Women’s Economic Roles and the Development Paradigm

This mss is the draft I wrote for a review of development theory, past, present, and future, being prepared by the International Development Research Center. My draft has been added to and edited for the final publication.


Women were invisible in the liberal economic development paradigm predominant in the 1950s. This invisibility of women’s economic roles reflected the prevailing worldview in Europe and the United States that considered women’s work ancillary to the family and economically irrelevant. This assumption allowed to the conceptual modeling of the household as a unit which was benevolently ruled by the patriarch who made decisions that were in the best interests of all family member. Further, this construct effectively ignored women’s caring functions globally and obscured women’s economic activities in subsistence economies. That such assumptions were seen as culturally biased only proved the need for modernization of economies around the world.

The social construction of gender reflected in development theory was increasingly challenged by women in both developed and developing countries. Scholars documented the work that women did and concluded that many development programs were having an adverse impact on women. Activists agitated in Europe and the United States for their governmental agencies to integrate women into development. [fn. Many international women’s organizations with roots in East and West worked with counterparts in colonial and newly independent countries.] The preponderance of early development programs were focused at the community level and designed to improve agriculture, educate the villagers in health and sanitation practices, or teach literacy. These were the very areas where women’s work undermined programmatic design. Research documenting the economic activities of women in subsistence economics impelled reconsideration of such programs and suggested the need to organize women separately from men. Increasingly, women activists influenced economic assistance policies at the national and international levels and prompted a broadening of sectors focused on including women in international development.

In order to reach and train women at the village level, programs began to organize them and hired educated women to help. These women soon became advocates for changes in customary laws that affected them as well and founded national women’s organizations to lobby their own governments.

The series of United Nations World Conferences on Women provided opportunities for these women to meet other activists and scholars at the non-governmental forums. Foundations facilitated this interchange by providing travel. This vast array of women from countries around the world reinforced women’s demands for greater equity. By subsidizing women’s organizations at all levels, economic assistance agencies in fact helped fund the global women’s movement.

In the 21st century, poverty has become the major focus of development agencies which now focus on women as the key. Many projects to assist women to earn money have certainly helped. However, women now argue that the persistence of patriarchy with its inequitable power relationships can only be addressed politically. A woman’s right to a house also provides her with power to limit domestic violence but also becomes a site for income activities and the production of food.

This chapter traces the evolution of the development paradigm in response to the recognition of women’s economic roles. As the women’s movement grew, women demanded greater emphasis on their rights. Rapid socio-economic transitions altered family structure which called for greater attention to gender relationships. Gender sensitive programs and policies further changed development programs. Activists today are working to ensure that rhetoric is matched with expenditures. Finally, recognizing that development is basically political, women are demanding greater representation in legislatures and government globally.

Women’s economic roles challenged the development paradigm

Women were invisible in early economic development theory for three basic reasons. First, the worldview prevailing in Europe and the United States in the post-World War II era which assumed women did not work was incorrectly perceived as universal. Secondly, the economic constructs based on this assumption proposed the household as an economic unit whose members were well served by its patriarch. Finally, this lack of cultural variability could be traced to some extent to inaccurate information about women’s economic roles and gender relationships in developing countries.

The industrialized countries, recovering from World War II craved normalcy as they envisioned it had been before the war: men working and women in the home. This vision ignores how easily appropriate roles for women and men can be manipulated. Traditionally the social construction of gender was influenced by religion and culture. Governments can utilize media and tax policy to encourage change. For example, in the 1930s, women in the US were implored to leave their jobs so that men could work and support their families. So successful was this reordering of women’s roles that the regents of the University of California, Berkeley, decided undergraduate women should concentrate on home science and arbitrarily reassigned women professors from across the disciplines to Home Economics. [Nerad, Marisi . 1999] But once the US entered the war, the government proclaimed women’s patriotic duty was to work in the defense industry: the posters of Rosie the Riveter were as ubiquitous as those recruiting soldiers.

Development theorists took as given this transitory view of gender and utilized it for designing the stages of growth that would lead to modernization. Liberal economists wished to counter Marxism with an alternative inevitable path, but they tended to dismiss in importance of women in both the economic and caring economies. Marxist theory does recognize women’s importance in reproducing the labor force as well as their work yet provisions for assisting women in their caring functions were seldom adequate in communist countries. Both these economic constructs lacked an understanding of women’s reality, especially in developing countries.[Jaquette 1982]

Women’s activities in the family were, according to the economic construct, part of the household unit whose male head was the benevolent decision-maker. Placing women in the black box of the household obliterates their work in the care economy globally. [Folbre 1988] In subsistence economies which still retained the traditional sexual division of labor as development assistance programs geared up, focus on the patriarch undercut customary responsibilities and tended only to reward the males with rights. Focus on the household obscured the facts of women’s economic contributions.

