Conversation on Body, Gender and Empowerment

The phenomenon of pop culture is not new or unusual. Icons of the star system (cinema, music industry and alike) today though are increasingly making of activism and campaigns a major focus of their career. Whether the inter-linkage between pop culture and activism is positive or not, the way such issues are interpreted and understood within the public, especially with regards to the young generations, can vary depending on how they are communicated and interpreted.

Body, gender and empowerment: a conversation with Chloe Schwenke (USA), Alexandru Balasescu (Romania), Hulda Ouma (Kenya), Wendy Harcourt (Australia/Italy). 

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The issues of gender and empowerment, while fading out the development agenda - are being increasingly addressed and highlighted by icons of popular culture - as pointed out in the editorial of SID Development Vol. 53.2 on 'Gender and Empowerment'.

The phenomenon of pop culture is not new or unusual. Icons of the star system (cinema, music industry and alike) today though are increasingly making of activism and campaigns a major focus of their career. Whether the inter-linkage between pop culture and activism is positive or not, what we explore here is the way such issues are interpreted and understood within the public, especially with regards to the young generations.

It is certainly positive to raise public attention on gender equality and empowerment as key issues for transformation and development of people and societies. Nevertheless, the perception and understanding of gender can vary depending on how they are communicated and interpreted. To this extent, the body remains central yet invisible in the discourse on gender empowerment and development. Ideally the body is a compelling issue to address particularly as it is the place where concepts of equalities and diversities meet and contrast.

As Wendy Harcourt explains, speaking about her prize winning book Body Politics in Development: 'People are judged by their bodies, their strength, their beauty, the colour and the sex. Many things are ascribed and written on the body through culture and society as well as the economy. Modernity, tradition, religious all have rules around the body, often according to sex, sexual orientation, before other layers are put on to it. Despite the centrality of the body in development it is very difficult to talk about it within the international political context as a subject rather than an object of study and number crunching. Development displaces that reality and is instead about counting bodies, controlling bodies, ensuring the health of bodies, securing safety of bodies, providing water, food, shelter. I am deeply committed to challenging silences around the body, including my own, so writing the book was a way to reclaim the body as a subject of political power and contestation in development, to name it and speak of the many ways the body is inserted into development discourse and forms an integral part of it'. What is body politics? by Wendy Harcourt on the SID Forum.

The conversation below with Chloe Schwenke, Alexandru Balasescu, Hulda Ouma and Wendy Harcourt explores concepts and relations regarding body, gender and empowerment, looking at how they are understood and transmitted among cultures and generations. Conversation facilitated by Angela Zarro (SID Secretariat).

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Photo: cover by mdid/flickr; A. Balasescu by Dan Piersinaru.