Putting emotions in the picture


Alexandra Wanjiku KelbertA Kelbert photo

When I started working on the ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ project, I was faced with the task of reading day after day stories of people’s experiences of food price volatility. Having worked in development for a few years, I realise that at times I find myself detaching myself emotionally from what it is I’m working on. Even so, after a few weeks of going through transcripts dealing with very real and tangible facts, one transcript made it impossible for me to stay detached.

bowl of foodIn Bangladesh, the southern district of Khulna was hit by cyclone Aila in 2009. Agricultural lands were flooded by the tidal wave and many people lost everything. A fifty-year-old man, President of a local market committee gave a very vivid account of what poverty and changing prices meant to him.

He explained that clothes were now ‘too precious’. The price of saris (traditional clothing for women) has increased. Besides, wearing a sari entails additional costs, such as the blouse and petticoat that go with it. For that reason, his wife now wears a maxi (a long dress) instead of a sari as it has become comparatively cheaper (despite rising tailoring costs for maxis). He says: ’My wife feels shy to go to different social functions like wedding ceremonies wearing torn old clothes. She tries her best to avoid such functions’.

The entire transcript transpired of the sadness of an older man who, in his own words, could not ‘think himself as a reputable person in the society as he used to think previously, which causes a lot of disappointment in him’.

So why did this story in particular strike me the way it did? Maybe it is to do with the fact that part of the aim of the project ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ is to make big words and concepts like ‘poverty’ or ‘hunger’, tangible to policy-makers and people who, like me, most certainly will never have experienced either. If it’s difficult for a young development practitioner in London to relate to ideas of ‘hunger’, talking about shame and the inability to interact with your environment because of the clothes you wear feels less abstract. I couldn’t construct those little barriers that make it easier to deal with what can often be a very harsh reality.

But another reason why that story in particular stuck in my mind is that it made me angry. That man could ‘cope’, no doubt about that. And so could all the people that due to the increase in volatility and unpredictability of prices, have had to, or rather, made the rational decision to switch to ‘less favoured food’. By choosing cheaper alternatives, all those people had become shining examples of resilient development subjects.damaged eggs

But behind big words like ‘coping’ and ‘resilience’ is a reality based on emotions, psychological aspects and deeply felt personal impacts. This man told a different, unfiltered story, a story of the body and of shame.

When people switch to less preferred clothing or eat food they find ‘disgusting’, they might be making a rational decision, but it is often one which huge emotional impacts.

The problem with emotions is that we can’t measure them. And all too often in development, what cannot be measure tends to go unnoticed or unaddressed (think reproductive freedom). Yet emotions, or the way people feel, are a huge part of the picture.

What we need is more work like what we are trying to do in this project, i.e. work that brings the ‘human’, the ‘body’ and emotions like shame (but also pleasure and happiness) back in the picture.

Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert is an MA graduate in Development Studies at IDS. She is currently works with Naomi Hossain on the ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ project, a collaborative project between the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and Oxfam.

‘Share an idea so that you and I can change tomorrow’


Lisa Van Dijk

This post previously appeared on 7 February 2013 on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

لقراءة النسخة العربية من لهذا المقال يرجى الضغط هنا

Young people’s participation in planning and decision-making.

Young people in Egypt have been credited with igniting the fundamental change process demanding a more inclusive government which is responsive to their needs and aspirations. However many youth living in poor and informal areas are facing double marginalization. Apart from their existing level of poverty, they are facing a lack of opportunities, social exclusion and often there is an ingrained lack of trust towards the local administration. The Center for Development Services (CDS)  is working with young people across Egypt to build the capacity of the youth to implement community initiatives and enable them to actively participate in the planning and decision-making processes at the local level.

Introducing graffiti as a research toolYouth PARTICIPATE is a research initiative within the Participate initiative which facilitates a process whereby youth groups provide a reflection of the reality under which they and their community live as a basis for their action. This youth-centered participatory action research is aimed to engaging youth and their peers in research to create positive social change. While we will be documenting and sharing the results of the initial assessment phase with the Beyond 2015 Participate Research group, the youth groups will use this inquiry to decide on community interventions in their communities and start a process of reflection and action.

Sharek  (Participate Song)

Share an idea so that you and I can change tomorrow
Come, and give your hand, so that you would not regret
Join us and say it out loud, and let’s change the mindsets
Come and let’s make us towards the road of change and love
It is a call for him, her and me! Let’s all dream for the days to come
Dream to see our country changing, and never surrender to reality or fate
Do you have an idea? Say it! Express it! And quit saying “I can’t”
Share an idea so that you and I can change tomorrow

(Song translated from Arabic, ‘Sharek’  means participate, contribute or share).

