Discordant Connections

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35 (1) (2009)
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he importance of gender equality and of women’s work in relation to the environment is regarded as a crucial question for development in “third‐world” rural societies. “Development” and a certain standard of welfare make these issues appear to be less urgent in a wealthier country such as Sweden. In this article, I trace some of the contradictions and connections in the ways in which gender equality is conceptualized in women’s struggles vis‐à‐vis environmental issues in rural areas in Sweden and India. The article throws light on two important insights: First, in Sweden, where gender equality has been actively pursued as the bedrock of modern societal organizing, the space to organize as women in relation to environmental issues was fraught with ambiguity. Second, development discourses about equality and empowerment of oppressed third‐world women not only bear on how gender equality is conceptualized and practiced in the global South but also shape the space for gender equality in the North. Analyzing the two cases in relation to each other reveals the travel of ideas and conversations across distant geographical spaces. While ideas about the independent, empowered woman are used to deny agency to women’s collectives in India, gendered discrimination has taken different forms in Sweden, making it more difficult to contest. Understanding how this takes place opens an opportunity for interruption in an order and a space that appears to have become narrower under the umbrella of development, welfare, and growth. It brings into question the category of development in a southern but particularly so in a northern context, where the North, and especially Sweden, is taken as a referent for questions of development and gender equality.

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Seema Arora-Jonsson
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences


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