Sex, Gender and Politics: Research and policy implications pertaining to South Africa, India and Switzerland

Zentrum Gender Studies - Steinengraben 5 - Basel
Zentrum Gender Studies; Competence Centre on Africa, Universität Basel
Stephan Meyer

An adequate understanding of current transformations pertaining to gender and sex in different societies requires overcoming nation-bounded and Eurocentric paradigms still prevalent in the social sciences and humanities. Accordingly, the Centre Gender Studies in collaboration with the Centre of Competence on Africa at the University of Basel invites interested parties to a symposium on changes and persistences pertaining to sex, gender and politics in South Africa and India. Contributors to this symposium will shed light on the interconnections between globalisation and gender research. South African experts will offer a close examination of trends pertaining to hetero- and homosexuality as it relates to HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Scholars working on India will explore the impact of the circulation of views on homosexuality between India and the North Atlantic, as well as the effect of gender quotas in local government on gender relations in India. Researchers involved in large-scale comparative studies that include India and South Africa dealing with gender and taxation and with the care economy will illustrate their significance and analyse some of the challenges facing policy implications, also for Switzerland and its relations to these societies.


8:30 Welcome

Session 1: Gender, sexualities and the global context

8:45 – 9:30

Change and persistence in gender relations in the context of global transformation processes: the case of sexuality

Andrea Maihofer, Zentrum Gender Studies – University of Basel

Gender impacts upon and is influenced by global transformation processes. Accordingly, changes and persistences in the understanding of gender, in the constitution of gender and in gender relations cannot be adequately understood within the constraints of nation states. Overcoming the nation-bounded and Eurocentric study of these changes and persistences is only possible through a thorough understanding of intersections amongst local and global trends. This requires collaborative research with scholars who are both knowledgeable about specific local trends and can engage in discussions with others about similar and different trends elsewhere. This introduction examines some of the underlying concepts behind such collaboration, potential challenges and pitfalls as well as possible outcomes. These points are illustrated with reference to the paradoxical coexistence of changes and persistences pertaining to sexuality.

Patricia Purtschert, Research Associate Zentrum Gender Studies – University of Basel and Freie Universität Berlin

9:30 – 10:30

Small town dancing boys and the work of pleasure: On the iteration of 'mast' and 'maaza' in out-of-the-way India

Lawrence Cohen, Social and Cultural Anthropology – University of Zurich and UCLA, Berkeley

The talk develops the tension in small-town north India between two modes of political relationship – friendship and hierarchy – and examines when and how these come to be configured as erotic relations between men. This discussion leads to an engagement with how certain forms of political margin are constituted through the public circulation of figures of violent homoerotic desire, building on an examination of how U.S. based debates over "gay marriage" circulated in rural districts of two north Indian states.

Fouzieyha Towghi, Social and Cultural Anthropology – University of Zurich and UCLA, Berkeley

10:30 – 11:00

Session 2: Hetero- and Homosexualities in South Africa in the context of HIV/AIDS

11:00 – 12:45

From Social Silence to Social Science: HIV/AIDS and Same-Sex Sexuality in South Africa

Vasu Reddy, Gender and Development – Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa & Gender Studies – University of KwaZulu-Natal

The paper outlines some views on researching MSM (men who have sex with men) in South Africa based, in part, on insights gleaned from a recent working conference on gender, same-sex sexuality and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Locating MSM in the context of sexuality and HIV/AIDS, the discussion outlines the erasure of MSM within the epidemiological picture of South Africa. Some recent research is listed in addressing the gap. The core argument is dedicated to understanding what the research process should consider in future MSM research in relation to community knowledge, community participation and the design of programmes targeted at intervention in the transmission of HIV.

HIV/AIDS and the reproduction of normative gender and heterosexual practices in contemporary South Africa

Tammy Shefer, Women’s and Gender Studies – University of the Western Cape

It is widely acknowledged that a gender analysis is key to understanding and addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS in contemporary South Africa as it is globally. This paper argues that the public and academic focus on HIV/AIDS, understandably an imperative for sub-Saharan Africa given the extremely high rates of infection and those living with HIV/AIDS, has served to highlight existing gender and other social inequalities, but in many ways social responses (including academic knowledge production) has also served to perpetuate and legitimate unequal and abusive power relations and practices. The paper outlines briefly what we know about the ways in which HIV/AIDS is gendered, and then moves to exploring the ways in which interventions and knowledge production have inadvertently undermined the challenges of gender transformation through normative assumptions about traditional gender roles and often inadvertently reproduce and legitimise the very gender roles and power relations that we seek to challenge. The paper argues that key to this challenge is the integration of a critical understanding of gender in current responses to HIV/AIDS in South Africa and internationally.

