Disrupting disempowerment: feminism, co-optation, and the privatised governance of gender and development (New Formations 91, Spring/Summer 2017)

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Publication date: September 1, 2017

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Sydney Calkin

Longstanding debates about the relationship between neoliberalism and feminism have been given new vigour by the somewhat surprising emergence of an ‘unabashed feminism’ espoused by elite women in political, economic, and cultural institutions of the global North. Women and girls are now highly visible subjects of global development governance, but also ‘poster girls’ for a variety of neoliberal reforms: Has feminism been co-opted by neoliberalism? Reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of feminist accounts of neoliberal co-optation, this article suggests a path beyond the co-optation debate: Why does neoliberalism evince concern for gender inequality as a form of inequality if it is broadly concerned with individual subjects? Empirically, the article applies this conceptual debate to Bottom of the Pyramid development initiatives, focused on the Girl Effect Accelerator. It argues that neoliberalism appropriates dimensions of feminism insofar as it represents gender inequality as a site of accumulation and mechanism for legitimising the increased power accorded to the private sector in development governance. 

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