Saturday, October 23, 2010

Questions of Masculinities in Development

Nairobi National Museum
I must confess that I cannot take the questions of masculinities in development contexts without cynicism. Part of the cynicism arises from having to experience masculine hegemony in different garbs everywhere and almost all the time. It’s presence can be felt everywhere, in every aspect of life. Academic institutions and workplaces are a reminder of masculization and feminization of disciplines and policies and practices set by men. Even the development and interdisciplinary courses are affected by it. It is not often that one can find a male academic teaching or supervising a gender studies programme or research and segregated and token existence of gender in development and policy based courses is another reminder of gender being ‘women’s burden’ and development being a ‘man’s job’. A close review of the reading list for a course on Masculinities in any academic institution is yet another reminder that women theorists not only have to analyze subjugation and systemic disadvantageous position of people other than men but also have to take up the responsibility of clarifying why men are what they are and how they could be saved from being ‘men in crisis’ ‘whose traditional bases of power and identify in family units are being undermined by changes in the labour market, and by legislative and policy initiatives in women's interests’ (Chant 2000).

The practice of living with perpetual social, organizational and (sometimes) self impositions to be cautious in my approach to men, to be careful not to rock the boat, not to push ‘men in crisis’ (Chant, 2000) should have made me accept the question without problematizing it. It hasn’t. The questions, eg, why development is not paying attention to masculinities, me should not be left behind, etc, are a reminder of: (1) An assumption that so far, all development has indeed been carried out from a feminist perspective, (2) an accusation based on a presumption that decisionmaking in development policy and practice has been vested in women who regard men as obstacles to women’s well-being and consequently development policymakers and practitioners have conflated women and gender, (3) a belief that development theory, policy and practice cannot transcend the male/female or masculine/feminine binaries, and (4) a demand that development programmes should not only do gender analysis, they must also induce psychoanalytic thinking among men to help them overcome restrictive stereotypes and understand implications of hegemonic masculinity on themselves. It seems that this demand carries a presumption that ‘all men desperately wish to emulate particular styles of being a man and it is their frustration with their inability to achieve this that drives them into ‘behaving badly’’ (Cornwall, 1998, a).

Notwithstanding my cynicism, I feel that giving it attention would be useful in so far as it shares the promise to move beyond the token gains of ‘Women in Development’* (WID) to: (1) ‘Gender and Development’ (GAD) approach to understand women in relation to men and the way in which relations between these categories are socio-historically constructed (Kabeer 1994, Moser 1993, Razavi and Miller 1995), (2) the need to shift increasingly towards the heterogeneity of women and men as categories since caste, class, culture, religion, race, age and ethnicity are some of the categories which intersect gender to give women and men multiple identities and result in multiple realities, and (3) look critically at the issue of gender identities in order to address the silence of gender policy and practice on the abuse and marginalization faced by those who challenge sex/gender stereotypes.

I will now give a brief overview of the arguments which support mainstreaming of men into development and explore specific sectors and contexts within development policy and practice where attention to masculinities has impacted or could impact.

Nairobi National Museum
Within GAD paradigm, men are being implicated rather than explicitly addressed in development work focusing on gender inequalities. Men are hardly visible in GAD policy. And where they are it is often as instruments to reach the development programmes to women. Since 1980s, GAD theory began recognizing the need to examine men’s responsibility for women’s disadvantage and men’s role in redressing gender inequalities. Yet it is relatively recently that the debates on economic and social policy have begun to analyze ‘men’s gender identity’, and their roles in the private sphere (Folbre 1994 in Sweetman 2000 a). It is argued that that by focusing on men and masculinity, development programmes can forge men’s relationship with the process to change gender inequalities. This view is supported by some from an equality and social justice point of view, that is, men as well as women may be disadvantaged by social and economic structures and that they both have the right to live free from poverty and repression. This view contends that empowerment processes should enable women and men to be liberated from stereotyped gender roles (Cleaver, 2000). Another aspect of this view suggests that masculinity renders gender visible to men. It can help men see how gender inequalities are produced and distributed between and within the two gender categories. In other words, examination of the ‘politics of masculinity’ (Connel, 1995 a) offers an opportunity to rethink men’s strategic interests in challenging the values and practices that create gender hierarchy.

