Poverty, Education, Gender and the Millennium Development Goals: Reflections on Boundaries and Intersectionality

Theory and Research
Author/Publisher: Elaine Unterhalter, Theory and Research in Education, SAGE Publications, 2012
Download: English

The article considers the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concerned with poverty, education and gender (MDG 1, MDG 2 and MDG 3). Despite considerable achievements associated with the MDG approach, which entails international and national target setting and monitoring, a sharp distinction between areas of social policy is entailed. In addition the approach suggests sufficiency, for example providing a minimum level of education or gender parity, rather than a fuller notion of equality, is good enough. These processes of classification, which entail horizontal and vertical boundaries, are examined, partly drawing on Bernsteinian ideas, and partly through reflections on the concept of intersectionality.

Data collected from discussions in Kenya and South Africa with administrators in national and provincial government and teachers implementing the poverty, education and gender MDGs are explored. These show a tendency to work primarily with ideas based on lines, associated with the MDG targets rather than to think more complexly about structure, agency and context in addressing inequality. Thus professionals who confront problems of poverty, gender inequality and inadequate education in day-to-day work lack appropriate resources or processes for gathering information or reflexively engaging with it. The missing resources are partly financial, in that there are not budgets of time or money to attend to making connections. But in addition they are conceptual. Ideas which take a direction to social justice. In the place of a reasoned and reflexive professional language of practice, everyday ideas that connect poverty with gender and schooling are expressed. These tend to reproduce social distance and blame. Putting intersectional ideas to work in ways that consciously and creatively challenge existing sites of exclusionary power appeal key in success or frameworks to the MDGs.


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