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Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South


Abstract and Figures

Critical feminists have argued that research on women and gender is not sufficiently ‘global’ in its representation of scholars and perspectives. We draw on these works to argue that the scholarship on women, gender and politics does not sufficiently consider the effects of the global order in the Global South. We propose the adoption of a ‘global lens’ to address this gap. We further examine the representation of South-based scholars by analysing leading women, gender and politics journals, and find that they are severely under-represented as authors. We propose steps to address this underrepresentation and to decolonise the scholarship.
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European Journal of Politics and Gender • vol 1 • no 1-2 • 37–54
© European Conference on Politics and Gender and Bristol University Press 2018
Print ISSN 2515 1088 • Online ISSN 2515 1096
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender
in the Global South
Peace A. Medie,
University of Ghana, Ghana
Alice J. Kang,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA
Critical feminists have argued that research on women and gender is not suciently ‘global’
in its representation of scholars and perspectives. We draw on these works to argue that the
scholarship on women, gender and politics does not suciently consider the eects of the
global order in the Global South. We propose the adoption of a ‘global lens’ to address this gap.
We further examine the representation of South-based scholars by analysing leading women,
gender and politics journals, and find that they are severely under-represented as authors. We
propose steps to address this underrepresentation and to decolonise the scholarship.
Key words global inequality • gender • journals • publications • Global South • political
Key messages
Women, gender, and politics scholarship is not suciently global.
Scholars in the Global South are under-represented in top women, gender, and politics
Exclusion of scholars in Global South shows need to decolonise gender and politics
Women, gender, and politics scholarship needs to adopt a ‘global lens’.
To cite this article: Medie, P.A. and Kang, A.J. (2018) Power, knowledge and the politics
of gender in the Global South, European Journal of Politics and Gender, vol 1, no 1-2, 37-54,
DOI: 10.1332/251510818X15272520831157
Attention to women, gender and politics has grown exponentially among scholars
over the last three decades. Central to this sub-field has been research on countries
in the Global South, which we define as countries that have been marginalised in
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
the international political and economic system. Our article evaluates the scholarship
on women, gender and politics in the Global South, with a focus on Africa. Critical
feminists, including postcolonial feminists, African feminists and South Asian feminists,
writing in the 1980s and 1990s argued that approaches to the study of women and
gender in the Global South adopted by white Western feminists were steeped in and
reinforced unequal global power relations (eg Mohanty, 1984; Okeke, 1996; Narayan,
1997). This Western scholarship was challenged for attributing gender inequalities
to factors such as ethnicity and caste while neglecting historical and contemporary
global factors such as colonialism and neoliberalism, a critique echoed by critical
scholars in the North, including African-American feminists (eg Crenshaw, 1991).
They also argued that the works of academics based in the South were less valued by
white Western feminists and, thus, less likely to be published in North-based outlets
(eg Mama, 2007). These criticisms have been echoed in more recent scholarship (eg
Motlafi, 2018). Drawing on this body of work, we interrogate global power dynamics
in the study of women, gender and politics in the Global South.
First, we examine whether and how the gender and politics scholarship takes
global economic and political ideas, structures and processes into consideration.
We argue that the dominant scholarship on women, gender and politics, produced
mostly but not exclusively by Western feminists and other scholars in the Global
North, needs to examine a broader range of variables that may be independent and
interactive causes of gender inequality and discrimination against women. While
research in feminist political economy has probed how globalisation and neoliberal
policies have contributed to gender inequality in the South (eg Falquet et al, 2010;
True, 2010; Ewig, 2011; Rai and Waylen, 2014; Radhakrishnan and Solari, 2015),
it is less often the case for research in areas such as political participation and feminist
security studies. This lack of engagement with the global results in a truncated analysis
of gender, which aects theorising, activism and the resonance of this scholarship
for South-based audiences that do not see academic research as reflecting their own
lives and priorities.
Second, we ask who publishes research on women, gender and politics. The
inclusion (or exclusion) of scholars based in the South in knowledge production
is important for equality, knowledge advancement and symbolic representation.
We analyse the institutional aliation of authors published in women, gender and
politics journals and find that South-based scholars are missing in the top journals.
Scholars at Southern institutions authored less than 3% of 947 articles in four leading
European and North American journals between 2008 and 2017. We discuss reasons
for the underrepresentation of South-based scholars and recommend steps to address
this disparity. The underrepresentation of scholars in the Global South, combined
with the truncated approach, demonstrates the hegemony of Western gender politics
scholarship and reinforces the power disparity in knowledge production between
the North and South.
In the next section, we highlight key insights from the critical feminist literature
on power, knowledge and gender in the Global South that motivate our article. We
then analyse the representation of scholars in the Global South in gender politics
journals and discuss how to decolonise scholarship in this area. Next, we examine two
research themes to show how studying women, gender and politics through a global
lens is essential for developing more comprehensive explanations of stasis and change.
