Gendering ‘Development’: A feminist theoretical Perspective

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by Aparna Dixit 2 June 2019

Development is about the expansion of citizens capabilities.
– Prof. Amartya Sen, Economist

“Development” is believed as the most controversial and ambiguous word in today’s era and interestingly despite all the criticism, it has continued to maintain its relevance. However, It’s still debatable that what is generally perceived by the term development. Generally, it’s evaluated in terms of economy, and spread an illusion of growth. It has been used to cover over the contradictions between unequal classes and forms of capitalist exploitation and legitimate a system of exploitation since it emerged. In the given context the proposed paper will try to dig out the very meaning of Development with particular reference to Gender, also to understand the multidimensional process of Development i.e., more socio-economical rather mere impression of biased economic growth. It will explore the need and importance of Development for the “other.” Paper will introduce Development as a concept of/for Femininity and then discuss it with different theories of Gender and Development critically in detail. To unearth the very patriarchal mindset of state in terms of designing and implementing different government policies and programs is also an objective of the paper. Consequently, it will also propose an alternate way to deal with.

Key Words: Gender and Development, Theories of Development, Critique of Development

The term gender has been used concerning unequal relations of individuals with the ambit of feminism, and it has been a significant concern to integrate the term with the Development. (Sarkar 2006: 45) The modernization theory governed the Development of third world counties i.e., much inclined towards economic Development only, and it argues industrialization pilots the Development. Modernization theory emphasis on the political stability that comes from economic growth and it also believes that it interns into urbanization, industrialization, and greater options for women to work and employment that finally raises her status in the society. The argument used to establish the same is that industrialization has not seemed like a beneficial thing in its early stage, but as with the time passes it flows to every section of society and also benefits women.

Three theoretical approaches from the 1950s have regulated development in Third World countries. Earlier it was modernization theory that governs development form 50s to 60s, after that it was Underdevelopment and dependency theory that regulate the process during 60s to 70s. Later Neo-liberalism had a deep impact on the Development during the 80s. However, none of them unequivocally address the gender issue in the process of Development. (Sarkar 2006: 2)

Earlier notion of Gender was missing from Development. Before the 70s, it was perceived that it affects men and women equally, the other intersectionalities were not even in debate. It’s only when Ester Boserup came up with her idea of ‘women’s role in economic development’ and cracked the built-up dominance of economic Development on development theory. She questioned the benefits gained by economic Development and located their gender biases in the process. After that, the question of power in the process of Development came into power. According to Boserup, the social set up and women’s negligence in the formal economy were the two primary reasons that stop third world women from getting in the development process.

After Boserup, a range of growth has been marked in terms of Development at policy and program level. Though the gendered development theory highlighted not only economic factors but also social limitations that restrict the process and It has been claimed that now the Third world has completed the journey from ‘welfare’ to ’empowerment’ via ‘development’ but still there are schemes designed for poor women to cater to their needs as housewife and mothers (Buvinic 1983: 24).

Re-Defining Development
Gunnar Myrdal says “By development I mean the movement upward of the entire social system; where the social system, besides the so-called economic factors, all noneconomic factors, including all sorts of consumption by various groups of people; consumption provided collectively; educational and health facilities and levels; the distribution of power in society; and more generally economic, social, and political stratification; broadly speaking, institutions and attitudes to which we must add as an exogenous set of factors induced policy measures applied in order to change one or several of these endogenous factors.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Development means an event constituting a new stage in a changing situation or the process of change per se” It is generally meant to improve. It can be an improvement of the situation of the system or related to its components. Development is a multidimensional process; It can occur in different parts by different ways with different speeds. And given that broad background development of a section can be unfavorable to others. It’s a multidimensional exercise and in many terms relative too.

Amartya Sen defines Development as an expansion of an individual’s freedom. He says ‘Development can be seen, it is argued here, as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Focusing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of Development, such as identifying Development with the growth of the gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes, or with industrialization, or with technological advance, or with social Modernization.’ Sen defines Development as a more intrinsic process instead based on choices. He questions socio-economic arrangements in the process like the importance of health and education facilities for individuals; Liberty to participate in public gatherings and spaces actively.

