|Theoretical Perspectives on Gender and Development|
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This chapter integrates our understanding of feminist theories, gender issues, and development paradigms. It outlines the shift in the development discourse and documents and discusses alternative approaches to development. It attempts to reveal how these shape development policies, research agendas, and feminist activism.
The discussions of development, feminist theories, and feminist development frameworks in the preceding chapters are particularly useful for women in developing countries. This information serves many purposes:
It provides analytical tools that reveal how development paradigms have influenced national policies;
It shows the impact of these policies on legislation, education, welfare reform, culture, and other economic and social issues affecting womens lives;
It enables us to analyze the policies of international development and financial institutions and agencies, such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank), the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM);
It indicates the factors that should be considered to create just, gender-sensitive development policies; and
It indicates alternative approaches and practices for destabilizing the traditional models of development, which are inimical to the well-being of women.
The development policies of international institutions and national governments continue to reflect the influence of the liberal-feminist framework. These policies maintain an incremental, reformist approach to working within the modernization paradigm. They still focus on bringing women into development, the women-in-development (WID) approach. As these policies are explored the assumptions of liberal feminism and the modernization paradigm become easy to detect.
The influence of feminist theorizing on current research on women and development (WAD) is far more wide-ranging (Moser n.d.). There have been substantive changes in the nature and scope of this research. Many more feminists in the South are undertaking research. They are attempting to redefine the WID and gender-and-development (GAD) discourse. They are also committed to ensuring that the historical perspective of womens movements and womens organizations in the South become an integral part of the discourse. Their work documents the lives and struggles of women in the South. They seek to challenge and correct the assumptions with which womens movements and organizations in the South began their work during the United Nations First Development Decade.
At the international level, the work of such groups as Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) has now mushroomed into a global analysis of key development issues. DAWN is a network of feminists, researchers, activists, and policymakers that was formed in Bangalore, India, in 1984 and formalized in workshops at the NGO forum in Nairobi in 1985. DAWN has questioned the impact of development on poor peoples, especially women, in light of current global economic and political crises. The groups agenda focuses on the themes of environment, reproductive rights, population, and alternative economic frameworks.
On the issue of human development and economic growth, DAWN has inverted the traditional question, What kind of human development can best promote economic competitiveness and growth? Gita Sen, on behalf of DAWN, has asked instead, What kind of economic development can best promote human development? Sen, who is DAWNs Research Co-ordinator on Alternative Economic Frameworks, argued that if this became the central question of development, different answers would be sought and different policies would be designed and implemented (Sen and Grown 1987).
Concerning the issues of nationalistic or economic wars, the emergence of competitive trading blocs, and the changing role of multilateral institutions, DAWN put three central questions on the research agenda of Southern feminists:
How will trading blocs affect our employment and responsibilities for livelihoods?
How can we improve consciousness about development in cooperation with Northern groups?
In another publication, Breaking Boundaries: Women, Free Trade and Economic Integration (AltWID n.d.), AltWID explained why free trade is a womens issue. It noted that market policies are not gender blind and pointed out that the impact of supply side policies has altered family life; relations between women, men and children; womens and mens roles; and womens relative economic status. AltWID has also collaborated with feminist networks in the North and South on projects, conferences, and political strategies.
Other feminist researchers in the North recognized the need to contextualize the discourse on development to show its effect on women and development. This is an application of the analytical strategies they used in critiquing the metanarratives of social theory to show its gendered and exclusionary nature. This work complements the research and activism of indigenous feminisms. Current feminist research on development issues is now more engaged and covers all development issues. It also incorporates insights gained from gender analysis to investigate the environmental debate and sustainable-development issues.
The womens movement and womens activism have exploded with vibrant programs and scholarship in both the North and the South. In the last two decades, womens NGOs have grown and diversified, and the nature of their activism has changed in many cases. Many NGOs that were set up in the 19th century or early 20th century often attempted to supplement the welfare activities of the state, or they experimented with reformist policies. More recently, women-centred NGOs in the South have frequently been at the frontiers of the movement to promote alternative development practices. An example of this is a coalition of womens NGOs in the Philippines, which in 1986 formulated the National Womens Development Plan. This became a crucial part of the countrys national lobby on the debt crisis in the same year (womens organizations and networks are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5).