Women’s response

The rhetoric of democracy and equality espoused during the war resonated in both former colonies and in industrial countries. Independence movements brought women to the forefront of struggle, especially when the male leaders were jailed. Many women were given high level positions at home and in the United Nations in the newly independent countries. [ Tinker 2004b] International women’s organizations participated in the Economic and Social Council and lobbied the UN to include social issues in the UN First Development Decade 1960-1970 that focused on infrastructure and industrial projects. In 1964, Sweden became the first western country to alter its development policies explicitly to include women: USSR had initiated a few such projects earlier in the decade. Activists spurred the US Congress to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 and require the US Agency for International Development to administer its programs with a view “to integrate women in national economies of foreign countries, thus improving their status and assisting the total development effort.” A similar resolution was passed by the UN General Assembly in Dec. 1974. [Tinker 1990]

Ester Boserup studied the introduction of cash crops into subsistence economics in Africa in Woman’s Role in Economic Development. Not only did policies that privileged cash crops result in increasing women’s work in the fields but, since income from these crops flowed exclusively to the men, allowed men to seek higher paying jobs in urban areas with no obligation to support their rural families. [Boserup 1970] In this manner, development programs frequently had an adverse impact on women’s work and also contributed to the disintegration of the family which led to increasing poverty among women headed-households. [ Buvinic & Youssef 1978, Chant 1997, Tinker 1976a & b]

Research about women’s work in subsistence economies recorded the many hours women actually worked doing such survival activities as growing, harvesting, processing, and preparing food as well as carrying water and fuelwood. These time allocation studies clearly show that women work more hours than men; further, while men had some leisure time, women did not. Babies were on their backs as they worked; girls assisted their mothers as soon as they could walk. Many assistance projects failed because they ignored the fact that the real rural energy crisis was women’s time. [fn: For a summary of many time allocation studies see Tinker, 1987. ]

Time-allocation studies also distinguished between societies that utilized bride price and those that practiced the dowry system. In female agricultural systems, women’s work is highly valued and requires a payment to the bride’s family to compensate for losing her labor. Where male farming systems predominate, women are a burden on the family and must pay a dowry to the husband. A study in South India showed how one caste switched from bride price to dowry as irrigation decreased women’s work and income allowed an increase in status by taking women out of the fields. Of course, even in male farming systems, women harvested, processed, and prepared the food.

Still, development agencies continued to conceive of programs that ignored cultural variations, political considerations, and women’s work demands. Even within a country, similar projects often had opposing consequences on different groups of women. Buvinic [1986] complained that projects often “misbehave” because elite women benefitted more that the poor. Boserup [1990] noted how age- class-race hierarchies modify women’s roles in different types of societies. Papanek and Sen both emphasized how women’s lower entitlements both within families and society affect the efficacy of development programs. [Papanek 1990, A. Sen 1990] Maruja recorded the conflict between Northern donors and local NGOs in her study of indigenous women of the Andes. [2006] Ghodsee links the limited success of WID projects in post-communist Europe to their situation within free-market capitalism rather than a more socialistic welfare state closer to the Scandinavian model. [2003]

Global conferences and alternative voices

UN World Conferences on Population in 1974 brought together scholars who had been studying population trends with activists trying to implement family planning. Early euphoria over rapid acceptance of birth control methods had been replaced by concern that a plateau had been reached. Margaret Mead lectured about how cultural factors often prevented women from utilizing population programs. [Tinker et al, 1974] Feminists stressed the importance of choice when designing family planning programs and complained that although “improving the status of women and girls of itself was a desirable goal for reaching lower fertility, the motivating force behind population policy” was to reduce family size. [Dixon- Meuller p 69] Not until the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo was the global women’s movement “able to help define the parameters of the discourse on population … [emphasizing that] women’s empowerment and improvement in status are important ends in themselves and essential to the achievement of sustainable development. This is in direct opposition to the prevailing notion in the population field that women are merely a means to reach a preordained target of population growth.” [Balakrishnan 1966]

This population conference, along with the Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in1972, began a series of official UN world conferences dealing with emerging issues not dealt with in the original UN Charter. Participants in these conferences included national delegations, Non-Governmental Organizations [NGOs] in consultative status to the UN. In addition, all arranged a Forum where a wide range of groups interested in the topic could debate. Women learned to lobby delegates at the UN meeting to include women in pertinent sections of the conference document. For example, at the World Food Conference, held in Rome in 1974, women staff of the FAO ensured that women’s roles in food production were recognized. [Pietila & Vickers. P 82-3].

