Bringing Women and Girls into the Development Discourse: Global Historical Inquiries into Female Work and Value

AHA Session 42
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Howard Brick, University of Michigan

Session Abstract

Through institutional, social, intellectual, and cultural approaches, we seek to intervene in the growing literature on the relationship between international organizations and the global South, self-referred to as “the third world” from the1960s into the new century. Historians are beginning to address the gendered and globalized reordering of economic life through the work of the UN and its specialized agencies like the International Labor Organization (ILO). Much of this scholarship concentrates on the interwar years, 1920s and 1930s, but through our previous contributions, we have begun to shift the time and space of consideration to the post WWII period and locations where race, ethnicity, and imperial social relations played out. For this session, we propose to analyze programs for and constructs of women and girls in what became known as “development” during years that associated development with modernization, national liberation, global feminism, and the reconfiguration of the international order. Mainstream development thought focused on technological and infrastructural change, directing efforts toward sectors dominated by men. Technical assistance by international agencies promoted urbanization, agricultural mechanization, vocational training, and governmental administrative capacity. Ensconced in the family, engaged in subsistence and reproductive activities, women represented both a drag on productionist goals and underutilized labor power. “Women in developing countries” exemplified what feminist transnational theorist Chandra Mohanty has named “third world [women’s] difference.” They and the girl child entered global discourse as needing saving from custom and their own men; they were survivors at best, victims at worse, but at all times subject to intervention by institutions of global governance, especially those connected to the United Nations, and at other times the object of empowerment and educational campaigns by these agencies and NGOs, including feminist ones. It is crucial, we argue, to explore the ways that international agencies and organizations constructed knowledge about the woman and girl in the global South in order to even begin to recover social experience and economic life. Only by interrogating the very sources, like those produced by the ILO and the UN, and contextualizing them in light of economic, political, and social forces can we find the woman in development.

Together these papers illuminate global interventions with potential national impacts that reflected even as they further developed understandings of race and ethnicity attached to gender. Jill Jensen probes portraits of women’s labor in plantation economies in light of the ILO’s 1958 convention on plantations and against international division of labor in the midst of liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Eileen Boris rereads key texts in the 1970s origins of “women and development” against the circumstances of their production during the UN Second Decade of Development, the ILO’s World Employment Program, and the UN’s Decade for Women. Vera Mackie traces “the girl” within development discourse from the 1970s, including efforts of various feminist groups around UN conventions and goals involving discrimination against women, rights of the child, and development goals. Noted intellectual historian Howard Brick, an expert on modernization and development thought, will chair and comment.

See more of: AHA Sessions