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
The global order, power and knowledge in the Global South
The global order describes the current state system and the interconnected
organisations that form the global governance framework. The roots of this order
can be traced to the emergence of nation-states and spans colonisation, independence
and decolonisation (Risse, 2008). It has been shaped by powerful states, international
organisations (such as the Bretton Woods institutions) and the United Nations (UN).
Furthermore, it aects all areas of women’s lives in the South (Oloka-Onyango
and Tamale, 1995; Okeke, 1996; Mohanty, 2003; Ampofo et al, 2004; Sa’ar, 2005;
Lugones, 2010; Kapur, 2012; Hudson, 2016). While the hypothesised beneficial eects
of this global order on women in the South have been studied in the literature on
women, gender and politics, the antithesis has remained under-studied. For example,
in the study of gender and security, there is a dearth of scholarship that considers how
the global order contributes to issues such as violence against women (True, 2010;
Meger, 2014). Indeed, many studies attribute gender inequality and discrimination
to social, economic and political factors within the state (eg Inglehart and Norris,
2003; Cherif, 2015). When the global order is introduced into analyses, it is often to
consider how the ideas and actions of powerful states and international organisations
have advanced gender equality (eg Bush, 2011; Edgell, 2017).
For several decades, critical feminist scholars, including postcolonial, African, Latin
American and South Asian feminists, have underscored the failure of most strands
of feminisms developed and adopted in the North (sometimes termed ‘Western
feminisms’) to recognise how political and economic ideas, structures and processes
initiated and promoted by powerful states and by international organisations have
had negative political, social and economic impacts on women in countries in the
Global South (Mohanty, 1984; Abu-Lughod, 2002; Ampofo et al, 2004; Sa’ar, 2005;
Mama, 2011; Kapur, 2012, Millán, 2016). They have done this while acknowledging
the heterogeneity of Western feminisms, the value of the works produced therein
and the fact that this truncated analytical approach is not found in all Western
feminist scholarship. Nonetheless, they have argued that a significant proportion of
this scholarship elides how current and past political, economic and cultural ideas,
structures and processes, such as colonialism, neoliberalism and globalisation, interact
to aect women’s experiences of gendered inequalities and discriminations in the
South (Mohanty, 1984, 2003; Darwkah, 2002; Sa’ar, 2005; Razavi and Hassim,
2006; Kapur, 2012; Millán, 2016). Indeed, Charmaine Pereira (2017: 18) notes
that the ‘particular configuration of inequality that manifests in any given context
is conditioned by the specificities of historical, political and economic processes
embedded in that context’. The truncated approach can also be found in works
produced by scholars in the Global South (eg Medie, 2012).
Critical scholars also recognise that the eects of the global order on women in the
South depend on intersecting identities, such as caste, class, ethnicity, race and religion
(eg Basu, 1995). Therefore, they emphasise the need to be attentive to how global
political and economic ideas, structures and processes intersect with women’s lives.
In emphasising the global, we do not seek to deny the agency of actors within the
South, but rather to produce explanations and theories that capture the complexity
of women, gender and politics.
Political scientists are increasingly recognising the need to address the potential
contradictory eects of the global order in the study of women, gender and politics.
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
For example, Jacqui True (2010), in her work on the political economy of violence
against women, has argued that both UN discourses and international relations
scholarship have failed to connect global financial crises in the Global North and
macroeconomic and trade policies with violence against women. Yet, despite this
insight, the truncated approach is reflected in much of the literature on women, peace
and security (Pratt, 2013). In fact, scholars have expressed concern that an artificial
divide has emerged between scholars of feminist security studies and feminist global
political economy (Chisholm and Stachowitsch, 2017). This divide prevents feminist
international relations scholars from identifying the complexity of factors, including
the global order, at the root of issues such as sexual violence in conflict and other
forms of insecurity. Anna Agathangelou (2017), therefore, argues for a decolonial,
feminist and queer reading of feminist security studies and feminist global political
economy. This reading allows scholars to study ‘what notions allow for distinctions
and tensions between immediate (noneconomic) and mediated (economic) violence
that make these notions/practices possible’ (Agathangelou, 2017: 745). Relatedly,
decolonising the academy involves identifying, critiquing and correcting the
inequalities embedded in scholarship and at the foundation of knowledge production.
In recent years, students have called for the decolonisation of education, including
through the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa.
However, the importance of considering the global order is not limited to
understanding violence against women and has been illustrated in other issue areas,
such as women’s empowerment (eg Alexander et al, 2016; Sundström et al, 2017).