The 1975 World Conference of the International Women’s Year, provided the first opportunity for a discussion about the impact of development on women. An international seminar of women and men scholars, practitioners, and activists concerned with development preceded the official conference. Most participants became advisors to their country’s delegations; others organized panels at the NGO Tribune, as the Forum was called. As a result, many recommendations from the workshops were incorporated into the plan of Action. [fn For papers from the AAAS Seminar on Women in Development, workshops reports, and a list of participants see Tinker & Bo Bramsen, 1976.] Delegates argued that one conference was insufficient to address women’s inequalities; a decade for women was declared, with conferences in 1980 and 1985. [Allan et all 1995] The International Women’s Tribune Center was established in New York City which published a newsletter so that activists could keep in touch; they also compiled resource books for women’s groups in developing countries. [Walker 2006]

The IWY conference proved to be an incubator for a global women’s movement. [Antrobus 2004] It also confronted women with politics of the UN. The General Assembly had proclaimed three themes for International Women’s Year as “equality, peace, and development,” reflecting the primary preoccupations of the three ideological blocs: the Communist East, the industrialized West and the developing countries. Equality, especially equal voting rights, was also the original focus of the Commission on the Status of Women set up within the UN in 1946. Peace was associated with Socialist women, in the US as well as in Europe, who had united over worker’s rights and then, after WWI, on a demand for the end of wars. For years the Cold War mentality made cooperation between women from East and West more difficult. [Galey 1995]

As with the subsequent women’s conferences, political maneuvering by countries concerning issues outside the purview of the conference frequently conflicted with the desires women to focus on topics more closely related to women’s concerns. While some women were convinced that governments used women’s conferences as a proxy for global debates because women lacked the political muscle to contest, other women welcomed such debates as an indication that women as citizens needed to be part of such discussions. [Jaquette 1995, Snyder 1995, Tinker & Jaquette 1987]

The growing disconnect between Northern feminists, especially Americans like Betty Freidan, and women from the South was highlighted at the Mexico City NGO Tribune and caused by the assumption of universality of women’s issues by American feminists. Lucille Mair, as secretary-general of the 1980 Copenhagen Conference, funded a series of research papers written by women from the South to balance the dominance of documentation by Northern scholars. Increasingly, the WID approach of integrating women into development was met with the question: into what? Mair argued in “Women: A Decade is Time Enough” that such integration, far from benefitting women, actually making] them work harder. [1986] Elise Boulding cautions that integration into the present world order only increases women’s dependency. She opts for 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 p 23] Socialist feminists criticized the capitalist project , echoing many of the complaints made by WID advocates about the values and biases in liberal development thought. The women’s social movement and became a transnational network of diverse groups and interests encompassing class, religious, and geographic variations. [Moghadam 2004; 2005]

In 1983, Devaki Jain presented a paper at the OECD/DAC women in development group: “Development as If Women Mattered: Can Women Build a New Paradigm?” This concern blossomed into series of meetings among women scholars from the South who drafted the influential Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era: Development, Crisis, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspective. This book was unveiled at the Nairobi Women’s conference in 1985. Participants in the project formed a new global organization, DAWN, to continue the presence of women of the South in the development debate. [Jain 2004]

Challenges to development practices also came from the Caribbean. In 1978, a regional development program was set up within the University of West Indies in Jamaica. WAND [Women and Development Unit] “was to be shaped by its constituency” and to the university with the community. [Antrobus 2004:142] A Caribbean voice was particularly important since the UN Commission for Latin America was not serving the region which seemed consumed with more radical critiques based on dependency theory. [Kabeer 1994]

These conferences were all official UN meetings; all UN member nations voted on the final conference document. Although such international agreements have no force of law, they do set a standard so that women’s groups can demand that their governments live up to them.

As the women’s movement expanded, women’s organizations began to hold world conferences themselves. A 1974 feminist meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, demanded increased surveillance over international prostitution rings and called for a ban on female circumcision. Aware that the “male dominated transnational-controlled press,” Women’s International Bulletin was started by Isis, a documentation center based in Geneva and Rome, to enable women from North and South to exchange grassroots experiences. [Portugal 2004:105] Today, Isis operates out of Santiago, Chile; Kampala, Uganda; and Manila.

