Elena Robertson


The Gender and Development (GAD) paradigm emerged out of decades of concerted effort by theorists, practitioners and feminists. GAD has attempted to bring women as individuals into the development institution and while this has no doubt contributed to considerable advances in women’s access to education, health care and employment, it has yet to greatly affect gender-based violence (GBV). GBV continues to plague development despite GAD’s best efforts. Recent research suggests that this may be linked to the paradigm’s inability to address female sexuality in and of itself. Female sex and sexuality continue to be taboo at global and local levels of GAD, where sex is relegated to a public health issue instead of treated as a fundamental aspect of human experience. In this way, women continue to be constructed within the GAD institution as passively sexual beings. In nine semi-structured interviews with local GAD actors in Cambodia, the immediacy of this issue became apparent. Not only do these experts recognize the importance of addressing female sexuality, but they are acutely aware of how their positionality both enables and constrains their ability to adequately broach this issue. During approximately one month of study in Phnom Penh, I conducted interviews with Cambodian GAD actors of any gender working for Cambodian-run organisations. Drawing upon this feminist-oriented research, this paper argues that the omission of female sexuality from GAD is a root cause of the persistence of GBV.

Author Biography

Elena Robertson completed her Master in Development Studies (gender stream) at the University of Melbourne in July 2018. Prior to beginning her master’s, she lived in Siem Reap, Cambodia for two years and Long Xuyen, Vietnam for one year. Elena now works at the International Women’s Development Agency (Melbourne) as the Research, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator. Elena’s geographical focus is Cambodia and Southeast Asia, and she is interested in the importance of addressing sex as a human right within GBV prevention frameworks, GBV against commercial sex workers and emerging issues of the relationship between climate-change related disasters and GBV.