|Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development|
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Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development
The development debate has advanced considerably since the United Nations First Development Decade in the 1960s, which emphasized economic growth and the trickle-down approach as key to reducing poverty. One of the notable advancements in the debate has been the move to consider gender equality as a key element of development. Womens concerns were first integrated into the development agenda in the 1970s. Disappointment over the trickle-down approach paved the way for the adoption of the basic-needs strategy, which focused on increasing the participation in and benefits of the development process for the poor, as well as recognizing womens needs and contributions to society. Activists articulated womens issues in national and international forums. Following these events, the women-in-development movement endorsed the enhancement of womens consciousness and abilities, with a view to enabling women to examine their situations and to act to correct their disadvantaged positions. The movement also affirmed that giving women greater access to resources would contribute to an equitable and efficient development process.
The end of the 1970s ushered in the concern with gender relations in development. Microlevel studies drew our attention to the differences in entitlements, perceived capabilities, and social expectations of men and women, boys and girls. Contrary to the unified-household model, the household has been considered an arena of bargaining, cooperation, or conflict. Reflecting the norms, laws, and social values of society, the differences in the status of men and women have profound implications for how they participate in market or nonmarket work and in community life as a whole. These differences embody social and power relations that constitute the setting for the implementation of development programs, and these differences therefore influence program outcomes. In the 1980s and 1990s, research demonstrated that gender relations mediate the process of development. For example, analyses of stabilization and structural-adjustment policies showed that gender inequalities have an impact on the attainment of macroeconomic objectives.
The concern with gender relations in development has strengthened the affirmation that equality in the status of men and women is fundamental to every society. And this concern has prompted us to refine our perspective on what development should be and how to bring it about efficiently. We realize that development requires more than the creation of opportunities for people to earn sustainable livelihoods it also requires the creation of a conducive environment for men and women to seize those opportunities. Development implies not only more and better schools but also equal access to education for boys and girls. Development requires good governments that give men and women equal voices in decision-making and policy implementation. Bearing in mind the perspective that gender matters in development, we can go on to reexamine and redefine other development concerns and objectives.
Thus, one can only agree to the advantages gained if practitioners and students of development have a grasp of the concepts, theories, and discourses that stimulate the gender debate. We will, as a result, be able to better analyze and understand gender issues and properly integrate gender interests and needs into policies and programs. Concepts and ideas such as feminism, gender analysis, diversity, and gender mainstreaming that have become buzz words in the development circle will be clarified and demystified. This will foster effective communication among development agents and result in a consistent view of overall development goals and in complementary, rather than contradictory, plans of action.
Clearly, there is scope for developing and increasing the accessibility of programs for education and research on women and gender. Such programs could reach a wide audience, institutionalize gender scholarship, and complement other avenues for disseminating the gender debate and advancing the cause of gender equality. Yet, researchers and students in developing countries have expressed frustration in accessing gender programs and resource materials. In developing countries, the spread and depth of these programs and resource materials are still more limited than in developed countries.
The Commonwealth of Learning and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) have helped to address this gap by supporting the development of this course module. The research and writing of the module benefited from the contributions of gender experts, including scholars, educators, and practitioners from the three campuses of the University of the West Indies (Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad), Saint Marys University (Canada), Dalhousie University (Canada), and the International Womens Tribune Centre (United States). Further support was provided by IDRC for the publication of this module, to make it accessible to development and educational institutions in developing countries. IDRCs support for this undertaking resonates with IDRCs dedication to improving human well-being through research and the application of knowledge. Since IDRCs creation in 1970, it has funded development research in poor countries, with the objective of building the capabilities and institutions needed to conduct the relevant research in these countries. Gender is an important concern at IDRC. The Centre has taken steps to promote gender-sensitive research that improves our understanding of development problems and leads to appropriate solutions, and it has supported efforts to disseminate knowledge on gender issues, such as this book. It is hoped that this publication encourages learning, research, and action for a sustainable and equitable world.