Transnational feminist movements: Knowledge, power, and social change

Oxford University Press America Handbook

Transnational feminist movements: Knowledge, power, and social change
Rawwida Baksh and Wendy Harcourt (eds.)

The economic development paradigm in the 1950s was a male-centric theory that promised progress to all. In practice, aid agency programs often have an adverse impact on women, promoting male privilege that feminist in the US were fighting against. Advocates for including women in development produced research showing the value of women’s economic roles and demanded that some of the funding be refocused on women’s concerns. As the camel’s nose poked under the development tent, priorities and issues expanded; women in recipient countries organized. The UN world conferences were a platform for networking: the global women’s movement blossomed. Laws and regulations changed women’s status in many countries.
Critics complained that this approach toward including women in international development (WID) did not question the capitalist system. Others argued that the emphasis on women ignored class, ethnicity, or religion. Gender encompasses all these attributes but globally, sex is the key defining factor.
Political participation was recognized as necessary when women’s rights were restricted by changes in government. Women’s organizations flexed their power to demand feminist goals as well as economic ones. What are those goals has become the pressing issue of the 21st century. Women want justice, but what does that entail? What will this new structure look like?

Key words: WID; economic roles; family and civil rights; UN women’s conferences; gender; global women’s movement; political participation; justice

Section 2: Organizing for Change edited for Rawwida

Chapter 6: The Camel’s Nose: women infiltrate the development project

Irene Tinker

After World War two, America ascendant undertook to assist the newly independent countries around the world to develop their economies. The impetus came from the conceit that the political and economic systems in the United States had proved their superiority in winning the war. But the drive was also rooted in the Cold War competition between capitalism and communism. Capitalism could be reached through defined stages and was presented as a “non-communist manifesto” to counter the dialectic of Marxism. (Rostow, 1960)
Economists who designed development theory were rooted in the 50s culture that sent Rosie the Riveter to the suburbs and assigned her the role of dutiful wife serving martinis to her hard working husband. Oblivious of cultural influences and perceiving economics as a science, these academics promoted a construct they assumed would be applicable globally, a sort of tent that could be erected anywhere, a tent without women.
The American culture of progress and prosperity was pervasive. Leaders in underdeveloped countries embraced it. During the first three of my lengthy research trips to India (1951 & 1965) and Indonesia (1957), so did I. My studies focused on the transition to democracy at both the national and local level. Women were not a topic. [From August 1951until March 1953 I followed the first Indian General Elections the proceedings of the first Parliament, interviewing party leaders throughout India for my dissertation. My 1965 research studies the implementation of the local election law. In Indonesia from 1957 to 1959 I studied the first Indonesian elections and the operation of decentralization in various provinces and in Jakarta.]

Understanding the impact that societal expectations have on identity
The second wave of the United States women’s movement was just taking off when I moved to Washington DC in 1960. Discrimination against women was palpable in DC in 1960. Despite having a PhD and a published co-edited book on India, and having won a post-doc fellowship, the personnel officer at the Brookings Institution told me: we hire Radcliffe girls as secretaries and Harvard men as researchers.

Eventually I found a job at Howard University, the federally chartered university set up after the Civil War to educate African-Americans: even their pay scales privileged white men, then black men, white women, and finally black women.
In the 1960s, DC was a maelstrom, churning with many groups seeking to change the status quo. President John F. Kennedy had nominated the first national Women’s commission which proposed such then-radical ideas as requiring equal pay for women! This commission spawned state commissions on women, expanding women’s demands throughout the country. We women marched on the mall to support the Equal Rights Amendment. I took my two young daughters to join supporters outside the Capital Building. I also joined the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom pushing a baby carriage along the mall to hear Martin Luther King intone his “I Have a Dream” speech.
My participation in the women’s and the civil rights movements reinforced each other: I joined activists in organizing meetings, registering black voters in DC as well as Mississippi, and marching in protest rallies. I even ran for Maryland’s legislature. Academe was rife with discrimination; graduate students led the way to protest male dominance in universities and agitate for women as part of panels at annual professional meetings. I helped organize women’s groups in political science, Asian studies, and population associations. But I had not connected women to international development.
All this changed when I returned to Indonesia in 1972. Because of my involvement in the US women’s movement, I was invited by the US Embassy to lecture about women’s issues and goals in the States. To make my talk vivid for the audience, I needed to compare Indonesian women’s rights and roles with those at home. Realizing how little I knew about Indonesian women outside their professional roles, I began exploring their lives and civil rights, and how independence was changing them. Far from progress, economic development was having an adverse impact on them. Our economic aid was recreating the same barriers for Indonesian women that we activists in the US were fighting to remove.

Organizing to change development policy
Back in Washington DC, I talked to other women researchers and heard the same story. A few of us were members of the Society of International Development (SID) but others found the lectures too rarified and the membership fee too high for some to join. As an alternative we formed an independent caucus of women interested in international development (WID) to collect articles and data about how development programs were affecting women. Reading Ester Boserup’s recently available book Woman’s Role in Economic Development provided an authoritative voice to our own conclusions.
The next SID international conference was scheduled for April 1973 in Costa Rica. Too late to register for regular daytime sessions, we persuaded the organizers to arrange two evening panels for WID presentations. SID conferences are quite sociable and evening sessions few. Much to everyone’s surprise, the rooms were packed with men as well as women. Participants recounted many similar stories about how development was undermining women’s traditional roles and ignoring their economic contributions. Clearly this was a global issue that needed greater recognition.
