International Development Volunteering as Transformational Feminist Practice for Gender Equality

Rebecca Tiessen, Sheila Rao, Benjamin J. Lough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


International and transnational commitments to gender equality require strategies that tackle root causes and prevailing attitudes that perpetuate disparities. In this article, we examine the role and impact of international development volunteers (IDV) as development actors who are well-placed for feminist transformational change, as they work in transnational spaces to influence, support, or reinforce changes in attitudes and behaviors towards gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE). This qualitative study analyses data collected from 45 interviews in three countries (Malawi, Kenya and Uganda) to document partner organization perspectives on relational dynamics emerging from interactions with IDVs. Partner organization staff highlighted several notable positive and negative contributions to GEWE outcomes arising from day-to-day interactions with IDVs. These interactions shaped their understandings of GEWE, enhanced confidence for GEWE programming, and provided exposure to role models who can shape alternative attitudes and behaviors to gender equality. While the study revealed varying degrees of challenges and benefits for partner organizations working with volunteers specifically on gender equality, partner organization staff highlighted contributions made by IDVs to transnational spatial relations, as well as the transformational interactions that shaped these relations. Insights provided by partner country staff members offer subaltern perspectives and rich insights into the contributions of IDVs in gender equality programming and shed new light on the challenges and opportunities for fostering transnational feminist spaces of knowledge sharing, relationship building, and alternative practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-56
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Developing Societies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Gender equality
  • international development volunteering
  • transnational feminism
  • women’s empowerment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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