Young people and facilitatorsAn initial workshop took place in Cairo where 35 youth researchers from urban informal slum and rural areas came together to share and discuss their research questions and develop an initial plan for their inquiry.

The youth were supported to use visual art research tools such as graffiti, participatory videoing and photography, and to think through how to make use of these tools in expressing themselves and to draw the research findings from the community. During the workshop young (peer) art facilitators worked with the youth research groups to introduce the art forms. The art facilitators will support the youth groups in the use of the different art research tools while doing their research. In this workshop the youth researchers developed a research slogan and song to motivate themselves and mobilise the communities interest in what they are doing.

‘Share an idea so that you and I can change tomorrow.’

Currently the youth groups are conducting the research in their communities. A reflection workshop has taken place in the first week of March to bring together all the art work developed and reflect on the peer and community discussions around the art work. The reflection is forming the basis for the youth led initiatives to promote social inclusion and civic Video making as research toolparticipation. During the reflection workshop we were working with a youth network called Whats Up Youth. We would like to the share art tools produced through their WUPY social cafe, a social online forum for youth, to get input from youth all over the country and feed this into the reflection.

Lisa Van Dijk is a partner researcher working on the Participate initiative, based at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS

On International Women’s Day: a tribute to the men who risk their lives for gender justice


Mariz TadrosMariz Tadros photo mini

It may seem odd – almost offensive- to some to pay tribute to men on international women’s day. Ironically though, the more reactionary, the more intense the backlash against women’s rights, the greater the need to pay tribute to the men who stand up in opposition, who choose to be positive deviants and who even put their lives at risk to support a more humane society.

The so-called Arab Spring countries, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have been experiencing one of the worst backlashes against women’s rights in modern history. The modicum of rights vary greatly from one country to another, Tunisia for example surpassing many European countries in the rights that had been secured previously, Yemen being very far behind, and Egypt somewhat in the middle. Such rights are now jeopardized by Western supported regimes complicit in creating a culture of impunity against those who assault women in the name of religion. In Egypt and Tunisia, there have been frequent verbal and physical assaults on women who have gone out to protest to demand that their rights be protected and upheld. One month after the ousting of President Mubarak, in commemoration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2011, women organised a protest in Tahrir Square, reminding the public of the role they played in the revolution and that the words ‘bread, freedom and social justice/human dignity’ applies to women’s rights too. They were spat upon, sexually molested and told to go home. A larger crowd appeared on Women’s Day on 8 March 2012, and again they were subjected to the same treatment, with more cases of sexual molestation being reported.

This year a large march is also planned to take part to Tahrir Square starting 1pm GMT, with the participation of women’s organisations, coalitions, youth revolutionary groups and political parties. Yet the main preoccupation of the organisers for the past few weeks has been how to protect the citizens who participate in the march from being subjected to physical and sexual violence. Memories of the sexual and physical violence which protestors experienced on 25 January 2013 are still fresh in everyone’s memory. There are at least 25 cases of women who were sexually assaulted on that day, some to the point of sexual torture with the use of knives and cutters.

Whose responsibility is it to protect Tahrir Square from such politically motivated assaults? The government won’t do it and members of the ruling Freedom and Justice party have openly blamed women for going out to protest in the first place – and they have blamed the organisers of protests for failing to secure the protection of women (as if safe streets and squares was not the responsibility of the state).

It is in this context that I would like to pay special tribute to the men who have decided to join the women’s march today. They are putting their lives at risk for the sake of showing support for gender justice. Let us recall that in previous instances when women were subjected by organised groups to politically motivated sexual assault, many men had sought to intervene to save the women from the sustained acts of stripping and molesting and raping them that had gone on for sometimes hours. Some had received blows to their heads, been stabbed with knives and beaten to the ground as they sought to save these women. Others who persisted in trying to save women have become targets of sexual violence themselves, including acts tantamount to gang rape and having their reproductive organs beaten with hard objects. The purpose of being so graphic is not to sensationalise but to bring to the fore the extent to which men have been subjected to sexual violence and their ordeals have neither been captured by the media nor recognised by advocates of women’s rights, despite the heroic role they played because of their fundamental belief in women’s rights to bodily integrity, irrespective of where they are.

Some would argue that men intervene in incidents of sexual violence against women in patriarchal societies so that they would protect their ‘honour’ as women’s bodies are sites of honour for whole families and communities. This reductionist conclusion is, in my view, highly amoral. It negates men’s suffering to see other human beings in pain. The emotional trauma afforded to men who try and fail to save women from being violated cannot be reduced to questions of honour, it is about the anguish of seeing the women they love, care for or respect subjected to inhumane treatment that you cannot do anything about. I have heard stories of men who suffered nervous breakdowns and collapsed to the ground in tears on 25 January 2013, because they had tried to save a woman from being carried away by a group of men, and had failed to save her.