Development research and GAD practice like GAD policy, has lagged behind GAD theory. Partly because of development organizations’ reluctance to ‘effectively’ change gender relations and their tendency to fall in the ‘public-private’ dichotomy, to ‘side-step uncomfortable issues like ‘interfering’ in relations between men and women within the household’ (Varley 1996 in Sweetman 2000 b).

The recent discourses on masculinities have highlighted integration of the Western constructs and assumptions of masculinity in the development work in the Southern countries and paved the way for ‘localized solutions’ rooted in ‘indigenous contexts’. The Western models of male stereotypes, like, male ‘breadwinner’ or ‘head of the family’ valourized a particular kind of masculinity. In many Indian contexts, such valourization further conjured and supported the notions of purush-paurasharth/mard-mardanagi** or man-manliness. This valourized form of Indo-Western masculinity could be used to highlight the marginality and powerlessness of some men – in relation to some women as well as to other men. Dalit*** rights work and specific campaigns within dalit rights framework, like, mass movements to protest forced sterilization of dalits and Muslims, both men and women, during the tenure of India’s only women Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi (Rahman, 2000), are examples of the work, which have been taken up by development organizations, to address marginality and powerlessness of some men. However, this kind of work by development organizations has been more of an unconscious fallout of dalit rights work rather than an outcome of specific attention to dalit men’s marginality against men from upper castes. Also, neither dalit movement nor any other mass advocacy and mobilization work in India challenged the male stereotypes. It also did not address the realities of ‘male privilege’ of the marginalized and powerless men in relation to women (read Omvedt, 1995 to see how this issue surfaces in dalit contexts).

Similarly, the discourses on masculinity also reveal the fact that wherever men have been involved in gender based development work as beneficiaries their involvement has also been limited to stereotypical casts in certain sectors, eg, as biological procreators, intercourse initiators, providers and protectors in sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, education, etc. To quote Cornwall, ‘Yet quite how that involvement is cast, and quite how 'men' are represented in these initiatives, remains in itself something that we need to examine more closely … ’ (Cornwall, 1998 b).

Nairobi National Museum
Attention to hegemonic masculinity has made evident that men are not necessarily absent as beneficiaries even if a development programme is targeted only at women. Discourses and research around feminization of debt arising out of microfinance interventions suggest that often men have been beneficiaries (FitzGibbon 2002). Confronted with situations where leadership and/or benefits of ‘women only’ interventions have been usurped by men, some development practiceners, not yet the policymakers, have started improvizing programmes to address such challenges. However, significant impact of this understanding is dependent upon organizational willingness and capacities to take their programmes out of vacuum and to address the issues arising from the contexts in which the programmes are located. Directly addressing hegemonic masculinity would create opportunities to address issues of gender equality. For example, an understanding of unequal interdependency between women and men could lead to development of strategies to deal with the issue of double burden of women which result from participatory development (Dawson, 1999) or women’s income generation/livelihoods programmes. From this angle, it is essential to facilitate changes in men’s behaviour to effect positive changes in women’s position. And why just men, even in the practice of hegemonic masculinity by some women because ‘as a set of values, masculinity is available to women as well as men’ (White, 2000 a).

One of the sectors where impact of attention to masculinities is slowly becoming obvious is population and family planning. Development communication is now offering the ‘joys of fatherhood’ to men! Not yet a trend, it shows implicit understanding that ‘the ways fatherhood is experienced by individual men varies according to precedents and traditions set by wider society, current social and economic conditions, and by the dynamics of particular families and the individuals within them’ (White, 2000 b). This development comes from an attempt to recast hegemonic masculinity from an unfeeling and absent biological and economic fatherhood to ‘social fatherhood’ (Engle, 2000) – an attempt induced by the feminist demand to re-adjust the sexual division of labour and by changes in family systems due to urbanization, economic constraints, etc.

