The Good Wife of Development


Naomi HossainNaomi Hossain

After a long day slaving over a warm laptop, Rosalind Eyben’s, Fellow Travellers in Development published in Third World Quarterly, dropped into my inbox. It is both charming and appalling. Read it as a specimen of aid industry history and you will see why.

Fellow Travellers in Development follows a group of Western women now reaching retirement age through their careers in ‘development’. Most didn’t think ‘development’ was what they were doing, and didn’t ‘career’ so much as tumble through an unwelcoming profession (then a job for white men only – Rosalind gets her career break ghost-writing a report for a dyslexic aid agency head). It gives an account of the macho early aid industry, filtered through the official end of white rule and the rise of ‘women’s lib’. It traces genealogies of contemporary aid thinking and practice into the present day, showing how social development ideas – progressive thinking on poverty, gender and participation – owed partly to the recognition by women (otherwise privileged by their race or class) that there was more than one way to look at a problem.

Beneath the charmingly personal account, Fellow Travellers in Development cuts a steely slice into the continuities in the sociology of aid. Rosalind’s formative development experiences are as WFP wife; the ‘careers’ of the rest of the cast – Amy, Carol, Mary, and Pam – were equally shaped by how / whether they fit in with their husbands’. To a World Bank Wife like myself (and many other expat aid wives I know), these were familiar scenes: aid often seems to depend on men travelling around the world dispensing expertise, while their wives drop, stall or refashion careers to support their partners. There are also ’trailing spouse’ husbands and the occasional same-sex partner in the industry. Yet few seem to devote themselves exclusively to the unacknowledged and onerous work that transient families depend on to stay well and productive as the wives of these men (the Editor of the special issue featuring Fellow Travellers, Anne-Meike Fechter, has written lots of interesting stuff about this). The aid business still assumes a Good Wife at home, easing the way of the busy aid bureaucrat. There may be more examples of how this works out, but some of my faves are:

  • an international aid agency that spends billions on Early Childhood Care & Development but excludes pre-school fees from the benefits its staff receive
  • another that promotes 6 months’ exclusive breastfeeding in its programmes but offers only three months maternity leave for its staff
  • best of all, as one World Bank Wife explained to me recently, the aid agencies then often hire back these highly qualified professional wives at cut-rate consultancy rates in-country – so they subsidize the aid agencies twice over.

Some things have changed in aidland. International aid bureaucrats are no longer always European post-colonials. And the Expat Wife of Aidland, with her PhD and her household domestic staff and her comfortable lifestyle is hardly the stuff of feminist victimhood. But the reliance on the Good Wife at home continues to be silently formative of the aid experience. Hardly surprising then that unpaid care work remains so firmly off the development agenda : it remains off the domestic agenda for aid professionals abroad.

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:

MA course on Participation, Power and Social Change: ‘It changes People’s Lives’


Rosalind Eyben

‘What’s special about MAP?’ I asked, bursting into Patta’s office, ‘I promised Rosie, I would blog about it today.’ 

‘It changes people’s lives’, came my colleague’s prompt answer, as she smiled at me before returning to her email I had so impetuously interrupted her from sending.

MAP – aka the MA in Participation, Power and Social Change that Rosie (McGee) currently convenes. The first week of the course, we ask the ‘Mappers’ to each draw a river of life, marking the key stepping stones that have brought them here to IDS. As the semester flows on, they find themselves taking a critical look at their professional practice.

‘I’m sure it comes as little surprise to you’ emailed a Mapper I supervised a few years ago, ‘that this course has the effect of making students seriously evaluate how they work. For me, this has included some reflection on where I’m working, and what I’m working on.’ 

The course is designed to enhance reflective practice: using critical and creative methods to develop self-awareness of our own power, identities and worldviews and how these shape our perceptions and actions.

‘MAP stirs you up’ a student said to me. ‘It has been one of the most exciting things about learning at IDS.’

Some time ago. a Mapper – a social marketing consultant – asked past students what they most liked about the course, summing up their answers as:  

  • The mix, or balance of theory and practice – we get a solid grounding in theory and the opportunity to put our learning into practice
  • Our experience and thinking matters to this MA
  • We get a lot out of IDS, in terms of personalised support from staff and access to resources
  • We get a lot out of each other – we feel part of a team, a community of support and practice

When asked who they would recommend MAP to, MAP is considered ‘ideal’ for everyone from natural scientists to business professionals to people with a development background; for people with a couple of years’ experience to people with 10 years experience.

Perhaps more telling is the range of ways they have grappled with participation, power and social change in their professional practice that lead them to this MA. MAP students work all over the world. And not just in the ‘South’. We have also had community development practitioners, social workers, even a politician, working for social change in their own organisations and communities in North America or Europe.  

