The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty
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The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty

Concepts, Research, Policy

Edited by Sylvia Chant

In the interests of contextualising (and nuancing) the multiple interrelations between gender and poverty, Sylvia Chant has gathered writings on diverse aspects of the subject from a range of disciplinary and professional perspectives, achieving extensive thematic as well as geographical coverage. This benchmark volume presents women’s and men’s experiences of gendered poverty with respect to a vast spectrum of intersecting issues including local to global economic transformations, family, age, ‘race’, migration, assets, paid and unpaid work, health, sexuality, human rights, and conflict and violence.
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Chapter 46: Picturing Gender and Poverty: From ‘Victimhood’ to ‘Agency’?

Kalpana Wilson


Kalpana Wilson This chapter explores the processes through which neoliberal notions of agency and empowerment have shaped representations of poor women by development institutions. Policies promoting the use of ‘positive’ images of women in developing countries have been adopted partly in response to critiques of earlier constructions of ‘Third World women’ as ‘passive victims’, and the process of ‘othering’ this implies (see, for example, Mohanty, 1991). The chapter examines the specific ways in which these more recent visual productions are both gendered and racialised, exploring parallels and continuities between colonial representations and today’s images.1 Feminists have challenged development interventions which reproduced a colonial discourse of ‘saving’ women from their backward social customs and oppressive men, and have highlighted women’s agency. However, as I have argued elsewhere, they have increasingly found their ideas being incorporated into discourses promoting neoliberal models of development in which a further intensification of poor women’s labour is expected to provide a buffer for their households against the ravages of neoliberal economic restructuring (Wilson, 2007). The construction of the poor woman as a ‘rational economic agent’ exercising choice is elaborated within the moral framework of neoliberalism, which ascribes ‘responsibilities’ to the poor as a condition for the enjoyment of ‘rights’. It is emphasised that women work harder, and expend less resources on themselves (in terms of leisure time as well as consumption) than their male counterparts, and women’s access to the market and earnings will therefore have a far greater impact on children’s well-being. The fact that...

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