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Re-evaluating the “traditional”: How the South Sudanese use established gender narratives to advance women's equality and empowerment

LeRoux-Rutledge, Emily


Emily LeRoux-Rutledge


Women's equality and empowerment are international development priorities, but are difficult to achieve. Much gender and development literature blames entrenched “traditional” gender roles and norms, using them to explain slow progress towards gender and development goals, such as girls’ and women's education, women's participation in public decision-making, and women's land and property ownership. The literature often concludes that, for gender and development goals to be realized, traditional gender narratives must be challenged and changed. However, limited research examines the full range of ways in which people, who live in highly gender-unequal societies, actually use traditional gender narratives to negotiate issues of women's empowerment and gender equality. Drawing on qualitative data collected from three rural South Sudanese communities—comprising interviews and focus groups with 94 research participants, and over five hours of community radio content—this study demonstrates that gender narratives considered to be traditional by the South Sudanese, during a post-conflict transition period, do not necessarily constitute barriers to the advancement of gender and development goals. Rather, the South Sudanese use traditional gender narratives, in this context, to both resist and support goals that the international development community prioritizes. By providing evidence that traditional gender narratives are mobilized and used by community members to support women's equality and empowerment, this paper challenges and extends development scholarship that positions traditional narratives as barriers, and encourages development practitioners to consider how they might critically harness, rather than reject, such narratives in the pursuit of gender and development goals.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 1, 2020
Journal World Development
Print ISSN 0305-750X
Electronic ISSN 1873-5991
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 132
Article Number 104929
APA6 Citation LeRoux-Rutledge, E. (2020). Re-evaluating the “traditional”: How the South Sudanese use established gender narratives to advance women's equality and empowerment. World Development, 132,
Keywords Women, Empowerment, Tradition, Narrative, Africa, South Sudan


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