Feminist activists and scholars, such as Srilatha Batliwala (1994), Sara Hlupekile
Longwe (2000) and Naila Kabeer (2005), argue that empowerment discourses and
programmes often fail to address underlying structural imbalances of power, giving
cover to existing gender, economic and political inequalities rather than challenging
them. Indeed, the limitations to achieving women’s empowerment, while present
around the world, are manifold in the South due to imbalances in economic and
political power that are inextricably tied to historical and contemporary global
processes such as colonisation, capitalism and globalisation (Arat, 2015).
Although scholars in the North (and the South) have paid more attention to
the eect of the global order since criticisms of the truncated approach emerged,
this discussion shows that the perspectives of critical feminists have not been fully
incorporated into all areas of the dominant scholarship on women, gender and politics.
In the next section, we discuss another area of disparity in knowledge production:
whose voices are heard in the scholarship on women, gender and politics?
The representation of scholars in the Global South in women,
gender and politics journals
Given the concerns of critical feminist scholars about the marginalisation of scholars
based in the Global South, we examine the role of location in leading women, gender
and politics journals. Is publication dominated by scholars based in the Global North?
Studies of inclusion and exclusion in political science journals have focused on gender
disparities (eg Maliniak et al, 2013; Teele and Thelen, 2017; see also Atchison, this
issue). We contend that the representation of scholars at Northern and Southern
institutions in academic publishing is a salient distinction that merits the attention
of scholars of women, gender and politics for three reasons.
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
First, examining Global North–South disparities is important on the grounds
of equality. Publishing has and continues to reflect structural inequalities between
countries in the North and in the South. Scholars based in developing countries
are under-represented in development studies (Cummings and Hoebink, 2017),
medical research (Sumathipala et al, 2004) and general-interest scientific journals
(King, 2004). In research on Africa, Western knowledge production has historically
marginalised the intellectual contributions of Africans (Zeleza, 2003). Scholars at
African institutions are under-represented in North-based African politics journals
(Briggs and Weathers, 2016) and in the humanities (Miller, 1993; Mama, 2007). As
Nana Akua Anyidoho (2006: 164) writes: ‘the power relations underlying knowledge
production about Africa continue to keep African scholarship and African scholars
outside of the centre’.
Second, the inclusion of scholars in the Global South is significant for advancing
knowledge. Previous studies ‘expect that the quality of the literature will increase as
the diversity of participating academics increases’ (Briggs and Weathers, 2016: 467).
To be clear, we do not assume that scholars in the North think one way and that
those in the South think another. Rather, a diverse academy is more likely to pose a
broader array of research questions, adopt diverse methods and have access to a greater
variety of sources. Indeed, the positionality of a researcher has been shown to aect
the information gathered during fieldwork (Bouka, 2015). Anyidoho (2006: 163–4)
makes the case for research produced by insiders, scholars who identify themselves as
members of the groups under study. Such research is rooted in situated knowledge
and shared struggle, or what Mkandawire (1997: 35) calls an ‘existential interest’ in
producing knowledge about Africa. While scholars writing about global imbalances
in knowledge production recognise the fluidity of the identity and geographic
mobility of scholars, existential interest ‘frequently correlates with such demographic
characteristics’ as physical location, according to Anyidoho (2006: 164).
Finally, the representation of scholars in the South in academic publishing is
important for its symbolism. Who publishes in leading journals tells students in the
Global North and South who counts as an expert, who can produce knowledge
and whose ideas matter. As European militaries colonised African polities, European
and North American missionaries, anthropologists and administrators represented
Africans. Anyidoho (2006: 158) writes that ‘[t]hose representations were validated by
non-African audiences (and even by African readers privy to these works) because they
came supposedly from “enlightened” sources speaking on behalf of those incapable
of speaking for themselves’. When researchers living in Southern countries publish
in leading international journals, it signals to students in the South that they have
a central role to play in theory building and pushing the boundaries of knowledge.
Data and methods
To assess the representation of scholars in the Global South in knowledge production,
we examine the institutional aliation of authors of 1,929 full-length research articles
in six peer-reviewed academic journals on women, gender and politics. We selected
four leading gender and politics journals in the Global North. They have high impact
factors, are published on a regular basis and have a long history. Table 1 presents their
founding years and location.
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
Gender & Society is the top journal in gender studies (2.765 impact factor, based
on the 2016 Journal Citation Reports). Politics & Gender (2.109 impact factor) and
Journal of Women, Politics, & Policy (0.367 impact factor) are squarely situated in
political science. The International Feminist Journal of Politics is a leading journal among
feminist scholars of international politics (1.246 impact factor). We also include two
well-known journals based in Africa that focus on women, gender and politics.
Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity is a highly reputable journal among
women’s and gender studies scholars, and Feminist Africa provides a key intellectual
space for feminist research and debate. Agenda and Feminist Africa do not have an
ocial journal impact factor as they are in the Emerging Sources Citation Index.
