Gender and sexuality 'provocations'

Words used during the event

'Gender and Sexuality Provocations' was the first event held by the newly formed Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Gender and Sexuality cluster on Tuesday 2 June 2015.

Cluster members (which include the IDS BRIDGE team) see ourselves not only as researchers and knowledge professionals but as activists engaging in a political struggle for a gender just world. While we embrace and recognise progress that has been made on gender and sexuality in the context of development we also see critique and reflexivity as vital components within a space that is often contested and constantly challenging.

In this spirit the Provocations event had the dual purpose of both officially launching the cluster and of providing a space or critical moment for transformative thinking and debate. The event was intended to push the boundaries of our own conceptual landscapes by challenging ourselves to think critically and reflexively about some of the concepts, ideas and truths that we and others so often use in our work. We wanted not only to provoke, but to stimulate, energise, inspire, motivate and revitalise our thoughts and actions.

Above all we wanted to create a safe, exciting space for sharing and generating ideas that will contribute to the further development of a progressive, shared agenda on gender and sexuality. The event is the first of an exciting seminar series run by the Gender and Sexuality Cluster that will resume in October 2015.

During the event five provocateurs - Cheryl Overs; Shereen El Feki; Alyson Brody (Director of BRIDGE); Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Jerker Edström and Jenny Birchall (Gender Convenor for BRIDGE) responded to some key questions, followed by critical reflections from Jerker Edström and Elizabeth Mills and a rich discussion:

Can we talk about gender equality without talking sex and sexuality? /Can we talk about sex and sexuality in development without talking about gender?

OK, so we’ve exposed gender myths and stereotypes; what’s next?

Can ‘Men and Masculinities’ become useful without becoming co-opted?  

What does ‘intersectionality mean in practice? 

To what extent are we being co-opted in the work we do on gender and sexuality, and how can we resist these pressures?

Highlighting critical areas for current and future focus

Key issues and concerns raised during the event included:

  • The extent to which gender inequalities and identities are rooted in sexuality, and the impossibility of looking at either in isolation, and the opportunities the new cluster offers to explore these connections.
  • The need to develop more nuanced ways of addressing sex workers’ rights and identities that sees women as either victims or immoral.
  • The vital need to continue engaging on issues of sexual rights in the Arab world, in a context where the Arab spring has done little to reverse highly regressive attitudes and where women’s rights activists are often obliged to strike a ‘patriarchal bargain’, choosing to prioritise their fight for improved economic and social rights over sexual rights.
  • The critical need to understand and tackle the roots of gendered power hierarchies and the assumptions that underpin these, and the importance of encouraging deep reflection on gender among men and boys as part of this process.
  • The need to learn from local, contextualised perceptions of gender and inequality which may offer ways to think about how we and others experience difference, discrimination and exclusion.
  • The need to recognise and embrace the tensions that often shape our lives and work – for example the fact that we are often obliged to work within systems we don’t fully agree with. How can we see the overlaps, tensions and spaces in between as creative, providing opportunities for moving beyond categories and binaries associated with gender and sexuality and for catalysing change.

To hear the lively discussion in full, listen to the podcast…

This blog post, by BRIDGE director Alyson Brody, orginally appeared here on the Institute of Development Studies website.