Since the early 1970’s gender has increasingly played a role in development discourse, policy and planning. Within the fields of refugee and forced migration studies however, gender analysis had been sorely neglected until the mid 1980’s. This essay will consider the origins of contemporary notions of ‘gender’ within the social sciences and argue that it is relational, concerning both men and women, and that it is a primary factor in organising social lives and argue that gender is a key factor to the access of power, as is ethnicity and class, and that these too are gendered constructs. It will then relate gender analysis to the field of forced migration, arguing that since gender is the principal factor in all forms of power relations, gendered analysis is fundamental to knowledge production and emancipatory action and that data collection has been overlooked in this regard. It will consider the history and development of gender discourse within forced migration and provide a critique of the effectiveness of gender responsive strategies. Finally, it will conclude with summary statements outlining areas of concern.
The concept of ‘gender’ in the social sciences is often confused with ‘sex’, though ‘sex’ refers to a biological reality whereas the notion of ‘gender’ is a social construct. Early gender analysis viewed ‘gender’ as relating to women only: men had no gender. Post-structuralist and post-feminist frameworks of analysis began to problematise this notion , viewing gender as a set of social and cultural ideas, symbols, practices and beliefs through which we perform and ‘know’ the world in which we live. Today, gender is concerned with the interdependence and interrelations between men and women. It is viewed as a key relational dimension of human activity and thought which is informed by cultural notions of masculinity and femininity (Indra 1999). As Mahler and Pessar (2006: 29) explain, “Gender is the meaning people give to the biological reality that there are two sexes. It is a human invention that organises our behaviour and thought, not as a set of static structures or roles but as an ongoing process”. These constructions change over time and within differing contexts. Furthermore, gender is central to the access of power similar in ways to ethnic group, race, class and caste: these power structures are gendered too. Traditional views of gender may make gender visible then, but leave it unchallenged: “gender differentiation and male power live on” (Cockburn 2004a: 14).
The introduction of gender into forced migration discourse has been important in deconstructing essentialist notions of women as victims and mothers, and men as rapists and killers (Korac 2006) . Gender analysis enables us to understand the dynamics of phases of displacement by highlighting the processes which shape gender identities, and by revealing the logic of gender-based alliances.
From the early 1990’s three main developments can be identified in conflict....