We examine journals published in English because it is currently the international
language of scientific communication.1
Our outcome of interest is the percentage of peer-reviewed articles that have one
or more co-authors aliated with an institution in the Global South. Membership
in the Group of 77, an intergovernmental organisation of African, Asian, Central
and Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries that explicitly seek to promote
Southern interests, is used to identify countries in the South (The Group of 77, 2017).
We adopted a coding rule that is generous to North-based journals. If an article has
multiple co-authors and one is based in the South, we coded that article as coming
from a Southern institution.
Table 1: Women, gender and politics journals in the study
Journal Launch year Affiliation Years
by Web of
of articles
Agenda: Empowering
Women for Gender
1987 University of Natal-Durban,
South Africa
2015–17 204
Feminist Africa 2002 African Gender Institute
at the University of Cape
Town, South Africa
2015–16 83
Gender & Society 1987 Sociologists for Women in
Society, USA
1987–17 960
International Feminist
Journal of Politics
1999 International Studies
Association, Feminist
Theory and Gender Studies
(FTGS) Section, Canada,
2008–17 279
Journal of Women,
Politics, & Policy
1980 USA 2005–17 204
Politics & Gender 2005 American Political Science
Association, Women and
Politics Research Section,
2008–17 199
Total number of articles
Note: Articles published in Agenda from 2008 to 2017 and in Feminist Africa from 2003 to 2017 were hand-
coded by the authors.
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
We do not assume that scholars are citizens of the country. Researchers at
institutions in Europe and North America can be nationals of countries in the South,
and academics at institutions in the South can be nationals of Northern countries.
We also note that scholars in the diaspora – individuals born or raised in the South
and now working in the North – are an important category of intellectuals who
face a distinct set of opportunities and challenges and deserve further study (Zeleza,
2002: 22–3). Our focus on institutional location follows that of previous works on
representation that examine place rather than nationality. As mentioned earlier, place
matters particularly on the grounds of equality, knowledge advancement and symbolic
representation. Studying national identity would require a survey of academics because
journals do not systematically publish such information, and it would be problematic
to infer one’s citizenship or country of belonging otherwise.
Our primary source of data is the Clarivate Analytics Web of Science (2017,
formerly ISI Web of Knowledge). Between 22 November and 1 December 2017,
we searched for ‘Articles’ under Document Type and the journal under Publication
Name for all available years. We then used the bibliometrix package in R to code
for country aliation (Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017). The Web of Science, however,
indexed significantly fewer years of Agenda and Feminist Africa. To address this
imbalance, we hand-coded articles in Agenda and Feminist Africa to track the authors’
institutional aliation. For Agenda, we used the Taylor & Francis Online archive,
focusing on pieces that fall under the category ‘Articles’. For Feminist Africa, we
examined articles labelled as ‘Features’. For less than a dozen articles in Feminist Africa,
the institutional aliation of the author or authors was not provided; we searched
the web to fill in missing information.
As Figure 1 shows, South-based scholars are under-represented in leading women,
gender and politics journals. Between 2008 and 2017, less than 5% of articles
published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics were authored by a researcher
at a Southern institution, and this number is the highest of the four European and
Northern American journals. Less than 2% of full-length articles published in Politics
& Gender in the same time period were by scholars based in the Global South. At
the Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy, 1% of articles published between 2005 and
2017 were by scholars in Southern countries. This figure is similar for Gender &
Society, where slightly more than 1% of articles between 1987 and 2017 had one or
more co-authors located in the Global South. Of the 947 articles published in four
European and North American journals between 2008 and 2017, less than 3% were
by scholars at Southern institutions.
Due to the great diversity in structural inequalities across the Global South,
we examine which Southern countries have the highest representation. We find
significant dierences across Southern countries. Among the four gender politics
journals based in Europe and North America, South Africa-based scholars appear
most often (nine authors), followed by authors at institutions in India (six) and Brazil
(two). Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
Ghana, Liberia, Peru, the Philippines and Qatar are each represented once. Countries
that one might expect to be represented due to their population size – for example,
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan – are not. This points to the need to
dierentiate among countries in the Global South.
Africa-based gender politics journals are more inclusive than are their Northern
counterparts. In Agenda, 94% of articles published between 2008 and 2017 were by
scholars based in the Global South, and 6% were by scholars based in the North.
Of the articles published in Feminist Africa between 2003 and 2017, 73% had one or
more co-authors at a Southern institution and 27% were solely by scholars based in
the North. The two African gender politics journals are more diverse in terms of
the location of their authors than are their Northern counterparts.
Scholars have debated why researchers in the Global South are marginalised in
journals and presses in the Global North (eg Okeke, 1996; Zeleza, 2003). Similar
to many women’s experiences in the South, this imbalance cannot be divorced
from the global economy. The adoption of structural adjustment policies by African
governments in the 1980s led to the hollowing out of many African universities,
leading to reduced funding for research and training, poorly stocked libraries, low
salaries, and heavy teaching loads, all of which made it dicult for scholars to publish
in the most influential international journals and presses (Mama, 2002; Zeleza, 2003).