The politically motivated acts of sexual assault on women and men as we have encountered in Egypt have been accompanied by campaigns to vilify women who go out to protest as sexually amoral and men who support them as lacking in manliness. It is another reason why we need to pay tribute to men who go out in solidarity with women to demand gender justice: they are not only putting their lives at risk, but their reputations as well. On previous occasions, many of the men who have accompanied women on marches, have been called names to suggest they are not real men, that they are lacking in genuine masculinity and the proof is that they are in the company of women. Many took it in, never flinched and stood strong, others got into fights and again, risked their lives in the process.

The tribute I afford to men today is not to take away from women’s own experiences of injustice, nor to suggest that because they are men, they deserve more credit. It is simply to say that men who have put their lives and reputations on line to show solidarity with women in demanding a more dignified existence deserve to be recognised. A special tribute to all the men around the world who have endured sexual and gender based violence in silence in the quest for social justice. A special tribute to the men whose identities as men have been questioned because they dared to not conform to the misogynist and political notions of what real manhood looks like.

Mariz Tadros is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blogs by Mariz Tadros:

I’m (still) hungry, mum: the return of Care


Naomi HossainNaomi Hossain photo mini

Is it just me or have we come full circle on care* in development? Back in 1994, armed with a box-fresh copy of Naila Kabeer’s Reversed Realities, I got my first job in development, in Bangladesh. There I was first set to study whether non-traditional jobs empowered women, and then to analyse rural women’s time-use diaries. My eyes were opened to the perennial contradiction of women’s empowerment: earning money is lovely and really important if you want autonomy and control. But someone still has to wipe the dirty bums.

Naomi Hossain blog 7 Mar image 1What happened in the last 20 or so years that took our (my) eye off the care-ball? We started to glamorize women’s empowerment as always and necessarily positive-sum.** Gender equity got a makeover as ‘smart economics’; development meant high return investments in future mothers, clever low-cost micro-credit, and win-win global export industries employing poor young women to make fast fashion for rich young women. At its glossiest, gender equity was uber-modern, future-looking and positive-sum. Celebrities got in on the act (I was once in a workshop breakout session with Renee Zellweger – yes, Bridget Jones – on girls’ education). Rarely a dirty bottom in sight. And certainly no expectation that for women to do these great new jobs would mean men might have to do their share of bum-wiping.

So what has changed? As far as I can tell, the focus on care has sharpened with the financial crash and food crisis. How did all these people manage to cope, particularly with export sector jobs and micro-credit looking so shaky, we wondered? By letting unpaid care work absorb the shocks, it turned out. People, particularly women, have been working longer and harder, figuring how to stretch resources to ‘make do and mend’. A research project I’m involved with tracking the impacts of food price rises on care finds the pressures mothers feel to feed children are particularly powerful: ‘I’m hungry, Mum’ is a familiar sound for many women in developing (and indeed, developed) countries. The cumulative pressures mean more women in hard, low-paid jobs, as street vendors or sweepers, laundrywomen etc. This is all shifting what Annie Whitehead once called the ‘conjugal contract’: more hardworking and frustrated men feel they are failing as providers, even while more over-stretched and exhausted women feel they are failing as mothers and housekeepers. We find older people, particularly older women, picking up their adult daughters’ care responsibilities, in a sometimes reluctant renegotiation of the generational contract. And we also see a small but definite growth in institutional care: low-cost crèches and school meals schemes are popular and effective – and quick and easy processed foods (like the ubiquitous instant noodle).  Naomi Hossain blog 7 mar Image 2

The smallness of these mundane concerns is out of sync with development fashion, with its high-tech evidence-based solutions to everything. It’s about the fact that a vital source of social protection is being eroded by development policies that valorise that which can be paid for over that which cannot. Talking about care is the reverse of the ‘everyone’s a winner’ glitz of the empowerment industry.

Care has done a lot of the heavy lifting in people’s ‘resilience’ to the ups and downs of the past five years, but it is still often ignored in development policy. As Rosalind Eyben points out in her blog on care today, this is a matter of power. Real gender equity means recognising care, reducing its drudgery and redistributing it to men and the state. On International Women’s Day let us bravely face the filthy facts: progress towards real gender equity is unlikely to be positive-sum; there will be losers, and they will have to wipe their share of dirty bums.

This blog draws on a forthcoming IDS working paper on care and crisis, by Naomi Hossain, Alex Kelbert and Arran MacMahon.

*There are lots of good definitions out there: try Action Aid’s new report for starters. What we now commonly call care is short for unpaid care work, and was once upon a time called social reproduction among other things.

