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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gender equality : panacea or placebo? : third world, anti-racist feminist critiques of the Canadian International Development Agency’s gender equality policy and policymaking process Zavis, Cathy J.


In response to concerns raised by Northern and Southern feminists that development agencies neglected Third World women's needs, development agencies began in the 1970s to implement policies and projects geared toward women. These have taken various forms over the years. Most recently, international aid agencies have instituted gender equality policies. Despite these interventions, Third World women are still struggling to survive. In this thesis, I explore why this is the case: to what extent can gender equality policies crafted in the First World address the inequalities in the Third World? To explore this question, I look at the participatory policymaking process the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) used in 1998 to update its gender equity policy, and the resulting policy. In its effort to ensure that its policymaking process was broad based, open, transparent and inclusive, CIDA chose the Internet as its medium. By looking at CIDA's process and policy, I can begin to understand how systems are put together and the consequences of that configuration and outcome. I am using the local situation "as an entry point to the study of institutional and discursive forces and how these are related to larger socio-economic processes" (Escobar 1995, 109). My examination demonstrates that CIDA's process was, in fact, a ritualistic exercise. The voices of Third World grassroots women, the very women the policy is intended to benefit, were excluded, while individuals in institutions of ruling were explicitly included. By managing and controlling all aspects of the consultation to ensure the outcome it desired, staff co-opted feminist strategic goals to meet the agency's bureaucratic needs. Through this cursory participatory process, gender staff at CIDA exercised their power over Third World women, thereby maintaining their status. CIDA's gender equality policymaking process and policy are illustrative of how international development institutions whether wittingly or not perpetuate the racialization of Third World women. By doing so, they are (as Razack explains in the context of refugee hearings) "inevitably an encounter between the white First World and the racialized Third World" (1999, 89).

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