Engendering Development/marketing Equality

Article excerpt


In a recent policy research report, Engendering Development: Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources, and Voice, (1) the World Bank lays out a new "market-centered" approach to gender equality. Engendering Development is important for at least two reasons. First, it represents the most ambitious and comprehensive attempt by the Bank to date to explore and resolve the relationship between two goals that have often been in tension, gender equality and the pursuit of economic growth. Second, it represents a significant departure from established international norms and strategies surrounding gender equality.

Engendering Development is a project that faces in two directions. On the one hand, it makes a "gender" intervention in debates over market reform and development: it seeks to persuade those who may have no independent interest in gender equality that it is important to the objective of economic growth, and it makes the case for attention to gender equality in market-centered reform agendas. On the other hand, it represents a "market" intervention in the international debates over gender equality: it seeks to inject those debates with a new consciousness of imperatives of efficiency and to reframe both the analysis of gender equality and the strategies used to promote it in market-friendly ways.

This paper describes in broad contours the vision of gender equality in Engendering Development and profiles the ways in which that vision diverges from the mainstream gender equality project on the international plane. It traces some of the connections between the arguments in Engendering Development and the larger institutional and governance projects in which the Bank is immersed. And it suggests why Engendering Development represents both a cultural intervention and a cultural project of its own.

Engendering Development simultaneously challenges the mainstream international gender equality paradigm, incorporates some of its arguments and strategies, and reflects back its blind spots and omissions. Engendering Development is fascinating and important in its own right. But because it reveals elements of the mainstream paradigm that otherwise tend to be less visible--among them its connection to institutional and regulatory regimes that are now being seriously questioned--it is useful as a basis upon which to think about what is the same and what is different in the way we now pursue gender equality.


At first glance, Engendering Development looks like a victory for gender equality activists and scholars. Even if motivated by the conclusion that it is instrumentally important to development too, the attempt to integrate gender equality into the development agenda is at least partly a response to the gender critiques leveled against the development agenda organized around the "Washington consensus." (2) If nothing else, Engendering Development confirms that it has become difficult to simply ignore calls for attention to gender equality: gender equality is sufficiently entrenched as an international norm--if not necessarily at the level of institutions and practice--that to oppose it is to risk delegitimation.

Yet Engendering Development is a curious account of gender equality. To begin, Engendering Development represents no simple adoption or incorporation of the existing gender equality agenda at international law. It is new at the level of vision and institutional practice, and it challenges at a fundamental level visions of gender equality rooted in the use of the state to ensure a broad array of women's rights.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of Engendering Development without placing it within the larger transformations in the realm of governance now underway. (3) Engendering Development is very much a project of its time. It bears many of the hallmarks of the dominant "third way" regulatory and policy proposals of the globalized era. …