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Abstract

This article explores the workings of gender expertise inside the institutions of the international governance system as it engages with faith-based actors. Utilizing narratives of gender experts, documentary analysis, and observation, I focus on these experts' encounters regarding gender equality and women's rights with religious leaders, religious actors, and conservative governments. Focusing on episodes in which the terms “cultural difference” and “religion” are used synonymously, first, I show how encounters between transnational actors can play a role in hegemonic interpretations of these terms. Second, I explore how powerful actors can become more authoritative in making claims of cultural difference or how the existing distribution of power may be disrupted. I contend that these power relations affect discussions of gender equality. My goal is to contribute to feminist debates by highlighting the ways in which these transnational interactions disrupt assumptions of West versus East. Paying attention to these complex processes can challenge ethnocentric and racist discourses without taking claims of cultural difference at face value.

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