I had the opportunity to meet a brilliant retired linguistics professor from the University of Dar es Salaam at a meeting I attended.  The project lead was deciding on whether to register the Oyster Nut Foundation as a cooperative, social enterprise or non-governmental organisation (NGO).  The professor emphasized that the name we choose must have a powerful meaning.  It must mean what it represents.  He raised the issue of the language behind cooperative and NGO, being these labels are not attractive.  The label “social enterprise” attracts investors and much easier to register under the Tanzanian government. 

This brings me to argue the language used in development; such as the tendency to use language which oversimplifies problem.  We try to make words or labels sound nice and that are easy to play with, but then they start to become repetitive and lose meaning, to the point where people do not understand nor care for the actual problem.  Here is an example of two terms describing the same issue–the oppression of women:     

Gender Inequality: “[s]ocial process by which people are treated differently and disadvantageously, under similar circumstances, on the basis of gender” (Oxford Dictionary).

Patriarchy: “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Gender inequality uses words such as “differently” and “disadvantageously”.  

Patriarchy uses “supremacy”, “legal dependence”, and “inheritance”.

The definition of gender inequality uses words much frailer than patriarchy, whereas patriarchy uses powerful words and descriptive language.  Gender inequality has language that is vague and simple to distort.  For example, “treated differently” can be interpreted in either a positive or negative connotation, even though gender inequality is supposed to represent being treated worse off than the opposite gender, not “differently”.  “Differently” adds no meaning to the problem–the problem which women are inferior to men.  

The challenges my organisation faces when advocating/lobbying for famers is the patriarchy in which women cannot or do not have the platform to tell their stories.  In the Kilimanjaro region, land is passed down only to the male line of the family.  Men generate the profits as the land is under their name; however, many women conduct the market transactions of the produce and once they get home, the men violently or manipulatively steal all the profits the women had generated.      

Thus, which course of language best describes the environment women live in? What truly explains the modern treatment of women?  The horrific treatment of women should be labelled in a way where it makes us uncomfortable.  When we are uncomfortable, we will do anything in our will to change. 

Development is not something to be comfortable about.  Poverty, violence, and corruption is not something to be comfortable about.  If we are serious about development, we must get uncomfortable and use this feeling as a momentum for change.