Why is Development Work So Straight? And what can we do about it?
A news story from the Institute of Development Studies website by Susie Jolly.
Some development work has reinforced inequalities around sexuality and gender. Sometimes even the interventions seeking greater justice and equality - such as those associated with Gender and Development, the Men and Masculinities field, Rights-Based Development, empowerment and participation - inadvertently reinforce oppressive sexuality and gender norms. If development really did justice to the diversity of people's social and sexual identities, livelihoods and living arrangements, what would it look like?
To begin to answer this question, on 21 July, IDS convened the workshop: ‘Why is development work so straight? And what can we do about it?' Participants analysed development interventions for ‘heteronormativity'. This concept refers to the idea that heterosexuality is normal and that other kinds of sexualities are abnormal, but also that only particular forms of heterosexuality are normal - such as within marriage, between people of the same class and ethnic group, according to the desires of the man rather than the woman etc. Examination of heteronormativity illustrates how norms around heterosexuality structure social status and access to resources.
Workshop participants provided concrete examples of how development work can either reinforce or challenge heteronormativity.
Not everyone has or wants the same family set up!
Kate Bedford (University of Kent) explained the work of the Commission on the Status of Women in mobilizing UN member states to support the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving responsibilities in the context of HIV/AIDS. This has enabled different constituencies to come together around a common platform, including feminists interested in care policy, gender and development advocates who want more attention given to men and masculinity, and HIV/AIDS activists. It also promotes greater equality between women and men within the household.
However, at the same time, this work to promote equal sharing of responsibility may assume a heterosexual nuclear family as the key context within which care is delivered. This obscures the reality that not all women have or want to have male partners (and vice versa). It also ignores the importance of extended family set ups, such as grandparents caring for children in a context of HIV/AIDS, and furthermore that care needs to be supported by state, community and other actors outside the family.
Susie Jolly (IDS) described methodologies sometimes used even in IDS research which start with household models assuming as the norm a heterosexual family with a male household head, which means that any other kind of family, such as a female headed household, are obscured.
Shuchi Karim (independent, Bangladesh) described the pressures to get married in Bangladesh. Single women are still considered somehow to have failed in life. Even the women's movement mostly does not challenge this ideology. It is led largely by respectable married women. And women who have written about alternatives to marriage have never been embraced by the movement.
Development - about self-improvement or happier relationships?
Maya Ganesh (Independent, India) pointed out that the dominant discourses around Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development see ICTs as a way of increasing income - for example through women learning data entry skills to get a better job and become empowered, or farmers using the internet to check market prices for their products and get a better deal. However, the reality is people also use media such as mobile phones and internet for social networking, playing games, surfing pornography etc. This kind of media use changes lives too - for example men who have sex with men in Bombay are able to develop longer term emotional relationships with sexual partners through mobile phone conversations, which provides them a way to stay in touch without having to reveal their relationships to family or others who disapprove.
The changes enabled by media may increase well-being, but not necessarily in the ways anticipated by ICT for development interventions. William Spurlin (Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence, Sussex University) commented that greater possibilities for people to seek the kind of relationships they desire can in itself be empowering and challenge colonial legacies.
Sexual minorities - excluded or supported?
Fernando Serrano (Instituto Distrital para la participacion y la Accion Comunal, Colombia) described how conflict resolution and peace building processes often ignore violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. He also discussed how the view of women only as victims and men only as perpetrators makes invisible the complexities of gender and sexual diversities in contexts of conflict - for example sexual violence against men is ignored.
Jerker Edstrom (IDS) cited some positive openings provided within the arena of HIV and AIDS work, for example in supporting men who have sex with men to mobilise in ways that over time contributed to the recent overturning of the colonial law criminalising homosexuality in India. But he also cited collusion of parts of the ‘industry' with the idea that the epidemic in Africa is purely heterosexual, thus excluding sexual minorities from access to prevention and treatment services.
Some mainstream development agencies are making moves to combat discrimination against sexual minorities. Sheelagh Stewart (UK Department for International Development) described thier work to recognise the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) staff. Felicity Daly (Interact Worldwide) introduced the recently launched Global Fund Strategies on Gender Equality and on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
‘This workshop has changed my thinking. It's not just about including certain people who have been left out. It's about changing the whole fabric of development.' Emily Esplen, IDS
Participants discussed a range of strategies for uncovering and challenging heteronormativity, as well as other intersecting inequalities such as class and race. Suggested ways forward ranged from the small scale - such as doing a ‘heteronormativity audit' of reading lists for IDS teaching - to the more ambitious. There was huge enthusiasm to create a ‘Mesa Diversa' (a diverse round table) - forums bringing together participants dealing with a range of sexuality related issues such as single people in contexts of pressure to marry, people living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, LGBT, people working against female genital mutilation, feminists and others seeking greater equality within households and relationships - to build solidarity and foster a sexual rights movement which will take us beyond the divisions between sexual minorities and majorities, and challenge heteronormativity in the development industry and beyond.
Photo: GMB Akash / Panos
Do you have an opinion on this news story? Want to share your thoughts? Why not try the Eldis Community IDS News Discussion group and leave your comments.
Court-based research: collaborating with the justice system to enhance STI services for vulnerable women in the US http://t.co/3vEaFQVO
The fractal queerness of non-heteronormative migrant #sexworkers in the UK by Nick Mae http://t.co/X7oGFeDI
'only 31% of the sample of indirect sex workers reported having been engaged in commercial sex in the last 12 months'
Old but good. Violence and Exposure to HIV among #sexworkers in Phnom Penh http://t.co/rkrRGiBa
Someone is Wrong on the Internet: #sex workers' access to accurate information http://t.co/aMSXhygd
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