Gender, Development, Children and Young People


Most of the world’s children live in developing countries, and children and young people are a major focus of intervention in international development. Yet despite the success of recent feminist critiques in shifting focus within academic and policy circles from ‘women’ to ‘gender’ and foregrounding questions of power relations and equality, children and young people are marginal in gender and development debates, and the gender-development nexus continues to be explored mainly through the lens of adult experience. When children do appear, the focus is often on their relationship to women/mothers and to processes of female poverty and the attention given to girls rather than gender per se, emphasis being given to their victimisation through diverse ‘harmful practices’ and to the women they will become (see for example UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children reports 2007, 2008, and 2009, concentrating, respectively, on ‘Maternal and Newborn Health’, ‘Women and Children: Child Survival’ and ‘Women and Children: The double dividend of gender equality’). Though gender in childhood and youth receives some consideration within social anthropology, social geography and childhood studies, international development engagement with this literature has been negligible.

We suggest that international development needs to pay greater attention to gender in childhood and youth. We make four key points: (1) that the international development discourse is neglectful of children’s gendered experiences; (2) that gender in childhood is influenced by intra-household forces, socio-cultural context, institutional structures and economic pressures; (3) that gendered disparities do not always conform to conventional assumptions; and (4) and that the gendering of childhood is affected by various ‘modernising’ influences which tend towards universal understandings of child well-being, such as rights-based approaches that in turn often underplay gender differences among the young.

The chapter draws on research from developing countries, and particularly on recent findings from Young Lives, a fifteen-year study of childhood poverty being carried out with 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (in Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam (see Young Lives provides some of the most up-to-date data on children in developing countries, and, as a longitudinal study, can trace changes over time. Further, the countries were chosen to reflect a range of cultural, economic, geographic, political and social contexts and therefore echo several trends that occur more generally in the developing world. They differ on international indicators of gender inequality, and according to the 2011 Human Development Report, Vietnam was ranked 48th, Peru 72nd and India 129th out of 176 countries on the Gender Inequality Index (UNDP 2011: 139–42).


Boyden, J.; Crivello, G.; Morrow, V. Gender, Development, Children and Young People In: Coles, A.; Gray, L.; Momsen, J.(Eds). The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Development. Routledge, London and New York, (2015) 225-235. ISBN 978-0-415-82908-3

Gender, Development, Children and Young People

Published 1 January 2015