Scientific Publication

The power of narratives: Explaining inaction on gender mainstreaming in Uganda’s climate change policy


Gender mainstreaming has been increasingly viewed as a fundamental element of agricultural climate adaptation policies. However, the expectation that gender-mainstreaming efforts would contribute towards greater gender equality has been mostly disappointed. Our starting point is this disjuncture between a firm establishment of the gender mainstreaming discourse and the limited visible effects in reducing gender inequalities. To understand this disjuncture we examine the meanings through which policy makers relate to, and dis/engage with gender issues. The article draws attention to the role of narratives in micro-processes of policymaking that support, perpetuate or create resistance against the concept of gender mainstreaming, or against policy change more broadly. The study deploys a multi-step narrative analysis in which we identify story episodes, co-construct stories, identify and interpret the narratives and finally study these narratives in interaction. The empirical material consists of thirty semi-standardized expert interviews as well as excerpts from ten multi-stakeholder meetings on the themes of climate change, agriculture, rural livelihoods and gender in Uganda.The analysis reveals a complex ecology of 22 stories, clustered in five main narratives. While most stories unfold a Gender Equality narrative, four competing narratives emerge. Shifts during conversations from the Gender Equality narrative to other narratives reveal that the discursive engagement with gender mainstreaming is accompanied by simultaneous resistance, deconstruction and revocation. These narrative shifts exercise four distinct power effects: They (1) shift blame for ineffective gender implementation; (2) legitimize policy inaction; (3) foreground and naturalize patriarchy; and (4) promote the diversion of resources. The implicit communicative strategies exercise power through ideas (persuade listeners that the equality narrative is inappropriate), power over ideas (gender equality ideas are rejected or frustrated) and power in ideas (entrenched patriarchy ideas are reproduced). Attention to ideational power through policy narrative contributes to explain implementation issues with gender mainstreaming in Uganda, and is likely to be relevant beyond this case.