Reflections on gender, power and knowledge for development

Dr Lata Narayanaswamy has written a blog piece entitled ‘Reflections on Gender, Power and Knowledge for Development’ for Research to Action.

In the blog, Lata discusses her motivation to write her book Gender, Power and Knowledge for Development (read the introduction free online) after 17 years of trying to understand what development means, how development is undertaken, and why this idea might matter to the global challenges we collectively face.

Lata highlights the significance of the 1998 World Bank endorsement of the idea that development was being held back because of a lack of knowledge. The focus then, was to pass on knowledge to enable communities to improve their lives, make different choices and hold governments to account. This knowledge gap was presumed greatest for poor women living in poor countries.

Having ended up in a job in which I was producing the glossy reports and websites central to this strategy, I decided to undertake doctoral research that began with two questions: what were individuals and organisations who were reading the reports I was writing, or visiting the website I was updating, actually doing with the information I sent them, which focused on gender and development?

Dr Lata Narayanaswamy

Lata points out her findings which found this emphasis on knowledge was just a tick-box exercise with no real insight into what these women needed to know or how they may act on the information they received, instead assuming that “if you make information available to local women, local development will ensue”.

The blog highlights the restriction on this knowledge transfer when the information is only available in English. She reminds the reader that when “marginalised women are merely beneficiaries or recipients of information, or are treated mainly as sources of data, then we can never understand what marginalised women need or want to know or what gaps they identify, knowledge or otherwise, that matter to them”.

Lata discusses how research and information becomes meaningful and impacts on communities to make lives better: “Listening, learning, and dialogue may not provide all of the answers, but at least it would mean that we have started to ask the right questions”.

Read ‘Reflections on Gender, Power and Knowledge for Development’ online