Scientific Publication

Business as Unusual: The Potential for Gender Transformative Change in Development and Mountain Contexts


Enabling transformations of power relations in order to achieve greater equity is challenging; years of experience and scholarly analysis show that “gender mainstreaming” has usually been depoliticized in development and has missed its aim, including in mountain contexts. Important innovations and strategies with potential for achieving gender shifts in power relations do exist, but they require sustained effort, rigorous monitoring, and continual reflection. Indeed, tenacious resistance to change and barriers that hamper gender work consistently reappear in development projects and organizations, as illustrated in the papers in this issue of MRD. A novel approach is required to effect truly gender equitable change: an approach that entails challenging “business as usual.” This introductory essay synthesizes insights from gender and feminist scholarship and from debates that took place at the recent Bhutan 10 conference entitled “Gender and Sustainable Mountain Development in a Changing World.” The essay presents the concept of gender transformative change, placing it within a discussion of the failures of “gender mainstreaming” and the potential of strategic innovations for transforming power relations into more gender equal ones in development and mountain contexts. New theories, organizational change, and a gender transformative change approach are some of the innovations with potential for advancing gender equality. Failures in advancing the gender agenda include the persistence of outdated “gender mainstreaming” approaches, confusion between 4 gender approaches (gender awareness, gender championing, gender analysis, and feminist activism), gaps in knowledge, policy, and practice, and tenacious forms of resistance (“3Bs”: backlash, backsliding, and burnout); it is crucial to learn from these failures. The paper concludes by reflecting on the way forward, arguing for more strategic alliance building, gender championing, negotiations as well as out of the box thinking and action.