New Zealand.

Author: Gabriele Schaefer (AUT)

Short Abstract


This research explores what kinds of expectations and ideals Maori and Pacific peoples (Maori, Samoans, Tongans and Nuieans) in New Zealand have about their couple relationships. The intercultural as well as interdisciplinary nature of the research informed my decision to apply several research methodologies including participant observation techniques and in-depth interviews with 51 participants. Findings indicate that the majority of participants perceive that honesty, loyalty, trust, openness, and a good sex life was essential for a good relationship. They stressed that fulfilling obligations towards the extended family and mutual respect are important for them. The notion that one has to be willing to work on the relationship was also a dominant theme. The research also investigates how integration into a modern society has impacted on the expectations Maori and Pacific peoples have about their intimate relationships. Most women mentioned that they now wanted equality in their relationships and expected their partners to communicate with them on an emotional level.

To have and to hold: the appropriation of women's llama-herding expertise

Author: Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)

Short Abstract

In spite of recognising the value of women’s labour in Andean llama herding, developers fail to acknowledge women as expert herders, since their expertise is based on watching animals rather than handling them. Such misrecognition allows outsiders and men to appropriate female expertise.


An NGO working in Bolivia draws attention in its literature to the potential of women's labour as a resource for the commercialisation of llama-herding. The statement is an effort by the NGO to incorporate gender into its development initiative. This paper looks at the implementation of the livestock husbandry project and at its implications for indigenous Andean women. It notes that, in spite of the NGO's rhetorical attention to the value of women, its expert vets and agronomists direct their efforts largely towards men in the communities concerned.

The discrepancy between promise and practice, regarding gender, is partly due to a failure by scientifically-trained experts to appreciate the nature of animal-human relations in Andean communities and to recognise women's expertise with llamas. Western and scientific expertise with animals relies on tactility - handling animals - and domination. Andeans attribute a higher degree of agency to animals, care for them rather than dominate them and watch over them rather than handle them. Watching over animals is a daily task often performed by women, who thereby acquire a detailed knowledge of individual animals, their habits and states of health.

NGO experts teach Andeans to handle animals. Those receptive to such training are often men who come to profit politically from prestigious involvement with the NGO. The paper considers how attachment to Western ways of knowing and models of expertise leads developers, who initially attempt to mainstream gender, to appropriate women's roles as llama experts, and allows men to dominate new political openings.