** Google ‘women’s empowerment’ today and you have at No. 3, a fashion show, and at No. 12, a Facebook game.

Annie Whitehead’s ‘I’m hungry, mum’: the politics of domestic budgeting’ was a chapter in the 1984 feminist development classic ‘Of Marriage and the Market’ (Kate Young et al, London: Methuen).

More info about the project tracking food price impacts on care can be found at Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility. The first year research results will be published in May 2013.

The Recognise, Reduce & Redistribute Care formula is Diane Elson’s.

Naomi Hossain is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blog posts by Naomi Hossain:

Getting Care onto Development Agendas: How is IDS doing?


Rosalind EybenRosalind Eyben photo mini

On International Women’s Day Rosalind Eyben reflects on IDS’s progress in raising the profile of care in development.

Feminist scholar-activists at IDS have been working with global and national networks as part of a collective effort to have care recognized and integrated into development policies and programmes. International Women’s Day is a good moment to take stock of how we are doing.

Care has long been a central preoccupation of feminists, including at IDS. It is in the Beijing Platform for Action  which states ‘Care of children, the sick and the elderly is a responsibility that falls disproportionately on women, owing to lack of equality and the unbalanced distribution of remunerated and unremunerated work between women and men.’ UNIFEM’s (now UN Women) first Progress of the World’s Women report (2000) emphasizes how women’s economic empowerment is constrained due to conventional conceptions of how economies operate that  leave out much of the unpaid work that women do in all economies including care. 

At IDS, our recent work on care originates in 2008 when the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development was highlighting the importance of care and the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment (Pathways) research consortium was looking at different meanings of empowerment current in development policy. We were disturbed by the dominance of advocacy for women’s economic empowerment based on arguments that it was a contributing factor to economic growth and largely focused on women as potential entrepreneurs. Policies viewing women as instrumental to other objectives cannot promote their collective empowerment because they fail to address the structures by which gender inequality is perpetuated over time. IDS members of Pathways organised a workshop with some leading feminist economists to discuss how women’s empowerment needs a people-centred economy whereby attention is given to the role of unpaid care in promoting well-being.

All well and good. But what could we do over and above publishing policy  briefings?  In development policy spaces, care’s invisibility was amazing!  When a very influential bilateral donor organised an e-forum on women’s economic empowerment, none of the gender specialists from around the world contributing to the forum mentioned care.  We urgently emailed well known feminist scholars to make a case for the importance of care, thus ensuring it got on the agenda of a conference the agency was organising as a follow up to the e-forum.  We realised that however sound the research of UNRISD and others, evidence about the importance of care would remain ignored without a conscious strategy of bringing it to people’s attention.

 We began looking more systematically for opportunities to introduce ‘care’ in conferences, workshops and donor guidelines. The global economic crisis was highlighting how unpaid care was sustaining families and the wider community and the pressure this was putting on women.  We had what political scientists describe as a window of political opportunity to challenge the ‘care-less economy’. Others, in NGOs, donor agencies and research institutes were also talking more about care, each of us encouraged by these signals that we were not alone and that the effort was worth it.  We reached out to each other.  

All this needs time – and resources!  Back to the donor agencies to persuade them this was something worth financing.  IDS policy influencing work on care is currently being funded as separate projects by Sida and DFID.  We are working in partnership with Action Aid International who have just published an excellent report Making Care Visible: Women’s Unpaid Care Work in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya and with the BRAC Development Institute in Bangladesh and SMERU in Indonesia.  We are also part of a wider, loose network of feminists working in international NGOs, universities and United Nations agencies seeking to get care onto development policy agendas.  

‘Care’ is beginning to appear more often in policy work on gender, both at the national and global level. Success often depends on an alliance with someone on the inside of an agency who wants care to be a central theme in development policy but needs external voices as leverage.  It doesn’t always work.  Care continues to get sidelined.  The World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on gender equality extensively analysed care in the main text but it was excluded from the executive summary. Getting care into policy statements needs great persistence. What is it about development policy processes that are blocking these collective efforts? 

What have we learnt? 

– Analyse power to understand how care remains invisible and to identify and take advantage of cracks in the status quo.

– Be alert to exploiting opportunities and integrate work on care into the other projects we are undertaking.

– Seek out actively others equally concerned – and don’t forget people whom you haven’t seen for ages. We recently got an email from a former colleague now working for a UN agency to learn how unbeknown to us, she has been making waves there.  We should have contacted her ages ago.

– Talk about it a lot.  And blog when you can.  We need to do more. Communications could be a full time activity.  Our work on care is just one among many other things we are doing. I am the only member of our group in IDS that does not have significant care responsibilities for children or parents! My IDS colleague Naomi Hossain today also blogs on the return of the care agenda to development, particularly in the context of the recent food price volatility.

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and her Twitter account is: @rosalindeyben

Previous blog posts by Rosalind Eyben: