Understanding gender in conflict-affected Timor-Leste: Women's voices on marriage, motherhood and the gender-poverty-violence nexus
O' Keeffe, Clíonadh
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This research addresses conceptual dilemmas facing gender mainstreaming that impede its transformative potential to end gender inequality. It explores meanings of gender underlying women's subjective experiences of everyday family life in the conflict-affected context of Timor-Leste. Grounded in the standpoint of Timorese women, this qualitative solidarity-based research focuses on marriage and motherhood as the dominant constructs underpinning the empirical themes constituting the complex gender-poverty-violence nexus. How gender is reproduced and sustained in these two interrelated yet distinct domains shaping women's lives is thus an important but still under-researched area of inquiry. The research is concerned with the conceptualisation of gender in gender mainstreaming, a highly contested theory and practice that is at once, a radical philosophy/transformative frame of analysis and a de-politicised technical policy instrument. Gender mainstreaming is often critiqued for relying on universalised and uni-dimensional framings of gender that render the transformation of inequitable gender relations problematic. An exploration of women's lived realities is necessary to bridge the gap between theory and practice. In Timor-Leste there is a tendency within orthodox development and democratisation processes to neglect the socio-cultural-historical and affective dimensions of local context. This can generate inadequate awareness of gender specificity and reinforce essentialised conceptions of gender. This is an obstacle to achieving gender equality. A deep and culturally nuanced analysis of the subjective experiences of women like those in Timor-Leste is required if the forceful institutionalisation of gender mainstreaming into state-led processes is to address existing needs and transform gendered structures of inequality. This study seeks to provide the relevant academic, policy and practice communities with a contextualised meaning of gender. It hopes that a more nuanced reading will contribute towards the resolution of some of the key tensions surrounding the conceptualisation of gender mainstreaming and the operationalisation of emancipatory gender policy and effective feminist praxis.
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