Creating a Task Force, or Manufacturing Urgency / by Corinne Mason

My first book Manufacturing Urgency: Violence Against Women and the Development Industry will be released in March 2017. Ultimately, it argues that in the development industry, some issue are ‘now’ issues, while others are left until ‘later.’ Cynthia Enloe calls this ‘later’ a patriarchal timezone. Violence against women is sometimes considered an urgent issue, but only when it fits into the existing agendas of organizations or connects to other objectives, such as security. Everything else is left for ‘later.’

I am at the copy edit stage, and otherwise ensuring that the book is ready for print. In 2013, I conducted an interview with the feminist watchdog group Gender Action and a few weeks ago, I emailed them to ensure I had their explicit permission to publish it. In our conversation, Gender Action alerted me to a new World Bank violence against women scandal.

In 2016, news media began to report on the cancellation of a World Bank road construction project worth $265 million in western Uganda amid allegations of sexual violence against school-aged girls and harassment of female workers. In a statement on the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project (TSDP), President Jim Young Kim declared “an early review of the World Bank-financed project found inadequacies in Bank supervision and lack of follow-through after serious issues were identified.”

The lack of safeguarding of women’s rights is not new to Gender Action. This organization has worked diligently to pressure the World Bank to take violence against women seriously, and to act with urgency on the issue. Their own research demonstrates that development projects, including pipelines financed by the World Bank, have often made women’s lives worse, not better. The World Bank currently has no gender safeguard policy, which means that women are left unprotected while the Bank continues to finance mega-infrastructure projects.

What is new at the World Bank is a task force on gender-based violence. In the midst of a very public ‘scandal,’ the World Bank responded urgently. According to Elana Berger from another Bank watchdog group, the Bank Information Center,  “everyone at all levels at the bank denied that there was a problem [with the Uganda project].” She told the Wall Street Journal that “it was only after months of her group’s pestering bank staff in Uganda and the head office in Washington the bank’s project officials to start taking the allegations seriously.”

Like many institutions and organizations—from the Canadian government dealing with the publicity of systemic violence against Indigenous women to universities responding to sexual assault ‘scandals’ on their campuses— reactionary measures and emergency politics arise when issues that have been left for ‘later’ become publicly known, and subsequently, need to be taken up ‘now.’

This is what I call the manufacturing of urgency—it is not that an issue hasn’t always been urgent, but urgency is a designation that intersects in complex ways with existing power relations.