Sexism in Development

Daniela Papi had a good piece in the Huffington Post recently entitled “Why Is Sexism Okay in Development Work? Reconsidering the ‘Women are Better’ Dialogue.”

It has become commonplace in the development community to funnel aid and loans solely to women and Papi correctly points to the (what should be) obvious sexism in this practice.  Specifically, she was attending Oxford University’s Emerge Conference and kept hearing about how organizations and businesses would only hire women because men “are too lazy.”

She makes the following excellent point:

Some of the companies were speaking from past experience: “When we hired men for sales, we got a lower return, as most of them didn’t work as hard.” They are speaking from proven results, in the same way you could say, “Asian Americans perform higher on exams,” if using data in American states where that has proven true, or, “African Americans are more likely to end up in jail than their white counterparts.” But I think people would be up in arms if you then said, “So therefore, our company only hires Asians, as they are smarter, and does not hire African American men, as they are more likely to get arrested.”

Those “facts,” based on retroactive data might be true statements of past experience, but stating them as undeniable facts into the future can create self-fulfilling prophecies, biases that lead to further skewed impressions and perhaps self-identification issues among the groups themselves.

She uses a funny personal anecdote to make it clear how crazy this practice is:

When I lived in Japan, I worked in a job where the employee before me had been from Kansas, and apparently he hadn’t done a good job in the role. The community then said they would no longer higher anyone from Kansas, which I found to be an amusing solution to their problem. 



One thought on “Sexism in Development

  1. I’ll be rather politically incorrect here, but I wonder if part of the emphasis on women some out of the feminist movement in the developed world (the US in particular). Emphasizing aid for women can be sold as helping the “oppressed”, while men are assumed to have advantages. While I’m sure there are places where women work harder than men, I’m not sure it’s true in general.

    I’m reminded of a local news story about a nearby suburb (Denver, CO area). They used temporary workers from Mexico to do park maintenance. When asked why they didn’t give summer jobs to high school students, they said they used to, but had problems like kids having riding mower races instead of just cutting the grass. Different cultural backgrounds can reflect different work ethics, attitudes to education, etc.

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