Gender, Development, and Technology: Feminist and Postcolonial Perspectives

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Geographic Perspectives on Women Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Organizers: Jade Sasser, Deepti Chatti
Chairs: Jade Sasser


This session explores gendered development interventions in the global South, focusing on the proliferation of technological innovations to solve inequitable gender relations. In particular, we are interested in the ways technologies and interventions are thought to be gendered, and the ways in which they actually produce and re-inscribe the gendered roles and power dynamics they claim to address. Feminist scholars have long demonstrated the ways gender inequality are deeply interlocked with issues such as poverty, unsustainable resource consumption, the spread of acute and chronic illnesses, and low access to educational attainment and income generation (Leach, et al. 2016). The underlying causes of unsustainable development, for example, are also drivers of gender inequality: uneven political-economic relations favoring neoliberal, market-led growth. However, this is often obscured in development narratives and interventions that reduce “gender” to “women”, to the exclusion of analyses of uneven power relations among and between genders. These interventions often derive from narratives fixing women in static, ahistorical relationship to their environments (Leach 2007); represent women alternately as victims or potential saviors of the planet, their families, and communities (Arora-Jonsson 2011); and reproduce essentialist discourses ascribing women’s identities and experiences to fixed, uniform traits (Resurrección 2013). Also obscured in development narratives are the underlying causes of environmental degradation when uneven power relations and inequitable resource allocations between different social groups are reduced to needing an apolitical technological solution (Blaikie 2016 [1985], Ferguson 1990). Analyzing how development discourses obscure power relations between various groups has been central to scholarship in political ecology, and more lately, feminist political ecology (Mollett and Faria 2013).

While robust theoretical conversations in geography have expanded our understanding of the multiple ways in which power hierarchies manifest in development-work in the global South, has much changed in the practice of development? Paradoxically, environmental and social justice concerns in the global South seem to be translated into development projects to expand energy or water access, or eradicate malnutrition, or provide birth control in ways that are reminiscent of older forms of development long criticized by geographers and anthropologists of development. Why do technological objects and technical practices remain at the heart of imagined socio-cultural, political, and environmental change, when they so often serve to re-inscribe the inequalities they claim to address, particularly with respect to gender? Do development efforts that call for “stakeholder inputs”, portray a reflexive sensibility, and call for a nuanced appreciation of racial, gendered, and class based power hierarchies have an effect on the way projects unfold on the ground? Do development buzzwords such as “participation”, “ empowerment”, and “poverty reduction” allow for the systemic and radical changes in power dynamics the discourses suggest (Cornwall & Brock 2004)? Why do problematic binaries such as traditional/modern, indigenous/scientific, and Western/non-Western persist in development praxis? And does the enduring use of terminology in contemporary international development projects like “technological improvement”, “technical transfer”, “capacity building”, “improved technologies”, and “gender empowerment” suggest the deliberate impotence of planned efforts? .

This session invites papers that examine gendered development discourses, interventions, and technologies in the global South through a critical lens. We are particularly eager to see papers that incorporate ethnographic approaches that: 1) Explore technologies that are explicitly gendered in their promotions - like improved cookstoves to empower women, or contraceptives that help women plan their families, or micro loans targeted for women customers; 2) Analyze gendered effects of technological interventions made in support of sustainable development goals - such as women’s enterprises spurred by rural electrification; and/or 3) Study organizations that have gendered social change as their explicit goal, and use technological interventions to achieve that goal

We particularly welcome papers taking a feminist political ecology approach to analyzing development in the context of environment and public health.

Please send abstracts of 250 words or less to Jade Sasser (jade.sasser[at] and Deepti Chatti (deepti.chatti[at] by Friday, October 19.


Seema Arora-Jonsson “Virtue and vulnerability: Discourses on women, gender and climate change.” Global Environmental Change 21 (2011): 744-751.

Blaikie, Piers. The political economy of soil erosion in developing countries. Routledge, 2016 (1985).

Cornwall, Andrea, and Karen Brock. “What do Buzzwords do for Development Policy? A Critical Look at “Poverty Reduction”, “Participation” and “Empowerment”. Prepared for the UNRISD conference on Social Knowledge and International Policy Making: Exploring the Linkages, Geneva, Switzerland. April 2004.

Ferguson, James. The anti-politics machine:'development', depoliticization and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. CUP Archive, 1990.

Leach, Melissa. “Earth mother myths and other ecofeminist fables: How a strategic notion rose and fell.” Development and Change 38 (2007): 67-85.

Leach, Melissa, Mehta, Lyla, and Preetha Prabhakaran. “Sustainable Development: A Gendered Pathways Approach.” in Leach, Melissa, ed. Gender Equality and Sustainable Development. New York, NY: Routledge. 2016.

Mollett, Sharlene, and Caroline Faria. "Messing with gender in feminist political ecology." Geoforum 45 (2013): 116-125.

Resurrección, Bernadette. “Persistent women and environment linkages in climate change and sustainable development agendas.” Women’s Studies International Forum 40 (2013): 33-43.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction Gregory Simon University of Colorado Denver 20 1:10 PM
Presenter Jade Sasser*, University of California - Riverside, Of Contraceptives and Cookstoves: Gendered Technologies as forms of “Empowerment" 20 1:30 PM
Presenter Deepti Chatti*, Yale University, What’s in a name? Troubling dichotomies underpinning energy access efforts in the Global South 20 1:50 PM
Presenter Stephanie Leder*, , Can Water Technologies Address a “Feminisation of Agriculture”? 20 2:10 PM

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