Talking Gender


A blog about gender, culture and organizational change

By Gender at Work Media / April 25, 2016 / Loading Disqus...

At a time when some corporate women leaders are advocating for their aspiring sisters to ‘lean in’ for a bigger piece of the existing pie, this book puts the spotlight on the deep structures of organizational culture that hold gender inequality in place. Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations makes a compelling case that transforming the unspoken, informal institutional norms that perpetuate gender inequality in organizations is key to achieving gender equitable outcomes for all. 

 The book is based on the authors’ interviews with 30 leaders who broke new ground on gender equality in organizations, international case studies crafted from consultations and organizational evaluations, and lessons from nearly fifteen years of experience of Gender at Work, a learning collaborative of 30 gender equality experts. From the Dalit women’s groups in India who fought structural discrimination in the largest ‘right to work’ program in the world, to the intrepid activists who challenged the powerful members of the UN Security Council to define mass rape as a tactic of war, the trajectories and analysis in this book will inspire readers to understand and chip away at the deep structures of gender discrimination in organizational policies, practices and outcomes. 

Designed for practitioners, policy makers, donors, students and researchers looking at gender, development and organizational change, this book offers readers a widely tested tool of analysis – the Gender at Work Analytical Framework – to assess the often invisible structures of gender bias in organizations and to map desired strategies and change processes.

By Gender at Work Media / October 16, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

Feminists in Development Organizations: Change from the margins
Edited by Rosalind Eyben and Laura Turquet

The book launch is on 20 October, 2014 | 2 - 3 pm | George Washington University | Marvin Center, Room 403, 800, 21st St NW

Feminist Bureaucrats - Contradiction, Co-optation or Political Strategy?
You are warmly invited to participate in debating this question with a panel of speakers to launch the book. Join us to discuss the hidden lives and strategic dilemmas of feminists working in bureaucracies to effect transformational change. Buy the book here.

Panelists: Editors / Contributors Professor Rosalind Eyben, University of Sussex; Laura Turquet, UN Women; and Aruna Rao, Gender at Work
Lucia Hanmer, World Bank
Mohini Malhotra
Chaired by Dr Mary Ellsberg, Director, Global Women's Institute


More about the book from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) website:

Feminists in Development Organizations arises from a collaborative project between 2007 and 2012 in which a group of feminists working inside the head offices of multilateral organizations, government aid agencies and international non-governmental organizations came together to critically reflect on their work.

The personal stories in this book show that these feminists are ‘tempered radicals’ positioned on the border of the development agencies that employ them. It is a place where they are neither fully one thing nor another: neither fully paid-up, pen-pushing bureaucrats, nor full-blown feminist activists on the barricades. Nevertheless, feminist bureaucrats see their work as urgent, essential and a necessary contribution to global efforts to achieve women’s rights.

This book reflects on the progress of gender mainstreaming. It shows how feminists can build effective strategies to influence development organizations to foster greater understanding and forge more effective alliances for social change. This book is aimed at staff of development organizations - who want their organizations to become an instrument in helping transforming the lives of women – and at students and researchers concerned with the politics of gender mainstreaming.

By Gender at Work Media / August 8, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

How can international aid professionals manage to deal with the daily dilemmas of working for the wellbeing of people in countries other than their own? This is the question scholar and activist Rosalind Eyben takes on in her new book titled International Aid and the Making of a Better World (Routledge). A lifelong development practitioner, Eyben has looked at her experiences with aid-recipient countries, head office and global policy spaces, to critically examine her own behaviour, and in so doing, encourages us all to do the same. Packed with vignettes, stories and dialogue, this book urges anyone working in development to adopt the habit of reflexivity when helping to make a better world.

We chatted with Eyben about the book and her writing process:

Tell us about the writing process. What triggered the idea of the book? How long did it take to write? Was some of it already written earlier, in different forms perhaps?

The book had a long gestation! The idea first came to me when working for the UK Government’s aid programme in Bolivia and Peru from 2000 to 2002. I got no further than a page of jottings and a possible title. When I moved to the Institute of Development Studies, I wrote a couple of papers on the gift and power theme. One of them jointly written with Rosario León, a Bolivian development professional, is a narrative in two voices. We separately reflect on our experience in a shared enterprise and this approach to a chapter in an academic book encouraged me to continue experimenting. Though it is academically grounded, I hope that the stories, conversations and photographs in this book make it an easy read. As a colleague, Rosario helped me recognize how power works in relationships. It was not just a matter of being self-aware of my own power as a senior official. There is also invisible power exercised through the internalisation of norms and beliefs about how the world should be, which limits the possibilities of relationships.