Events moved quickly. I testified at a State Department briefing on the 1975 International Women’s Year conference. Because the US Senate which was then debating revisions to the Foreign Assistance Act, it was still possible to insert this issue into that legislation. Using the UN phrasing, an amendment drafted which declared “that women should be integrated into development.” Senator Charles Percy was persuaded to introduce this amendment in the Senate as a courtesy and was approved without discussion as a sort of “feel good” idea easily eliminated; in fact the amendment would have been discarded by the Congressional Conference Committee except for the barrage of telegrams and phone calls from women representing women’s groups from traditional to radical. I spent days on the phone to women staffers explaining the importance of the amendment and emphasizing that no new funds were required. (Tinker, 1983; Tinker, 1990; Tinker, 2004)
Appointed as an advisor to the US delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in Jan 1974, I was able to brief the participants about the negative effects development programs were having on women and to urge a refocus of development policy to recognize women’s economic contributions, especially in agriculture. The implications for UN agencies were obvious; within a year women in those agencies had introduced resolutions requiring women to be included in development.
My participation in the UN was encouraged by Margaret Mead, then the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science where I had recently become the Director of International Science. In June 1974, I accompanied her to the UN Conference on Population in Bucharest to help distribute Cultural and Population Change, a book summarizing current research on population programs which the AAAS had produced. Margaret Mead spoke at panels in both the governmental and NGO meetings. Her ability to influence participants with this research convinced me to try a similar strategy the following year at the UN World Conference for Women.
1975 UN First World Conference on Women in Mexico City
Under the aegis of AAAS, and with Margaret Mead’s potent support, I convened a seminar in Mexico City just prior to the Women’s Conference. Having the backing of well-regarded scientific institutions from both the US and Mexico gave tremendous legitimacy to the seminar. Advice and support from women and men in several United Nations agencies in New York helped frame the agenda. Nearly one hundred women and men from 55 countries attended. Each of the five workshops – food production, education, work, health, and women’s organizations – produced a report identifying problems and suggested actions. These ideas were widely discussed at the NGO Tribune; several were added as amendments to the Plan of Action being debated at the UN governmental conference by seminar participants who were part of their country’s delegations and were able to insert many ideas from the Seminar into the Plan of Action. (Tinker and Bo Bramsen, 1976)
The seminar participants emphasized the need for women to organize in every country around local priorities: access to education and health facilities, civil rights, and the recognition of woman’s economic contributions to her country. Over the next decade, the proliferation of civil society organizations addressing these various issues was exponential. Widespread support for these groups came from development agencies, foundations, humanitarian organizations, and churches. Taken together, these groups began to form a global network increasingly able to influence economic development policies.
Deconstructing women’s work
Because economic theory as then practiced was promulgated by men living in the developed world, they were influenced by the prevailing world-view that women did not ‘work.’ To question their approach to economic development required a new definition of ‘work.’ Most of women’s economic activities were based on the traditional sexual division of labor and continue to be uncompensated. The ILO had defined formal work in terms of income thus effectively excluding all subsistence and household activity. Yet time allocation studies showed that women in subsistence societies spent many more hours than men in such survival tasks as growing, harvesting, processing, and preparing food, as well as carrying water and fuelwood. Child or elder care seldom appeared as a separate activity since women carried the babies on their backs, older siblings watched young ones, and life expectancy was low. None of these activities was counted as ‘work.’
Projects designed to deliver water to a village in Kenya or provide new sources of burnable material in Nepal worked well because they reduced drudgery. In contrast, projects requiring more effort from women, such as cutting wood for the “more efficient” cook stoves, faced women’s resistance. Midday literacy classes were poorly attended because women were working in the fields. Indoor latrines, which required women to carry extra water to flush them, remained unused. Synthesizing this research, I produced several papers for workshops held in preparation for the UN conferences on Technology (1949) and Energy (1950) which challenged existing policies underlying rural projects for women because they failed to recognize the long hours women are engaged in essential survival activities. These paper were widely circulated at the conferences; an expanded version was published as “The Real Rural Energy Crisis: Women’s Time” (1987)
Projects aimed at men also needed to be reconfigured. Ester Boserup (1970) documented how introducing cash crops to men living in subsistence economies in Africa had increased women’s work by requiring their labor on those crops – which produced income, while still raising food for the family – which did not. Further, the influx of cash allowed men to migrate to urban areas for higher paying jobs, where they often acquired a second wife, leaving their rural wives to labor in the fields.
Informal sector
Women’s work in the informal sector was also discounted under the ILO’s definition: an enterprise that employed five or more people. Individual and family enterprises were not included. Both neoclassical and Marxist theory expected these microenterprises to disappear with the advent of urbanization and modernization. In practice, monetization forced the poor to earn money for their daily needs. Well-intentioned efforts, by both local and international NGOs, to teach women to knit and sew in countries where women were farmers and men the tailors, were dismal failures.
In Ahmedabad, India, Ela Bhatt decided to form a union among women working as head-loaders, vegetable sellers, mattress-stuffers, among other occupations, and formed SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) in 1972. Her first project was forming a bank: credit allowed these workers to avoid the usurious rates of money lenders and so increase their earnings. SEWA also required its members to become literate, encouraging many workers to become part of the leadership.
