Panel 8

Equal rights but not quite: subalterns’ experiences and perceptions of gender equality policies and programs in Africa

Panel organiser: Asasira Simon Rwabyoma, University of Rwanda, Rwanda

E-mail of organiser:

Several African countries have embraced gender equality and gender mainstreaming as core principles in their national laws, policies and programs. Several non-government organizations are busy working in Africa in the same field, promoting women’s empowerment and, more recently, also men’s engagement. This, to a different extent according to the context considered, is usually said as having largely benefitted women, men, and the whole society, fostering general development and equality among citizens. However, not only are some women and men practically unable to exercise the formally given rights for different reasons (socio/cultural, economic, ethnic, among others) but new hierarchies and new forms of exclusion have been reinforced or created (sometimes intentionally, sometimes as a side effect) by the same programs and policies meant to support gender equality. While a lot of development assessment and quick consultancy work commissioned by government and non-government institutions focuses much on the concept of existing barriers to women’s empowerment, usually linked to pre-existing cultures and traditions and the concept of behavioral change, not much is done to identify either the emerging processes of production of new exclusions and their socio-political meaning or the experience of the subalterns in depth, in relation to the gender equality apparatus.

This panel welcomes therefore contributions that critically interrogate gender equality programs and policies in Africa by focusing both on the production of new gendered forms of exclusions by the actors promoting gender equality themselves and on the actual and context specific experiences of subalterns in relation to what is globally seen and advertised as gender-inclusive development. Contributors are also encouraged to explore possible innovations, approaches and practices that might stem from the subalterns’ experiences presented.

Approved abstracts Panel 8

1. Listening to the subalterns in Rwanda: Bottom-up gender perspective on development concepts

Author: Maja Ladić (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)

While interpreting development through post-colonial theories, this paper deals with gender dimension in development context in Rwanda. Taking bottom-up approach, which emphasises importance of good knowledge of the local context, the paper analyses two indexes that measure gender dimension of development, and tackles identified discrepancies and gaps. Assuming that development policies and strategies are successful only when they have positive effects also on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, this research focuses on the perspective of the identified subaltern group − house-girls in Rwanda. The paper presents discrepancies between the measures of indicators on which gender indexes are based, and the findings of the field research focused on the identified subaltern group. While gender indexes are too often taken at the face value by decision-makers, the paper draws attention to complexities of Rwandan society that remain overlooked.

2. Exploring “appropriation effects” in Rwanda’s gender policies

Author: Jenny Lorentzen (Lund University, Sweden & Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway)

This paper will explore the implementation of gender equality policies in Rwanda from an appropriation perspective, informed by theories about the localization and translation of global norms. Appropriation is understood as the “intentional reinterpretation of ideas across cultural, spatial and temporal contexts aimed at definitional power” and as such opens up for viewing different interpretations of gender equality norms by different Rwandan actors as serving specific political ends.

The aim of the paper is therefore to explore the political and societal outcomes and effects of such “appropriations”, and more specifically whether the Rwandan government’s “appropriations” of gender equality norms in their policies produce new gendered forms of exclusion. Due to the particular historical context and the close links between gender and the construction of national identity in Rwanda, competing appropriations of gender vocabulary may eventually end up as negotiations over the meaning of Rwandan national identity. The analysis must therefore also account for the links between the government’s appropriations of gender equality norms and its national identity imaginings, as well as between new gendered forms of exclusion and already existing patterns of exclusion and inclusion in Rwandan society. Because the appropriation perspective accounts for the power dynamics that are at play when norms travel, it should also be able to account for the power dynamics in the government’s promotion of gender policies in Rwanda.

The basis for the analysis will be already existing literature and a close reading and textual analysis of documents produced by Rwandan government institutions relating to its gender policies and their implementation (including national policies, strategic plans, and reports).

3. Resisting capitalist enclosures: How subaltern women transformed their conditions of subjectivities in West Acholi, northern Uganda?