I hadn’t stayed to ask Patta whose lives she was referring to. She may have been thinking of the lives of the people Mappers meet during their 4-month period of action research and work-based learning in an organisation of their choice in the third term. – and also all those they work with after graduating, including when, as is often the case, their career follows a new pathway. After graduating, Mappers work to further development within particular communities; to support groups and causes often marginalized by those in power; to build agency and capacity among communities; to support participation in national and local policy processes; in civil society organisations, local and international NGOs, faith based organizations, media and communications, international development organizations and consulting firms.

Perhaps Patta was thinking also of another change? She is one of several IDS researchers and teachers, including Rosie and me, involved one way or the other with the course since its inception in 2004. My involvement with MAP has been something I have most enjoyed about working at IDS. I have been challenged in my assumptions, impelled to clarify my thinking, stimulated to reflect critically on my own practice and to experiment with new ways of learning (and teaching). MAP has certainly changed my life. Perhaps it might change yours?

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:

Read a previous blog post by a MAP student:

Find out more about the Politics of Evidence


Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

Yesterday a conference on ‘The Politics of Evidence’ got underway. It is convened by the Big Push Forward Initiative and hosted here at IDS, welcoming about 110 participants for two days.

For all those who haven’t been able to make it to the conference, the final plenary session will be live streamed at 15.45GMT this afternoon (Wednesday 24th April). This final session aims to bring together and synthesize the conference debates in generating ideas for collaborative efforts in tackling the drivers as well as the consequences of the current politics of evidence with respect to supporting transformative development.

You can find out more about the conference proceedings on the Big Push Forward website where Brendan Whitty has been blogging with reflections on the first day of the conference and Rosalind Eyben has outlined the conference aims and provided two papers prepared in advance of the conference.

Alternatively, follow the conference on Twitter (#evpolitics).

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.

Debating the ‘politics of evidence’


chrisChris Speed

With just a few days left until the “Politics of Evidence” Conference tomorrow , we are all very excited for the coming conversations and experience-sharing with various programme participants from around the world! As a platform to systematically scrutinise roles of “evidence” and the results agenda in transformational development, we are looking forward to the plenary presentations and group discussions surrounding these contentious and important issues. During the conference, we will be sharing participant experiences and information via video, photos and narratives on various social media platforms to share and engage with others in the global development community. Even though the conference is now closed for participant registration, the final plenary session will be live streamed at 15.45 GMT on Wednesday, 24 April.

This conference comes at a time when international development practitioners and policy makers continue to debate and challenge existing modes of social change initiatives and evidence-based practices. Some of the key points participants will be debating involve:

  • the meaning of “the politics of evidence” and why it is important
  • transformative intentions and impacts of various approaches on evidence of and for change
  • what factors and relationships are involved in driving less useful practices and protocols
  • people’s acceptance or rejection of these existing practices and protocols and the ensuing alternatives for transformational development

Some of the conference goals include for the participants to collectively generate:

  • conceptual clarity about “the politics of evidence” and space for debates and practices around development results
  • mapping of consequences on all levels regarding current foci on evidence and results
  • strategies and new ideas to deal with results-oriented measurement
  • ideas for collaborative efforts to address and challenge the “politics of evidence”

There have been numerous interesting debates and online discussions around the “politics of evidence”. A recent blog post from Rosalind Eyben and Chris Roche spelled out well the arguments going into a conference such as this. Some key points include acknowledging and challenging our “philosophical plumbing”, understanding the politics of our “knowledge generation” as development practitioners and the value of reflexivity in challenging existing practices. I really enjoyed this particular quote from Eyben and Roche:

Those of us working as practitioners, bureaucrats and scholar activists in international development cannot escape the contradiction that we are strategizing for social transformation from a position in a global institution – international development – that can and does sustain inequitable power relations, as much as it succeeds in changing them.

 As an MA student at IDS who will be rapporteuring and assisting with social media at the conference, I am personally excited for the conversations that will be taking place next week. In particular, the exchange’s potential for shaping future development policy and practice. We look forward to you joining us on Twitter (#evpolitics) and with our live stream at 15.45 GMT on 24 April!

Chris Speed is an M.A. student in the Participation, Power and Social Change programme at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLSpeed

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:

A Class Act: interrogating privilege, development and sexual rights


Stephen WoodStephen_Wood200

Over the last quarter century, there has been a conscious shift in the manner by which researchers examine positionality within their chosen fields.  Whilst age, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation are factors we increasingly consider when undertaking intersectional analysis, the inclusion of class has seemingly become less fashionable.  Have we, as Tony Blair once argued, become a truly classless society?