In contrast, the Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh, was run by men at all but the village level. Members of this movement, who could not have access to more than half a hectare, were expected to follow the 16 Decisions: actions aimed at improving health and nutrition, which included limiting family size, and reducing expenditures on such customary practices as dowry and family rituals. Women were organized into small groups whose members stood surety for loans granted to others in the group to start small income producing projects. Because few village women had any entrepreneurial history, many enterprises lost money or failed. However, the availability of low cost credit still improved overall family welfare by providing families with needed cash; as a result, women’s status generally improved. Some women earned enough to buy land in the name of their daughters, thus avoiding limitations on landholding and assuring the daughter of a good marriage. Better prospects for young women lead members to send their daughters to school. (See Tinker 2004b for a survey of opinions on various credit programs.)
A comparison of these two credit programs shows how the different paths eventually led to empowerment. SEWA, run by women from top to bottom, encouraged members to learn, rise in the organization, and invest in tangible assets. Grameen Bank illustrates the idea that ‘the patriarch knows best.’ Empowerment came slowly to women members who flouted the rules to buy land. Daughters were the real beneficiaries.
Street Foods
Looking for a microenterprise where women actually made money, I initiated the Street Food Project at the Equity Policy Center (EPOC), a think-tank I started with the object of using research to transform the programs studied. We recruited women researchers in nine countries to follow all food vendors in their city for a year, identifying who makes, sells, and eats food on the street. Findings showed that although only one widow was a vendor in Bangladesh, women were involved in food preparation and cleaning of the stalls in 37% of the enterprises operated by their husbands. In contrast, 94% of Nigerian vendors were women selling foods throughout the day with help from female relatives. In the Philippines and Indonesia, couples often ran the activity together. Clearly, cultural attitudes and the status of women affected the number of women street food entrepreneurs. Income from the trade varied both within and among the countries. Where buying street foods is a daily occurrence as in Thailand or Nigeria, many women made more money that university professors or mid-level bureaucrats. But seasonal peanut vendors in Senegal barely cleared expenses. In all countries women, often heads of households, worked to provide sustenance for their families. Only in Nigeria, with its tradition of polygamous unions and separate budgets, did women not share their income with their husbands: rather they supported their children and kin. (Tinker, 1997)
The Street Food Project not only illuminated the wide range of gender relations affecting women’s income and its use, the study also influenced policies at local, national, and international level. Many cities “cleaned the streets” periodically, destroying stalls and carts and dumping the food. While vendors returned the next day, they seldom improved their stalls. Once the municipal authorities realized the economic value to vending, they began to help the vendors improve health standards: providing a water source for washing hands and dishes: the major source of contamination. They often designated areas where vendors could safely cluster. Countries adjusted laws affecting street food preparation. The Food and Agricultural Organization helped organize vendors in many counties which facilitated access to training classes. Such changed policies helped increase income for all vendors, allowing many to send their children to school. Vendor associations also empowered members. For example, in Ibadan, Nigeria, food courts were set up for university students; in Ilo-ilo, the Philippines, food courts with water were developed; in Minia, Egypt, the association began to buy ingredients for the vendors at reduced prices.
Home-based work
Working from home allows women to combine their household responsibilities with a way to earn income. Treated as “egg money,” economists ignored home-based production until the 1980s when industries began to “informalize” their workforce in response to globalization. In order to cut labor costs, industries making clothing contracted with local factories abroad that in turn contracted both the assembly and sewing to women at home. This vertical hierarchy for producing garments was largely unregulated leaving these industrial home and factory workers, predominantly women, open to exploitation. Contradicting assumptions by both neoclassical and Marxist theoreticians, this emergent economic form suggested that labor would not eventually be absorbed into the formal economy. (Portes, et al 1989) This provides additional evidence that modernization, far from freeing women from drudgery, many simply provide ongoing opportunities for their exploitation.
The assumption that work must be compensated through formal institutions has effectively excluded the bulk of women’s economic activities, whether within the household or in the informal sector. Research that underscored the economic benefits of the care economy as well as the critical role played in household survival by income from microenterprise and home-based work has persuaded economists to grudgingly include these activities as ‘work.’ Once again, the camel’s nose was pushing further into the tent.
Women in the household
Among the many questionable assumptions in economic theory is the idea that the household functions as a single unit, a ‘black box,’ overseen by a benevolent patriarch. Such a construct obscured women’s economic value and undercut women’s influence as the subsistence economy was increasingly monetized. (Folbre, 1988) Once women began to earn money, they were seldom able to control its use. Research into entitlements, especially for food or education, underscored women’s low status. (Papanek, 1990; Sen, 1981) Game theory showed that women’s bargaining position within the family was constrained due to their desire to stay married. (Sen, 1990)
Many women, by choice or desertion, became heads of households. Realizing that women headed households were the poorest of the poor, WID focused early on this trend. Data were sparse, so our group at AAAS decided to estimate the percentage of women headed households overall. At the time, the World Bank had declared that developing countries were better off as soon as per capita income reached $100. Quizzing the authors, they admitted this figure was an educated guess. So we did our own educated guessing, estimating that one-third of all households in developing countries were headed by women. That figure became the standard reference and has proved surprisingly robust. Percentages vary depending on the definition of female headship; nonetheless, the clarity of our declaration helped focus the development agencies on this issue. (Buvinic & Youssef , 1978; Chant, 1997.)
