Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Development Paradoxes: Feminist Solidarity, Alternative Imaginaries and New Spaces

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Development Paradoxes: Feminist Solidarity, Alternative Imaginaries and New Spaces

Article excerpt


In The Daily Woman by Niaz Zaman (2005) is a story of contrasts--between rich and poor, abundance and poverty, First World and Third World, old and new, gold and brass, developed and under-developed. Zaman poignantly explores these contrasts through the lives of khalamma, the rich woman, and her domestic help, "the daily woman," as well as between the daily woman and the Americans who adopt her infant girl. Yet the story is also about something more than contrasts; it's about the dependence of the wealthy and privileged on the poor and the fragility of that illusory bond. The contradictions in that fragile bond can also be read as a critique of common development discourse, here seen through individual relationships that can be expanded to understand power relationships between countries and cultures.

These contradictions are illustrated through the interactions of the daily woman and both the local elites that she works for and the foreigners whom she encounters. In one vignette, the daily woman savors the sweet hot tea with two spoons of sugar she drinks at Khalamma's house while observing her employer going without sugar altogether for fear of getting fat--eating and drinking only sugarless tea and toast in the morning, cucumber for lunch and only a spoon of rice at dinner. She asks the help to make fat chapatis for themselves while she and her husband eat the small ones at the table.

In another part of the story, the daily woman gives up her infant daughter to an American couple who are unable to have one of their own. The "Amrikun" (white man) in the story had spent many years in Bangladesh as a child and now wants to adopt one to surprise his wife. The daily woman's son was bigger than his twin sister at birth, so she gives up the less nourished girl for better prospects of survival.

The white Amrikun woman--thin and "flat as a dried fish"--takes the large shiny bangles off her wrists and gives them to the daily woman. The daily woman does not want to give the impression that she was selling her baby or exchanging him for gold, but she takes the bangles. She was giving him up because she cannot feed him. Later when she takes the bangles to the goldsmith, he laughs and says that they are made of brass. This reminds the reader that "all that glitters is not gold."

These three examples illustrate the limits of grand discourse of development as benevolent and expose the ways in which humanitarianism can cloak self-legitimizing savior narratives. In the story, khalamma's life has been brightened by powdered spices and detergents, which lessen the burden of household chores. Yet, the daily woman continues to grind the spices fresh on the grindstone, grateful for the work. The American couple thinks they are doing the daily woman a favor by taking her malnourished child and even throwing in the brass bangles for good measure. The daily woman, on the other hand, pays handsomely for the transaction through her productive and reproductive labor. It is her labor, neither recognized nor remunerated adequately, that benefits the Americans (and khalamma) while these benefactors imagine they are providing her with what they think she needs--fat chapatis, powdered spices, and brass bangles. Post-development scholars call attention to this hidden dependence on the poor as key to re-imagining development and prioritizing reciprocity and mutuality in its place. While notions of care, compassion, and friendship are critical in envisioning alternatives to development, sometimes these principles do not adequately attend to the mutuality and reciprocity that might be integral to creating connections across divides--making the idea of development tainted.

In his seminal work Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995), Arturo Escobar likens development to a chimera--much like the glittering brass bangles in Zaman's story. My work builds on a sophisticated body of post-development and transnational feminist theory (Escobar 1995; Kapoor, 2008; Crush 1995; Saunders 2002) drawing on conceptions of the relationship of representations of development in the Third World to the interconnected webs of various transnational patriarchal and economic dominations that affect, and are affected by, the realities of marginalized communities in the Global South. …

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