Not even close. The UK remains a heavily class-stratified society, with attendant inequalities continuing to widen and a discernable lack of representation in politics and the media of authentic working class experiences.  This diminution of working class voices in public life, coupled with the unchecked destruction of the British manufacturing industry from the heyday of Thatcherism, has herald a period in which the working class have found their identities written out of the national narrative. It has created space for the evolution of negative definitions of working class communities, such as the ‘chav’ and ‘Little Britain’ stereotypes, conspicuously the products of middle and upper class commentators and authors.

At the same time, an insidious prejudice has developed against those who attempt to make the links between class privilege and deteriorating living standards for the poorest in society, dismissing them as out of touch or purveyors of the dinosaur politics of envy. Inequality across class boundaries has become the unmentionable middle class dinner table conversation, in favour of denunciations of racial and sexual discrimination, which have become untroubled, fetishised badges of progressive modernity.

Broadening this trend out to encompass both the sexual rights and international development fields, I believe that the legitimacy of many strands of aid programming and policies find their roots in class-based ideology. For many years now, Southern academics have cogently argued that international development itself grew out of upper class dilettantism and a post-colonial white-saviour complex. Expertise within the development field has been measured and articulated through elitist language and even the respected ‘victim narratives’ of the poor (when heard) are mediated and given legitimacy through ‘objective’ Northern voices.

In many of the policies undertaken specifically around sexuality, we see prescriptive control over black and brown bodies. Take as an example the IDS working paper written by Andil Gosine, which examined how population control programmes are conduits through which the anxieties of developed countries around sexuality are rendered visible. By imposing policies to encourage women not to have too many children and instinctively prizing the traditional nuclear family as optimal, Western countries have endeavoured to control and ‘civilise’ the (seemingly) unrestrained sexuality of the Southern subject.

One of the problems the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme encounters when we convene discussion around sexuality has been the sense that it is a trivial issue compared to the core concern of poverty, but this high-minded dismissal frequently disguises conservative ideologies masquerading as evidence – and the regulation of non-normative sexualities. Paradoxically, we can be accused of concentrating upon an issue of no material relevance to development recipients, as though sexual autonomy, choice and pleasure play no part in the experience and aspirations of poorer communities.

We must not confine this tendency solely to Western countries, though. How easily can we depend upon the dominant narratives around sexual identities coming out of southern contexts as being authentic grassroots views?  Who is defining those sexual identities? Dominant elites in the Global South, such as the anti-trafficking lobby in parts of Asia, can represent the anxieties of upper class / caste communities around sex work and whose concerns dovetail with western European concern around migration, but not the lived experience of marginalised communities for whom sex work is a daily reality and for some, an informed choice. Minority sexual rights movements for whom the term LGBT has limited relevance find themselves using this Western-coined framework in order to access desperately needed resources from aid agencies and philanthropic donors.

In order to have confidence in the dialogues we undertake with individuals in the Global South, we need to interrogate our own privilege reflexively and conduct an honest evaluation of those individuals and organisations we undertake partnerships with and the decision-making process by which we decide to work with them. The risk of self-selected partnerships that reinforce our ideologies and retain old North/South power relations can go easily unnoticed, especially for veterans of the aid field. As my colleague Rosalind Eyben argued in her recent blog post around reflexivity “How does power operate to foreclose new ways of thinking and challenge our assumptions?”

In my experience, those who choose to work around sexual rights do so for a variety of motives: representing their communities, risking their physical safety to affect social change – and sometimes for legitimately economic motives, as well as political and social mobility. How can we encourage our partners to examine and share their own positionality if we fail to hold up the same mirror to ourselves?

It sometimes feels quaint or antagonistically unreconstructed to insist upon a class analysis in the way we structure and conceive our research projects, the choice of partnerships we undertake and the sites of our study, but as others within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team are the first to argue, lines of power are buried deep in everything we do, unremarked and unchallenged.

As the development industry continues to experience a crisis in democratic legitimacy, aid practitioners (and in my view, the Institute of Development Studies itself) should reflect on how to evolve and adapt to the changing global development context by undertaking a class audit of our cadre of researchers and students. We must ask ourselves whether we are truly representative of those communities we aspire to partner alongside and if not, what this might mean for us strategically moving forward. Can we truly say with confidence that the co-creation of the knowledge we undertake represents a dispassionate analysis or does class or caste continue to leave a subjective thumbprint over our research findings?

Stephen Wood is a Researcher on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

Read other recent blogs by Stephen Wood: