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Taking off International Development’s Straightjacket of Gender

Gender in IR
Andrea Cornwall


Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations in September 2014 captured a rising wave of recognition that gender inequality can no longer be regarded as a women’s issue. Watson’s call for men’s engagement in ending gender inequality echoed core tenets of the gender agenda in development: gender is about the socially constituted relations between women and men, and addressing discrimination against women means addressing men’s enjoyment of privilege, as well as creating a more equitable basis for social relations. In this article, I analyze the emergence of current agendas of women and girls’ empowerment and of what has come to be called engaging men and boys in the field of international development. I examine some of the contours of this field and explore feminist critiques and reservations. I end by looking at what might be gained in freeing ourselves of the strictures of a binary understanding of gender and finding common cause in creating a world that is more just, fair, and equal for us all.