Most customary law gives the male overriding power in the household; women must constantly negotiate their position as modernization proceeds. Some WID projects were so focused on increasing women’s income that they threatened male prerogatives; enterprises were taken over, fields destroyed, and project staff endangered. Increasingly, WID proponents urged consideration of other family members when designing projects for women. This pragmatic approach was not followed by all development agencies. For example, in Bangladesh, a Swedish group refused loans to a woman who wished to buy a pedicab for her son who would then earn money for the household.
Reproduction and women’s health
Women’s power within the family was particularly limited regarding reproductive decisions. In the 1970s, Western development agencies promoted population programs because they argued that economic gains were being negated by rapid population growth. Within the women’s movement, family planning programs as practiced then were challenged both for coercive aspects and for racist implications. Some WID proponents at USAID opposed funding population projects for fear that focus on women as mothers would dilute the argument for recognizing their economic importance. As many population programs began to advocate for increasing women’s control over their own reproduction, they also began to offer income projects to their clients as a way of providing women an alternative form of social security. (Dixon-Meuller, 1993)
The SID/WID group echoed concerns about women’s that were angering women in the States. Male gynecologists, when examining women, treated them with disrespect. Research on critical issues such as breast cancer were conducted on male college students. Population programs in developing countries embodied the same disregard for women. Organizations were formed to challenge the implementation of population programs and began to urge a focus on women’s health by promoting birth spacing and improved check-ups for pregnant women. In preparation for the UN Second World Conference on Women held in Copenhagen in 1980, EPOC convened a global seminar on women’s health issues not connected to reproduction and held panels in Copenhagen calling for greater emphasis on women’s nutritional needs and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. (Blair, 1980) Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have set up programs focusing on these issues.
Questioning patriarchal and customary rights
If economic programs tended to be top-down and based on theoretical constructs, the ground swell of women’s groups challenging their subordination rolled in from village and town. Indeed, development agencies avoided programs that might seem to the recipient countries an attempt to destabilize the patriarchal order. But the removal of even a pebble from the power structure often had amazing consequences.
An early example comes from Government of South Korea soon after the fighting ended in July 1953 when an armistice was sign with North Korea. Ruined houses sat on hills bereft of trees; the economy was in tatters. The government launched programs to accelerate economic development coupled with efforts to reduce rapid population growth. To reach women in rural areas who traditionally spent their lives within their husbands’ compounds, the government set up family planning programs in villages. Women were required to attend these programs once a month where they received contraceptives pills from an educated woman who also schooled the women on health issues and the importance of educating their daughters. These young women also talked about the rapidly changing attitudes in the cities. Once organized, the government decided to utilize these women’s groups to plant seedling for the reforestation projects. Money earned from selling the saplings back to the government was used by the women to travel to nearby religious sites. Thus the women’s worldviews were expanded from a narrow focus on the household as they were exposed to new ideas and places.
Global social activists
From 1902, when the International Alliance of Women was founded to promote women’s suffrage, European women helped organize women globally to reduce poverty and encourage education. These groups became leaders in the UN Commission on the Status of Women which was formed in 1946. Several other sensitive topics were on the agenda of the 1974 First International Feminist Conference held in Frankfurt, which advocated greatly increased surveillance over international prostitution rings.

Feminists also called for a ban on female circumcision in Africa. Fran Hosken became a crusader for the ban and founded the Women’s International Network a quarterly journal distribute information about female genital mutilation and other feminist topics which the US media seldom covered. Because the journal was an amalgam of articles printed elsewhere rather than a channel for women activists, it did not survive its founder’s death.
Feminists in Europe were appalled by the lack of media coverage of the 1974 conference and determined to form an alternative communications and documentation center to provide information about women’s activities, especially those in the global South. Marilee Karl, in Rome, and Jane Cottingham, in Geneva, started Isis that same year and began collecting everything they could gather about women’s organizing. To share this information, they soon began to publish the Women’s International Bulletin which focused on grassroots women’s experiences, detailing their efforts at social change. Realizing the need for a Spanish speaking office, the organization set up the Isis International Foundation in Santiago in 1984 to provide resources and communications throughout Central and South America. The center also houses the Latin American and Caribbean Network for a Life without Violence against Women. (Portugal 2004)

In 1991 the Rome office moved to Manila where they set up the Isis International Activist School to train women how to use social media and other forms of communication to support campaigns for social change and women’s rights. To consolidate these efforts, the center also publishes Women in Action. In 1994, the Geneva office moved to Kampala and established the Isis Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange. This Isis center focuses on African women’s issues, particularly violence against women in the home and in areas of conflict. These three Isis centers are thoroughly rooted in their regions and reflect the particular concerns of the women in each area.