It also demands the removal of factors of slavery like poverty, systematic social deprivation, intolerance, and ignorance towards public facilities. (Sen 2001:3)

According to Amartya, freedom is central in the development process because of its Evaluative and Effectiveness reasons. The former is to check the enhancement of one’s independence, and the later is to check the achievement of Development is thoroughly dependent on the free agency of the people. He also illustrates five types of freedom in an instrumental perspective that are Political freedoms, Economic facilities, Social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and Protective security. (Sen 2001: 10)

Nayla Kabeer says, “Some see it in terms of a purposive and planned project; others prefer to talk of processes of social transformation. Some define it as the enhancement of individual choice; others see it as the equalizing of opportunities; still others as redistributive justice. Some emphasize ends; others mean, and still, others focus on the interrelationship between ends and means. These differing perspectives give some idea of the complexity of the term, and rather than putting forward a single definition in this book; we will be exploring the different notions of Development embedded in differing perspectives on gender issues in Development.” (Kabeer 1994)

From WID to GAD: A theoretical approach

Initially, women were missing from even the concept of Development. The feminist standpoint of the very idea materialized in the 1970s with the emergence of second-wave feminism also.

The 1975 World Conference of the International Women’s Year at Mexico City and the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985) has a remarkable contribution to the history of Development with women’s perspective. It was a platform that raised dominant voices of women all over the world — the issues related to women’s health, employment, socio-political equality, etc.

The term women in Development came into existence in the 1970s as a critique of the trickledown theory. A Washington based group of feminist development professionals started questioning the modernization theory of Development. They have a definite stand that instead being giving rights to women, the development process is quite coercive in nature. (Tinker, 1990:30).

The Danish economist Ester Boserup formulated important work in the field in 1970 inform her book Women’s Role in Economic Development. Her central argument was that the process itself excluded women. She conducted empirical research on post 1945s development programs and policies in Africa and concluded that women are being involved as a passive receptor as mother or wife. However, other technology and finance related issues were mechanized to men.

The work of Boserup impacted the world in a rightful manner resulting at the first World Conference on Women in Mexico on July 2, 1975, the United Nations declared the next decade the “Decade of Women” and institutionalized women’s perspective as part of Development. This was intended to be not so much a criticism of the idea of Development itself as a way of reversing the exclusion of women from the array of development-related resources. It would also mean that women’s productive and reproductive work, which makes a significant contribution to national economies (Safa, 1995), would cease to be disregarded.

As a comeback of modernism in the second half of the 1970s “Women and Development” (WAD) materialized. It is rooted in the Marist idea of feminism and dependence theory that believes the Development of the North is on the exploitation of the South. It’s more analytical than WID but failed to form workable ideas to frame development policies. It’s based on unequal class structures and oppressive International structures and barely analyses gender relations within social classes and gives little attention to gender subordination.

WAD was based on the idea that along with production, women reproduce the workforce for the production process. But didn’t explore the concept of ‘Double-Burden’ on them. As an outcome of that this theory of Development put caring work in ‘private’ domain, because of that it fails to produce the value and hence out of the Development purpose. (Rathgeber,1990).
The category Gender came into the debates of feminism with the third wave of feminism in the 1980s. (Valcarcel, 2008). At that time, women were not considered as subjects of the economy, nor as full citizens. However, the Men were in the role of ‘breadwinner.’ The Breadwinners were in the center of family and families had been defined by them only. They were salaried responsible for production Women were limited to the private sphere; they were responsible for reproducing the family only. This dominical arrangement had been questioned by the Gender and Development (GAD) approach. This theory has its roots in Socialist feminist idea and the idea of poststructuralist critique.

It’s a constructivist approach which starts from a comprehensive perspective. The socialist feminist idea critique capitalism and patriarchy simultaneously. According to this, the notion of division of work is based on the oppression of women. (Rowbotham, 1973)

The approach does not place “women” at the center of its analysis but raised the question of other intersections also. It believes that women are not a homogenous category. It emphasis on studying power relations in every society and to reframe women’s empowerment policies. It questions the hegemonic logic that economic change alone will empower women.
From that perspective, it criticizes the social policies of microcredit which is given above all to poor women without questioning the domination they suffer (frequently at the hands of their husbands), the lack of proper infrastructure, or any chance of social redistribution which would enable them to be successful in their micro-business.

On another hand, it encourages women to get into debt and promotes a collective responsibility, which is often imposed on them. GAD advocates structural changes. It argues forcefully that gender-differentiated policies are needed to reduce poverty. Its objective is equality; it makes the double workload women face visible and does not use the household as the exclusive unit of analysis for development-related sciences. It also opens the doors to contributions from men who are committed to equality, unlike earlier feminist perspectives.

