Over the last half century there have been different theoretical frameworks used to understand how women are located in global economic processes, and each has had a concomitant strategy to enhance women’s position. In the middle of the twentieth century modernization approaches were common, but dependency theorists critiqued these strategies. By the 1970s these male focused arguments were largely supplanted by women in development (WID) ones, and more recently by gender and development (GAD) approaches.
Development refers to changes in a country that are frequently measured using a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), as well as its degree of industrialization, urbanization, technological sophistication, export capability, and consumer orientation. Concerns about development are most likely to be expressed by representatives of advanced capitalist core countries of the ‘‘global North’’ or by international agencies when they create initiatives or generate responses to a whole range of critical problems faced by what they categorize as ‘‘developing’’ nations or the peripheral and semi peripheral countries of the ‘‘global South.’’
On the other hand, countries of the global South tend to see development as addressing survival issues like hunger and malnutrition, refugee displacement and homelessness, unemployment and underemployment, health services and disease, the destruction of the environment, and political repression and violence. Since numerous countries in the global South are former colonies of those in the global North, many survival problems result from the cumulative effects of unequal and dependent relationships that were established centuries ago and are recreated in the present using new mechanisms, especially structural adjustment programs and other economic globalization strategies promulgated by international agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Indeed, it is frequently argued that development projects, promoted by core countries, have better served their own interests, in the long run, than those of their recipients.
The condition of women in developing/global South countries is integrally tied to gendered power and economic structures that were established in the colonial era. In addition, although early development programs ignored their needs, usage of women’s unpaid or under paid labor has been crucial to many development programs and policies.
Post World War II modernization approaches assumed that developing nations needed to industrialize rapidly in order to gain economic strength, and that political democracy, gender equity, and national prosperity would follow from industrialization – consequences that were assumed to have occurred in core nations when they industrialized slowly over the course of the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, development agencies measured success only by increases in per capita income, literacy rates, life expectancy, and fertility rates, rather than by the disappearance of authoritarian regimes. Indeed, the prevalence of dictatorships in many Latin American and Caribbean countries that had achieved some degree of economic development helped to discredit the assumed connection between development and democracy. And the fact that some global South countries have greater women’s political and professional participation than in the global North helps to discredit the connection between development and gender equity (Burn 2005).
The industrialization and modernization programs created by international development agencies, and formulated from the perspectives of ‘‘western’’ nations, relied on foreign investment and manufacturing for export rather than for local consumption and did not encourage self-sufficiency in the global South (Sen & Grown 1987). Frequently, developing nations depended on single commodity export trade, leaving them vulnerable to the fluctuations and perils of world markets. Many developing economies were ‘‘denationalized’’ because foreign industrial capital often interfered with or restricted the autonomy of local governments, as well as the capacity of national industries to compete in the world market (Acosta Bele´n & Bose 1995).
In the 1960s and 1970s, dependency theorists such as Gunder Frank (1969) argued that discussions of the need for ‘‘modernization’’ hid the fact that industrial nations were exploiting developing ones. Indeed, developing nations usually were former colonial possessions of present day industrialized nations, and had therefore always been integrated into the capitalist system. They also noted that the modernization model was applied across the board, with little attention to specific national needs. At about the same time, other scholars underscored the problem that modernization approaches paid little attention to women’s particular needs and assumed they would benefit in a ‘‘trickle down’’ fashion as economies improved.
In 1975 the United Nations proclaimed the first International Women’s Year and the decade 1975–85 was known as the Decade for Women. The UN’s focus was intended to acknowledge that women had been active participants in the development process from the beginning, and the call to integrate women into development was more of a denunciation of the male oriented biases in development policies and the invisibility to which development agencies had relegated women’s participation:
Indeed, the pervasive idea that men were the primary earners often led to the formulation of development policies that excluded or diminished women’s productive roles and thus their status; added extra hours to their double bur- den when they had to replace men (now engaged in wage labor) in the subsistence activities that were performed collectively before; and often did not even account properly for women’s actual participation and contributions. (Acosta-Bele´n & Bose 1995: 20)
Prior to Boserup’s (1970) key publication, most of the development literature ignored women’s economic role and contributions. Assuming women were passive dependents, researchers and practitioners relegated them to reproductive rather than productive roles, con fining them to an undervalued domestic sphere isolated from the rest of the social structure. Little attention was paid to variations in women and men’s economic roles in different global South nations or to women’s activities in the informal economy.
One of Boserup’s major contributions was to empirically establish the vital role of women in agricultural economies and to recognize that economic development, with its tendency to encourage labor specialization, was actually depriving women of their original productive functions and on the whole deteriorating their status. Acknowledged by many as a path breaker in the field of women and development (Bener´ıa 1982; Bolles 1988; Sen & Grown 1987), Boserup is credited with documenting the existence of a gendered division of labor across nations and showing that women’s labor had not been reported in official records. (Acosta-Bele´n & Bose 1995: 22)
Nonetheless, there were shortcomings in Boserup’s important work due to her adherence to the then prevalent modernization approach. She paid insufficient attention to women’s household labor as a basis for subordination, and to the differential outcomes of capital growth on various groups of women within colonial or former colonial settings (Bener´ıa & Sen 1981; Bolles 1988).
