Feminist Visions of Development: Gender Analysis and Policy

By Cecile Jackson; Ruth Pearson | Go to book overview

1

WHO NEEDS [SEX] WHEN YOU CAN HAVE [GENDER]?

Conflicting discourses on gender at Beijing

Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz


Introduction

For academics working in the gender and development (GAD) field, the concept of 'gender' is everyday currency. In the UK, at least, social relations of gender analysis, with its roots in socialist feminism, is a major foundation for GAD thinking (Young et al., 1981; Razavi and Miller, 1995a: 27-32). Understanding the concept of 'gender' in the context of social relations analysis remains a touchstone of gender and development research, teaching and training in many institutions in the UK and elsewhere. However, outside of academia, within policy and activist arenas, the utility and relevance of 'gender' has been highly contested. Indeed, in some policy applications, 'gender' has come to lose its feminist political content. This chapter explores conflicting discourses on the relevance and meaning of gender in policy and activist contexts. We draw on debates over 'gender' aired at the NGO (non-government organisation) Forum of the United Nations (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women, in Huairou, China, in September 1995. 1 This conference provided an extraordinary opportunity to investigate a vast range of contemporary policy and activist discourses, given the very broad spectrum of interest groups represented there.

The first section of this chapter is inspired by the challenge to GAD from grassroots development workers and women activists in the South. This challenge is linked to the current debate over the institutionalisation of gender in development policy and practice, and relates to the perceived depoliticisation of the concept of gender. The second part explores a completely different critique of 'gender' from conservative groups, who attacked 'gender' during the Beijing process on the grounds that it is an over-radical and unrepresentative approach to thinking about social relations. We consider the ways the conservative critique illuminates contradictions and lacunae in feminist theorising about gender. Underlying both sections are questions about what happens to feminist concepts in activist and policy arenas and about our own role in this process, as gender and development researchers.

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