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25 Years of Gender and Development Studies (GDS) at AIT

28 Sep 2022
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As the first degree-awarding program in gender and development studies in Asia, Gender and Development Studies (GDS), established in 1997, is a pioneering program that continues to lead important work toward global goals, from the commitment to gender equality at the Beijing Conference in the mid-1990s to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the ongoing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto, the President of AIT, highlights the importance of GDS at AIT when he notes, “The role of AIT is to produce region-specific knowledge and solutions, and we are in a strategic location geographically to be able to do so. Gender and Development have always been at the core in this endeavor since it encompasses the social, cultural, and political perspective.”     

Things did not happen easily. Before 1990, not a single course was taught about gender and development at AIT. However, in the 1990s, as gender mainstreaming initiatives emerged in the development sector, interest rose in making engineers more gender-sensitive. That is when the GDS program at AIT began as a small project to raise awareness on gender perspectives among engineers and then developed into a full-fledged academic program. New ideas always face difficulties, but fast forward to this year; AIT is proud to celebrate 25 years of GDS as a regional hub of excellence in gender and development. The program has always been committed to not only generating knowledge through interdisciplinary research and publications on gender and development, especially in the Global South but also serves as an extension and catalyst of grassroots community-based efforts working to build capacity on gender and development globally. Our alumni continue to pave the way as leading experts in the region, serving as gender specialists and program officers in international and national organizations, establishing their own NGOs, becoming leading academicians, politicians, civil society leaders, and policymakers, and working as good neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family who extend empathy to those who are marginalized and fight for gender equality. 

The early vision and commitment of the program have continued to thrive for these past twenty-five years and today encompasses a growing alumni body of over 300 gender experts spread across the globe. From its inception, GDS drew students from around the world and encouraged a learning model rooted in diversity and exchange as the hallmark of the program. 

The GDS program aims to create a safe learning space for all students to discuss, explore and analyze gender issues in society based on their everyday experiences and observations. They leave the program acquiring the skills and language to raise questions they may have wanted to ask but never were able to. Why is the world like this? How do we work to transform our societies into more equitable and just societies? GDS faculty notes, “The transformation of our students through classes and interaction with fellow students is quite empowering. Many batchmates keep in contact, which is how our GDS network continues to be very strong and sustainable”. 

2022 also marks the 25th year of the Gender, Technology, and Development (GTD) Journal (Taylor & Francis), a flagship publication of the program. Since its launch, GTD has become a leading publication on gender and development globally, currently ranked 36 out of 173 journals in gender studies worldwide. The journal, in line with GDS’s vision of contributing to original knowledge production, has led gender and development research in new theoretical and practical directions, leading the field in examining the implications of technological change on gender and development.

The GDS family continues to expand and grow, and the latest initiative is the upcoming launch of the Center on Gender and Forced Displacement and the affiliated Chair position in Gender and Forced Displacement supported by IDRC. The Center and affiliated research activities at GDS bring attention to the ongoing imperative to center gender issues globally. As the emergent crisis in Ukraine demonstrates, war, conflict, oppression, and threats to freedom of movement and speech have affected many but women and gender diverse minorities, in particular, are impacted due to their relatively lower social positioning in our societies. As a result, many women researchers, journalists, educators, and activists are under threat. We need to create platforms and spaces for their voices, opinions, and experiences to be heard and build solidarity networks that bridge existing movements challenging the oppression of freedoms and rights locally and globally. Talking about these new developments in the program, the program Chair, Prof. Kyoko Kusakabe, elaborates, “The strengths of GDS is our network in the region, through our alumni, and our research and outreach activities. We strive to be a hub of gender experts in the region, raising issues relevant to the region through grounded analysis and recommendations for action.”