Another important communications network, the International Women’s Tribune Centre, was set up in New York City in 1975 as a documentation and media organization to support women who had attended the NGO conference – termed the Tribune – during the First UN Conference for Women held in Mexico City. Headed by Anne Walker, an Australian who had been working with women’s groups in Fiji, believed that change can only happen at the ground level. IWTC focused on getting information, technical assistance, and training to women’s groups in all world regions; its easy-to-read training manuals were published in French and Spanish as well as English. Located across from the UN headquarters, the centre provided a meeting place for women attending UN meetings. Their Clearinghouse provided UN documents for NGOs which Women’s Ink made available books written about the burgeoning women’s movement but printed by obscure presses. (Walker, 2004). Through their international contacts, IWTC encouraged donors to fund regional groups directly. After 35 years of activities and outreach that reached 25,000 women’s groups worldwide, IWTC closed in June 2010. Yet the networking has not stopped; constant requests for referrals, information and contacts arrive via email and Facebook. IWTC slide-tape sets of the four UN world conferences and NGO Forums are now available on a women’s history website set up by SUNY and Smith College. (Walker, 2013)
Challenging the capitalist model
Shortly after the Mexico City conference, a World Congress for International Women’s Year, was convened in East Berlin in October 1975. Organized by the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the meeting was planned with the support of the United Nations and attended by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim who thanked the WIDF for first suggesting the idea to celebrate IWY. Participants included many Asian and African women and men who had attended workshops in the socialist countries that promoted integrating women into revolutionary causes, as opposed to the WID model designed to incorporate women into the capitalist model. (Ghodsee, 2012)
These two European conferences in 1974 and 1975 put forward distinct views about women’s concerns. The Feminist conference focused on international prostitution and genital mutilation but also provided a forum for information exchange about the tentative efforts of women to organize, especially in developing countries. This need for better communications led to three new feminist networks all designed to assist women assert their customary and civil rights. In contrast, the Berlin conference celebrated the success of communist countries in organizing women in developing countries as one of several mass organizations. For example, the Women’s Union in Vietnam and Laos, and Women’s Federation in China are mass organizations which function as a vehicle for the party to instruct the village women. Increased development assistance aimed at women has resulted in training the cadres to implement new programs which do allow some space for village women to be heard. Still, this top down approach tends to promote dependency on the state. (Tinker, 2004a)
Expansion of civil society organizations
The exponential growth of women’s organizations after the Mexico City conference, particularly in the developing countries, was made possible by the flow of funds from the UN, bilateral and multilateral agencies, foundations, and charitable organizations. Most promoted organizing women at the village level, but their approaches were influenced by the political and administrative systems in the recipient countries. In former French colonies, for example, the provincial organization of government services, like that in communist countries, did not encourage local initiatives. Where new governments utilized the list system of voting, changing policy required women to join parties to instigate new ideas. The most robust growth of women’s organizations occurred in countries using a single constituency system where members of the legislature could be influenced by local activists. (An analysis of domestic violence legislation illustrates this point; see Tinker, 2008)
Funding for women’s organizations was sparse before WID. Most were elite organizations whose middle class members had time and money for their charitable endeavors. Community groups might form over a crisis such as a flood or earthquake, but women found it difficult to justify devoting time to non-survival activities. Development funding changed that. Agricultural projects, for example, required women to be organized in order to teach them about new approaches to farming. These groups became a conduit for information about health and family planning. Most critical, however, were the women hired to organize these groups: these were education urban women, and they were paid. These urban women soon realized that many of the problems village women stemmed from customary practices concerning marriage, inheritance, and domestic violence, were their problems as well. Soon urban women were organizing at the city and country levels, and meeting women from around the world at the UN women’s conferences. In many ways, then, development assistance was crucial to the growth of the global women’s movement. I summarized this unanticipated result of development funding in “Empowerment just happened: the unexpected expansion of women’s organizations.” (Tinker, 2006)
Critics of the WID approach
Critics of the women and development approach fall into two distinct categories: one that questions the types of programs advocated, the other that critiques the ideological assumptions underlying liberal economic theory. Both groups misunderstand or misinterpret the original pragmatic focus used by WID advocates to bolster their arguments for change. Importantly, their complaints reflect the unrealistic assumptions about the ease of changing either bureaucratic culture or power relationships within the family.
Putting women into development projects
Since economic development was the goal of agency programming, WID advocates argued that projects would be more efficient if they took into account women’s economic contributions. Time use studies underscored the multifold activities of a woman’s day. One result was the flurry of appropriate technology projects designed to reduce women’s survival tasks. Another result was the introduction of “income-producing” projects for women. Although some projects were culturally inappropriate and seldom resulted in income for women commensurate with their time spent, microcredit and microenterprise programs have generally improved women’s status, if not their income.
The comparison also underscores the difficulty of categorizing programs as either strategic and practical.
Despite the growing body of data on women’s work, WID supporters underestimated bureaucratic resistance to changing projects design which was based more on economic constructs than on an understanding of women’s economic and reproductive roles. Historically, planners understood that the introduction of cash crops in Africa meant increased work by women but nonetheless privileged cash over women’s welfare: no surprise that food production fell as women worked longer hours on less desirable land. Today the debate focuses on land grabbing by foreign corporations that will provide increased agricultural production for the country: the impact on women is unclear and widely discounted.
Power in the family
WID proponents also underestimated the persistence of power relationships within families and households. As more women earned cash from jobs in the formal or informal sectors, their income was often appropriated by their husbands or partners. Even when women invested in jewelry, men might rip off their gold rings or chains. When an enterprise employing women to dry fruit for sale became too successful, it was taken over by men. In Nicaragua, women were uninterested in microenterprises: any income she might earn would just reduce the household funds customarily given her by her husband.
