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Gender and the difficulty of decolonizing development in Africa in the late 1960s and early 1970s : a Canadian effort for partnership among women Stewart, Beth

Abstract

In the 1960s, Irene Spry served as the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) representative to the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). In 1967 she accepted an offer to be the ACWW deputy president, a post that she held until the mid-1970s. During this time, the ACWW and its member societies engaged in international development efforts around the world. This was a critical moment in the history of international development. The Canadian movement for development was propelled by domestic and global politics, as well as a changing society that embraced a sense of global citizenship. Arising out of this context and armoured with her own socialist politics, Spry carefully navigated the development efforts of the ACWW. These efforts straddled grassroots ideals and mainstream pressures from the United Nations (UN). As a women's Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the ACWW was part of the initial force behind the global shift in the approach to development referred to as Women in Development (WID). Contemporary research, however, suggests that WID has not succeeded in addressing the concerns of women in "developing" countries. As a case study, this paper examines some of the historical roots of WID and identifies the historical continuities that persist in today's development discourse. Analyzing Spry's documents from the Library and Archives Canada through the lens of feminist postcolonial theory reveals the dominance of Eurocentric ideologies within the development practices of the ACWW. The impetus to reach out to help people in developing countries became socially and politically part of the Canadian identity and, as Spry's navigation through the discourses of the international agencies and ACWW members reveal, such sentiments of international benevolence were inherently neo-colonial. In much the same way that Himani Bannerji suggests that subjects are "invented," women involved in this movement intersected discourses of modernity and "race" with essentializing notions of gender, which contributed to a standardized practice of development. This case study ultimately demonstrates that good intentions were not enough to decolonize western women's efforts to "develop" parts of Africa in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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