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WGD Discussion Series

Meet Our Fall 2023 Speakers

Thursday, Oct. 12

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

Jennifer Langill

Gender Transformations Embedded in Livelihood Transitions: Changes and Continuities in Hmong Gender Roles and Relations in Northern Thailand

Jennifer Langill is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at McGill University. Her work falls at the intersection of feminist geographies and critical development, drawing on feminist approaches to livelihoods and political ecology. She is specifically interested in the relationships between social and political marginalization, livelihood activities, and individual lifeworlds. Her current doctoral research examines intergenerational livelihood transitions for Hmong populations in northern Thailand, and the intersectional outcomes of these political economic and environmentally driven changes. Her first publication from this research was recently published in Gender, Place & Culture. Prior to this, she studied human-environment relations in the Peruvian Amazon, specifically flooding, gendered livelihood seasonality, and environmental change for floodplain communities. She has also consulted for The Alliance of Bioversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture on gendered migration and land restoration in Burkina Faso.

Abstract: Feminist research has long critiqued the overly economic focus of development studies and scholarship, calling for greater attention to the gender and broader social dimensions of development. While we are seeing much more gender sensitivity in development discourse, overwhelmingly approaches remain siloed between economic and feminist lenses. In this talk, I present an integrated gender and development analysis of livelihood change in an ethnic Hmong village in northern Thailand. I outline 30 years of livelihood transitions in this village through the entry point of gender roles and relations. Such an approach identifies both gender transformations as well as gender tensions and inequities that persist. I argue that gender is more than context and outcome, but woven throughout all forms of livelihood, economic, and environmental change. 

Thursday, Nov. 9

At 12:30 p.m. (EST) in the Newman Multipurpose Room or via Zoom

Dr. Sana Illahe

Gendered Negotiation of Urban Spaces among Transgender Persons in Pakistan: Dismantling the Colonial Binary

Sana Illahe teaches in the department of Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L), as assistant teaching professor. Her research interests include studying violence against transgender people and examining the ways transgender people navigate these on a day-today basis. Her dissertation titled “Gendered Negotiation of Space — A Study on Gender and Mobility Among Transgender Persons in Pakistan” earned her Ph.D. in sociology from South Dakota State University. Her teaching especially revolves around themes of decolonization, promoting a study of marginalized identities within their own cultural frameworks. She has collaborated with many Ho-Chunk people from La Crosse in her teaching. She has also worked on a project promoting inclusive education with local tribes in South Dakota. Dr. Illahe is also a trained vocalist in Pakistani classical tradition and has used interdisciplinary approaches in collaborating with the Music Department at UW-L, to create global cultural consciousness among students.

Abstract: Historically in Pakistan, there has been a recognition of third gender and non-binary gender expression, however, gender and sexuality spectrum were erased through the binary imposition under colonization. The remnants of this invisiblization are explored in the current project that studies transgender persons in Pakistan in three spatial domains: public spaces, private institutions, and familial domains. Following three different stories of victory, defeat, resilience and survival, the research showcases everyday negotiation of gender-based violence geared towards transgender persons in the urban spaces of Pakistan. The talk shares voices of how a specific gender and cultural identity among transgender persons known as Khwaja Sira navigates this violence in the city of Lahore, Pakistan while attempting to maintain their identity that is constantly at the risk of erasure by the colonial gender norms. The study also sheds light on how lack of gender cognizant urban planning reifies hierarchies present in the streets, marketplaces and other urban spaces of Pakistan explored in-depth in the study.

September's Speaker

Women’s labour market participation and intimate partner violence in Ghana: A multilevel analysis

In recent decades, the capabilities approach has emerged as the most pertinent theoretical framework for elucidating development, well-being, and justice. By emphasizing the multifaceted nature of human well-being, the capability approach advocates a broader perspective of development beyond mere economic growth. It underscores the necessity of considering various dimensions that contribute to the enhancement of human lives by assigning importance to freedom. One prevalent form of freedom violation is intimate partner violence, which stems from historically unequal power dynamics between men and women, resulting in the subjugation and discrimination of women by men and hindering the full realization of their potential. This profound restriction of freedom does not only violate their fundamental human rights but also jeopardizes their health, and, consequently, obstructs their active engagement in national economic and social development. The capability approach prescribes women’s empowerment as a remedy for curbing violence, as reflected in both conventional economic and non-economic models. These models forecast that women's engagement in the labor market enhances their bargaining power, leading to a decrease in intimate partner violence. However, in conflict are rather pessimistic models suggesting that women who earn more than their partners via their labor market participation are at risk of expiring increased partnered violence. Conscious of this bi-causal relationship and accounting for the potential endogeneity, I set out to empirically investigate the direction of association of this relationship within the Ghanaian context. Our key finding indicates that woman’s work status significantly increases her likelihood of becoming a victim of partnered violence. I conclude that while there is a growing focus on creating job opportunities for women to foster gender equality and development, it is essential to consider and address the implications this may have on their safety and well-being.


Dr. Bernice Owusu-Brown is a recent Ph.D. scholar in development economics who focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV) in Ghana. She is a postdoctoral fellow with the Department of Economics at Virginia Tech. Dr. Owusu-Brown obtained her Ph.D. through a collaborative program between the University of Ghana and the United Nations-World Institute for Development Economics (UNU-WIDER), where she conducted extensive research on the economics of intimate partner violence in Ghana. Her research examines the intersection of gender, health, and economic development with specific focus on the economic and health effects of intimate partner violence and social empowerment. Her research takes a multidisciplinary approach, drawing insights from economics, gender studies, sociology, and public health to understand and explore the complex relationships between health, gender, and development. In addition to her research, Dr. Owusu-Brown has worked and interned with the UNU-WIDER in Finland and Imani Africa in Ghana, providing technical assistance on the mechanisms through which gender-based discrimination affects health outcomes and economic development. She is passionate about translating her research findings into actionable policy recommendations that can contribute to reducing gender-based violence and promoting gender equality in Ghana.

Dr. Bernice Owusu-Brown

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.