Of Contraceptives and Cookstoves: Gendered Technologies as forms of “Empowerment"

Authors: Jade Sasser*, University of California - Riverside
Topics: Development, Gender
Keywords: Gender, technology, development, empowerment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper addresses the ways particular technologies come to be gendered through the discourses, policies, and everyday practices of international development. Specifically, I explore how development policy and program managers and other actors frame contraceptives and fuel efficient “improved” cookstoves as technologies designed for women’s empowerment, in contrast with the complex power relations through which these technologies are deployed by users. The concept of empowerment has long occupied a fraught position within Gender and Development (GAD), particularly as it moved from the context of grassroots women’s efforts to mobilize political power and into spaces of technology transfer and managerial control (Wilson 2015). Who is able to define “women’s empowerment” in development projects? How is this discursive terrain negotiated across multiple contexts and encounters? Do empowerment discourses cohere around the production and circulation of technologies marketed and distributed to women, or are they renegotiated and transformed? What happens to the unstable categories of gender and empowerment as technologies are taken up in uneven ways across multiple sites? To address these questions, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork within development institutions in the U.S. and Madagascar. The paper explores the contradictions between how development donors, policy actors, and program managers frame their expectations of “empowering” technologies in institutional spaces, and how these technologies are taken up in everyday practice by their target audiences. In doing so, it demonstrates how technologies ostensibly intended to shift everyday gendered household relations actually reinscribe static gender roles while obscuring more complex gendered power negotiations.

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