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Gender mainstreaming, affirmative action and diversity: Politics and meaning in gender equality policies

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Frame of Image , how do concerns for cross-cutting processes of social subordination, captured in the shorthand terms ‘diversity’ or ‘intersectionality’, come, at times, to mean a reduction in attention to ‘women’s issues’ when that was never the objective? A third underlying question is - what can those committed to egalitarian politics do about these unexpected and untoward developments? The paper makes the case that it is important to pay attention to the meanings imparted to key concepts, including gender mainstreaming, affirmative action and diversity. It offers a methodology for analysing concepts called ‘what’s the problem represented to be?’(Bacchi 1999; 2009), which encourages the identification of underlying presuppositions in concepts and their accompanying effects. As an example, returning to the questions posed at the outset, conceptualising affirmative action as ‘special assistance’ or ‘preferential treatment’ for ‘disadvantaged ’ women, which is the dominant representation of the reform, helps explain how gender mainstreaming, in some incarnations, comes to displace it. So too particular versions of ‘diversity’, e.g. as something located within individuals or groups, produces the discursive practice of ‘commatisation’ (O’Brien 1984). With commatisation, the policy emphasis goes onto the ‘disadvantages’ of ‘women (comma) blacks (comma) gays (comma) . . .’ etc., etc. and leaves the advantages available to the unspoken norm (white, male, straight, etc) hidden from view (Eveline,


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Title Gender mainstreaming, affirmative action and diversity: Politics and meaning in gender equality policies
Similar Titles
Material Type Reports
Author(English)

Bacchi, Carol

Publisher

[Seoul]:KWDI

Date 2010
Journal Title; Vol./Issue GSPR:2010 Vol.3
Pages 19
Language English
File Type Documents
Original Format pdf
Subject Social Development < Gender
Holding KDI School of Public Policy and Management

Abstract

This paper addresses two questions. First, how is it that gender mainstreaming at times
comes to replace women-specific policies (affirmative action) and Women’s Policy units (focal
points) when prominent spokespeople associated with its development state explicitly that
this should not happen (Hannan 2008: 37)? Second, how do concerns for cross-cutting processes
of social subordination, captured in the shorthand terms ‘diversity’ or ‘intersectionality’,
come, at times, to mean a reduction in attention to ‘women’s issues’ when that was never the
objective? A third underlying question is - what can those committed to egalitarian politics
do about these unexpected and untoward developments?
The paper makes the case that it is important to pay attention to the meanings imparted to
key concepts, including gender mainstreaming, affirmative action and diversity. It offers a
methodology for analysing concepts called ‘what’s the problem represented to be?’(Bacchi
1999; 2009), which encourages the identification of underlying presuppositions in concepts
and their accompanying effects. As an example, returning to the questions posed at the outset,
conceptualising affirmative action as ‘special assistance’ or ‘preferential treatment’ for ‘disadvantaged’
women, which is the dominant representation of the reform, helps explain how
gender mainstreaming, in some incarnations, comes to displace it. So too particular versions
of ‘diversity’, e.g. as something located within individuals or groups, produces the discursive
practice of ‘commatisation’ (O’Brien 1984). With commatisation, the policy emphasis goes
onto the ‘disadvantages’ of ‘women (comma) blacks (comma) gays (comma) . . .’ etc., etc. and
leaves the advantages available to the unspoken norm (white, male, straight, etc) hidden from
view (Eveline, 1994).The paper uses these examples, among others, to illustrate that how
‘problems’are conceptualised matters in terms of political outcomes and to reflect on the political
repercussions of this observation - what to do when concepts ‘let us down’.

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