A World Congress for International Women’s Year, convened in East Berlin in October 1975, was a hybrid conference. Organized by the Women’s International Democratic Federation to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the meeting was planned with the support of the United Nations and attended by the 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 a capitalist model. [Ghodsee, 2012]

All this activity of women around the world underscored the critical role women played in developing countries while at the same time challenging the WID model.

Shifts in programs and policies by development agencies: 1970 — 1985

Advocates for women in development emphasized programs which recognized women’s economic roles. Previous programming for women was concentrated on their roles as mothers and was funded by well-funded population programs. Such programs dealt with women only in their reproductive roles, and then only as mothers, not as women. Health programs, although call Maternal and Child Health, were child focused and gave no consideration to the mother’s health. Population programs spoke of women as “targets” of family planning and were surprised when women chose not to become “acceptors.” To counter the cultural preference e for large families, the World Bank promoted child spacing to enhance the health of mother and child. Sill, initiatives that focused on women’s health continued to be neglected until the onslaught of HIV/AIDS forced the medical community to respond to indications that women’s susceptibility was greater than men’s.

To avoid welfare approach to women, WID encouraged separate offices, or machinery in UN parlance, to design new ways to fund, monitor, and carry out programs that would integrate women into the economy of the country. They argued such projects would be both more effective and efficient if women were included. This was a tactical decision given the somewhat chilly attitude toward women’s rights help by agency administrators. Activists, in and outside agencies, criticized the development policies and programs being pursued, they felt that working within the system was more important than an overt challenge to the capitalism.

For example, agricultural projects promoted cash crops; research showed clearly that introducing these crops increased women’s work. WID proponents stressed women’s critical role in food production and lobbied for extension services to improve production. This effort was largely unsuccessful as administrators of agricultural programs were strongly influenced by US land grant colleges which taught women home economics and men to be farmers. This cultural blindness often led to teaching African women to can foods or set a table while teaching men to farm.

Cooperatives were introduced to replace marketing boards under the assumption that producers and land owners were the same. For three years the coffee production in Kenya fell after women no longer received payment for their crop, the funds going instead to the male who was usually in the city. Only after the coop agreed to fund school fees for their children did the women return to harvesting coffee.

The same misguided assumptions left tractors in the fields when no replacement parts were available. Appropriate technology [AT] became a rally cry for transferring technology to developing countries. The AT engineers soon developed useful technology to improve processing of rice and bring water to villages. Their efforts to provide new improved cookstoves were mired in cultural assumptions about fuel types, efficiencies at the micro level, and women’s time constraints. As a result, few of these cookstoves were adopted by rural women. [See Tinker 1987 for an exhaustive critique of inappropriate technology]

Women, work, and income

Agencies tended to select women’s organizations or church groups to implement economic projects for women despite their lack of familiarity with creating income projects. Rather, their experience running social programs in their own countries led them to set up projects emphasizing women’s domestic roles inconsistent with the reality of women’s lives in developing countries. In both Asia and Africa women farmers were taught to sew in countries where men were the tailors.

Such programs were conceived in response to the demonstrable need of women for money as monetization expanded. More successful were projects assisting women who were already working. SEWA [Self-Employed Women’s Association], started by Ela Bhatt in Ahmedabad, India, set up a bank in 1974 to provide loans for members. A vegetable seller, who collected her produce in the morning from a wholesaler, might have to pay 50% interest in the evening: by paying for the goods, her income immediately increased. Similarly, the impetus for the Grameen Bank came when Mohammed Yunus observed a woman making chairs one at a time. He realized that credit would allow her to increase her output and buy goods in bulk. The Grameen model evolved into organizing women so that the group became collateral for loans to set up microenterprises. Research showed that despite low or no profits from these new microenterprises, family welfare increased because inexpensive credit was available. Experienced entrepreneurs were the most successful borrowers from Grameen. [Kabeer 1998] Use of credit to buy a pedicab for a husband or son was widely criticized who complained that women were just a conduit for male family members. [Goetz & Sen Gupta 1996] Such an emphasis on individualism over family conflicted to values of the local culture.

