Critical examination of international development discourses have shown that the norms and values of more powerful groups have often been upheld as the standard, while historic and current relationships of global privilege and oppression remain unrecognized. Knowledge produced about developing countries has been criticized as playing a key role in depoliticizing social issues and maintaining global hierarchies. Discourses related to gender-based violence have also been critiqued for their propensity to construct non-Western and non-white women based on their victim status, and to stereotype entire cultures as being violent toward women, even as men who are violent in the West are considered aberrations. Such constructions not only lead to discursive harm, but have been used to justify coercive action by already powerful groups, including colonization, wars, and the sealing of borders. In the contexts of international development interventions such discourses can lead to negative stereotyping and more restrictive interventions rather than interventions that recognize structural barriers and build on the strengths of the communities served.

Perhaps in answer to critiques of international development, global development institutions have increasingly promoted participatory approaches, particularly related to women’s empowerment. In Nepal, growing recognition of the issue of domestic violence is evidenced by the Domestic Violence Act (2009) and the government declaration of 2010 as “the Year to End Gender-based Violence,” including domestic violence. This study employs a discourse analysis methodology to examine current international development discourses through the case of domestic violence in Nepal.

The sample for this study consists of research publications produced by international development institutions that address domestic violence in Nepal. These were purposively selected through on-line searches using Google and the UN’s Kathmandu-based repository, perusal of major international donor websites, and the reference lists of sample documents. Documents were coded using qualitative software and targeted summaries of each publication were written. Within and cross-case analysis was conducted with an eye towards understanding the construction of domestic violence and the actors involved, as well as the ways in which sources and types of knowledge were ranked.

In these reports, hierarchies of knowledge are often set up which emphasize large scale surveys over qualitative assessments, global over local knowledge, and modernity over tradition. However, several of these reports also critique global social hierarchies. For example, they recognize the potential strengths of families and communities in Nepal to address violence, as well as some of the negative impacts of current global economic structures on families. Such moments of discursive resistance, which must simultaneously recognize and address domestic violence wherever it occurs, are highlighted as promising approaches for future development research, policy and practice.