Symposium on Sex, Gender and Politics: Research and policy implications pertaining to South Africa, India and Switzerland – May 2009

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 taxation and with the care economy will illustrate their significance and analyse some of the challenges facing policy implications.

Session 1: Gender, sexualites and the global context

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

Discussant: Helena Zweifel, Medicus Mundi and

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

Gender trouble in India: Investigating changes and persistences   
Sophie Vögele, Zentrum Gender Studies – University of Basel; Indira Pancholi, Aagaz Foundation – Delhi and Ravi Hemadri, The Other Media – Delhi.

Between 1999 and 2001 more than one million women were swept into local rural politics in India on the basis of a new reservation of one third of council (Panchayat) seats for women. On the one hand there are high expectations that these women will bring about major social change which will benefit the entire village community. On the other hand there are many critical voices of these women merely being puppets in the hands of powerful villagers or of their husbands and fathers-in-law. But more is at stake than the debate on how much change these women will bring to the community. There are more fundamental power-related and gender-specific aspects at stake which, on the basis of the quota, have to be renegotiated. This contribution presents findings based on a field study and interviews conducted in Rajasthan that reflect the changing roles of women in politics and peace negotiation.

Session 4: International comparative research projects and policy implications

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.

Discussant: Annemarie Sancar (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)