For feminists, the philosophical distinctions between SEWA and Grameen are critical. SEWA organized women by their existing jobs, insisted they become literate, and trained members to become leaders. In contrast, the Grameen Bank is headed by men with a largely male staff. While SEWA is organized around a union philosophy, Grameen has a strong social movement foundation. Members are expected to follow Sixteen Decisions that include calisthenics, birth control, and refusal to pay dowry or for lavish weddings. Use of loans are also controlled the bank. Such a “father knows best” approach reflects a patriarchal mentality. Devaki Jain, reviewing income-generating projects in India to assess how the nature of leadership influenced women’s agency concludes: “All work did not necessarily empower women… It took something more, and that seemed to be feminist leadership.” [Jain, 2004:132]

None of these microenterprises would be considered work under early ILO guidelines. In the 1970s, the ILO did begin a series of studies on the informal sector which it defined as an enterprise with five or more employees. Because women tended to be sole or family workers, this definition once again excluded them. Market women in West Africa had been the subject of studies for years, yet their considerable income fell outside definitions of employment. A seven country study of Street Foods was more influential in influencing policies at the ILO. The study underscored how cultural factors influence the roles women and men in the enterprises. In Nigeria women ran 94% of all enterprises, 78% in Thailand, 77% in Senegal, and 63% in the Philippines; in contrast women operated only 17% in Egypt and 16% in Indonesia. In Bangladesh, only 1% of the vendors were women although they assisted their husbands in 37% of the enterprises. ILO took note of date showing that many street food vendors made more money than workers in formal sector jobs such as school teachers or military officers. [Tinker 1997]

Gender became even more central to the debate over the informal sector in the 1980s when industries around the world began to “informalize” their workforce. [Portes et al 1989; Rakowski et al, 1994] The impact of industrial homework on social relations has been profound. [Beneria & Roldan 1987] Women were employed in assembly centers; other women made the same goods at home. [Boris & Prugl 1996] The line between formal and informal work became convoluted. [Tinker & Prugl 1997] How to collect data on women’s employment in the informal sector is central to United Nations statistical indices, especially as they are utilized in both the Human Development Report and the Gender Inequality Index.

Organized women move beyond economics

Development programs designed to reach village women required local people to organize them. In most societies, educated urban women were hired to work with village women and frequently to collect data on their lives. Many of the issues raised veered from the programs at hand toward women’s powerlessness in face of customary practices concerning marriage, property, inheritance, and domestic violence. Recognizing how these problems were theirs as well, urban women began to organize themselves and lobby their governments to address the legal and constitutional rights of women.

While development agencies continued to follow the WID approach of integrating women into economic programs for efficiency reasons, the expanding women’s movement was asserting women’s rights as the basis for broadening programs beyond the economic sector. Although women’s income was shown to increase women’s bargaining power within the family and to diminish the incidence of domestic violence, other research showed that men often reduced family support as women increased theirs. [A. Sen 1990; Blumberg, 1991; Dwyer & Bruce, 1988] Formal sector jobs pay women less than men; women in the informal sector were often compelled by household responsibilities to work fewer hours. [Molyneux 1985; Tinker 1997] This unequal income particularly affected women headed-households.

As the socio-economic transition continued, poverty increased among female headship households. Structural adjustment policies in Latin America [Safa & Antrobus 1992] and Africa [Ladner 1987] which decimated social programs and stifled growth tended to exacerbate this trend toward the “feminization of poverty.” [fn. The term “feminization of poverty” as well as the indicators that are used to measure poverty are widely contested. See Chant 1997 & Razawi 2000] Research suggests that women’s capacity to command and allocate resources is more crucial to empowerment than simply receiving them. [Moser 1998, Chant 2006] A major resource for women is control of land. Traditional farming systems allocated usufruct rights to women, but the male family controlled ownership and could evict widows. In post-genocide Rwanda, distant relatives often ejected grandmothers caring for grandchildren. The AIDS epidemic had a similar result in Uganda. Although both countries have recently passed laws to remedy this situation, enforcement is lax. [Lee-Smith & Trujillo 2006]. The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights “champions women’s secure access to land.” [www.landesa.org] A pioneering project in India has arranged micro-plots that include women’s names on land titles: the plots are too small to threaten existing landholders. [World Bank, FAO, IFAD 2009] Urban women frequently grow produce on strips along roads or other public lands. These urban gardens contribute to the economic security and nutrition of the poor; in Kampala, half the land in the city is farmed by about one-third of the total population; 70% of poultry and eggs eaten in the city are produced there. [Tinker 1994]

Housing is even more critical for women’s empowerment: a home not only provides shelter but a site of income and space for growing or raising food. Further, owning a home allows women to eject abusive partners, reducing not only domestic violence but also lowering the incidence of AIDS. Costa Rica passed a law in 1990 that guaranteed women’s ownership rights to any home subsidized by the government: if the woman was married the house was registered under both name, but if she was not married, the house was in her name alone. In Bangladesh, where floods regularly wash away traditional rural huts with their bamboo poles and matting sides, the Grameen Bank granted loans to its members. Before the loan could be granted, however, her husband had to deed to her the land in this virilocal village where the house was to be built thus ensuring she had rights to stay in her tiny house even if the husband migrated to the city. [Tinker 1999; see also case studies at www.icrw.org]

