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Patrons of Women: Literacy Projects and Gender Development in Rural Nepal

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Patrons of Women

Literacy Projects and Gender Development in Rural Nepal

Esther Hertzog

Full Text PDF | Full Text ePUB Made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license with support from Knowledge Unlatched.

278 pages, 26 photos, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-768-6 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (May 2011)

Hb   Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“Hertzog has produced a valuable anthropological work, and it is a good contribution to the ongoing anthropological discourse on aid politics.” • JRAI


Assuming that women’s empowerment would accelerate the pace of social change in rural Nepal, the World Bank urged the Nepali government to undertake a “Gender Activities Project” within an ongoing long-term water-engineering scheme. The author, an anthropologist specializing in bureaucratic organizations and gender studies, was hired to monitor the project. Analyzing her own experience as a practicing “development expert,” she demonstrates that the professed goal of “women’s empowerment” is a pretext for promoting economic organizational goals and the interests of local elites. She shows how a project intended to benefit women, through teaching them literary and agricultural skills, fails to provide them with any of the promised resources. Going beyond the conventional analysis that positions aid givers vis-à-vis powerless victimized recipients, she draws attention to the complexity of the process and the active role played by the Nepalese rural women who pursue their own interests and aspirations within this unequal world. The book makes an important contribution to the growing critique of “development” projects and of women’s development projects in particular.

Esther Hertzog is a Social Anthropologist at Beit Berl Academic College in Israel. Her research focuses on bureaucracy and gender relations. She has published Immigrants and Bureaucrats (Berghahn, 1999); Op-Ed, Feminist Social Justice in Israel (Hebrew, 2004); Life, Death and Sacrifice, Women and Family in the Holocaust (ed.) (Gefen, 2008); Perspectives on Israeli Anthropology (co-ed.) (Wayne State University Press, 2010); At Teachers’ Expense: Gender and Power in Israeli Education (co-ed.) (Hebrew, 2010); and many articles and chapters, as well as hundreds of articles in Israeli dailies. She has been involved in feminist activities for more than twenty years and founded a women’s NGO, two women’s parties, and the Women’s Parliament.

Subject: Gender Studies and Sexuality Anthropology (General)
Area: Asia

Patrons of Women by Esther Hertzog is available open access under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) with support from Knowledge Unlatched.

Full Text PDF | Full Text ePUB

OA ISBN: 978-1-78920-641-8


List of illustrations
Map of Nepal


  • Development Projects – Persistence Despite Evident Failure
  • "Development" and "Development Projects" – Neocolonialism behind Social Change Discourse
  • Economic and Gendered Critique of Development and the World Bank
  • Do Micro-finance Schemes Help the Poor and Women in Developing Countries?
  • The Comeback of "Development" Theories – Maiava's Study as an Example

Development and Women's Empowerment Projects

  • The Construction of Third World Women's Underdevelopment and Subordinated Femininity
  • Postmodern Feminist Theory Trapped in Development Discourse
  • Ambivalence in Discussing the Futility of Gender Development Projects

Gender, Development and Literacy in Nepal

  • The "Third World" Image of Nepali Women
  • Nepali Women's Participation in the Maoist Insurgency
  • Power, Poverty and Women's Illiteracy in Nepal


Chapter 1. The Vulnerable Patron: Playing the Role of a Foreign Gender Consultant

  • Patronage and Power-dependence Relations
  • Deceitful Hierarchy – Privileged Experts and Low-ranked Paraprofessionals
  • The Compelling Power and Appealing Advantages of the Consultant's Position
  • Manufacturing the Image of a Gender Expert
  • A Tourist in Disguise
  • The Professional Care-taker
  • In the Name of Women’s Good
  • Confronting Men's Chauvinism
  • Patronizing Anita
  • Complying with Expectations to Patronize the Village Men
  • Patronizing Male Officials
  • Veiled Vulnerability
  • Reluctant Patron, Vulnerable Foreigner

Chapter 2. Instrumental Patronage: Leon and Hanna

  • Leon, as a Bossy Patron
  • Complying with Hanna's Dominance
  • The Betrayed Patron
  • Imposing Discretion for the Sake of Dominance
  • Serving Tea and Power Gaps
  • The Jeep – Symbolizing and Contesting Superiority
  • A Eidiculed Patron
  • Abusing the Defenseless Indoors
  • Bribery, Drunkenness and Ethnocentrism – Cooperation and Mutual Dependence 

Chapter 3. The Phantom of Literacy Classes for Women Villagers

  • Literacy and Economic Resources - On Paper
  • Recommending Literacy – Fenster's Report
  • Illiteracy as a Case for Foreign Expertise – My Report
  • Successful Negotiations for Stalling Time
  • The Project's Reports, The Social Order and Developers' Compliance

Chapter 4. The Role of Economic Activities in Negotiating Consent

  • Development Tourists and Collaborating Village-women
  • Visiting Ekala, "Literate Developers" Meet "Illiterate Villagers"
  • Visiting Khumundihawa, Intruders Meet Locals
  • Visiting West Baharaulia - Procedural Rituals and Cracking Stereotypes   
  • Structured Social Distance and Men's Marginality in the Village Encounters
  • The Village Women's Assertiveness
  • Visiting Bhawarabari, Women Leaders and Economic Issues
  • Brindban and Sikatahan, Encountering a Field-bank and Village Women's Enterprises
  • Manipulative Developers
  • Ignoring the Women's Wishes and Deluding Them
  • Foreign Agencies Take Over Responsibilities of State Authorities  
  • The Appeal of Women's Organized Groups to Financial Agencies
  • The Appeal of the Village Women Groups from the NGOs' Perspective
  • The Village Women - Neither Naïve nor Passively Manipulated
  • Illiteracy as a Means for Establishing the Image of Women's Collective Intellectual Failure

Chapter 5. The Seminar – The Successful Failure of the Women's Empowerment Project

  • Manufacturing a Fictitious Success – The Seminar and Thapa's Class
  • The Collaboration of the World Bank with the Nepali and Israeli Partners in Faking Progress
  • The Seminar as a Platform for Exercising Men's Power – The Use of Cultural Discourse
  • Bossing Women in the Hierarchic Setting of the Irrigation Project  
  • Men's Supervision Over the Women in the Seminar
  • No Books for the Seminar – Men's Stalling and Women's Anxiety  
  • The Seminar – Degrading and Disempowering Women

Chapter 6. Gender and the Phantom Budget

  • A Women's Budget in a Male Dominated Context
  • A Flexible Budget and Feminine Compliance
  • Gender Consultants Accommodating to the Power of Men
  • Stimulating Hopes, Providing Vague Promises
  • Disillusioned Hopes: Gradual Unfolding of the Bluff
  • Men's Game: Power, Aggression, Devaluating Women's Matters  
  • Becoming Part of the System: A Coopted Feminist
  • Manipulating Facts and Figures
  • Feminine Coping with Confusing Messages and Stalling Tactics
  • Unveiling the Truth: Women's "Peanuts" Money for Men's Bonuses
  • No Budget for Women's Activities


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