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Gender relations, development practice and "culture".

  • Mukhopadhyay, M
Published Article
Gender and development
Publication Date
Feb 01, 1995
PMID: 12159816


Most development practitioners have the following preconceived notions about gender and culture: 1) that gender relations are equated with the most intimate aspects of society; 2) that culture and tradition are immutable; 3) that there is no independent resistance to subordination within the culture; and 4) that religion is culture. These notions interfere with work on developing equitable gender relations and complicate efforts to allocate resources in ways that redress the imbalance of power between men and women. The validity of these notions can be tested by analyzing an experience the author had in 1984 when she published a book on women and development in India. On a publicity tour in Liverpool, England, she addressed an audience composed largely of men from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. This audience attacked her book and defended an idealized version of the position of women in the culture of South Asia. They accused the author of being a traitor to her own culture and of being Westernized. A Pakistani woman member of the audience, however, thanked the author for her presentation and reported that she was working with Asian women facing domestic violence. The men understood the cultural identity of South Asia as being composed of identical families dedicated to mutual interest, love, and cooperation. However, this family unit requires the subsuming of women's interests. This myth of the family ignores real life experiences of women who suffer abuse and ignores the fact that the notion of "family" is constantly undergoing change. Development practitioners should use culture as a way of opening up intractable areas of gender relations rather than regarding it as a dead-end which prevents work towards equitable gender relations. A new definition of "cultural sensitivity" would be to acknowledge that contests surround the significance attached by a society to different aspects of social constraints and that these contests often represent challenges to hierarchical social relations.

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