Funding increased over time, but student intake has been high, thus requiring more
teaching (see Briggs and Weathers, 2016). However, the dearth of works by scholars
based in the South in leading Northern venues cannot be attributed solely to historical
or current global economic factors.
Figure 1: The percentage of articles with at least one author in the Global South (five-
year averages)
Sources: Web of Science (2017) and authors’ coding.
Articles, % with author in the Global South
1988–1992 1993–1997 1998–2002 2003–2007 2088–2012 2013–2017
Agenda Feminist Africa Gender & Society
Intl Fem J Politics J Women Politics Policy Politics & Gender
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
Institutional incentives play an important role in where scholars publish.
Requirements that scholars publish in internationally ranked journals vary across
universities. Junior professors may prefer to submit their work where they know they
have a better chance of being published and in outlets that are accessible to scholars
in their professional networks. Therefore, South-based scholars may not send their
work to Northern journals, but instead publish in country-specific journals, paper
series, and books edited by other Southern scholars or published by Southern research
institutions such as the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in
Africa (CODESRIA), the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) and
the Laboratory for the Study of Social Dynamics and Local Development (LASDEL)
(on the institutionalisation of women’s and gender studies in Africa, see Mama, 2011).
In their study of two African politics journals published in the North (African
Aairs and the Journal of Modern African Studies), Briggs and Weathers (2016) note that
colleagues mentioned that much of the work by scholars in Africa is of low quality.
Additionally, writing styles dier, and expectations in terms of theory and empirics
and the balance between the two can significantly vary. Yet, scholars have also noted
a hierarchy in how knowledge is produced, where works from the North are often
considered to reflect good scholarship (see the previous section of this article). One
way in which this is manifested is in the privileging of certain methodologies over
others. For instance, in the US, top political science journals favour quantitative
and experimental work over qualitative research. Survey and experimental research
is particularly resource-intensive, requiring funds to buy equipment or compensate
research assistants and participants.
How can scholars of women, gender and politics address the exclusion of scholars
based in the South in leading journals? In the absence of proactive measures, the
status quo is likely to continue. We make several recommendations (summarised in
Table 2) to help decolonise publishing in academic journals.
Journal editors can consciously decide to invite graduate students and scholars
based in the Global South to submit their work given that it is common practice for
editors to informally encourage scholars to submit manuscripts. Editors and editorial
Table 2: Recommendations for improving the representation of scholars in the Global
Individuals or entity Recommendation
Journal editors and
editorial boards
Encourage scholars in the Global South to submit manuscripts
Adopt and implement an editorial vision that promotes inclusion
Invite scholars in the Global South to serve as editors and on
editorial boards
Track submission rates by location
Professional organisations Sponsor research by scholars in the Global South
Sponsor writing workshops for scholars in the Global South
Invite scholars in the Global South to participate in general
conferences and workshops
Individuals Pursue cross-regional research collaborations
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
boards can explicitly call for the inclusion of Asian, African, Latin American and
Middle Eastern researchers in their mission statements. Journals such as the European
Journal of Politics and Gender and International Feminist Journal of Politics already articulate
an editorial vision of fostering a globally inclusive sub-discipline. Feminist Africa’s
editorial policy expresses:
a profound commitment to transforming gender hierarchies in Africa, and
seeks to redress injustice and inequality in its editorial policy, content and
design, and by its open-access and by prioritizing the work and interests of
feminists based on the African continent. (Feminist Africa, 2015: 1)
To help identify promising work, scholars based in the South can be invited to serve
as editors and on editorial boards.2 Tracking submission, rejection and acceptance
rates by location can help the profession monitor change in this area.
Professional organisations can support scholars based in the Global South. The
American Council of Learned Societies, CODESRIA, and the American Political
Science Association (APSA) (eg through the APSA–Africa workshops) have made
steps in this area by sponsoring the research of South-based scholars and by supporting
scholars to present their work at conferences within and outside of Africa. They have
also organised workshops in which scholars can discuss and further develop their
ideas. At the individual level, scholars can make a conscious eort to read, cite and
teach works by scholars based in the South and to pursue cross-regional collaborations
where colleagues in the South are not used as research assistants, but full co-authors.
In sum, the production of knowledge about women, gender and politics reflects
structural inequalities in the global political and economic order. We find severe
imbalances in authorship for journals based in the North. To decolonise the profession,
scholars need to build a more geographically inclusive community. Furthermore, the
global order needs to be more comprehensively incorporated into women, gender
and politics scholarship, as argued by critical feminist scholars. In the next section,
we propose that this can be done through the adoption of a global lens.