The recasting processes have received support from the nonformal education sector. This sector pays attention to masculinity and challenges gender roles within male/female binary. For example, Connell talks about the development of gender specific and gender relevant programmes on masculinity by educators in the industrialized world. The former is developed keeping either boys or girls in mind. The latter is meant for both boys and girls and attempt to thematize the gender dimension in social life and education. Connell regards gender relevant masculinity programmes more useful in redefinition and recasting of masculinities (Connell, 2000 b). In India, some organizations engage in gender analysis, use a pedagogy, which is a combination of experiential and locally produced teaching-learning texts, and pay attention to the curriculum to make education gender responsive. However, these initiatives are still very small and have not really impacted the education sector in a significant way.

Nairobi National Museum
The discourses on masculinity, wherever it has been done in conjunction with caste, class, culture, religion, race, age and ethnicity, has been successful in bringing forth the ‘politics of representation’ – in law, history, society, governance, etc. The current trend of training women to contest Panchayati Raj**** elections in India thrives on the interpretation of and opposition to hegemonic masculinity. The trainings being given by international, national and local nonprofit development organizations (NGOs) rationalize the intervention by contrasting irresponsible male politicians who are perpetrators of sexual and gender violence, engage in corruption, etc with women as honest, cooperative, community-minded, and caring persons. Such interventions use negative stereotypes of men and masculinity in relational subject positions who are associated with oppressive power.

These discourses, to some extent, have forced the development organizations to look at the those who are rendered residual by the conventional interpretation of ‘man’ – hegemonic and heterosexual. Often their powerlessness and marginalization is shaped by the lack of representation. The ‘politics of representation’ allows the powerful to represent what they consider as constituents of culture, history, etc and exclude those who are on the fringes, like hijras*****, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people (Narrain, 2003). The responses of the development organizations to issues of identity and representation of sexual minorities have been cautious but also leading to an awareness of the need for diversity. Solidarity with the demand for the right to sexual identity and incorporation of the principle of diversity in employment policies are examples of this response. The impact is relatively more visible in HIV/AIDS work. There has been growing pressure on policymakers and practiceners working on HIV/AIDS to consider gender issues such as vulnerabilities of women and men and power equations in the relationships in the intervention and impact assessment. To some extent, it has made the practiceners aware of specific vulnerabilities such as: (1) Norms of masculinity prevent men, specially young men from seeking information on safe sex (UNAIDS 1999 a), (2) Linkages between social position, number of sexual partners and sexual ego render messages demanding restraint and fidelity in sexual relationship banal, and (3) notions of heterosexual masculinity create a fear of stigma among those practicing men to men sex or bisexuality and forces them to keep their sexual identity secret and hence increases vulnerabilities (UNAIDS 1999 b). Overall, the awareness has made HIV/AIDS interventions accessible to those who do not conform to conventional sexual identities yet it cannot be said that the awareness has fundamentally changed the HIV/AIDS programme strategies. The messages remain largely moralistic, gender insensitive and direct intervention remains condom-centric.

The emergence of masculinities as a field of study owes a lot to the feminist movement and its struggle to end violence against women (VAW). The understanding of the dual involvement of men in VAW – as perpetrators as well as agents who could stop VAW is one of early outcomes of lending attention to hegemonic masculinity. In the USA, the understanding resulted in alliances between feminists and profeminist consciousness raising groups of men (Clatterbaugh, 1997). Such alliances, however, did not become a consistent practice. Development organizations working within the paradigm of GAD accept explanations of VAW which link social construction of masculinities, gender inequality and violence more readily than constructions of masculinity based on biological determinism or psychological essentialism. Such explanations imply that since violent masculinity – as a means to control women and to maintain gender inequalities in various spheres is a learned behaviour and, therefore, it is possible to unlearn it. One of the major reasons for insignificant involvement of men in anti-VAW work, specially in the ‘private sphere’, is due to the huge scale of the violence and the limited resources available for its eradication. But the efforts to give maximum benefits to survivors alone may unwittingly promote the idea that violence is a ‘women’s issue’ (Wood and Jewkes, 2000). What could be derived from this opinion and feminist experience with male support groups and profeminist men is that it is not sufficient to involve profeminist men as supporters and to deliver services to survivors. There is a need to engage with male perpetrators (as well as potential perpetrators) and to recognize the contexts of the violence in order to change attitudes and practices of violent masculinities.