Several countries have introduced new women-related
research institutes and institutionalized womens-studies programs. China,
India, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have all started
women-centred research institutions. At the University of the West Indies,
the Women and Development Studies Program was institutionalized as the
Centre for Gender and Development Studies. What distinguishes these
networks, institutes, and centres from earlier women-related organizations
is that they seek to give women, children, and men priority in discussions
of development. They actively pursue alternative approaches to WAD, and
their very existence serves as a reminder of the failures of earlier,
modernization-oriented development policy for women.
Exploring feminist research
Who is doing this research? Womens bureaus, universities, women-centred NGOs?
Is this research helping to change the information on WAD? How will it influence development policy and planning?
The shift in the discourse on development
Feminist development critiques and feminist activism have radically altered the discourse on development. It is no longer possible to deal with development issues by focusing simply on ways to improve savings and investment functions or on the most efficient industrialization strategies to increase exports. Feminists have exposed the fallacy of using sterile measures of economic growth to assess the attainment of goals.
The initial WID policy statement (Percy Amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 [GOUS 1978]) assumed a consensus on the relationship between states (represented by national governments) and market economies. This consensus is ideological in origin. Its roots lie in neoclassical economics and liberal political ideology. Combined as the doctrine of liberalism or neoliberalism, they pose particular problems for women.
The main problem is the publicprivate dichotomy, which devalues womens reproductive work while maintaining that women can gain equality by participating more in the public sphere of the state and formal economic production (see Framework C: liberal feminism in Chapter 3). WID maintained a consensus on accepting the rationale of markets as expounded in the modernization paradigm. You will recall that this centres on the efficiency of resource allocation, the restructuring of production and distribution, and the liberalization of trade and investment but remains oblivious to the concerns of gender relations. WIDs main thrust was to make the ideology of market economics more humane, that is, inclusive of the needs of women as defined by WID.
Several changes and crises in the political economy and culture of NorthSouth relations contributed to reshaping development discourse. Most of the South experienced severe economic crises in the 1970s and 1980s, although a small group (notably the Asian newly industrialized countries) forged ahead. In the 1990s, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia experienced economic crises as the effects of globalization began to be felt around the world. Women, children, and men lived (and still live) the contradictions of development policies promoting mass consumption even as it leads to increased poverty and marginalization. In their daily lives, people in the South experience development policies as modernization, which can produce the following effects:
Increases in economic growth but environmental and human degradation (Brazil); and
No increase or, in some cases, declines in economic growth, accompanied by declines in human and physical infrastructure (the Caribbean).
The 1980s introduced a reversal of trends in the South. As in other periods of crisis, it became an excellent time to consider previously ignored issues and put them on the agenda. The 1980s also marked the beginning of the GAD critique, which solidified in the 1990s. The activism and research of the international womens movement revealed the potential for engendering the concept of human development. It made unequal gender relations a central concern of development. Southern, and some Northern, feminists insist that development policies cannot succeed if they are not engendered. In 1986, DAWN defined development as socially responsible management and use of resources, the elimination of gender subordination and social inequality and the organizational restructuring that can bring these about (Sen and Grown 1987, p. 2). The indigenous-feminist theorizing informing this definition stresses the need for economic and social change, empowerment of women, and progressive changes in public-private relations to benefit women.
This is conceptually quite opposite to the definition of development held by other development theorists: Economic development consists of the introduction of new combinations of production factors which increase labour productivity (Hunt 1989, p. 49). This definition locates development in the sphere of production and focuses only on changes in economic relations. To such theorists, economic development consists in introducing new combinations of factors of production to increase labour productivity. It is easy to recognize the bias against women in this definition. By emphasizing production factors, it focuses on formal economic activities, such as waged labour and large-scale production. In all these areas, women are underrepresented and their contributions are devalued. More significantly, this definition ignores the critical connection between the reproductive work women do and how this underpins the formal, productive economy. It is a good example of how women are marginalized at the core of development theory.
Whereas political economists and structuralists stress the impact of the international economic system as a constraint to economic growth in the South, the neoclassical school identifies the dominant constraint as internal, rather than external, factors. Walter Rostow and Arthur Lewis captured the range of arguments of neoclassical development theory (see Framework A: modernization theory, in Chapter 3). They argued that constraints on development lie partly in indigenous institutions and attitudes and partly in the low rate of savings characteristic of poor countries. Built into the basic assumptions of this theorizing is the rejection of indigenous attitudes and institutions. Women in the South are largely responsible for maintaining cultural traditions. As theorizing by black, postmodernist, and indigenous, or Third World, feminists shows, women in the South also use indigenous institutions and practices as part of their survival strategies. By assuming that these indigenous attitudes and institutions represent barriers to development, neoclassical theorists place womens ways of knowing outside their concept of development.
