Global Lounge: Crossing Borders A[euro]" Women in the World; in Our Series of Interviews with Senior Managers from around the World, We Catch Up with Rome-Based Wendy Harcourt, Senior Advisor for the Society for International Development, on Her Recent Visit to New Zealand

Article excerpt

Byline: Pauline Herbst

After receiving a PhD in history, Australian-born Wendy Harcourt had to decide whether to stay in liberal Adelaide or become a feminist activist in London. She did neither, instead taking a chance on romance in Italy. Shea[euro]s now lived there since 1988, building an impressive reputation in the areas of gender and development research.

It is hard to define an extensive portfolio career spanning 20 years in a single term, but a snippet from Harcourta[euro]s biodata describes her focus as: a[euro]critical research on and analysis of development policy from a rights and gender perspective with a special interest in sustainable development, globalisation, communication, culture, and sexual and reproductive health and rightsa[euro]. She has taken this research into academic fora, civil society meetings and the United Nations arena as a speaker and organiser of many conferences, workshops and seminars around the world.

As Harcourt explains, growing up with a professor of economics at Cambridge (father) and a psychologist who ran for Parliament and participated in anti-abortion and anti-Vietnam demonstrations (mother) her career choices are hardly surprising.

She says: a[euro]Where else can I place myself? Ia[euro]m in between academia and policy and civil society. My big success is the crossing of borders a[euro]" talking to academics about work thata[euro]s not academic and vice versa. If you dona[euro]t get caught in careers, you can do that a lot.a[euro]

What brings you to New Zealand for the first time?

I came at the invitation of Dr Yvonne Underhill-Sem [the director of the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Auckland] to talk about my new book Body politics in development: critical debates in gender and development, and teach some of her classes. Ia[euro]m interested in the New Zealand environment in relation to womena[euro]s rights and potential womena[euro]s issues.

So whata[euro]s the book about?

Me trying to explain what Ia[euro]ve been doing for 20 years. Ia[euro]ve always been involved in issues around human rights whether safety on student campuses, rape in war, domestic violencea[euro][bar] all of those issues which were an entry point for women to be more aware. Having a womena[euro]s body has commonality.

The question I ask is: a[euro]How is it that the body is so important but in development the body has disappeared a[euro]" its stats and vignettes. Such an important entry point politically for women, it focuses on womena[euro]s economic lives with more community-based body politics and looks at the different ways they have interacted.

How do your external expectations of New Zealand relate to the reality?

It is very beautiful with a lifestyle that you couldna[euro]t afford in Europe. It is a very wealthy country in that sense, with the environment and lifestyle. Ia[euro]ve also noticed ita[euro]s very multi-cultural, especially on campus.

New Zealand has a neo-liberal reputation from outside so I was interested in seeing the new prime minister. We have been astonished by the media and interested in their openness with the political elite. Even though hea[euro]s [John Key] conservative, hea[euro]s talking about social issues.

How have you had to adapt your management style to each of the broad areas you work in?

When youa[euro]re networking for advocacy, feminist dialogue and others, youa[euro]re having to deal with power politics and ask yourself a[euro]where are your entry pointsa[euro]? With gender, trade and development within the EC you have to be careful not to stomp on peoplea[euro]s toes. I was chair of Women in Development Europe (WIDE) from 2004 to 2008 and as chair you have to listen very carefully to people. Ita[euro]s really rewarding but really tough as ita[euro]s not just about research and networking, but about the politics in a group. …