In countries where men paid bride price, any income or goods women might have accrued belonged to the man’s family. Women in such countries were cognizant of male power and often found ways to circumvent tradition. To prevent losing their possessions to extended family members when their husband died, market women in Dar-as-Salam bought a house in the municipality where women could own property; when family members tried to claim a TV or refrigerator, the women claimed it belonged to someone else. In Kenya, women’s groups pooled their funds and bought plates and tables which members could borrow for their individual celebrations.
These examples illustrate both the tenacity of customary law, but also how income could empower women. They also underscore the importance of cultural variation and the necessity to adjust programs to local circumstances.
Patriarchy in customary law
The concept that the patriarch knew best for all family or household members has been discredited. Amartya Sen investigated starvation and found that those with few entitlements, namely women, had the least claim on food. Yet Sen also questioned the utility of game theory to explain family dynamics because neither party wished to disband the marriage. (Sen, 1990) The issue for women within the family or household was how to make power more equitable.
DAWN stresses the importance of placing women within their family context and criticizes WID for emphasizing the needs and right of individual women. Clearly development projects face the dilemma of how to respond to family considerations without reinforcing women’s subordination. Since WID programs did focus on reducing the time women spend on survival activities, critics such as Caroline Moser termed such projects as “practical” as opposed to projects that confront women’s inequality as “strategic.” (Moser, 1993) Such distinctions may be useful for planning purposes; actual implementation of projects muddied such divisions as unexpected outcomes often empowered women while not directly confronting family or state power. Just organizing women proved to be amazingly liberating: as women’s worldview expanded, they rapidly identified the sources of their oppression. The amazing fact is that as women demanded more civil and well as economic rights, economic aid agencies continued to fund the women’s movement. (Tinker, 2006)
In retrospect, while the approach of WID, with its premise that offering the benefits of development to women as well as men would eventually empower women, was too optimistic and seriously underestimated resistance by bureaucrats and patriarchs, its impact cannot be denied. The many efforts initiated to address agency constraints for implementation and to confront male bastions of continued oppression are well documented in this volume.
Ideological critiques
Economic development was based on modernization theory with is base in capitalism. WID did not contest this theoretical base because its goal was to ensure women’s concerns were an integral part of all development programs; funding for projects was offered within this parameter.
Still there were critics. Lucille Mair, while recognizing that WID put women into the development project, argued in her 1986 article “Women: A Decade is Time Enough” for reconsideration of the WID approach of integrating women into development by asking: into what? Peace advocate Elise Boulding cautioned that integration into the present world order would only increase women’s dependency. She proposed a “strategic separatism that frees up the potentials of women for economic and social experiments on a small scale, outside the patriarchal social order.” (1991, 23)
Marxist feminists articulated many problems with the ‘women and development’ approach to development during a 1978 workshop, “The Continuing Subordination of Women in the Development Process.” Noting that this literature was primarily empirical rather than theoretical, it both ignored examples of how the capitalist system fostered inequalities and was “equivocal in its identification and analysis of women’s subordination.” Additionally, projects using this approach tended to “isolate women as a separate and homogenous category.” (Young, et al. ix-xix). Arguing that class was a more potent classifier of a women’s subordination than biological identification, the participants called for a gendered analysis. Since an individual’s gender reflects a kaleidoscope of their characteristics, the question arises as to what should be considered the predominant attribute. Research now shows that women of all classes or ethnicities are subject to male dominance; thus women organizing women as women has given strength and reach to the global women’s movement. The importance of class and ethnicity has not disappeared, of course, as other chapters in the volume show: but sex identity – not gender– remains the most defining characteristic.
Gender and development
The impact of substituting gender for women differs substantially between the academy and development programs. The speed with which this change was embraced by agencies in the early 1980s reflected the disillusionment among some women in the bureaucracies who expected more rapid implementation of women’s projects and began to question the premise of the programs. The switch also reflected the growing power of the women’s movement which was challenging patriarchy on many fronts; the use of gender was less threatening to men: clearly, there will never be a gender movement.
Marxist feminist at the Workshop also argued that by treating women as a distinct and isolated category WID ignored gender relationships both within the household and with the labor force. Academically, the introduction of gender complexity and of gender relationships has provided a powerful analytical tool for the study of transformative social change. Yet even at universities that have changed terminology from Women’s Studies to Gender Studies, the campus community still tends to conflate the two words, obliterating the nuances inherent in gender. Using “Women and Gender Studies” has clarified this issue in several instances.
The confusion about the meaning of gender in agency programs has been much more problematic. First, the term is almost impossible to translate into local languages. In Vietnam, two practitioners assigned to lecture about gender in projects were puzzled about the laughter until they realized that all the five Vietnamese words they were using to approximate gender in effect referred to having sex. Despite such workshops to clarify the term, most practitioners still assumed that the programs are intended for women. In contrast, when the Ford Foundation representative in Vietnam interpreted gender to encompass men as well as women for a project funding three month scholarships for foreign study, all awardees were men who were more easily able than women to leave their family responsibilities to others.
