An international conference organized by PRIO and Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development (OKDISCD)

Democracy is a system of governance, but it is also a promise that invariably brings up the tensions between representation and subjectivity. One difficult issue is that of women's democratic representation, and whether reservations for women in elected bodies can 'empower' women. While gender is only one of many co-existing subjective differences, women's quotas and reservations count gender as a singular identity. Moreover, quotas and reservations take the category of 'women' to be homogenous, disguising important differences in interests and inequalities among women in terms of socio-economic status, education, and access to power and resources. Such a feminist dilemma is apparent as well in the identification of 'women's issues', which reflects normative prescriptions about acceptable female and male roles, and the social structuring of opportunity and responsibility. The classification of 'women's issues' highlights the boundaries of the female sphere, where women are expected to be in charge. The demarcation of 'women's issues' thereby brings to light the legitimate spheres and spaces of women's activities, or the female domain, often found under the rubric of the 'domestic', under labels such as education, health, reproduction, and family welfare. Importantly, schemes to address 'women's issues' tend to solidify, rather than break down, the boundaries of the female sphere.

The international community places a high premium on the active inclusion of women in governance and formal political institutions, despite that both policy measures for inclusion and local experiences remain widely disparate and contested. This raises some important questions: Are women at large empowered by reservations? And is it reasonable to assume that female politicians are more committed to working for gender equality than their male counterparts? Do we really find female politicians to be united across social fault-lines, ethnic and party loyalties for the greater cause of women's emancipation? Recognising real-life implications of categories employed by policymakers, programmers and extension workers, there is a need to discuss how policies and programmes construct 'women' as a target group, and the related identification of 'women's issues' by policymakers and civil society organizations alike. How has the issue of women's representation and gender inequality been addressed by the state as well as its contesting movements?

The conference will address these questions by applying the concept of 'multitude' as 'political subject' (Hardt and Negri, Empire, 2000). As a global cooperative alternative to 'empire', 'multitude' takes the shape of a collection of networked matrices  of resistance,  forged by a multiplicity of subjects, or intra-subjective differences, of culture, race,  ethnicity,  gender  and  sexual  orientation, forms  of  labour, ways  of  living, views  of  the  world, and desires (Hardt and Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin Books, 2004). What are the challenges of multitude and democracy as seen through the lens of gender? We welcome abstracts from social scientists writing on these themes and addressing these questions. We will cover travel expenses for accepted participants upon receipt of a draft paper (ca. 6,000 words) of publication quality. Following the conference, papers will be published in venues to be decided by the organisers.

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Abstract deadline: 15 December 2015

Notification of acceptance: 15 January 2016

Deadline for draft papers: 1 February 2016