Envisioning feminist futures: GADN's newest project tackles alternative development from ideas to outcomes

In June 2016, GADN released a pack of papers under the banner of Feminist Development Alternatives, the product of many months’ deliberation around the question of what feminist visions of development might look like – and what steps we need to take to achieve them. This project was an opportunity for GADN’s members and allies to take a step back from the priorities and imperatives set by government agendas, funding possibilities and news cycles to reflect on why and how we each engage in gender and development work.

Very early on, it became clear that this project could not take the form of a single paper, a single vision for feminist development approaches and ideals. Thus, the Feminist Development Alternatives project comprises seven papers, plus an overview paper that roots the project in GADN’s core mission and values. The pack inspired a members meeting in July 2016, where a wide selection of GADN’s members and allies shared their own concerns, aspirations and ideals for our work as gender and development specialists.

Here are some of the questions that the Feminist Development Alternatives project has raised, through the papers themselves and the discussion that they have inspired.

Co-optation of feminist language and goals

Almost across the board, there is concern amongst advocates for gender equality that feminist ideals have been co-opted in the service of other goals. Where we have advocated for women’s rights as an inherently good thing, we increasingly hear that empowerment promotes economic growth, peace or family wellbeing, perhaps to the detriment of women’s rights work broadly writ. As contributor Zohra Moosa of Mama Cash said in our meeting, we need to think in terms of checking power and be clear that women’s rights matter because women’s rights matter, not as means to any other goals.

Fragmentation of the gender and development agenda

This issue finds expression in two key areas: the ever-increasing drive towards project-based rather than core funding, and the compartmentalisation of agendas into bite-sized, decontextualised pieces. Diminishing funding pots for gender equality and development more broadly have bred a need for demonstrable and immediate results, binding practitioners to a set of pre-approved themes and goals and stifling more durable, comprehensive, sustainable feminist work and thinking.

At the same time, agendas like ending violence against women and girls has fragmented into a piecemeal set of goals including sexual violence in armed conflict, domestic and intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation/cutting and so forth. A more holistic and contextualised approach that acknowledges the pervasive and systemic nature of violence in women’s lives would seem to be in recession. Many in our networks are calling for a more integrated feminist agenda, as Neelanjana Mukhia highlighted in her contribution to the debate.

Supporting women’s rights organisations – in the UK and in the Global South

A number of contributors spoke about how smaller women’s rights organisations are being edged out by larger international NGOs and private sector actors like philanthropic foundations.

These voices call for more of us to walk the talk on our principles with gender audits, assessments of how we’re approaching the funding landscape as a sector, and even new alliances with other networks and feminist organisations at home and abroad.

Some attendees advocated for greater engagement with activists, academics and networks in the Global South – giving platform to feminist voices, and especially those that aren’t often heard in our circles, by inviting and promoting feminist speakers, citing feminist sources in our reports (no matter the subject matter) and sharing the stage with allies wherever possible.

Walking the talk on intersectionality

As Neelanjana pointed out, gender inequality exists within a neoliberal system where different inequalities and oppressions intersect. Race, gender, sexuality, social class and ability, amongst other axes of repression, can come together to create barriers to equality that are more than just the sum of their parts. The structures and institutions that make these injustices possible and propel them forward will need to be addressed before we can see real equality. This is another area our members encouraged us to build alliances with UK-based and Southern feminist networks, and especially with feminists of colour around the world. By seeking out and amplifying their voices, we can give them a platform to speak back to the UK development sector and challenge all of us to improve our work.

Continuing the conversation

Amidst considerable change and uncertainty, GADN is taking this opportunity to continue this conversation about feminist ideals and approaches to development. We hope the pack of papers captures the spirit of debate around these issues, but that debate does not end here. We invite your input and engagement with the papers and the question of Feminist Development Alternatives in a spirit of optimism.

The space below will function as a discussion platform for all of us where we can share concerns, questions and ideas on feminist development principles and practice.

How can we best express that women's rights matter because women's rights matter?

What needs to change in how we do our work as gender advocates?

How can we account for women’s intersectional identities?

Join the conversation and share your ideas for a better, more feminist vision of development.

Now is the time to be brave!