The Gender and development approach emerged
Formal policy approaches aiming to incorporate women into development activities began in the early 1970s. Over the past 30 years they have evolved on the basis of experience, review, and reformulation of objectives and strategies. By the 1980s the WID or ‘women-in-development’ approach was accepted and adopted internationally with an aim of “integrating women into global processes of economic, political and social growth and change” (Rathberger, 1990, p489).
Development agencies and recipients of international development assistance adopted WID programs and projects with the hope of delivering development to women. Unfortunately WID failed to significantly narrow the gender gap. This led to a rethinking of WID and its approach to women and development. The ‘gender-and-development’ (GAD) approach emerged in the 1980s as an alternative to WID. Since gender is a relational concept GAD shifts attention away from ‘women’ towards the whole ensemble of relations that exist between the sexes.
In this essay I shall attempt to elucidate whether this conceptual shift from WID to GAD has significantly altered project and policy tools for the empowerment of women. Origins of WID WID was one of the first critiques of modernization theory which was part and parcel of thinking on international development from the 1950s to the 1970s. Liberalists believed that modernization would improve the standard of living of peoples in the Third World. They argued that the benefits of modernization would “trickle down” to all sectors of society following growth in a country’s economy (Rathberger, 1990, p490).
This “trickle down” theory of development was challenged by a group of Washington based female development professionals who first coined the term WID. They propounded that modernization was in fact doing quite the opposite and was causing a deterioration of women’s position within society. During the Colonial period women were viewed as “backward” and as “inferior beings bound by tradition” (Parpart, 1993, p447). Liberalist development planners in the post war period adopted these assumptions without looking to reality.
Women were regarded as a block to development, and men as the agents. Boserup and others have shown that from the beginning of colonialism, “new private property rights, wage labour, technology, credit and education have been handed to men” (Bandarage, 1984, p498). Men had the better paid, more prestigious jobs in the formal sector of the economy. Likewise in agriculture, as new technologies were introduced they were channelled towards men rather than women. Women became subordinate to men, in terms of income, status, and power.
Other feminists like Betty Friedan argued that “the separation of the domestic and public spheres and the confinement of women within the home, are the roots of their economic marginalization and social subordination” (Bandarage, 1984, p497). Modernization did appear to be widening the gender gap. WID, within its liberalist framework, aimed to even out the benefits of modernization through integrating women into the formal sectors of the Third World economies. WID policy approaches : from welfare to efficiency
Before the publication of Ester Boserup’s landmark study (1970) the consideration of women in planning and practice was guided by a model of female domesticity and male responsibility (Goetz, 1991, p). Policies were therefore welfare orientated which meant that economic intervention for women was limited to activities centred on their function as child bearers, rearers and homemakers. Boserup was one of the first to highlight women’s importance to the agricultural economy, and hence the role of women as producers.
Boserup, along with other academics, proved that women constituted 60 to 80 per cent of the agricultural workers in Africa and Asia and more than 40 per cent in Latin America (Bandarage, 1884, p497). Women’s contribution to agricultural production is therefore incredibly important in the development process. As a result of Boserups’s research, WID advocates rejected the view of women as “passive recipients of welfare programmes” and instead championed them as “active contributors to economic development” (Ravazi & Miller, p 4). Tinker describes women as an “undervalued economic resource” in the development process.
Development policy shifted away from welfare and towards economic efficiency. WID believed that incorporating women into the productive sphere would improve their status relative to men, as well as aiding the development process itself. Criticisms of WID Development agencies and recipients of international development assistance initially found the gender equity argument threatening. This is because they didn’t want to risk “tamper(ing) with unknown and unfamiliar social variables” (Buvinic, 1983, p26, in Ravazi ; Miller, 1995, p7).
To encourage these agencies to adopt and institutionalise their policies, WID advocators found that they had to link their policy goals to mainstream development concerns. As Goetz points out “demonstrating the efficiency dividends of investing in women” meant that WID advocates shifted the emphasis away from “women’s needs and interests in development, to calculating what development needs from women”. The anti-poverty strategies adopted by international agencies during the 1970s were one way in which WID advocates could show how women could serve development.
The emphasis on poor women made the feminist agenda less threatening to male bureaucrats and programme implementers (Buvinic, 1983, p26 in Ravazi ; Miller). However, this meant that policies aiming to empower women were purely instrumental in capacity. For instance, female education and employment were highlighted as cost effective means of solving the population problem (Ravazi ; Miller, 1995, p8). The empowerment of women was seen as a means rather than an end. Women would never become fully integrated into the development process if they were treated as such.
Projects intending to advance women’s position in society ending up doing quite the opposite. Women became further marginalized and isolated from the mainstream of development through the institutionalisation of targeted and segregated women-only projects. These Women’s Units created small, separate projects for women, detached from the main body of development programmes. This failure to integrate women into the development process meant that female perspectives weren’t heard in higher levels of planning.
It also meant that women became ghettoised as the responsibility for improving the status of women was limited to one department rather than to all sectoral ministries. Voices of the various groups of women were not heard because women were treated as a homogenous segment of society. Gender and Development By the late 1970s those working in the world of development challenged the WID approach. Reviews and analyses concluded that women only projects were inadequate and had failed to significantly empower women in the Third World.
The policy approaches to women in development required serious reform if the gender gap was to be mitigated in any way. The Gender and Development approach emerged in the 1980s as an alternative to women in development. Unlike WID, “GAD is not concerned with women per se but with the social construction of gender and the assignment of specific role, responsibilities and expectations to women and to men” (Rathberger, 1990, p494). Instead of focusing purely on women, the GAD approach concentrates exclusively on the social relations between men and women which generate and perpetuate gender inequalities.
Gender planning frameworks – their impact on development practice As mentioned above, women’s lack of participation in the pubic sphere was WID’s explanation for female subordination. However, WID did not tackle the question over why gender relations restricted women’s access in the first place. The gender planning frameworks, offshoots of GAD, do just this in order to gain a better understanding of the relationships and factors underlying the subordination of women. Gender planning frameworks, in theory, facilitate better planning projects and programmes for empowering women.