» Posts tagged: ‘gender


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15 Oct 2013

download (1)The 2011 issue of Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, an independent peer-reviewed online journal, is themed ‘becoming-girl’ and contains a number of thought-provoking articles about the ‘target’ of so many development interventions: ‘the girl child’.

‘The girl child’ has become increasingly visible in the development landscape. For several years now, PLAN International has been running the ‘Because I’m a Girl‘ global campaign, and since 2007 it has published an annual ‘State of the World’s Girl’s’ report (the latest, 2013, report is HERE). Furthermore, some days ago (11th October, 2013) the second United Nations’ ‘International Day of the Girl Child‘ was pronounced, following a resolution (Resolution 66/170) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2011.

To be sure, this focus on ‘the girl child’, is not just about girls. Instead, ‘the girl child’ is framed as a highly productive development site yielding a whole range of development bonuses.  According to Resolution 66/170:

Recognizing that empowerment of and investment in girls, which are critical for economic growth, the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of poverty and extreme poverty, as well as the meaningful participation of girls in decisions that affect them, are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights, and recognizing also that empowering girls requires their active participation in decision-making processes and the active support and engagement of their parents, legal guardians, families and care providers, as well as boys and men and the wider community,

And a similar line of reasoning transpires from the 2013 State of the World’s Girls report (p9)

Girls are both uniquely vulnerable and uniquely powerful. They may lack the most basic skills to cope with a crisis, like the ability to swim, or even run, or to get the information they need and to express their opinions. They can be forced into making poor and ill-informed decisions that affect them for the rest of their lives, like early marriage or transactional sex. Girls also have the power to transform not only their own lives, but also those of their families and communities. If they stay in school and understand how to protect their rights and choose what to do with their bodies, they earn more, they marry later, they have healthier children and become leaders, entrepreneurs and advocates.

Despite all this attention, some core, underpinning questions about ‘the girl child’ typically remain unaddressed (or rather: unpronounced). This is where Monica Swindle’s article ‘Feeling Girl, Girling Feeling‘ makes an interesting read. Starting  with a conversation with a five year old girl triggered by the question ‘what is a girl’, she discusses three constituting elements to this seemingly straight-forward, yet deeply complex question: ‘what are girls’, ‘what is girl culture’, and ‘what is girl’.

Of particular interest from a development studies perspective is Marjaana Jauhola’s article entitled ”The Girl Child of Today in the Woman of Tomorrow’: Fantasizing the adolescent girl as the future hope in post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in Aceh, Indonesia‘. In this article, she analyses the Oxfam International’s mini radio drama ‘Women can do it too!’ that was broadcasted in 2006-07 in local radio stations in areas affected by the 2004 tsunami in Aceh. She approaches this radio drama as ‘technology of the aid-and-development-planning governmentality’, marking the ‘normative conceptualisation of time and space’ that underpins the radio drama and which is also characteristic of many other ‘girl child’ development interventions. She elaborates:

…normative time appears also as the normalised rhythm of daily life, and the life cycle. The radio drama establishes several normative narratives of the rhythm of adolescent girls’ lives: attending school; preparing for the national examinations; finishing school first and only then getting married; having two children. Ultimately, adolescent girls are seen as future mothers who have an employment outside of home (Muhammad 2002, 3).’

Such development interventions, Jauhola notes, thus, effectively project children into a heteronormative future, based on the assumption that childhood is essentially heterosexually determined and implicitly increases “the pressure on producing the proper ending of the story” (Bruhm and Hurley 2004, xiv). Nonetheless, such gender advocacies are seldom fully stable and fully closed and are often also sites of ‘constant negotiation of norms’, which Jauhola brings forth through her subversive reading of the radio drama.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


posted by Roy Huijsmans






Gender stereotyping in ads for children’s toys is common. This Dutch website is perhaps the case in point. The homepage features a ‘girls’ (meisjes) button and a ‘boys’ (jongens) button streaming customers to highly gendered toys with dolls and teasets for girls and shotguns and drills for boys.

The Swedish company Top Toy diverts from this trend and uses in their 2012 catalogue a ‘non-gender’ representation. On their website they describe the changes as follows:

‘The changes have been made to show girls more actively playing with toys typically perceived as toys for boys – and vice-versa for boys.’

To be sure, this initiative appears reactive rather than proactive. The move is described as both a response to critique from Swedish customers on the gendered stereotyping in toy adverts, as well as a market response to an awareness that in what is described as the ‘modern way of children’s play’ use of toys in children’s play has become less gendered. In other words, removing gender stereotyping in toy catalogues makes good business sense. That this is not about radical transformation is also evident from the note that the gender neutral approach is not followed through to the same extent in neighbouring markets where the gender debate is considered less far ahead than in Sweden.

Whatever the effects will be of this ‘non-gender’ approach. It certainly appears a clever business move. Seldom will the launch of a new toy catalogues have received so much media coverage than this one: The Wallstreet Journal; Volkskrant; the Guardian; the New York Times. With the Christmas shopping around the corner this appears certainly good news for business, whether it is also good news for gender equality we will see.


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