Heteronormativity in the development sector: where are we now?


This IIED Debates event explored gender and sexual diversity in the development sector, and how heteronormative discourse has evolved in the past decade.

Last updated 14 December 2022
A series of rainbow flags outside a building.

LGTBI flag in Kerala, India (Photo: Kandukuru Nagarjun, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The sustainable development sector has made significant advances to champion social inclusion, equity and participatory processes. Yet mainstream development agendas have struggled to consider gender and sexual diversity.

This online event explored how heteronormativity in the development sector has evolved over the past decade, and why we need joined-up thinking and solidarity across and beyond progressive sexuality causes now.

Eleven years ago, Susie Jolly published an article detailing the ways that international development work was heteronormative, assuming heterosexual gender stereotyped household models and framing sexuality as a problem of ill-health or violence, rather than a potentially pleasurable contributor to wellbeing.

Jolly revisited her assessment in a recent paper 'Is development work still so straight? Heteronormativity in the development sector over a decade on'. Over a decade later, while the sector is largely still heteronormative, LGBTI and sexual pleasure have now made an entry into development discourses. Funding and action however remain limited. And both LGBTI and pleasure have been co-opted at least to some degree to reinforce other intersecting axes of inequality.

In this IIED Debates event, Jolly reflected on the possibilities of an integrated approach to sexuality which goes beyond identity politics or a focus on pleasure, to recognise the links between different dimensions of sexuality, as well as how they are impacted by the political and economic environment.

She argued that in these dark times of war, pandemic, climate crisis and conservatism, we need more than ever joined-up thinking and solidarity across and beyond diverse sexuality causes, that cannot be twisted to other purposes or used to pit one progressive cause against another.

About the speakers

Tucker Landesman (moderator) is a geographer with a multidisciplinary background and 10 years' experience researching and implementing projects on urban development, climate change and public health in Latin America as well as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. He focuses on innovative, inclusive urban policy and governance for more equitable and sustainable cities.

Susie Jolly (speaker) has over 30 years of experience working on sexuality and gender. She is an honorary associate for the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), teaching and supervising students, and a freelance consultant, researcher, communicator, facilitator and trainer. From 2010-17, Susie Jolly led the Ford Foundation sexuality education grant making programme in China. She founded and convened the sexuality and development programme at IDS, which contributed to bringing about a greater recognition of the importance of sexual rights to development.

Dr. SN Nyeck (respondent) is a multidisciplinary associate professor in Africana/gender studies in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Trained in political economy of development at the University of California Los Angeles with specialisation in international relations and comparative politics, Dr. Nyeck has pursued research on the political economy of development, governance, and global public procurement reform with an interest in social justice, race and gender-responsive schemes in government contracts, and gender and identity politics.

Event coverage

Watch a full recording of the event below or on IIED's YouTube channel, where individual links to the start of each speaker's contribution are also provided. 

IIED researchers Tucker Landesman and Anna Carthy wrote Heteronormativity in development – what does queer have to do with it?, a blog about the event.

About IIED Debates

This event was part of the IIED Debates series. Through the convening of expert speakers and external stakeholders, IIED brings together an international community to discuss critical issues.

IIED Debates encompass both physical and digital events, including critical themes, breakfast debriefs and webinars. These events are public and are hosted regularly throughout the year online and when possible in our London and Edinburgh offices.

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