Gender, Development and the World Bank - A Critical Discourse Analysis of women in World Development Reports between 1998 - 2018
Abstract: The purpose of this study is to look at how women are represented in neoliberal discourses of development, if there has been a change on representation of women over the last three decades and how these discourses reflect broader developments in gender equality. The World Bank has been selected to serve as an instance of neoliberal development discourse and one World Development Report (WDR) from each decade is analysed. The theoretical perspectives include discourse analysis and the three Western main approaches to feminist development theory; Women In Development (WID), Woman And Development (WAD) and Gender And Development (GAD); the methodology is related to critical discourse analysis. The analysis suggests that the Bank discourse on women has changed from a predominant WID approach in the end of the 90s where women were mainly depicted as passive and poor objects, and moved closer towards a GAD approach in the latest WDR that constructs women as empowered agents with aspirations. Despite changes in Bank language use over time, the underlying message has remained the same; women are discursively framed as a means to enhance economic efficiency. The discursive changes in the analysed WDRs have to a large extent followed the global developments on discourses on women and gender equality, of which the Bank itself is a key influencer. The discursive construction of women in development, structured around efficiency and economic growth thus sustains, rather than challenges, the hegemonic power structures that sustain gender inequalities. The practical consequences of the current development discourse of constructing women as economic actors without addressing the root causes to their subordination will most likely translate into an increase in the workload of women on the ground while gender inequality and poverty continue to exist.
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