Author: David R. Olanya (Gulu University, Uganda/ University of Antwerp, Belgium)

This contribution concentrates on how women as autonomous agents outside the state domain are engaged in praxis against capitalist enclosures. Resisting capitalist enclosures are observed in Amuru Sugar Works Project and conservation draws women into emancipatory politics to contest the new forms subjectivities. This papers examines women not only as victim of development, but as active participants in emancipatory politics against the oppressions of political subjectivities of development narratives. This paper further extends the debate on how the actions of discipline and punish dissents attracted the ferminization of resistance. The emergence of women as autonomous resisters against the enclosures of land and the common nature resulted into their engagement in politicized everyday resistance and horizontal forms of collaborative constituted subaltern resistance. Basin on an empirical case analyses in agriculture and conservation project, this contribution analyzes how resistance against capitalist powers transforms women engagement in the emancipatory politics of everyday resistance of naked protests in West Acholi. In doing so, this contribution open up the women’s strategies, discourses, tactics, experiences and contexts of how subaltern women represented themselves in emancipatory politics. Apart from resorting to naked politics, women in West Acholi portrayed their exclusion from the land they subsist on through discursive practices, creating collective consciousness through war songs and memories, making resistance more knowledge driven rather than being a mere practices being observed. This paper maps the expression of mainstream politics on women emancipatory politics – practices of being represented that undermine their autonomy to speak for themselves, represent them as not only as victims of development. Rather to transform their relations with capitalist power.

Key words: biopolitics, counter-conduct , politics, resistance, state

4. Fruits from the forest and the fields: blind spots and gendered discourses in Burkina Faso’s REDD+ program

Author: Lisa Westholm (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden)

This study analyses the local effects of global climate policy interventions in natural resource management. The study draws on an analysis of policy documents from Burkina Faso’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program, and data on natural resource use and management in two REDD+ villages. I start from the policy discourses that produce global climate mitigation schemes such as REDD+, as win-win solutions for forest conservation, poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. The proposed policies are juxtaposed with an intersectional analysis of local organisation around, and use of, tree products. The analysis shows how global policy discourses on women and forest product use produce blind spots which fail to take into account how social relations interact with the surrounding environment. These blind spots include the categorisation of all tree products as Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) although the most important ones are collected elsewhere, putting to doubt the potential for incentivising forest conservation. Further, in policy interventions aimed at empowering women and reducing inequalities, the assumption that women are a homogenous group, and the failure to recognise axes of social difference other than gender, such as ethnicity, risks leading to the marginalisation of certain groups.

5. New form of gendered exclusion in Rwanda: women in informal unions and access to land

Authors: Ilaria Buscaglia, Asasira Simon Rwabyoma, University of Rwanda, Rwanda

Rwanda is known worldwide for its commitment in promoting gender equality, which has become one of the government priorities after the genocide against the Tutsi. The national emphasis on women’s empowerment is the result of a national interpretation of global discourses, which represents one of the main narratives of inclusion on which the post-genocide governments has been built itself since 1994.

Being the economy mainly based on subsistence agriculture, land reforms have been considered one of the main strategies to promote gender inclusion in the economic development of the country. Although several new laws and programs have contributed to reshape rural femininities as "more equal to men" in access to land than before, some categories of women have been actually excluded from the right to land: mainly the women who are informally cohabiting with their spouses, either in monogamous or polygamous unions. The Rwandan Law only recognizes the civil marriage, leaving out all other forms of consensual unions, religious or traditional. The qualitative research conducted by our Centre, combining individual interviews and FGDs with rural women and men in consensual unions, and key-informant interviews at the local and national level, show that women living in such arrangements, with no secure right to land, are actually facing different level of exclusion and stigma that seem to be contradicting the national spirit of gender equality.
This paper explores the creation of new gendered moral and social hierarchies, and new form of subaltern and hegemonic rural femininities, at the intersection of discourses on gender inclusion and land at the global, national and local level.

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