Gender, Culture, and Imperialism: The Marriage Gap

See Bonus! section for the extended version of this post.


Source: Care International.

Article (re)defined by JB.


Girls in Africa are getting married due to “harmful cultural practices” instead of enjoying fulfilling childhoods and receiving an education.  This trend will continue with child brides tripling by 2050 across Africa according to a recent UNICEF report.  The article uses statistical information from this report to support its argument against culturally accepted early marriage practices highlighting stories of individual girls in South Africa and Mozambique.  Photos include young women from Malawi and the article references statistical data on child brides in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.


A riveting article that pulls on the heartstrings of the Western world in particular, this framing of marriage trumps gender over cultural establishing Western marriage practices as the norm and any other practice as backwards.  By no means does this blog post intend to espouse the viewpoint that all cultural practices should be preferred to gender-sensitive practices; however, the Number of Child Brides in Africa Expected To Nearly Triple: UN is a clear example of Western imperialists playing the morality card.   Extracting a statistic with limited context, choosing visual images and specific word choices that degrade and dehumanize the very girls on whose behalf the article purports to advocate, and failure to capture the economic and educational circumstances in the countries mentioned throughout the article is a harmful journalism practice.

Note: The caption has since been removed from the original article but the text was taken directly from the website pictured above.

Note: The caption has since been removed from the original article but the text was taken directly from the website pictured above. Source.

The first photo shows two young women and two girls (if age 18 determines the difference) from Malawi who at best might be described as despondent.  The caption below states that they are at Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) which is simply described as a local organization.  It can easily be assumed by the reader that as a local organization, the views of the community are directly represented.  However, the goals of this program are directly impacted by the mandates of the UNFPA and the European Union as they provide financial support for this program.  Before the text of the article even begins, the reader is lead to believe that the situation is dire for girls and that local women need assistance in ending this horrendous practice.  The reader is informed in the caption that now Malawi is “poised to adopt a law banning child marriages in a country which has one of the world’s highest rates of under-age weddings.”  If it is not already a law in Malawi, then what outside force has determined that marriages in Malawi are under-age to begin with?  Cookie-cutter policy approaches to major moral issues are inappropriate.  Such personal and private issues when encroached upon by the public sphere ought to be deeply contextualized.  Historically, Western agrarian societies had more “under-age” marriages; this only changed through modernization, industrialization and war.  What works for the West does not necessarily work for the rest of the world.  The dominating presence of NGOs in post-colonial nations creates and disseminates public opinion and then measures it through local organizations funded by these larger bilateral and multilateral organizations.  This is not development, just another form of Western control of Africa.

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Source: Number Of Child Brides In Africa Expected To Nearly Triple: UN, by Lynsey Chutel, Hufftington Post, Nov. 30, 2015.


Arneil, B. (2002). Becoming versus being: A critical analysis of the child in liberal theory.


Parpart, J. (1995). Deconstructing the development ‘expert: Gender, development and the “vulnerable groups”. In M. H. Marchand and J. L. Parpart (Eds.) Feminism / postmodernism / development. London: Routledge, pp. 221-243.

Rist, G. (2007). Development as a buzzword. Development in Practice, 17(4), 485-491.

Tickly, L. (2004). Education and the New Imperialism”. Comparative Education, 40(2), pp. 173-198.

Vavrus, F. (2003). International Development and the Feminist Modern. (pp. 25-44) Desire and decline. Schooling amidst crisis in Tanzania. Longman.

2 thoughts on “Gender, Culture, and Imperialism: The Marriage Gap

  1. You provided a very thorough and thoughtful analysis of the way international agencies oversimplify the very complicated issues that is child-marriage. Your point about the misuse of data and media to misconstruct the situations which these girls is quite poignant and I thought you gave great examples about the way which the report did so. I’m always conflicted with this topic because I recognize that concepts of child-hood and marriage differ within various cultural frameworks. In saying so, I’m not referring to the topic of cultural-relativism, just that they are different in their own right. With that said, we cannot ignore that early child marriage, mostly as it results in gendered violence, is not an issue of Western imperialism but one of human rights. How then can we address this issue outside of Western narratives? Would have been helpful if it was a local NGO that had conducted the report? In cases like this how does researcher positionality factor on how communities, both local and international, understand, accept, or reject the report?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an interesting post. Your post discussed your issue with they way child brides were portrayed in the article but didn’t take a stance on whether you felt child brides were moral or immoral. I was wondering throughout the post though, how do you feel about child brides generally?


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