Studying women, gender and politics through a global lens
The women, gender and politics scholarship needs to consistently interrogate both
facets – the advantageous and the disadvantageous – of the eects of the global order
on women and gender relations in the Global South. This call is not a new one and
has been made by many others, particularly critical feminist scholars. Our contribution
is to specify that a more global lens should be used in the study of women, gender
and politics, and to illustrate how this can be done.
A global lens requires women, gender and politics scholars to probe how global
economic and political ideas, structures and processes interact with national- and
sub-national-level factors to aect women and men in the Global South. As explained
earlier, this kind of analysis is already common in areas such as feminist political
economy, but it is less common in areas such as feminist security studies and in the
study of women’s political participation and women’s representation (eg Kang [2015]
does not pay critical attention to the impact of the contemporary global economic
order on women’s lives in Niger). Thus, we are arguing that the global lens can
be used more widely in the study of women, gender and politics. It necessitates a
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
recognition of the structural level at which global political and economic processes
operate as a possible source of direct and interactive influences on gender inequalities
and discrimination in the South in both small- and large-n studies. Borrowing
from Mohanty (2003), we propose that scholars ‘read up’ the power structure and
consistently search for connections between the observed outcome and global political
and economic factors. We provide two examples to illustrate how the global lens
can be used.
Illustration 1: the global politics of large-scale land acquisition and women’s livelihoods
The first is a study of the eect of large-scale land acquisitions on women’s lives
in Ghana (Darkwah et al, 2017). There has been rapid growth in the number of
acquisitions across Africa since 2007. This large-scale land acquisition, mainly for
agricultural purposes but also for manufacturing and real estate, has been attributed
to globalisation, the liberalisation of land markets and a boom in foreign direct
investment (Zoomers, 2010). Darkwah and her colleagues studied large-scale land
acquisitions for the production of bananas and pineapples in the Greater Accra and
Eastern regions of Ghana for export. The case studies were: Premier Fruits, which
is owned by a French company and grows bananas and pineapples on two pieces
of land totalling 6,671 acres; and Glomart Farms, which is a joint partnership – a
Ghanaian is the majority shareholder while a Swiss national owns 16.5% of the
company – and grows mangos and pineapples on 2,700 acres of land for export and
local consumption. The authors found that while there were some benefits to both
communities studied, such as community projects, they were outweighed by the
costs, and women were disproportionately aected.
The process of reading up the impact of the global order demonstrates that while
the eect of the land acquisitions on women can be traced to gender power relations
and land tenure systems in the concerned communities, global economic processes
also provide insight into the outcome. First, and most importantly, these processes
led to the acquisition of the land on terms that led to the displacement of farmers,
including migrant women. These processes also contributed to how much firms
paid for the land, the conditions under which women worked (to meet fair trade
regulations) and the prices at which the fruits were exported, thus influencing how
much factory and farm workers were paid. Therefore, global economic factors aected
women’s lives within the concerned communities in Ghana. These observations only
become visible when scholars move beyond examining proximate causes, such as
land tenure practices and gender power relations, to considering if and how global
processes (directly and by interacting with proximate causes) matter.
Illustration 2: the global politics of violence against women
Recent research on violence against women also illustrates the usefulness of a global
lens (True, 2010; Meger, 2014). Writing about sexual violence in conflict-aected
settings such as the DRC, Sara Meger (2014) employs a feminist political-economy
approach that connects sexual violence during conflict to the global economy.
She critiques the ‘rape as a weapon of war’ paradigm for its homogenisation of the
determinants of sexual violence in conflict and argues that three interlinked processes
– gender norms and socialisation, neoliberal globalisation, and the global political
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
economy of armed conflict – produce this violence (Meger, 2016). She argues that
as globalisation marginalised men, some turned to ‘militarized forms of masculinity’
to shift their status (Meger, 2016: 43). In this project, Meger traces how individual-
level behaviour is aected by global political and economic actors and processes. She
astutely shows how the global interacts with individual and national-level variables
to aect the occurrence of sexual violence. Thus, attention to the global order
illuminates mechanisms that lead to violence but were previously unexplored in this
setting and in the research on conflict-related sexual violence.
Indeed, the global lens allows us to study the complexity of women’s and men’s
experiences in the Global South and steers us away from partial and one-sided
explanations and theories. It enables scholars to specify new causal relationships in
addition to explaining stasis. This lens is also critical for feminist scholars who seek not
only to advance scholarship, but also to advance women’s rights. Advocacy campaigns
and other initiatives based on partial assessments of a problem are unlikely to produce
the desired change. For example, in our first illustration earlier, initiatives to increase
women’s voices in decision-making around issues of land at the community level are
unlikely to ensure that they are adequately compensated unless these initiatives are
paired with eorts on the part of the government to manage its relationship with
investors and thus to protect the interests of men and women in the face of powerful
global actors and processes.
