Sexuality, Equality and Local Governance

Untying Development’s Straightjacket: Masculinities, Sexualities and Social Change

'Gender/sexual diversity and the conundrum of categorisation’

Authors:
Surya Monro
Type:
Invited presentation
 
Date:
18-22 September, 2009
Location:
Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract


Gender and sexual diversity is well-documented across a range of Southern countries, and historically a number of systems of categorisation have emerged to make sense of - or to shape - those identities that do not fit into a gender binary system. Currently, Southern movements for the rights of people who express their sexuality in a same-sex fashion, and/or those who identify as between, across, or outside of male/female categories, may be framed via LGBT categories; categories which originate in the West. The interfaces between post-colonial dynamics and the structures associated with heteronormativity, homophobia, and gender binarism, remain challenging.

The dismantling of foundational gender binaries, and the sexual orientation categories which are predicated upon these, can be achieved via the use of Western poststructuralist thought, but there are parallels in some Southern thought systems . For those seeking to deconstruct gender/sexual binaries, there is an ongoing issue regarding the strategic use of categorisation as a basis for equalities interventions and struggles, and the ways in which strategic use of categorisation may paradoxically ‘freeze’ categories in a way which perpetuates certain inequalities. This issue is evident in development interventions concerning gender equalities. Deconstructing gender categories per se could undermine women’s equalities work, but the imposition of interventions that assume rigid male/female binaries (and heterosexuality) is hugely problematic.

This short paper seeks to provoke discussions concerning the strategic use of deconstruction, and different forms of sex/gender categorisation, within the development field. It assumes a critical view of mainstream development approaches, whilst retaining a commitment to support for interventions addressing the needs of women in the global South. The paper draws on empirical material from a large ESRC study on UK local government as a means of exemplifying some of the issues associated with categorisation and sex/gender diversity; issues which may (or may not) be relevant to conceptualising sex/gender diversity in the global South.