Becoming better 'men' and 'women' : negotiating normativity through gender mainstreaming in post-tsunami reconstruction initiatives in Aceh, Indonesia
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This PhD research explores the normative boundaries and subversive potential of gender mainstreaming initiatives as feminism in the post-tsunami context of Aceh. It arises from a recent call in the post-tsunami gender and disaster literature to shift from ‘gender and disasters’ to ‘feminisms and disasters’. I argue that in order to make that shift, a closer look at the normative assumptions about what constitutes feminism is required. This thesis offers a critical analysis of gender mainstreaming initiatives drawing on Judith Butler’s post-structuralist critique of a woman as the naturalised focus of feminism and her alternative conceptualisation of feminism as subversion. In the thesis I re-read Judith Butler’s work alongside post-colonial and queer feminist literature. The analysis of normativity of gender mainstreaming in Aceh is developed in relation to theorisation of heteronormativity, intersectionality, and gender and development assistance as part of the global political economy. The analysis of the normative boundaries and subversive potential focuses on three practices of gender mainstreaming: the use of the concept pair sex/gender; framing of gender as an exclusive focus of analysis; and the use of project management tools. I illustrate how gender mainstreaming uses arguments from biology, theology, and feminist theory to reiterate and normalise heteronormativity and the naturalness of sex. Analysing the radio drama production ’Women Can Do It Too!’, Oxfam International’s gender advocacy campaign produced for the tsunami-affected coastal areas in Aceh in 2006, I illustrate how the radio drama normalises liberal feminist ideals of women’s political, social and economic rights omitting critical narratives of the tsunami reconstruction efforts and the context of conflict, thus making the other social inequalities invisible. Furthermore, I argue that aid project management practices construct Acehnese spatiality and temporality within linear narratives of ‘better’. These normative narratives are subverted by a simultaneously emerging local activism that offers the possibility of understanding feminism and construction of norms as multiple, always in the process of ‘becoming’.