Gender mainstreaming
Women in the development agencies argued that a reason for the slow adoption of programs to aid women was due to the “silo effect” which separated projects by field. By abolishing the silos and agitating for the inclusion of gender in all policies and programs throughout the organization, advocates of gender mainstreaming hoped for improved outcomes. Case studies of UNDP, the World Bank, and ILO, indicate that “to a surprising degree” these multilateral agencies have incorporated mainstreaming into their practices, but in keeping with their organizational goals so that gender equity is only one of their policy objectives. The result was that the adoption of gender mainstreaming by the United Nations “turned a radical movement idea into strategy of public administration.” (Prugl and Lustgarten, 2006. 55; 68-69)
Ultimately, feminists recognized that constant pressure is necessary to ensure that women’s issues are not sidelined. Clearly, to affect institutional change, putting gender into all policies and programs must be accompanied by ‘a focal point’ that lobbies for funding and monitors progress. As chair of Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley in the 1990s, I observed the critical role the department played in supporting courses throughout the curriculum that included women’s issues. Losing the WID/GAD offices in development agencies meant losing a focal point for women lobbying for programs reflecting women’s priorities.
Motherist and difference identities
Gender is the sum of an individual’s characteristics. WID emphasized women’s economic value as salient rather than women’s reproductive or sexual roles. When women as mothers became a focal point for action, many feminists felt this reinforced paternalist control. Thus in Argentina, when the Madres de la Plaza became the primary resistance to the military government: accusing them as anti-family and demanding they account for the disappeared, feminists were uneasy. In both Chile and Peru, women’s groups confronted those authoritarian regimes by organizing communal kitchens to help the women affected by arrests and killings.
Elsewhere, the rise of Islamist parties has injected religious tenets into government policies. In Indonesia, where government policies privilege motherhood, formerly robust women’s organizations are being steered away from development projects. Islamist parties have not been as successful in Bangladesh with its plethora of women’s organizations and other NGOs running projects for women. The relationship of motherhood to identity politics, especially in Muslim dominant countries, is illuminated by Valentine Moghadam’s edited book, Identity Politics and Women. (1994)
A distinct argument has arisen in Europe where feminists reject the idea that women and men are the same; they also reject the thought that men are superior to women. Rather, both have views and experiences that need to be included in setting government priorities. This “difference feminism” has been particularly strong in France. Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Bruntland echoed this view when she included an equal number of women in her cabinet during her three terms in office: 1981; 1986-1989; 1990-1996.
Conundrum: are women the same or different?
At first, most of us WID proponents felt that because men controlled the levels of power, we had to imitate them to demand more equal treatment for women. Like many others, I started wearing pants suits and left my earrings at home. Others smoked cigarillos although I never saw a woman with a pipe. Nonetheless, I was aghast when a colleague brought her knitting to an important meeting. Wary of using man as a measure, I often noted in my talks that as long as man was the measure, women would always be second class. My action-research center, founded in 1979, was called the Equity Policy Center. I wanted justice, not sameness. This is a slippery slope, demanding equal treatment that is different.
Justice: equality, merit, and need
At the height of the suffrage movement, many men argued that giving women the vote would sully their moral precepts thus using the concept of difference to deny women their political rights. Suffragists argued for justice in educational and employment opportunities as well. Jane Jaquette suggests that three competing ideas of justice frame the modern debate and are based on the fairness of resource distribution. Equality implies that each person has a right to similar resources whether food or income or the vote; equality is enforced by law. Challenges to this approach can come from the difference argument as arguing that distinct attributes of women, such as child-bearing, make equality as sameness irrelevant.
Merit is justice earned. People who produce more deserve more. Access to material goods and other resources are linked to earning power. This is just because the marketplace is just. That women have household responsibilities is irrelevant because it is the individual justice that is earned, not social justice for family or community. In developing countries, the sexual division of labor distributed tasks; social conventions and harvest celebrations redistributed food. The introduction of new technologies and of cash reordered a more equal system which privileged men. It was the unfairness of this impact of economic development on women that stoked demands for a new paradigm. In the modern context, merit implies equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome. People who work harder receive just rewards. Finally, need is the moral imperative for altruism, for social justice. Religious traditions preach the moral value of providing resources for the poor. Governments extend support victims of disaster in addition to programs for families living in poverty. Too often these recipients of charity are not perceived as equal either by themselves or society. The concept of justice as merit clouds the belief in equality. (Jaquette, 1990).
Justice for women must be rethought and reconfigured to include both sameness and difference. Finding a path through the brambles should be a major priority for global feminism.
Feminist conflicts in the US
Efforts to address this issue must come both from academics and practitioners. Yet there is remarkably little interchange between women’s studies and women in international development. In the United States, Women’s Studies was spearheaded by graduate students reacting to the cavalier treatment women received during protests against the Vietnam War and the sexist attitudes of male civil rights activists. Patriarchy became a salient academic issue and humanities their base. Their anti-government stance collided with women concerned with the impact of development abroad who sought funds from government and foundations to study abroad. To those in Women’s Studies, ‘Third World Women’ were members of US minorities. When USAID brought nearly forty women leaders from developing countries to take part in the Women’s Studies conference in Kansas in 1979, other participants vociferously objected to the presence of any US government agency, seeing government policy as monolitic. Some women disrupted talks by African and Asian women and talked of trashing the materials about women and development programs. Instead, the association decided to pass a resolution prohibiting USAID from ever attending the NWSA again.
The ethnocentrism of Women’s Studies was still an issue when I was chair of the Women’s Studies Department at Berkeley from 1991 to 1993. I introduced several new courses and encouraged my colleagues to include non-US examples in their teaching. A major grant from the Ford Foundation to 13 universities in the US was predicated on including international topics into Women’s Studies or putting women’s issues into international relations courses. Only one other university attempted the latter initiative in which we were moderately successful. But I was astounded at a conference of theses 13 university teams when one exclaimed, after a year of cooperating with a university in Prague, that the US women had concluded that patriarchy was different in Europe. This show of the limited knowledge of the rest of the world among academics in the US is unfortunately not limited to Women’s Studies. Overseas, most university systems are less flexible that in the US and seldom have programs to study about women. As a result, most studies about women take place in research centers which are concerned how the immense socio-economic transitions are affecting women.