Measuring Development through Development policies and programs
The application of these principles and goals to the development policies and programs is a challenging task, and also there must be a method to compare and analyze these programs and policies globally. To measure this progress, the United Nations Development program developed an index 1n 1990 called Human Development Index (HDI). Health, Education, and Living standards are three indicators have been used to measure HDI. Later it had been observed that HDI is not able to address Gender issues. Hence the need to create Gender-related development Index had been experienced, and as a result, the Gender Development Index (GDI) was established in 1995. GDI was in support of HDI, and it was intended to read with HDI. After that Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) is developed in combination with GDI. This was basically to measure the progress women achieved on the political and economic ground. In 2010 the Gender Inequality Index had also been formed to overcome the problems of GDI and GEM.

The GII coalesces the element of GDI and GEM and based on three magnitudes and five indicators that are 1. labor market: labor force participation; (2) empowerment: educational attainment, Parliamentary representation; (3) reproductive health: adolescent fertility, maternal mortality.

Income was eliminated as an indicator in GII because it was a cause of the significant disparity in terms of living standards of men and women. The dimensions of GII are focused on the construction of a gender just Nation through the eradication of gendered disparities.

Conclusion and Recommendations
Public budgets and GDP are failed to show the value and productivity of care. This is related to Development also. It is doubtable that whether these growth centered sexist idea of Development really able to generate a gender just well being. As these are barely considered Gender as a dimension of ‘growth.’ It also rejects the position international development cooperation has assigned to women at the center of their “economic development” strategies. It is crucial to quote Annemarie Sancar here, according to her the biological stereotyping of women and the emphasis on their “special abilities” still shape development programs today: “It is clear today that it was not women’s rights that were decisive here, but rather the neoliberal economies’ desire for growth. Women were found to be good at business and driving growth, following the World Bank’s concept of smart economics” (Sancar, 2010).

Kathleen Staudt, in her analysis of gender development, identified four goals that should be considered the ultimate objectives. They include (1) Growth with Equity, (2) Rural and Agricultural Change, (3) Basic Human Needs, and (4) Poverty Reduction. These overall goals can be used as normative measurements in the human and societal Development in the nations. Though, the most significant development agenda that currently exists is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs deal with non-economic issues and instead focus upon human Development: 1. End Poverty and Hunger, 2. Universal Primary Education, 3. Gender Equality 4. Child Health, 5. Maternal Health, 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, 7. Environmental Sustainability, 8. Global Partnership.

For Development to be effective, progress must be made in all areas. “For the greatest impact, it is important to invest across all of the MDGs. Thus, multisectoral approaches and coordination among various implementing agencies are critical.” Also, the focus on women is apparent with two of the goals explicitly mentioning women, and all of them indirectly involving women.

The United Nations’ Development Programme notes that “Gender equality and women’s empowerment has large multiplier effects on other MDGs. This is perhaps one of the most important linkages across the MDGs. The country-level evidence indicates that women and girls do not have equal access to goods, services, and productive assets.” The MD Gs represent the progress that has been made in regards to the Development of women. Whereas Development was solely an economic initiative, the MDGs emphasize social issues the underdeveloped world is facing. Most importantly, the importance of women to Development seems to have been realized by the international community.

A socio-political will to institutionalize mechanism that will effort for Social good and through policies and programs with a set of values and objectives can ensure Gendering Development and that Development should guarantee the right to employment, regularisation of employment, minimum wages, maternity and paternity leave, right to association and collective bargaining, right to dignity, provision for safe and secure work environment, equal political representation at all levels, right to education, provision of constitutional guarantees and enactment of legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and guaranteeing of full human rights to women throughout their life cycles.

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Beneria, L. and G. Sen. 1981. ‘Accumulation, reproduction and women’s role in economic development: Boserup revisited’, Signs, 7 (2):
Boserup, E. 1970. Women’s role in economic Development, New York: St Martin’s Press.
Buvinic, M. 1983. ‘Women’s issues in third world poverty: A policy analysis’, in M. Buvinic, M. Lycettle and W.P. McGreevey (eds.): Women and poverty in the third world (14-33). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kabeer, Nayla, 1994. “Reversed Realities Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought.” New Delhi: Kali for Women
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Handelman, Howard. 2011. “The Challenge of Third World Development.” 6th Ed. United States: Pearson Education.
Staudt, Kathleen. 2008. “Gendering Development.” In Politics, Gender, and Concepts: Theory and
Methodology. Ed. Gary Goertz and Amy G. Mazur. London: Cambridge University Press.

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