Helena Zweifel, Medicus Mundi and

12:45 – 14:15

Session 3: From social science to social policy: research on gender relations in India

14:15 – 15:00

Gender trouble in India: Investigating changes and persistences

Sophie Vögele, Zentrum Gender Studies – University of Basel; Indira Pancholi, Social Worker – Delhi and Ravi Hemadri, The Other Media – Delhi.

This paper will be divided in two parts: A first section recounts findings and research experiences about how the reservation of one third of council (Panchayat) seats for women in India can question power-related and gender-specific aspects of and upset previous arrangements between men and women. On the basis of the quota therefore, fundamental values can be at stake. However, for negotiating power-related and gender-specific aspects within households of lower classes and castes, the analysis suggested hegemonic beliefs on gender to be instrumental. Furthermore, it suggested middle class arrangements to be a determining norm. Therefore, a second section focuses on the new formation of a hegemonic gender pattern within the emerging middle class in small town India. The aim thereby is to identify and discuss main parameters of work in progress.

15:00 – 15.30

Session 4: International comparative research projects and policy implications

15:30 – 17:15

Taxation and Gender Equity: A Comparative Analysis of Direct and Indirect Taxes in Developing and Developed Countries

Imraan Valodia, UNIRSD – Geneva & Development Studies – University of KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

The paper discusses the research findings of an 8-country study of gender and taxation. The study examined the gender biases in direct and indirect taxes in Argentina, Mexico, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Morocco, India and the United Kingdom. The paper outlines the conceptual issues, the methodology used and discusses the findings and policy recommendations of the project. The findings for South Africa and India are emphasised.

Unpaid Care, an Issue of Research and Politics in the Context of the United Nations: South African and Indian examples

Brigitte Schnegg Interdisciplinary Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Berne

The care economy is a widely discussed topic in current Gender Studies and touches on the key concepts of this workshop: sex, gender and politics. It is at the crossroads of different feminist debates: the enormous amount of unpaid work done mostly by women challenges mainstream economics and is at the core of feminist economics. The question of who does paid and unpaid care work under which conditions is linked to the social and global division of labour as well as to power relations within societies. On a global level the care economy has a critical impact on gender equality as well as on the situation of women in poor countries.

These considerations – among others – were at the origin of a comparative research project on the Political and Social Economy of Care conducted by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development in Geneva. This research project analyses care-giving in different countries worldwide, among others India, South Africa and Switzerland. The project as a whole aims at exploring the ways in which care is provided by the institutions of family/household, state, market and community, and by the people within these institutions. Not only has the UN devoted considerable effort to research, but the care economy and its political implications have also been the focus of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Session, dealing with the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women particularly in care giving.

This paper presents some of the key findings of the UNRISD research on India, South Africa and Switzerland, focussing on similarities and differences between the three countries. At the same time it discusses the question in how far care economy is a useful indicator for a comprehensive understanding of the “Sex, Gender and Politics”-interrelations. The second part of the paper focuses on the political debate on care at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, reporting the principal debates and main outcomes. With this double approach which looks at research and at political processes both framed by the United Nations, the paper seeks to engage a discussion with the workshop participants on the possibilities and strengths as well as the weaknesses and pitfalls of this international frame for transnational and postcolonial feminist politics.

Annemarie Sancar (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)

17:15 – 18:00
Concluding discussion

18:15 – 20:00
Buffet dinner


Stephan Meyer
Zentrum Gender Studies, Uni Basel, Steinengraben 5
+ 41 61 267 08 73

Sex, Gender and Politics: Research and policy implications pertaining to South Africa, India and Switzerland, 29.05.2009 Basel, in: H-Soz-Kult, 18.05.2009, <>.
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