In 2006, for a paper at a conference on ‘Development People: Professional Identities and Social Lives’, I decided to use my own life as a case study. I turned to Andrea Cornwall for advice. She helped me think about ‘stepping stones’ or nodal moments when I became aware of some significant change in my understanding of myself and the society in which I found myself. These helped make sense of my life as I recovered memories and spun them into a narrative.

I am passionately interested in how each of us is shaped by the historical moment into which we are born and how we contribute to shaping the history that the next generation is born into. I asked four women friends of similar age and professional experience--‘fellow travellers’—to reflect with me on their life experience. All five of us—and many others of our age working in development—were shaped by and contributed to two great emancipatory moments—the end of colonialism and the second wave of feminism. Otherwise privileged by class and race collective, our relative marginalisation as women professionals helped us recognize there was more than one way to seeing the world. By 2009 I was ready to invite critical feedback on my first draft from friends and colleagues who asked ‘who is the book for?’ And ‘what is its purpose?’ I wrote a note to myself:

I aim for my book to be good read, it should attend to the “nodal moments” of my life in relation to international aid and aid practice and thereby enable the reader insight or understanding both into myself as aid practitioner and make the link between biography and history that Mills described as the sociological imagination. The book should reveal a lively and critical self-awareness; it should tell a recognizable story and portray character development in the face of serious issues within a complex setting and should offer a new perspective on trying to make a better world. On this basis, in 2010, I made a new outline and started afresh.

What were some of the emotional processes and challenges you faced while writing the book? Were there memories that surfaced, experiences you relived again?

Much of the impetus for the book derives from an emotional need to come to grips with what I saw as my parents’ betrayal of the truth when in pursuit of social justice. Their state of denial about this resonated strongly with respect to my own international aid practice. Not owning up to what I know—and therefore failing to ask myself what I should do with that knowledge—has blocked my efforts to help make a better world. My fellow travellers gave me back some of the funnier memories. Catherine reminded me of absurd dinner parties in Khartoum where there was little choice of food and ‘we had to wipe the sand off our nice china plates’. I also had to confront some things I hadn’t forgotten but didn’t want to remember.

In 1972, three months before submitting my doctoral thesis based on fieldwork in a community in Burundi, I learnt that many of the people I had got to know there had been murdered by the government as part of a nation-wide repressive response to an attempted coup. My thesis felt pointless. I did not know how to process this horror and like an undigested meal it has remained a hard lump within me. I found it impossible to write about it in the first draft of the book so two years ago I asked my daughter Karin to accompany me on a visit to Burundi as an Action Aid trustee. (Karin has worked for twenty years in Northern Ireland helping local communities work across sectarian divides). In Burundi we met an amazing woman, Maggy Barankitse. In her work to sustain the fragile peace the country has recently achieved, Maggy insists that the terrible memories everyone in the country carries with them should be openly discussed and confronted. Having killed each other, she says, we the living, have a duty to stop such terror happening again in the future. Maggy taught me that reflexive practice for a better future means being responsible for talking with each other about the pain and difficulties of the past we would rather sweep under the carpet. Remembering and forgetting are inter-linked processes.

In Chapter Three, I describe how I took advantage of my whiteness to barge my way to the head of a queue in a Kinshasa hospital to give my child’s life priority over the lives of other women’s children. It seemed then a perfectly normal thing to do. Almost, but not quite normal, otherwise I would not have remembered it. It was however difficult to write about it.

Also painful to remember are professional dilemmas. Chapter Eight includes an account of how I failed a young woman in northern Ghana when she asked me to help her escape from a forced marriage. Did I make the wrong decision? I use this and other incidences to encourage my readers to remember and then debate with themselves or with their friends the difficult dilemmas they also have experienced.

This is a book that calls for reflexivity and self-criticality. How much of that do you think is currently practiced? How hard will it be for people to pick up the book and put these concepts into practice—will it take a considerable degree of personal transformation on their parts?

Coming late to reflexive practice, I have written this book because I wish something like it could have been available when I first became involved in development. I understand reflexivity as a practice that both identifies the tacit assumptions I make about the world and then turns the lens back upon myself, enquiring into what is it about me—the interplay of history and my life story—that has generated such assumptions and what is it I am hiding from myself. This book is the story of how I learned, to the degree that I did. Reflexive practice is always work in progress. I have particularly benefited from the mutual learning with the reflexive practitioners whose research I had the privilege of supervising during their studies for a Master’s degree on participation, power and social change. The book includes some of their reflections.

