Autonomy vs. Integration Debate in Gender Studies

Introduction of Autonomy vs. Integration

The autonomy vs integration debate started in the 1980s. Basically the proponents of
women studies and gender studies struggle to decide whether the disciplines should remain autonomous or be integrated into other areas of studies as a subfield.

In CSS Examination 2021 this question was given as, “Discuss in detail what the autonomy and Integration debate in gender studies have an important contribution for the development of the field of knowledge.”

Let’s clarify this question below:

Autonomy Vs. Integration Debate in Gender Studies:

  • Women’s studies (WS) is the forerunner of gender studies.
  • Autonomy means the separatist approach of feminists does not support the integration of Women’s Studies into Gender Studies.
  • WS is not ready for integration into “mainstream” departments, because it is still too
    focused on white, middle-class, heterosexual, young, able women; and it can never
    be truly “autonomous” as long as it is in the academy.
  • “Integration” goes beyond studying and theorizing about change to an actual attempt to change something, in this case, the academe itself. But for this, they need to approach the non-feminists and not with the message of WS discourse.
  • The question of specialization focus should be on WS and not other disciplines (build autonomy of WS).
  • Supporters of autonomy believe independent WS programs offer the best means of
    generating new knowledge through the interaction of like-minded scholars while
    maintaining the critical perspective of the academy. Whereas, supporters of integration believe the two goals are mutually beneficial (campus-wide projects and involvement
    which in turn promote broader change).
  • Treating WS differently would lead to another form of sexism (women can’t handle
    regular academic requirements).

There’s a famous debate in Gender Studies which is called the Autonomy vs. Integration debate. According to the proponents of Gender Studies’ autonomy, also known as separatists, we can progress only if we keep the field autonomous and free of other disciplines’ influence.

In case of integration, we would not be able to work freely and highlight gender-based issues prevailing in society. In CSS examination this question is often asked so, let’s discuss the Autonomy vs. Integration Debate in Gender Studies.

Status of Gender Studies in Pakistan

Women and Gender studies evolved in the West and are being taught in a European
the context within Pakistan. However, Pakistani society has its own peculiarities and there is
a need to develop indigenous material on the subject in a local socio-cultural context
keeping in view the requirements, aspirations, nature, and behavior of Pakistanis as well
as the belief and value system of society.

CEWS (Center of Excellence for Gender Studies)

It was established in 1989 by the Ministry of Women’s Development in five public universities
where they initiated Master, M.Phil., and Ph.D. programs in women’s studies in these

PAWS (Pakistan Association for Women’s Studies)

It was formed in Karachi by activists and academics with feminist consciousness to act as
the catalyst to bring empowerment of women, transform a gender-biased society into one
inclusive of equity and social justice.


  • Provide a forum for interaction and coordination for those engaged in teaching, research, or action for WS or women’s development
  • Build solidarity among WS practitioners globally
  • Identify, re-examine and develop feminist research and training methodologies relevant to the Pakistani situation
  • Undertake participatory/action-oriented research that is sensitive to issues of gender and development in Pak and South Asia
  • Strengthen the capabilities of Pakistani women researchers through training, education, and research activities
  • Assist women in developing their own resources for self-employment
  • Network with individuals and groups working for the elimination of discrimination against women
  • Report and translate research findings in a manner usable by policymakers and relevant groups
  • Organize conferences, seminars, workshops, and short courses on WS and feminist issues with the purpose of promoting and defending the interests of WS.
  • Network with Pakistani women within and outside the country and also other women who are concerned with gender-sensitive research and training

Universities in Pakistan offering courses in WS

AIOU, The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad,
SZABIST in Islamabad, University of Sindh Jamshoro, and Bahauddin Zakariya University both
in Lahore and Multan, the University of Punjab in Lahore, the University of Peshawar, Women
University in Islamabad, and all other public sector educational entities.

Future Reforms regarding Women Studies & Gender Studies

  • Avoid labeling the discipline as westernized
  • Bring in Islamic feminist discourse.
  • Develop feminist standpoint with local cultural context, intellectual context, and representing dimensions of contemporary thought and consciousness.
  • Strengthening the institution of family which is a pre-requisite for establishing a model society.
  • Topics of study in this discipline are based on objective research and ground realities.
  • Promote inter/multidisciplinary approaches by working with Islamic studies and law departments in universities (devise a pragmatic approach for reformation).
  • Series of lectures conducted to articulate indigenous perspectives on topics of gender and women studies discourse.