Seeking power in government
One of the bases for arguing for more women in decision-making positions in government is that women have different views of society which need to be reflected in policies and legislation. Putting women into development programs meant lobbying legislatures, cajoling bureaucrats, and initiating training programs. The creation of WID focal points within the bureaucracy encouraged more women to enter government service. Follow-up research critiqued projects helping improve women’s livelihood, health, and civil rights. All this activity propelled the women’s global movement. But what is granted by government can also be taken away should the politics change.
In order to protect the expansion of their rights and opportunities, women need to embrace political participation. Doing so required a shift in the mind set of many feminists, particularly where oppositional NGOs had been funded by international donors so they could challenge autocratic rule. This hesitation has been largely overcome since the Fourth World Conference on women held in Beijing in 1995 demanded special provisions to enable women to be elected or appointed to high level decision making positions, and promoted the idea that 30 percent of membership is necessary to provide a critical mass that would allow significant changes in gender-sensitive policies and procedures. Proponents for quotas assert that “women leaders better represent the interests of women citizens, will introduce women’s perspectives into policymaking and implementation, and help expand women’s opportunities in society at large.” (Htun, 1998:15).
This global rush by governments to set up quotas for women in elective bodies is widely supported and little examined. Do numbers of women in legislatures in fact translate into power to implement a feminist agenda? Or is the purpose of more women in elective offices to offer exposure of more citizens to the reality of compromise and governance? In other words, is this an effort to inculcate women into the male agenda or is it an effort to change the agenda. Are women perceived as same as men or different? To illuminate this issue, I analyzed the impact of numbers as they impacted on the two widely used electoral systems: proportionate representation and single constituency. Because women in PR systems are beholden to the party if they are chosen candidates, their ability to alter male priorities is limited. Further, activist women tend to focus on party politics rather than seek change through women’s organizations. In contrast, candidates in single constituencies are reelected by those where they live.
Women’s groups have a greater opportunity to influence candidates, and women candidates can push for feminist goals without necessarily going through the party. In 2008, I analyzed the fate of legislation to address domestic violence to show this fact: neither France nor Sweden was able to pass this law, and Rwanda, with the highest percentage of women in the legislature, was able to pass it but unable to persuade its autocratic president to sign it into law. These three countries have variations of PR. Only India, with its single constituency system and robust women’s organizations, succeeded. (Tinker, 2004; 2009)
Women and development in the twenty-first century
The persistent inequities that women face globally are rooted in patriarchal customary law that has frequently been embedded in new constitutions which proclaim women’s civil equality. Such constitutions create a tension between traditional law and civil law; courts must decide on which law is granted precedence. A critical set of issues revolve around women in the family: marriage, reproduction, inheritance, and legal subordination. A second set reflects women’s changing roles in the face of rapid socio-economic transitions, from subsistence to the monetization, from defined sexual division of labor to increased work for women through their unpaid work in the reproductive sphere and waged work in the formal and informal economy. Finally, the conspicuous imbalance of political power slows women’s quest for justice. WID proponents have addressed all these issues as I summarize below.
Many of the WID projections of equity have yet to be realized; even the definition of equity has been challenged as discussed above. The overriding task for feminists is to agree on the outlines of the world system we seek. A debate on such a future involves applying philosophical precepts and moral reasoning to policies and projects that range from maternity leave and childcare to women’s ownership of assets.
Customary practices in a changing world
Governmental manipulation of women’s expected roles in post-World War II in the United States ignited the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1960s. Educated women sought jobs and working women demanded equal pay. Income was believed to be the first step toward greater equality. For women concerned with development practice, recognizing women’s economic worth seemed like the camel’s nose: challenging the sexual division of labor embedded in the underlying economic paradigm. And so it proved to be, as recounted in this chapter.
As development programs facilitated women’s organizing, women chafed at traditional practice regarding marriage, inheritance, and their ability to make decisions about their fertility, activity outside the house involving work, education, or joining organizations. In many cases, the only path to greater independence from the family was to eschew marriage altogether, assuming household headship. Soon women were demanding greater access to such newly available opportunities such as education, property, and credit. But the contradictions between earning an income and raising a family alone meant that women not only still worked the double day, but had limited time to work outside the house and so earned less.
Justice for women in the new century
Few women aspire to be a single mother, but persistent gender stereotypes seem to become stronger once a child is added to the working couple. Debates over women’s work in the home and outside escalate, especially as extended families typical in developing countries began to fragment. Home-based work was adopted by many women as a way to combine her multifold responsibilities. In industrialized countries, many governments and some industries provide childcare. Elsewhere, women make choices among paying for often expensive childcare, finding local women who provide care in their homes, recreating extended family arrangements, or staying home.
What do women want today? How do we reconcile women’s distinct role in reproduction with equal opportunity in the workplace? If the tent of patriarchal privilege has been flattened, what sort of family or household structure should be erected? Designing a just and equitable dwelling for the family in a community which allows choice and difference has become the challenge for women today.

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