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WGD Discussion Series

Thursday, April. 11

At 12:30 p.m. (EST) via Zoom

Rebecca Williams

Women’s empowerMENt: How do large-scale development agencies approach men and masculinities in gender-based project programming and women’s empowerment initiatives?

Rebecca Williams is an Assistant Professor of Integrative, Environmental, and Global Studies in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Grand Valley State University.

Abstract: Due to the work of many critical and feminist scholars and development practitioners, gender assessments and strategies have been mainstreamed into the work of large-scale development agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Gender as a concept within the development paradigm has shifted over time from a focus on integration of women into development projects (women in development, WID), to the examination of gender as a social construct that includes specific roles, norms, and responsibilities assigned to men and women (gender and development, GAD), and ultimately to empowerment approaches that emphasize the need for transformational change of the social and institutional structures that subordinate women. Contemporary discourses and critiques within the field of gender and development bring to the fore the importance of understanding how intersectionality and masculinity operate within these greater systems and structures. In this research project, I use critical feminism and document analysis to examine USAID's gender strategies across 60 nations and regions and how they approach gender and development in terms of men’s unique needs, men’s role in women’s empowerment, and the role of masculinities in men’s performance of gender. Preliminary results show that USAID's gender focus is almost entirely on women's needs with very little work being conducted on masculinity, particularly in terms of the way men identify themselves as "men" or "masculine" and how this influences initiatives targeted to women.

Bio: Rebecca Williams earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology, concentrating in Tropical Conservation and Development from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in Gender and Development. She also holds a MS in Instructional Systems Design from Florida State University and has worked as an Environmental Educator Extensionist with the Peace Corps in Honduras in addition to carrying out grant-supported work in a range of other international locations in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. She holds a BS in Music Education from Stetson University.


Spring 2024 Past Speakers

February: Carla Macal

Healing Cartographies: Body Mapping by Guatemalan Women Survivors of Genocide 

 In this discussion, I examine the embodied transformative memory of GuateMaya feminist groups in Guatemala and in Los Angeles. Through a decolonial feminist perspective and feminist ethnographic approach, I built intimate relationships with the grassroots groups. This presentation will explore the multidimensional ways the groups create a transformative memory opposing Guatemala and U.S. states of what can be remembered and what can’t. The groups are committed to what I call cartographies of healing, weaving memory, movement, and embodied testimonios across settler-colonial borders. The groups honor loved ones' memory by installing public altars, photos, art, and poetry. The presentation will delve into the concept of cartographies of healing and the ethnographic work I employed from 2019 to 2023. A particular method I used was body mapping to examine the embodied transformative memory of the groups and women who seek justice. Body mapping has been used with HIV-positive patients and migrant children. Latin American feminist decolonial geographers (Cabnal 2010; Zaragocin 2020, GeoBrujas 2021) are using the method of body mapping as a decolonial, counter-cartographic perspective that highlights Indigenous peoples’ lived experiences. I use the method to explore the relationships between the body, memory, and healing from intergenerational trauma. Informed by decolonial feminists, I aim to center the testimonios of GuateMaya feminist groups and be guided by a body-mind-spirit perspective to amplify the concerns, visions, and futures of GuateMaya groups across the hemisphere.

Carla Macal is a first-generation scholar. She earned her Ph.D. in Geography from the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon. Her dissertation, Cuerpo-Territorio: Embodied Transformative Memory and Cartographies of Healing among GuateMaya Feminist Groups, is informed by decolonial Indigenous epistemologies of the global majority. Her research interests consist of intersections between state violence and intergenerational healing. Carla holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Irvine. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pomona College in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies teaching Theories of the Body and Care Praxis as Transformative Justice. She is an interdisciplinary community scholar engaged with on-the-ground research and social justice work. Carla is also the creator of Ixoq Arte, an herbalist project preserving ancestral Indigenous knowledge.  

Carla Macal

March: Neeti Aryal Khanal

Intersections of Vulnerabilities: Multiple Marginalized Experiences of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Nepal

Nepal, known as one of the 48 Least Developed Countries in the world, is now on its preparatory five-year plan (2021-2024) to graduate toward being a developing country.  This possible graduation however is happening without much visible improvement in status of one of the most marginalized groups in Nepal: women and girls with disabilities. In the presentation, Dr. Neeti will discuss how the experience of women and girls with disabilities is shaped by the complex intersection of ableism and patriarchy. These intersections are further heightened by four barriers: social, physical, communication and institutional, and policy.  Further, these experiences are shaped by other aspects of social identities of women and girls with disabilities: caste/ethnicity, class, education, social capital, and place of residence. Nepal has ratified a number of conventions and treaties including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. However, women and girls with disabilities, despite being one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in Nepal, continue to remain invisible in state legislation, policy, and programs.

This presentation is based on Neeti Aryal Khanal’s two-decade-long research-based activism on various aspects of women and girls with disabilities in Nepal: gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, experience of motherhood, and institutional and policy barriers.

Neeti Aryal Khanal, assistant professor of sociology at Tribhuvan University Nepal, is a passionate educator, feminist researcher-activist. She started her educator’s journey from 1996 as kindergarten teacher. Her two-decade-long experience in higher education comprises a unique blend of activism, research, teaching, supervision, and curriculum development informed by higher education pedagogy. Her diverse research experience connects to the common theme of social justice and encompasses areas of gender and disability, gender and armed conflict, motherhood experiences, violence against women, marginalization and reproductive health. Her research on gender-based violence and reproductive health of women with disabilities have helped to inform advocacy for policy interventions in Nepal. 

Neeti Aryal Khanal

About the series

The Women and Gender in International Development Discussion Series is organized by the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) and is an InclusiveVT initiative of Outreach and International Affairs (OIA).  Students, faculty, staff and members of the community are encouraged to attend the discussions and bring their ideas and questions. 

The WGD program has sponsored a monthly discussion series for over a decade. Thanks to the support of OIA, the program is able to bring international speakers as well as others from across the United States. We have also received support from the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Endowed Lecture Fund, Women’s and Gender Studies, Women's Center, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Global Programs, the Department of Geography, the Department of History, the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Africana Studies and other programs and departments at Virginia Tech.

The series offers an opportunity for scholars and development practitioners to share their research and knowledge surrounding gender and international development with the Virginia Tech community and beyond.

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Past events

Please visit our Past Events Archive for information on the previous Discussion Series and speakers.