The culmination of women’s demand for equality came at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights when the body adopted the statements that the human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of universal human rights. Essentially, this declaration is a frontal attack on patriarchy because it implies that existing laws which privilege men and maintain the subordination of women must be eradicated. This mantra was reiterated in the Platform of Action which was passed at 1995 World Conference for Women in Beijing despite a concerted effort of the Vatican and several Muslim nations to backtrack on this pivotal assertion that women’s rights are human rights

The integration of women into economic development is no longer seen as sufficient. Feminists have injected their arguments for justice into the development paradigm. A woman’s right to control her body impacts has required revamping development policies relating to health, population, and HIV/AIDS.

Gender and Development

Participants at a 1978 workshop on “The Continuing Subordination of Women in the Development Process” at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University underscored challenges to WID coming from Marxist feminists. Noting that the growing literature on development was largely descriptive, the participants found that this approach, by treating women as a distinct and isolated category, ignored gender relationships within the household and labor force. In this ground-breaking volume, the authors analyze “the persistent forms of gender inequality in the processes of development.” [Young et al, p xix]

An added dimension to this critique has come from transnational feminist scholars who echo the complaint that women are not a universal and homogeneous category as presupposed by Western feminist scholarship. Rather, they argue, Third World women must be viewed through an anticolonial, anticapitalist lens. From this view, the subordination which characterizes these women must include, not only gender relations, but also the “hegemonic imperialism” that describes the present capitalistic system. [Mohanty p. 20 ] But the DAWN network insists that any struggle against these forms of oppression must not compromise “the struggle against gender subordination.” [Sen & Grown 1985 ]

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles of women and men and is distinct from biological sex. As such, gender describes what is accepted femininity and masculinity in a particular society. These characteristics are learned behavior and thus changeable over time. Also changing is the gender division of labor but not the fact that women are responsible for most of the unpaid labor in the household. As the development discourse recognized women’s economic roles and as commodification required earned income, traditional methods of combining both work in the home and in the field have been increasingly lengthen women’s double day. In both developing and developed economies, women’s caring work continues to be undervalued and is seldom included in economic data, further disadvantaging women.

Since gender of an individual is the kaleidoscope of all a person’s characteristics, the question arises as to what should be considered the predominant attribute. The Marxist discourse had emphasized class as the organizing principle. In the 1980s, social movements organized around ethnic or religious identity gained prominence. While most focus today is on Islamic societies, the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Balkan wars illustrate the power of cultural identity. Control of reproduction, and therefore of women, is central to identity politics because women are celebrated as the embodiment of culture and values. Some women see this role an “an onerous burden, one they would just as soon not assume, especially if it is predicated upon control and conformity. But for other women, it is an honor and a privilege…This is why all ‘fundamentalist’ movements have women supporters as well as women opponents.” [Moghadam 1994 p. 19]

Identity politics, by seeking an idealized past, reasserts customary patriarchal family law. Similarly, Robert Mugabe railed at a new constitution that would give women rights to land; he declared that he did not lead Zimbabwe to independence to undermine patriarchal privilege. Such visions of the past are selective, applying primarily to gender relationships. Modern armaments are never embargoed; the Taliban stand out in their abhorrence of media. All are retrogressive regarding women’s rights.

During the 1980s, both scholars and practitioners began to utilize the term gender when discussing household relationships, especially when describing the sexual division of labor. [Overholt et al, eds; Tinker 1982] This substitution has led to widespread use on data forms and now encourages transgender groups to request yet a new category for census gathering.

The analysis of gender roles emphasized the distinct socialization of women and men and underscored how a focus on work as economists defined it is an imperfect lens to women’s activities. Feminists turned away from a demand for equality, which set up man as the measure, toward equity, which recognizes difference. [Jaquette 1990 p 66] By the time of the Women’s Conference in Nairobi in 1985, the word gender was in wide currency.

Gender in Development programing

Transforming this nuanced concept of gender into programmatic reality turned out to be much more problematical than expected when, during the end of 1990s, many development agencies adopted the terminology. Proponents declared that such programs are less likely to cause a backlash from men who often objected to donor’s focus on women. Acknowledging gender relations in planning, they believed, would result in more sustainable projects. They also hoped that a new approach would reinvigorate agencies to improve and increase projects for women.

