The focus of the Pathways of Women's Empowerment thematic group on Changing Narratives of Sexuality is simultaneously a focus on the multiple changes shaping women’s relations to sexuality and power, and on the ways in which women exercise their agency by taking up particular narratives of sexuality and using them to destabilise restrictive social and sexual norms. In a context marked by rapid social, economic and political change across the globe, tensions and contradictions arise in the construction of women's bodies and sexualities. These constructions often form the basis for mainstream narratives of sexuality produced by institutions such as the media, the law, religion and the development industry; by cultural arenas such as popular music and soap operas, as well as for counter narratives produced by women themselves. This concept paper focuses on the politics of sexuality in terms of heterosexuality and its normative character, as well as the significance of gender in sexuality. To this end, the concepts of heterosexuality, sexuality and gender are foregrounded, as are the relations among them. This is followed through in terms of connections to norms that reinforce compulsory heterosexuality and male supremacy, and the implications for the workings of power and privilege.
Narratives of sexuality serve both to affirm and also to challenge these norms. This paper suggests that the analysis of stories affords an opening up of the question of what social role stories can be said to play: stories may perform conservative functions by maintaining dominant orders or alternatively, might be used to transform lives and cultures. It explores how a narrative approach to the study of sexuality can allow us to explore cultural patterns of representations and action in different dimensions of the social, and the contribution of this to women's empowerment.
Pathways of Women’s Empowerment, IDS, Sussex, UK. ISBN 978 1 85864 561 1, 31 pp.