Gender Matters – To Me and To Development


Preetha Prabhakaran says:

21If asked to pick on one single moment or event in my life that has been influenced by my gender, I would find it an impossible task. This is because gender has worked like an invisible force, underlining my actions and behaviours for as long as I can remember. It claimed me at birth, like a second mother, and it has lived with me ever since. It has been a constant voice in my head, shaping my sense-of-self and moulding my capabilities, limitations, aspirations and my fears.

We’ve had an extremely complicated relationship – my gender and I.

The distinctiveness of my sex came to me very early in my childhood and with it came the demands, the expectations and the restrictions of my sexed body and mind.

There was a naturalness about it; reinforced through modelled attitudes, behaviours and practices within my family and in the society, that made it difficult to question its validity and authority. It was made clear to me that being a girl, I couldn’t do certain things that my brother did.

I was made to feel abnormal for displaying ‘masculine’ traits like going out alone or staying out late in the night. Similarly when it came to careers, while I’m sure my brother felt the pressure of measuring up as a ‘man’ and becoming a successful one at that, while I was only expected to be ‘good’ (meaning chaste and moral) and educated enough to ‘bag’ a husband capable enough of taking care of me.

My primary role was to be that of a wife and mother.

While these low expectations meant less pressure while growing up, it also meant that I developed low aspirations and lesser capabilities in life. Once I attained puberty, there seemed to be an unsettling sense of threat that accompanied my body everywhere I went. I soon came to realize that my body had ceased to be exclusively mine and had become part of something larger and more significant – it had become a tool for society to reinforce its set norms and rules governing female bodies.

feministHaving embraced the binaries of sex and gender categories at one point, I found myself fighting and challenging it at later stages in my life. But easing out of my womanhood was easier thought than done. My gender and I had become inseparable. It had slipped into my clothes, it outlined the language and tone that I used; it came alive in the books that I read and in the movies that I saw; it guided my pattern of interaction with the different sexes; and it dictated the spaces that I inhabited. I realized how firmly society’s construction of sex and gender is institutionalized into structures of power and hierarchy that work to dominate and oppress people who are either not feminine/masculine enough or those who do not follow prescribed heterosexual norms.

So does gender matter to development? IT DOES !

At the heart of development talks, is the notion of a society’s economic, social and cultural progress; and people’s well-being through increased productivity, enhanced capabilities and equitable distribution of resources. Achieving this would require challenging existing power structures that are not only based on class relations but equally on sex and gender relations present in societies.

There is also a critical need to address the various prejudices and biases that underlie existing development policies and practices. Many are based on certain values placed on the differential social roles that women and men occupy, and their specific needs and contributions to society. A misrepresentation of gender-specific needs has led to inadequate planning and budget allocation which has worsened the status of marginalized women and men.

WOMEN WATERThere is also a growing recognition that addressing women-specific needs would require the empowerment of both women and men as many women are located within their social and cultural contexts, set in a web of family and kinship relations. Today, there is a lot of talk about sustainable development programs.

A primary requirement for sustainability is the support and cooperation of the people or community involved. This would only come when a sense of ownership is felt by the community and there is active participation from both men and women.

A gender analysis of development policy and programs becomes critical in ensuring this, as it examines how these policies and programs might impact men and women differently; and how differences in men and women’s roles, responsibilities, priorities and access to resources could in turn affect their level of participation.

GSPOTpreethaABOUT ME: Well, at least the ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ part is realistic enough. And thanks to IDS, here is my first blogging endeavour!!!

G-Spots is a place where I put on my “purple” tinted glasses and talk about things that make me go ooooh, aaaah, yipee, yayyy, ughhh? hmmmm, grrrr , wtf and much more. I mull over, reflect on and engage with issues that have been significant in shaping my life and the situations I see around me everyday.

Here you can gander at the ‘genders’ – Yes, this is all about the G word and is closely related to the F word. And it plays out in invisible but definite ways all around us.

So while I will use this platform to say – Yes! Gender is for real and this is how it works – I will also reflect on how gender is surprisingly ( well, actually not so surprising !) invisible in the development world of policies and action, which is the field of study and work that I am engaged in. One might get to see a large part of who I am and what I believe in through my writings here, as I politicise my personal thoughts and experiences. But let me assure you, this is not a personal diary, so you will be spared from any dark secrets and confessions !

G(ender) – Spots is my journey around re-visiting and re-examining the world – and my life – from a feminist standpoint ; and an attempt to re-claim and re-experience those lost spaces and places !

READ MORE – FEMINISM seems to be the hardest word !


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