Socialist-feminist theories have contributed to the extensive examination of the ways womens labour is exploited in factories and export-processing zones. They have also documented how women receive lower wages for comparable work. They revealed the feminization of certain occupations that occurred as women entered the labour force in increasing numbers. As the men moved out of certain occupations, these became ghettoized as womens work, with an accompanying decrease in status and wages. In the South, the occupation of teaching at primary or secondary schools is a good example.
Liberal-feminist analysis makes distinct the public-private dichotomy at the heart of modernization theorizing and policy development. It is easy to ignore womens contribution in the public domain because it is assumed that women work, and should work, within households.
Feminist development critiques insist that a gender perspective be built into all development issues. It is another way of posing the question raised by Gita Sen. Using a gender perspective we ask, What kinds of development policies can best promote the interests of women in the South? Implicit in that reframing of the question is the recognition that women straddle the crossroads of reproduction and production. They are the link between human and economic development, the primary workers in both the private and the public spheres.
Gender analysis must reorganize the private sphere if women are to be freed from having to carry all the responsibilities of sustaining households and family structures. Although many women and men still see these as womens responsibilities, this perspective is increasingly challenged. This continues to be an era of the most difficult and intractable aspects of gender relationships and change. Gender ideologies that sustain the exploitation of women in the private sphere of the household contribute to producing development policies that integrate women into economic production in specific, exploitative, or marginal ways. Women suffer most when policymakers fail to comprehend this pattern of exploitation. But children, men, households, and families also suffer because women in the South have to carry such multiple burdens and responsibilities.
Feminist theories and critiques of development are instrumental in revealing that the countries of the South are not culturally, politically, or economically homogeneous. Nor are gender relations experienced in the same manner by all Third World women. Black feminist Audre Lorde has warned of the danger of implying that all women suffer the same oppression because they are women. As explained in Chapter 3, black feminists have argued that this ignores the varieties and degrees of womens subordination. It also ignores how these experiences change with a womans race, class, and cultural setting. There is more variation among countries in the South than among industrialized societies of the North.
The tendency to homogenize the concept of the Third World woman and assume the universal applicability of these approaches to development creates specific problems for women in the South. Programs and policies that are designed to integrate women into development and those that are critical of the relations between women and development are a reaction to the modernization paradigm. Theorizing by black, socialist, postmodernist, and indigenous, or Third World, feminists isolates and exposes the intellectual and ideological climate that prevailed when the modernization paradigm emerged. The dominance of the United States in the postwar era included intellectual hegemony, which was played out in scholarship, research, and policy-making related to the South. Just as the United States devised the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the economic and military support and security of Western Europe, it began to devote attention to producing similar plans and institutions for the South. As mentioned in Chapter 2, this set of assumptions about the world became core elements of the modernization paradigm.
It is not accidental that the United States was the first industrialized country to establish a policy initiative to reorganize womens roles in the development process. The Percy Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 required that US foreign assistance focus on programs, projects, and activities that tended to integrate women into the national economies of foreign countries. This helped integrate the WID policy approach into policy-making. It also meant that early WID policy implicitly inherited the problems of giving priority to capitalist production and Western values and institutions.
Feminists analyzing the WID approach showed that WID
specialists relied on neoclassical economic-growth models to achieve the
goals of development. They assumed that development planning ignored women
and argued that the allocation of financial and natural resources should
be extended to benefit women. However, they failed to investigate whether
the concept of economic efficiency may be premised on excluding the
specific gendered constraints women face as producers. Nor did they
consider how responsibilities that are generally regarded as being womens
are viewed as creating conditions of economic inefficiency.
