Loving to straighten out development: Sexuality and " ethnodevelopment" in the World Bank's ecuadorian lending

Kate Bedford*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Gender staff in the World Bank - the world's largest and most influential development institution - have a policy problem. Having prioritised efforts to get women into paid employment as the "cure-all" for gender inequality they must deal with the work that women already do - the unpaid labour of caring, socialisation, and human needs fulfilment. This article explores the most prominent policy solution enacted by the Bank to this tension between paid and unpaid work: the restructuring of normative heterosexuality to encourage a two-partner model of love and labour wherein women work more and men care better. Through a case study of Bank gender lending in Ecuador I argue that staff are trying to (re)forge normative arrangements of intimacy, a policy preference that remains invisible unless sexuality is taken seriously as a category of analysis in development studies. Specifically, I focus on four themes that emerge from the attempt to restructure neteronormativity in the loan: (1) the definition of good gender analysis as requiring complementary sharing and dichotomous sex; (2) the Bank's attempt to inculcate limited rationality in women such that they operate as better workers while retaining altruistic attachments to loved ones; (3) the Bank's attempt to inculcate better loving in men, such that they pick up the slack of caring labour when their (partially) rational wives move into productive work, and; (4) the invocation of a racialised hierarchy resting on the extent to which communities approximate ideals of sharing monogamous partnership. Aside from providing clear evidence that the world's largest development institution is involved in micro-processes of sexuality adjustment alongside macro-processes of economic restructuring, I also critique the Bank's sexualised policy interventions and suggest that they warrant contestation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-322
Number of pages28
JournalFeminist Legal Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Fieldwork for this project was partially supported by a grant from the PORT fund, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Jersey. The project benefited from feedback received from participants in the Research Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality at the University of Kent, and from the Department of Women’s Studies, Barnard College. The author also thanks Leela Fernandes, Mary Hawkesworth, Jan Kubik, Davina Cooper, Ara Wilson, Rebecca Dingo, Jen Schomburg Kanke, and two anonymous reviewers from Feminist Legal Studies for their comments on previous drafts of this argument.


  • Ecuador
  • Ethnodevelopment
  • Gender and development
  • Heteronormativity
  • Sexuality
  • World Bank

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies


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