One student wrote about how tiring the process of self-scrutiny was. She felt ’naked’. But she gradually realised the positive effect it was having on her professional work and relationships. She also found that sharing her stories of change deepened her reflexive enquiry. And sharing may encourage others in learning to navigate a path through the contradictions of making a better world.

Rosalind Eyben has recently retired as Professorial Fellow in the Participation, Power at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) where her interest focused on power and relations in the international aid system; where she convened the global policy programme of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Consortium 2011; and afterwards developed a new area of work on why and how unpaid care remains invisible in the world of development policy. She was founder and co-convenor of the Big Push Forward, an international initiative that unpacks the international aid system’s politics of results and evidence. She previously worked as a development practitioner in Africa and Asia. Among her other books is Feminists in Development Organizations (2013) co- edited with Laura Turquet, and Relationships for Aid (2006).

Earlier this year, Women Unlimited published feminist scholar Srilatha Batliwala’s Engaging with Empowerment – An Intellectual and Experiential Journey which brings together her key writings of the last twenty years. In the book, Batliwala traces the transformation empowerment has undergone since the 1980s, analyzing why and how the concept has been depoliticized and diminished by the state and aid agencies.

In her response to the book published in OpenDemocracy, Andrea Cornwall said the book reaffirms that empowerment is more than just a development buzzword. It brings alive the purpose of empowerment through stories of change. "Srilatha Batliwala’s Engaging with Empowerment – An Intellectual and Experiential Journey tells stories about how change happens in women’s lives that reclaim and reaffirm an approach to empowerment that looks and acts very differently. And it is a reminder that these ways of thinking about and doing feminist empowerment work are far from buried in the past: they are just obscured from view, like the hidden pathways that are changing women’s lives that may be missed by those who travel on development’s motorways," says Cornwall.  

We took this opportunity to chat briefly with Srilatha Batliwala about the book and the writing process.   

1. When did you first start thinking about writing this book? Was there an incident or a trigger that made you decide to write it? 

The idea for the book was born on January 24, 2010, at a dinner before the Bangalore launch of Palestinian author Suad Amiry’s second book, “Menopausal Palestine.” My dear friend and noted feminist journalist Ammu Joseph, and Ritu Menon, founder of Women Unlimited (an imprint of Kali for Women), proposed that it was high time I put together my key writing on women’s empowerment and related issues, produced over the past twenty years, into one volume. I was sceptical at first – I didn’t think there would be much interest or demand for such a volume, and that some of my earlier work on the subject was outdated. But they insisted I was wrong, that many people were still using some of these pieces because they were still relevant, and that the volume would have a lot of value for many people trying to understand and work on women’s empowerment, movement building, and so forth. So I decided to do it! 

2. Tell us about the writing process. What was it like for you to revisit your experiences and pull them all together?  

It’s important to emphasise that the only original writing that I did for this book was the introductory and concluding chapters, and the introductions to each of the three parts of the book – the main chapters are all articles, concept papers and such that I had written much earlier, starting with a piece “Why I am a Feminist” that was written in 1986! But I greatly enjoyed writing these prefatory pieces… Ritu encouraged me to use these as spaces to reflect on the context I was in when the various articles in each section were written, and to talk freely about the people and experiences that influenced my thinking at that time, and what and who these pieces aimed at and impacted in some way. This allowed me to bring the personal and subjective into the book – to bring myself in – rather than restricting myself to academic analysis or intellectual distance. Many readers have told me that they have greatly enjoyed these introductory pieces, some even more than the main articles.  

3. Who are you hoping will read the book and how would you like it to affect them? 

I think the book is useful for a wide variety of audiences, but especially for activists, academics and donor agencies concerned about gender inequality and other forms of social exclusion, and about how to organise and empower marginalised people, whether they are women or not. I have generally written for activists – trying to push activism to be more analytical, more informed by theory; but on occasion, I have also written for academics, where I have tried to push theory to be more responsive to practice, to ground realities. In reality, though, I have been surprised to find a lot of the writing I have done for activists being prescribed and used in the academy, as part of courses on gender/women’s studies, development studies, public policy, social movements, civil society, and international relations. So I hope that a diversity of readers interested in social change processes will read it and find it informative. I wish, though, that the many hundreds of grassroots women I’ve worked with, who inspired so many of the ideas in the book, could also read it. Maybe some day some of them – or their children or grandchildren – will! 

'Engaging with Empowerment - An Intellectual and Experiential Journey', is available from Scholars without Borders.


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