The WID policies of international development institutions
The World Bank
The WID approach has heavily influenced the policies of the World Bank, one of the major Bretton Woods financial institutions discussed in Chapter 2. In a 1990 publication, Women in Development: A Progress Report on the World Bank Initiative, the institution set out its policy for women:
In general, the Bank is focusing on increasing womens economic productivity, investing in human capital and improving womens access to productive resources and the labor market. & Because social and cultural forces influence womens economic productivity, deliberate and thoughtful effort is required to involve women more effectively in the development process.The World Bank then called for government policy that realized womens economic potential while being sensitive to the role of culture. It recommended that governments consult with womens groups and NGOs in setting priorities and designing programs. It identified four priority areas for helping women to realize their economic potential: education, health and family planning, agricultural extension, and credit. The publication noted that women in the South spend several hours each day in reproductive work. It therefore recommended measures to free more of womens time for other activities.World Bank (1990)
These recommendations called for alternative fuels and local woodlots, more efficient stoves, and child care. This policy did not include changing gender ideologies that construct all reproductive work as womens work. These measures were merely intended to help women complete reproductive work more efficiently so that they could increase their participation in labour-force activities. The World Bank concluded its policy review with a list of six areas of emphasis, under the heading Future directions:
An agenda for research to support policy formulation, including efforts to collect data disaggregated by gender and to strengthen the analytical foundation for efforts to improve womens opportunities;
More explicit attention to womens issues in the policy dialogue with governments;
Implementation of the WID assessments and action plans, with more attention to assessing government actions to address womens issues and actual results;
Inclusion of specific efforts in the World Banks operations to test, monitor, and evaluate promising programs for women, especially in high-priority areas; and
Increased training of staff on the role of women in development.
Theory and policy
International Labour Office
The International Labour Office (ILO) has stated its commitment to equal opportunity and treatment of women and men in all its activities, as part of its mandate. It translated this commitment into policy in its ILO Plan of Action on Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Men and Women in Employment:
In order to contribute to the improvement of the status of women and the achievement of overall development goals, the ILO technical co-operation programme will continue to be an important practical means of promoting equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women in employment. Particular attention will be paid not only to strengthening and further developing specific projects for women, but also to promoting the full integration of women in projects of a general nature, in accordance with recent recommendations made in the Governing Body when it discussed ILO operational activities concerning women. Consideration would be given to such requirements as guidelines on identification, design, planning and implementation of projects for use by ILO staff, governments and employers and workers organizations; staff training programmes; and expansion of the network of officials dealing with technical cooperation at headquarters and in the field.In The Window of Opportunity: Strategies for Enhancing Womens Participation in Technical Cooperation Projects, the ILO (1991) provided ideas and guidelines for enhancing womens visibility and active role in planning and monitoring development projects and programs. This publication examined some of the factors to consider when planning, monitoring, and evaluating various types of projects. It presented advantages and possible disadvantages of launching so-called women-specific projects, as opposed to general projects that, in principle, are open to women and men on an equal basis. Finally, it recommended a change of attitudes and assumptions about womens participation in the labour force. Like the World Bank, the ILO has emphasized the concern for equality and full integration of women into development. There is no suggestion, however, that women are already too fully integrated into development in policies and experiences gendered or premised on their subordination and exploitation.ILO (1994, p. 147)
United Nations Development Fund for Women
UNIFEM has been a major advocate for women within the United Nations system and throughout the South. UNIFEM provides direct support for womens projects and promotes women in the decision-making processes of mainstream development programs. UNIFEMs mission is to support Southern womens efforts to achieve equality and their own economic- and social-development objectives, and it believes that by doing so, it improves the quality of life for all.
The activities UNIFEM supports fall into four key areas: agriculture and food security, trade and industry, human resource development, and emerging issues. In all aspects of its programing, UNIFEMs intention is to link grass-roots activities to national planning and policy decision-making.
Women, environment, and development, the new addition to WAD discourse, hints at the kinds of development policy on women UNIFEM endorses. In Agenda 21: An Easy Reference to the Specific Recommendations of Women, UNIFEM (1993) stated that when interpreting the recommendations in the text of Agenda 21, the reader should note that all collective terminology was intended to apply equally to women and men, including references to communities, urban and rural dwellers, indigenous people, trade unions, professionals in business and industry, and NGOs. Indeed, in both rural and urban settings, women as heads of households, government officers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and professionals (including scientists and technicians) were thought to form a critical and substantial part of all major groups.
Like the ILO and the World Bank, UNIFEM has been firmly committed to the liberal-feminist WID approach, emphasizing the integration of women into development. UNIFEM has, however, some unique characteristics. It was set up specifically to fund innovative and catalytic projects, and from its beginnings it has had a mandate to support the work of womens nongovernmental activities, in addition to the activities of government institutions and departments.
