Despite much of the conversations and advances across countries since the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), gender mainstreaming still lacks a solid theoretical grounding, primarily because it grew outside academia as a movement under the ambit of feminism, and not as a part of social science. Therefore, gender mainstreaming is seen more as a political commitment and as a development agenda, and its advances remain murky as an academic discipline.
Gender Mainstreaming in Politics, Administration and Development in South Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) edited by Ishtiaq Jamil, Salahhuddin M. Aminuzzaman, Syeda Lasna Kabir, and M Mahfuzul Haque uncovers these issues in South Asian and sub-Saharan politics. With contributions from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, and Malawi, the strength of this volume lies in its approach, which is to look at gender mainstreaming from a policy and governance perspective.
A notable feature of this book is its ability to span both the national and local. In the chapter on "Gender Budgeting", professor Aminuzzaman offers an exhaustive study of the policies introduced in Bangladesh in 2008, noting the absence of a sound framework of gender analysis and a glaring lacunae in allocation and prioritising of funds. Meanwhile, Mizanur Rahman and Sangita Dhal both engage with the impact of gender mainstreaming at the micro levels, such as emerging leadership in rural Bangladesh and the possibilities and limitations of empowerment through e-governance in the state of Odisha in India.
Elections, which form the bedrock of politics and government formation in South Asia, are a good entry point into understanding the sociological complexities of a given society. Who votes, who does not, why not, and how do they vote?—as Sanjay Kumar's perceptive analysis demonstrates, these questions reveal the shifts in power and the nature of social transformation underway in India. Professor Ragnhild's paper draws our attention to interventions possible in the funding of election processes. Meanwhile, Professor Kabir examines the proverbial glass ceiling and the glass cliff as experienced by the women in Bangladeshi higher civil service, which has wide manifestations across this region.
In other chapters, Jinat Hossain and Samrin Shahbaz examine the legal structures that govern property rights in Bangladesh and sexual and reproductive health rights in Pakistan respectively, while Janethri and Kamala Liyanage advocate eloquently for substantive equality for women, exploring gender based sexual harassment in higher education campuses in Sri Lanka. Mohamed Faizal's paper provides further evidence of the existing work and wage inequalities faced by women in the Maldives. All these discussions emulate trends across the South Asian region.
A book such as this, urges us to ask what it is that we mainstream when we mainstream gender. There are broadly two answers—one is to think of "gender" as a fixed, descriptive category; this leads to it becoming a stand in term for women. The other way is to think of gender as a complex set of relationships of power which result in specific forms of inclusion/exclusion. We need to think of gender as a verb—as "gendering"—and not as a noun alone. Otherwise, gender mainstreaming simply becomes a professional project, without invoking the emancipatory and egalitarian ethos of feminist politics.
Global prescriptions and international formulations tend to homogenise people's experiences. In the nation states in this region, there is a growing realisation that the responses to feminist demands do not actually tackle questions of structural inequality. The title and focus of this book reminds us of the historical, economic, socio-cultural, and geographical specificities of this region, while admitting to the hierarchies that exist here. Yet feminist knowledge has never been known to exist or emerge on its own, it has always had deep roots in feminist politics. This bond is what will nourish the creation of knowledge both about people and about governmentality. Instead of depending on knowledge created by the structures of power, feminist knowledge needs to speak truths to power.
Krishna Menon is a professor at the school of Human Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org