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Constructing Gender Across Cultural Space: Japan's International Development Programs

Abstract

The central question in this research concerns how development discourse within the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) constructs women and gender across geographical regions. In-depth interviews, documents and videos inform this analysis. Findings describing programs implemented by JICA in East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East suggest that those areas perceived as more culturally distant, particularly those aligned with Islamic communities, are more likely to focus on women’s sexuality and to consider women as passive victims than those in more culturally proximate areas. Gender has become a particularly contentious arena within the field of development, as institutions and communities struggle over the nature of representation, the construction of social problems, and the appropriation of resources directed toward development intervention. This study explores the construction of women within the context of gender issues engaged through global development programs funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Specifically, when JICA’s development projects and programs are conceptualized and described, how are women’s roles and needs framed within the development process? And, how do gender issues differ across the region within which the development intervention is implemented? This case study of JICA, as a wealthy bilateral donor, allows an exploration of Orientalist constructions that complicates assumptions situating global power solely within western territories, and considers constructions of gender within contexts differentiated according to cultural proximity (Straubhaar, 1991). The central concepts in this work include attention to issues of development and gender within the context of Japanese development intervention. Specifically, development is conceptualized as a form of institutional discourse, communicating assumptions about problems, communities and solutions (Wilkins & Mody, 2001). For the purpose of this research project, gender is understood as a social construct interpreted and engaged within organizational settings, connected with considerations of race, ethnicity and other markers of cultural difference through the policies and practices of development institutions.

Karin Wilkins

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