Gender and Colonialism

Like any social construct, gender is a signifier of power relations. Whenever discourse on ‘gender’ emerges in development however, it is often equated to issues related to and about women. Of course, such an approach is limited. As a marker of rights and liberties, gender is not a female-only arena. On the one hand, gender is an identity – ascribed or adopted. On the other hand, it is a mode of marking difference through which social institutions can privilege or regulate experiences.

Recently, I have been reading about the implications of gender – its construction and practice – during colonialism. As the ‘civilising process’ encountered categories of difference (race, class, geography, religion, etc), gender too became linked to binaries. Not only were women sought to be brought closer to the ‘modern’, so too were men. Idealised notions of women and men were linked to national identities. No longer immutable, gender also became categorically linked to bodies as symbols (of virtue or vice) and while women were viewed as under the man, the ‘ideal’ man became equated with specific ‘manly’ qualities.

Those were the colonial times. And yet, I wonder, how much has changed?

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