These international institutions and agencies are
committed to assisting women in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the
Caribbean, and the Pacific, and their programs and funding have helped
women. However, they have operated squarely within the
development-as-modernization paradigm and have been unwilling to pursue a
critique of the contradictions in this model and their implications for
women. Women-centred NGOs and other development organizations, in
contrast, have operated on the fundamental principle that existing models
of development are detrimental to women, and they have therefore explored
and implemented alternative development strategies.
National development policies and international development institutions share the same approaches to women in development. They also use liberal-feminist assumptions as the basis for their attempts to integrate women into development. National policies frequently reproduce gender ideologies. The following quotes are taken from two five-year development plans for the Barbados (197377 and 197983):
Quotation 1 One other supply factor worthy of mention is that unemployment is highest among young females. Indeed many of those persons who would have been content to remain unpaid household workers until marriage are now active job seekers. Thus rising participation among females in the younger age groups is a major contributor to the continued unemployment of human resources in the economy.
Quotation 2 Development planning is a tool for ensuring maximum efficiency in the implementation of a development strategy or policy. It is an organized, conscious and continual attempt to select the best available alternatives to achieve specific goals. It involves an attempt to allocate scarce human, financial and natural resources in a rational manner and with optimum production results.These quotations expose several issues in development policy and its implications for women in the South. They introduce key features for delineating the interconnections between feminist and development theories and between development policies and their outcomes.
In quotation 1, the government of a developing Caribbean country presents some of its views on womens desire to work. This policy statement considers womens search for employment as problematic because it is seen as placing constraints on the states resources. Women as active job seekers are discussed here as contributing to the countrys unemployment problem. The statements disclose various assumptions about womens labour-force participation in the South. They also indicate how female labour-force participation may be incorporated into development policy. The plan suggests that
How is that view likely to influence employment policies?
What is the particular development paradigm informing the planners view of womens work?
What are its underlying assumptions?
How is a development process perceived if it considers womens desire for work burdensome to development planning?
How does the definition change according to the major paradigm used?
Write your own definition of development, informed by any of the feminist theories introduced in Chapter 3.
What assumptions have you given priority to?
Given your definition, how would policymakers have to change their development approach to health in your country?
AltWID (Alternative Women in Development). 1992. Reagonomics and women: structural adjustment U.S. style 1980-1992: a case study of women and poverty in the U.S. AltWID, Washington, DC, USA.
n.d. Breaking boundaries: women, free trade and economic integration. AltWID, Washington, DC, USA.
GOB (Government of Barbados). 1983a. Barbados development plan 19731977: planning of growth. Government Printing Office, Bridgetown, Barbados.
1983b. Barbados development plan 19791983: planning of growth. Government Printing Office, Bridgetown, Barbados.
n.d. National Commission report. Government Printing Office, Bridgetown, Barbados.
GOUS (Government of the United States). 1978. The Percy Amendment. In Report on women in development. Submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, USA.
Hunt, D. 1989. Economic theories of development: an analysis of competing paradigms. Harvester Wheatsheaf, New York, NY, USA.
ILO (International Labour Office). 1991. The window of opportunity: strategies for enhancing womens participation in technical cooperation projects. ILO, Geneva, Switzerland. WID Occasional Paper No. 3.
1994. ILO Plan of Action on Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Men and Women in Employment. In Women and work: selected ILO policy documents. ILO, Geneva, Switzerland.
Massiah, J. 1982. Women who head households. In Women and the family. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Barbados. p. 105.
Moser, C. n.d. Policy approaches to women and development. Mimeo.
Sen, G.; Grown, C. 1987. Development, crisis and alternative visions: Third World womens perspectives. Monthly Review Press, New York, NY, USA.
UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women). 1993. Agenda 21: an easy reference to the specific recommendations of women. UNIFEM, New York, NY, USA.
World Bank. 1990. Women in development: a progress report on the World Bank initiative. World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.
Rao, A.; Anderson, M.; Overholt, C., ed. 1991. Gender analysis in development planning: a casebook. Kumarian Press, West Hartford, CT, USA.
Wieringa, S., ed. 1990. Womens movements and organizations in historical perspective. Women and Development Studies Program, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands.
Wiltshire, R. 1993. DAWN: environment and development,
the grassroots womens perspectives. Development Alternatives with Women
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