The arguments for strategic partnerships with men and the national and international ‘development politics’ in World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 resulted in considerable demands for mainstreaming gender concerns. This period is also marked by a shift in the approach of the feminists and development organizations towards the state agencies. It became more collaborative and necessitated a ‘sense-making’ and nonconfrontational definition of gender mainstreaming to enable important state agencies like law, judiciary, police, planning departments and other institutions to accept key feminist expectations, like, ‘substantive equality in place of formal equality’ (Baruah, 1999). The shift also resulted in ‘gendering of the demand for gender mainstreaming’, that is, examination of men’s needs. It led to a demand on the state and nonstate (including development and humanitarian) agencies to formulate and implement policies targeted at the wellbeing of the families of those working with them and at the transformation of the division of labour at home to make it more equal. The mainstreaming agenda included reconstitution of certain systems, demands for new provisions and transformation of the development programmes in view of the work being done by women in the ‘private sphere’ and recognition of men’s right and responsibility to contribute equally to the private sphere. The mainstreaming is gradually becoming visible in terms of provisions like paternity leave alongside maternity leave, childcare at the workplace, etc.

To sum up, even within GAD paradigm, it is not always possible for the development field to give substantial attention to the issues of sexual/gender identities because of development policy’s preoccupation with the practical outcomes, measurable impacts and rigidly defined indicators. The demand to deliver practical programmes often means measuring applicability of theoretical issues from the lenses of prevailing notions of gender. There is also a tendency to shy away from programmatic propositions likely to challenge gender norms out of fear of community reprisal. It is also important to remember that gender related programmatic work within development field is beings done mainly by women. Representation of gender issues, specially masculinities by them are not always taken without resentment and their intentions in asking to stop thinking in binary opposites are often seen as a convoluted plan of feminists to endanger the culture. It is challenging for gender activists working in the development organizations as they have a task of balancing the constraints, which their organizations face and gender equality aspirations and goals they identify with. Any changes, such as cuts in the resources, often entail a loss of commitment of gender rights. For example, resource crunch or changes in the political context may endanger a gender sensitive emergency response or may result in implementation of a relief programme which sees gender related work as an optional add-on (Brayer, 1999). More involvement of men in delivering gender based programmes and more women in emergency relief, livelihoods, governance programmes and inclusion of marginalized gender identities in policymaking may help address some of the problems. Attention to masculinities without abandoning fundamental feminist concerns with women’s rights is, in a way, helping in understanding and explaining inequality to larger audiences and making an argument for changing the focus of the masculinity – from oppressive to humane.

* WID resulted in institution of gender bureaus/desks/sections in the UN, other international and national bodies. However, its output amounted to symbolic politics and little concrete achievements (Kabeer, 1994).
** The ideal purush/mard is described as the creator, provider, and protector. Adjectives, such as, ‘purushottam’/’sachcha-mard’ or the man who is unparalleled, ‘paurush’/’mardanagi’ or courage, and ‘purusharth’/’mardaneeyat’ or the trait of being effort oriented are used to express attributes of purush.
*** Broken or oppressed people who have been denied human dignity and rights.
**** A three-tier local governance system in which 33% seats are reserved for women.
***** Eunuch – usually a castrated person, known also as India’s ‘third gender’

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