International aid and development are not synonymous
With the groundbreaking Oscar win of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and its appreciation in Western audiences, the implications of foreign funding for ‘development’ in Pakistan have been brought to the forefront.
The documentary, ‘Saving Face’, highlights the oppression of women in Pakistan and is bound to attract ‘development projects’ which aim to facilitate women’s rights. The term ‘development’ is most commonly understood as a process of social, cultural and economic growth of a country or area perceived as ‘traditional’ rather than ‘modern’.
With this premise two points come to mind.
The first question raised is that should a society be injected with a formula which is conceived by others to be ‘progressive’? The second is who decides the nature and implementation of developmental reforms which are going to bring the envisioned transformation.
With regards to the first point, some people view the intervention of international NGOs as ineffective owing to their ignorance of the culture, norms and beliefs of the locals situated in the area where development programmes are carried out. Scholars have often argued that development experts rearrange realities and construct their own image of the area in which they wish to cut and paste reforms. Another argument presented against the discourse of development is that aid agencies rarely achieve their set goals and in a counter-productive fashion, strengthen and expand the power of politically self-serving state bureaucracies.
While ‘Saving Face’ has effectively portrayed the plight of acid burn victims, it has also managed to capture this in a manner which fits the West’s version of Pakistan. Indeed, the film-maker’s achievement is undeniably praiseworthy, however, the question remains that will foreign aid, which is seen by a majority of Pakistanis as highly-partial and self-interested intervention, be fruitful? Is receiving international development aid the best solution to our problems of lawlessness, inequality and poverty or is there a homegrown alternative which can be more effective?
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