The answer to that question above finishes here. But if you wish to read more about this Autonomy vs. Integration Debate in Gender Studies you can continue reading below.

Women’s Studies are the harbinger of Gender Studies. When it refers to autonomy, it is the separatist approach of feminists for developing women’s education separate from or different from other disciplines like Men’s Studies, LGBS Studies, Sexism Studies, etc.,

The proponents of the autonomy of women’s Studies do not support the integration of Women’s Studies into Gender Studies, etc.

Scholars of Women Studies have been debating questions of inter/disciplinarily, and autonomy vs. integration since at least the first National Women’s Studies Association conference of 1979.

These debates have a significant bearing on questions about the efficacy, purpose, and value of the doctoral Women’s Studies degree to the field, and to the intent and normative directive of the field more broadly.

Despite these debates, inter-disciplinarily is still regarded by the majority of Women Studies scholars as a fundamental and unquestionably good organizing principle of the field (Maynard and Purvis 1994; De Vault 1999).

As we further trouble the very idea of there being any firm discipline, we find that if there are any disciplines, Women’s Studies is very much one of them.

In light of the current trend toward the neo-liberalization of academic institutions, as well as the growing popularity of the term “inter-disciplinarily” it refers to a plethora of different interdisciplinary hybrids in many disciplines, both within and outside of the humanities.

We find that arguments once made against disciplinarily can be usefully revisited to support our argument for Women’s Studies as a discipline.

In 1982, Florence Howe wrote that women’s studies now have two strategies, with integration as the “ultimate” one. Some writers condemned women’s studies programs as “ghettos” doomed to failure.

Others, however, pointed out ways in which integration strategies tend to undermine women’s studies and some feminist goals. In 1983 the “debate” was winding toward an uneasy consensus that different strategies are appropriate for different places, and that we need both strategies.

At the same time, however, we know that neither strategy is fully capable of meeting our real goals, at least not for some time. Women’s studies are not ready for integration into “mainstream” departments, because it is still too focused on a white, middle-class, heterosexual, young, able woman; and they can never be truly “autonomous” as long as it is in the academy.

It is noteworthy that each participant in this discussion defends her approach as being more “truly” radical, more “truly” transforming, both politically and intellectually, than the alternative.

“Autonomy” has the appeal of separatism, which always seems radical, and at least some freedom from the constraints imposed by the traditional disciplines and departments.

Women’s studies programs are free to focus all of their energies on teaching and scholarship about women and can define that focus in their own terms as long as they say within the broad confines of academe in general.

Many define a focus that aims directly at changing the larger society of which the academy is but a small part. Ideally, women’s studies programs do not have to defend the feminist content of their work or dilute it.

“Integration,” on the other hand, offers the lure of going beyond studying and theorizing about change to an actual attempt to change something, in this case, academe itself.

To achieve this change, integrationists must focus their attention on people who have prestige and influence within the system, who are usually not women’s studies, often non-feminist, faculty, and administration.

But reaching this audience requires a different approach and often a different message from the usual discourse of women’s studies’ self-selected scholars and students.

Though integration is a “moderate” strategy in its limited focus on the academy. Its accepted of the slow pace that any real change always demands, and its ultimate goals for how academe should be transformed.

Seeking a thorough, unprecedented “transformation” of academe in every corner and every process, integrationists tend to see their scope and their potential impact on academe as far longer than the more limited goals of a single small program focusing on women.

We have long-standing debates on the inter-disciplinarily of Women’s Studies. A related challenge to the issue of specialization is the continuing question of women’s studies’ role.

Some Women Studies advocates believe the emphasis should be on building their autonomy as a discipline instead of expending so much energy on changing the traditional disciplines (McGowan, 1989).

The debate between autonomy and integration lies in the field’s origins as both an educational reform and social reform movement.

Supporters of autonomy believe independent Women’s Studies programs offer the best means for generating new knowledge through the interaction of like-minded scholars while maintaining a critical perspective of the academy.

Supporters of integration believe the two goals are mutually beneficial in that women’s studies programs are strengthened by campus-wide projects and involvement, which, in turn, promote broader change (Anderson, 1988).

Some proponents have argued for developing women’s education separate from or different from men’s. While others have countered that treating women differently can lead to additional forms of sexism because this line of reasoning can be interpreted as meaning women cannot handle the regular academic requirements.

An ironic result of the separate approach could be that traditional departments lose their motivation to adopt curriculum transformation practices because they view that work as being done in the women’s studies programs.


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