Not all practitioners were pleased with the change. They pointed out that when translated the term was problematical. [Rounaq Jahan 1995]. In Vietnam, some five words were used and all of them meant physical sex. Others have suggested that men running development agencies were uncomfortable with the growing strength of the women’s movement and wished to deflect its power. In practice, however, the term just became a euphemism for woman.[fn An illuminating discussion of the WID/GAD debate may be found in Jaquette & Staudt , 2006]

IDRC was perhaps the first development agency to adopt “gender” in its policy statements. In 1985, Eva Rathgaber, director of the women’s office, not only began to focus technology projects in particular, but tried to change the office name to Gender and Development. Not until 1987 was the name formally changed. [private interview, Ottawa May 28, 2012] CIDA’s 2019 publication on Gender Equity reiterates the importance of gender analysis in order to identify the different roles played by women and men and concludes that “These different roles usually result in women having less access than men to resources and decision-making processes, and less control over them.”

Caroline Moser, who had run training workshops on gender and housing for women from developing counties at the University of London, published Gender Planning and Development while she was working at the World Bank. Noting that historically, bureaucratic efforts to introduce WID were often “symbolic,” Moser comments on the hypocrisy of many donor agencies because they employed so few staff in relevant offices. [Moser p 126; 149] The book reviews institutional obstacles to the adopting of any new policy and asks whether the preferable strategy is to create a separate institution or to mainstream gender throughout the institution. Her analysis of different types of projects — welfare, equity, anti-poverty, efficiency, and empowerment – promotes clarity in the goals of planning. Training of staff at all levels is essential to provide methodological tools in order to “simplify complex theoretical feminist concerns… such that they can be translated into specific interventions in planning practice.” [p 213-214]

Many donor agencies, disappointed in the limited impact that WID/GAD offices were having on policies or programs, embraced gender mainstreaming as a method to insert the issue of gender throughout the organization. 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 is that adoption of gender mainstreaming by the United Nations “turned a radical movement idea into strategy of public administration.” [Prugl & Lustgarten. 2006: pp. 55; 68-69]

A 2011 workshop on mainstreaming organized by Oxfam GB and the UK Gender and Development Network, recorded some in the women’s movement felt that “gender mainstreaming has become just part of the technocratic language .. , devoid of passion.” However, participants from the global South hailed mainstreaming as a beacon beyond institutions that is a political statement favoring gender justice and women’s rights. [Cooke 2012]

Ultimately, feminists recognize that constant pressure is necessary to ensure that women’s issues are not sidelined. Several donor agencies abolished their WID/GAD units when they switched to gender mainstreaming and lost a crucial advocate. 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, Tinker observed the critical role the department played in supporting courses throughout the curriculum that included women’s issues. Perhaps an analogy exists in the conceptualization of this volume. All authors were urged to include gender in their chapters, but after a year of planning the editors realized the need for a separate chapter on women, gender, and development.

Holding agencies responsible

Ultimately, changing institutions is a political process. The history of including women in development is a history of women organizing. The targets of demanded change have evolved from integrating women into development programs to gender mainstreaming in bilateral and international aid agencies as well as in foundations and NGOs. Methods of collecting statistics have evolved under women’s pressure to include sex-segregated data and a broader interpretation of work; their efforts to count women’s double day in the caring economy have been less successful.

Women’s organizations have lobbied their own governments to live up to the conventions they signed at the four world conferences for women and to sign and ratify the UN Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). At local and national levels, women continue to monitor government spending to challenge the governments to match their funding on women’s projects with official rhetoric.

In 2002, Gender Action was established to extend gender budgeting to the policies and programs of all International Financial Institutions, particularly the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — two of the largest public sources of development financing in the world. Founder Elaine Zuckerman argues that these institutions routinely undermine their commitment to empower women and promote gender equality through gender-insensitive investments. Gender Action has recently formed a global network of Gender IFI Watchers to help local women’s groups document the negative impacts of IFI projects. [www.genderaction.org]

Demanding political power through quotas

Political participation of women has become a major goal throughout the global women’s movement. Frustrated at the slow pace of change, the 1995 women’s conference in Beijing Platform of Action demanded that 30% of all decision-making positions in government should be allocated to women. Recognizing that appointed positions are more difficult to control, women focused on elected bodies, promoting the idea that 30 % of membership is necessary to provide a critical mass that would allow significant changes in policies and procedures. Today, over half the world’s countries have some sort of electoral quota system for their legislatures. [www.quotaproject.org]

Research shows that quotas do not consistently result in increased numbers of women elected. More important, even in countries with significant women representatives, policy change is uneven. [Ballington and Karam, 2005; Dahlerup 2006; Tinker 2004] The Human Development Report writes that “Quotas are primarily a temporary remedial measure, and are no substitute for raising awareness, increasing political education, mobilizing citizens and removing procedural obstacle to women getting nominated and elected” (HDR, 2002:70).