It is important to ask if this kind of analysis is feasible. Is it reasonable to ask every
researcher to not only study how individual-, community- or national-level factors
aect the outcome of interest, but also to trace the influence of global political and
economic policies? Would such an approach not disadvantage scholars with limited
time and resources to conduct such in-depth tracing and additional data collection?
We argue that this work does not necessarily have to be done by one scholar in one
study. Indeed, it oers an opportunity for scholars to identify directions for future
research and to build on the work of others. Further, we recognise that not every
outcome may be similarly aected by global factors. In fact, there might be some
explanations that are only located at the individual, community or national levels.
Nonetheless, it is important to consider if and how factors beyond these levels have
influenced women, gender and politics in the Global South.
A global lens can be applied to research topics such as women’s political participation,
women’s movements and women’s representation. What are the legacies of colonialism
for women’s contemporary mobilisation? How have neoliberal policies (eg trade
policies) impacted women’s political participation? Thus, scholars could examine
how the actions of powerful states and international organisations have advanced but
also stymied women’s political advancement in the Global South.
The sub-field of women, gender and politics continues to expand to cover new
topics and methods of analysis. Scholars are studying a variety of issues in the South,
including the impact of gender norms on women’s political representation, health,
income, physical security and environmental security. Rarely do studies provide one
explanation for the observed outcomes; indeed, scholars often point to a variety of
factors, often at the individual, community, national and regional levels, to explain
stasis and change. In proposing the global lens, our objective is to produce scholarship
that more accurately reflects the complexity of women’s and men’s experiences,
particularly in the Global South.
Power, knowledge and the politics of gender in the Global South
Our goal has been to oer a productive path forward for conducting research
on women, gender and politics in countries in the Global South. We began by
synthesising previous criticisms made by critical feminists of the failure of Western
feminist literature to analyse the eect of global political and economic factors on
women’s lives in the South. Western feminisms have to a large extent overlooked the
impact of global power dynamics and inequalities. Although there have been changes
in Western-produced scholarship, these international inequalities remain largely
under-studied, as shown in the recent scholarship on violence against women. We
argue that this demonstrates a truncated approach to scholarship. It also reflects global
power imbalances in knowledge production as the perspectives of critical feminist
scholars have not been fully incorporated into the sub-discipline.
To further understand this imbalance, we analysed the representation of scholars
at institutions in the Global South in North-based journals and found that they
published less than 5% of articles in the journals analysed. Thus, this sub-discipline,
which has sought to end the marginalisation of female scholars and of gender
scholarship in the study of politics, concurrently marginalises scholars in the South.
Therefore, we recommended steps that editors, organisations and individual scholars
can take to address this disparity in knowledge production. To address the truncated
approach to scholarship, we proposed a global lens that enables scholars to identify
the normatively positive and negative linkages between global power dynamics and
local politics. While the focus is on the South, this global lens is relevant to studying
women, gender and politics in the North as well.
The study of women, gender and politics in countries in the Global South has
made tremendous strides since the 1980s. Scholars know much more about the rise
and impact of women’s movements, the spread of gender quotas, the adoption of
policies to combat violence against women, and the eect of gender on political
participation. Taking on a critical and global analysis of gender politics – expanding
the search for underlying causes to include powerful private and public actors in the
global economy, broadening the range of issue areas, and promoting greater diversity
among scholars – is necessary for advancing the study of women, gender and politics
in the Global South.
Conict of interests
The authors declare that there is no conict of interest.
The authors would like to thank Gretchen Bauer, Amanda Clayton, Akosua Darkwah,
Christina Xydias, and Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso for their helpful comments and suggestions
on an earlier draft.
Author biography
Peace A. Medie is a Research Fellow at the Legon Centre for International Aairs and
Diplomacy, University of Ghana. She is writing a book on the domestic implementation
of international gender-based violence norms. Her articles have been published in African
Aairs, International Studies Review, and Politics & Gender.
Peace A. Medie and Alice J. Kang
Alice J. Kang is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Ethnic Studies at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is author of Bargaining for women’s rights: Activism in
an aspiring Muslim democracy (University of Minnesota Press) and articles in Africa Today,
Comparative Politics Studies, Politics & Gender, and Perspectives on Politics.
1. We do not include journals based in Latin America or other world regions due to our
focus on Africa. Future research may examine publication patterns in such journals.
2. This is, of course, only one of the many reasons why scholars from the Global South
should be included in journal editing.
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... Over five decades later, it can be rightly concluded that nothing much has changed in terms of the knowledge inequities, or "intellectual imperialism," as Mama (2007) called this in a frank address to the African Studies Association in the USA. Importantly, these knowledge production issues are not merely academic problems, as the challenges affecting African gender studies need to be situated within the broader context of globally marginalized studies of Africa by Africans (Medie and Kang 2018), national contexts of economic and institutional decline, as well as the global context of globalization and its attendant consequences of peripheralizing the weaker countries and academies of the global South (Mama 2007). ...
