Talking of gender: words and meanings in development organisations

This article reflects on the vocabulary commonly used within development organisations to communicate about ‘gender and development’. It argues that the relevant terminology, though frequently used, remains problematic. Some terms are almost entirely absent, while others are used loosely and inappropriately – with the subtleties of carefully developed and much-debated concepts often lost. Terms such as ‘empowerment’, ‘gender’, and ‘gender mainstreaming’ which originated in feminist thinking and activism have lost their moorings and become depoliticised. Despite these problems, there are indications that debates and language may be taking a more radical turn with the acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the practices of gender mainstreaming, the deepening of interest in the notion of empowerment, and the explicit adoption of a human-rights language.