Much debate centers on the rational for more women legislators. If the goal is equality, then increased numbers constitutes success. But if the goal is to empower women to implement a more feminist agenda, then outcomes, not numbers is crucial. Thus how women candidates are selected and who supports them must be analyzed before numbers of women in legislatures can be equated with empowerment.

The most efficacious method for ensuring that women are elected to legislatures is through the party list system. Globally, about 35% of countries use a variation of this electoral system. Parties determine who is on the list. In the closed list system, candidates are selected from the list of the winning party’s list in seriatim: if every other candidate were a woman, the party would have elected 50% female legislators. However, many countries utilize an open list system: symbolic men or women may head the list, but voters have no guarantee which candidates will be selected by party leaders to serve.

Over half of the world’s states, or 54% of the 114 that hold direct elections to their legislatures, use an electoral system based on a territorially defined constituency. Another 10% used some combination of these two major systems. (IDEA 2002:2) Requiring a specific single member constituency in national elections to be reserved for a woman is politically impractical, so in some countries women are elected indirectly, as in Pakistan, (Weiss & Bari, 2002) or separate districts with only women candidates, as in Uganda ( Goetz & Hassim, 2003) or Rwanda. Not surprisingly, women seem to have much minimal influence in either country. One study addresses the confounding problem of how to change the institutional culture. “The case of Uganda is an important one, because it brings to light a dilemma in institutional change: new players – namely women – are brought into the game, but the rules, structures, and practices continue to promote the existing political and social interests.” (Tripp, 2001:219) Overall, “women’s representation has not altered the neoliberal rules of the game.” [Jaquette 2003]

In Eastern Europe, communist countries utilized the structure of the party with its mass organizations to provide representation for women. These arrangements collapsed when these communist regimes fell; none of these countries have retained quotas (Jaquette & Wolchik, 1998). In China, Vietnam, and Laos women’s mass organizations continue to exist, but because decision making power resides in the party, not the legislatures, the women in the mass organizations have little influence and tend to be looked down on by strong women leaders within regular party ranks. [Tinker 2004.]

Clearly, the numbers of women in a legislature does not necessarily correlate with women’s empowerment. A history of women’s attempts to pass laws again violence against women in Sweden and India illustrate this critical point. In Sweden, as a result of both major political parties deciding in 1972 to alternate women and men on their list of candidates, Sweden has had the highest percentage of women legislators until Rwanda passed them in 2008. Feminists argue that this action moved debate on women’s issues into the parties and made a unified voice for women outside parties more difficult. They complain that most social policy legislation such as improved working conditions and pay, affordable child care, and paid maternity – and paternity – leave, drew on a socialist ideology and were passed with little input from independent feminist organizations. [ Gustafsson et al, 1997] Further, legislation passed in 2003 meant to protect women from domestic violence has not been aggressively implemented due to outdated attitudes; incidences of violence are increasing, according to a 2004 report by Amnesty International. [2004] In 2005 a women’s party, The Feminist Initiative, was formed to agitate for reform of rape laws, programs to address domestic violence. [Wanhnerud, 2005]

India has had active women’s organizations for years, but most focused on charitable work or development projects. For ten years, these groups agitated for a law dealing with violence against women. Finally, in 2005, women in 2005 to organize a national lobby, WomenPowerConnect, with full-time lobbyists in New Delhi. This a coalition of women’s organizations was instrumental in the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill finally became law in November 2006. [www.womenpowerconnect.org] [Tinker 2008]

The Human Development Reports, when calculating the Gender Inequality Index, measures empowerment as the number of women in parliaments plus women’s educational attainment. A more accurate method of indicating empowerment would be to consider the impact of legislation passed by elective bodies, and also the numbers of politically active women’s organizations. Similarly, to achieve greater equity in realizing the other two indicators in the Gender Inequality Index, laws and customs that preserve male privilege must be changed. Until women can control their own body, they will be unable to realize their reproductive rights. Also, women’s capabilities will not be achievable until women can own their homes and until the care economy is included in economic calculations.

The story of women and international development is a story of women organizing to challenge the development paradigm. Over fifty years, women have influenced development agencies to include women’s concerns, and formed a global social movement that has altered gender relations throughout the world. Today women are seeking political power to advance their claims for equity.


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