... Nevertheless, many African researchers find it extremely difficult for their work to be published by the journals that dominate the field of African studies and their own particular disciplines. Complicating matters is that when it comes to male-dominated disciplines such as political science or international studies, there is an intersecting greater gender disadvantage in this scenario that means women researchers are further invisibilized (Medie and Kang 2018). Whether they eventually do publish in these journals or at Africa-based journals, their work is often not cited by their counterparts elsewhere. ...
... How can the issues of our sisters be understood if we do not offer them space in which to raise their voices? [51]. ...
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... At the same time, while in the past, comparative gender policy studies have been dominated by mostly White Western women scholars, more recently, the field has begun to take seriously work on policy outside of the West and how to better incorporate countries from those diverse regions of the world into study designs. As Medie and Kang (2018) and others (cf. Connell 2020/Bedford 2013) assert, there are strong connections between who is studying gender and politics and how it is being studied. ...
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Patterns of publication in the field of development studies are examined, based on analysis of the affiliations of authors and editorial board members for a sample of 10 ‘well-known’ (Sumner and Tribe, 2009, p. 32) academic journals. Data were collected from the Web of Science (WoS) database for the period 2012–2014 and from journal websites. Some 43 per cent of the authors of the 2112 articles in the sample are located in the USA and UK, 43 per cent are from other developed countries, while only 14 per cent are from authors in developing countries. Of the 329 editorial board members, 62 per cent are located in the UK and the USA, 31 per cent are from other developed countries, while only 9 per cent are located in developing countries. From the perspectives of equity, responsibility and diversity, and in recognition of the endogenous nature of the development process, the field of development studies should make efforts to address this underrepresentation of academics from developing countries as authors and editorial board members.
In South Africa and Rwanda, the issue of sexual violence has been catapulted into the public sphere in politically charged post-conflict contexts. This article chronicles some of the theoretical, practical and ethical dilemmas that the writer has faced while contemplating research on rape law formation and reform in Rwanda, with an acute awareness of being a Black feminist from a country known to many as one of the rape capitals of the world. Feminist discourses around sexual violence may be grounded in political convictions that this historically invisible aspect of women’s oppression should be spotlighted and included in agendas for criminal and social justice. The writer contends that while feminist scholarship in its plurality is to be commended for stressing the importance of power relations in research, scholars are still not always sensitive to how inter- and intra-group power disparities may adversely affect the interaction between the researchers and researched and the nature of the research itself. Inter-group power disparities may also adversely affect the interaction between researchers themselves. Decolonial thought may provide lenses to make these power disparities even more visible, but it is difficult to say whether decolonial approaches can establish the terms for a more equitable engagement between all the parties concerned.
International relations (IR) feminists have significantly impacted the way we analyze the world and power. The project/process that has led to the separation/specialization of feminist security studies (FSS) and feminist global political economy (FGPE) does not constitute progress but instead ends up embodying forms of violence that erase the materialist bases of our intellectual labor’s divisions (Agathangelou 1997), the historical and social constitution of our formations as intellectuals and subjects. This amnesiac approach evades our personal lives and colludes with those forces that allow for the violence that comes with abstraction. These “worrisome signs” should be explained if we are to move FSS and FGPE beyond a “merger” (Allison 2015) that speaks only to some issues and some humans in the global theater. Notions of value, reproduction, and security—concepts and practices—are both “security” and “economy” concerns. From a slave/post/neo/ colonial practice’s point of view, normativized ideas—value, primitive accumulation, reproduction, militarization, (in)security—are interrupted and stretched. Our understanding of violence becomes broader. Articulating a decolonial/feminist/queer compositional reading, I problematize this entrenched divide of FGPE/FSS research program. This reading interrupts normative global reproductions of meaning and value across time, asking new political questions that attend to the highest stake of politics: existence. It places untimely moments/products in poetic relationship and generates possibilities of meaning and value for an existence otherwise.
Why do so many developing countries have gender quota policies? This article argues that foreign aid programmes influence developing countries to adopt policies aimed at fulfilling international norms regarding gender equality. This relationship is driven by two causal mechanisms. On the one hand, countries may use gender quotas as a signal to improve their standing in the international hierarchy, possibly as an end unto itself, but more likely as a means towards ensuring future aid flows. On the other, countries may adopt gender quotas as a result of successful foreign aid interventions specifically designed to promote women’s empowerment. I test these two causal mechanisms using data on foreign aid commitments to 173 non-OECD countries from 1974 to 2012. The results suggest that while programmes targeting women’s empowerment may have some influence on quota adoption, developing countries dependent on United States foreign aid are also likely to use gender quotas as signalling devices rather than as a result of ongoing liberalization efforts.