In spite of these problems, Boserup’s research fostered an understanding of how development policies ideologically denigrate women’s economic contributions, while simultaneously relying upon and exploiting women’s labor. Since her initial work, numerous studies have documented the impact of development on women at the local, national, and international levels and confirmed that women’s segregated labor generates their low wages and status. One result of the conceptual shift from modernization theory to the study of women in development was the increased attention paid by feminist researchers to previously ignored sectors of working women who are (or were) essential to third world economies, including African enslaved women, domestic workers, tourist sector workers, women traders and street sellers, craft producers, and sex workers, as well as to non-husband/wife household formations, especially families headed by women, who are often landless.
With increased globalization, ‘‘development’’ comes in a new form, as core countries make use of ‘‘offshore production’’ or the transfer of assembly plants, primarily in electronics, apparel, and textiles, to global South countries. Many of the hidden aspects of offshore production occur in export processing zones (EPZs), where young women migrate from rural areas to work in their national segment of the ‘‘global assembly line’’ and married women take on factory ‘‘outwork,’’ doing piecework at home. Women’s transnational migration for work also has increased, and women from developing countries migrate to more developed ones, often to work (legally or undocumented) as domestics or doing other forms of carework.
Burn (2005) notes that development projects based on a WID perspective fall into three categories. The first, and most common in the 1980s, were income generating projects, which tended to focus on traditional women’s skills such as sewing and handcrafts. Burn suggests that these projects rarely were successful because of the low marketability and profit in these areas, and because women were not always included in the design of the projects. The second, but less common, type of project was to introduce labor saving devices for women’s traditional tasks – unfortunately focusing on a limited range of tools. The third approach, that has grown in international popularity since the 1980s, is to give women access to development resources, especially in the form of small loans for women micro entrepreneurs. These quick revolving loans with reasonable interest rates and low collateral requirements have helped finance many women’s small businesses, and are believed to increase women’s autonomy and improve the health status of the women’s children, as more discretionary income becomes available to women (Blumberg 1995). Such outcomes show that women are not passive victims of globalization and development processes, but see creative ways to resist subordination and become empowered.
Many development projects fomented under the WID philosophy helped women economically. However, few if any of these projects were intended to change the power relationships between women and men. In response to these limitations, a new approach, Gender and Development (GAD), was discussed by feminists and in women focused NGOs during the 1980s, with the goal of improving women’s rights and increasing gender equity. Many have called Gender and Development an ‘‘empowerment’’ approach (Burn 2005; Moser 1989) because its goal is to create development projects based on the needs expressed by grassroots women and not only to provide services, but to challenge women’s subordination in households and in societies. One-way GAD does this is by recognizing the multiple connections between women’s economic roles outside of the home and those inside the family; a second way is by encouraging women’s and feminist activism.
Among the urban strategies used in the global South are organizing collective meals, health cooperatives, or neighborhood water rights groups. Rather than privatizing their survival problems, women collectivize them and often place demands on the state for rights related to family survival. Mohanty (1991) suggests that challenging the state is not merely different, but ‘‘a crucial context’’ for global South women’s struggles precisely because it is the state that has created laws with gender and race limitations implicit in them.
Urban organizing is not the only form of empowerment. Indigenous and peasant women in rural areas create projects around agricultural issues such as land tenure or plantation working conditions, issues that link community and labor, as well as cultural issues related to ethnic identity and survival of indigenous peoples.
Other GAD related feminist organizing links self-determined women’s development with the issues of nationality, race, class, and gender. Among examples in the Commonwealth Caribbean are the Women and Development Unit (WAND), which promotes women’s activities especially through income generating projects, local technical assistance, and government advisement; Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), which is a network of activist researchers and policy makers; and the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), whose projects have included monitoring the Caribbean Basin Initiative effects, exposing worker conditions in Jamaica’s export processing zones, and aiding rural women through the Women in Caribbean Agriculture Project (Bolles 1993). A more occupationally focused group is Trinidad and Tobago’s National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE), which utilizes actions taken at UN women’s conferences and other international events to mobilize for change at home (Karides 2002).
By the 1990s international development agencies had begun to adopt GAD rhetoric in their mission statements, but GAD was used more as an analytic framework than as a development strategy – possibly because it is easier to discuss empowerment than to implement it (Burn 2005). Indeed, even in supportive circumstances, when women’s equality is considered an important goal of the state, as in the revolutionary experiences of Cuba or China, the changes tend to be token reforms rather than major transformations. In the case of international development agencies, they have tended to adopt the European model called ‘‘gender mainstreaming,’’ which ‘‘requires a gender analysis to make sure that gender equality concerns are taken into account in all development activities’’ (Burn 2005: 151). As a result, women are actively engaged in the development process, but women’s activism for gender equality is not promoted, as GAD suggests it should be.
Nonetheless, many grassroots groups are actively developing transnational linkages that promote a GAD perspective (Naples & Desai 2002) and international feminist conferences are helping to create a transnational feminism that has many commonalities across nations while retaining local forms. This combination of local creativity and the transnational sharing of ideas may well push GAD ideas forward into future tangible gender equity development programs, and/or toward creating a newer women, culture, and development (WCD) perspective of which Bhavnani et al. (2003) are proponents.
- Acosta-Bele´n, & Bose, C. E. (1995) Colonialism, Structural Subordination, and Empowerment: Women in the Development Process in Latin America and the Caribbean. In: Bose, C. E. & Acosta-Bele´n, E. (Eds.), Women in the Latin American Development Process. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, pp. 15 36.
- Bener´ıa, (Ed.) (1982) Women and Development: The Sexual Division of Labor in Rural Societies. Praeger, New York.
- Bener´ıa, & Sen, G. (1981) Accumulation, Reproduction, and Women’s Role in Economic Deveopment: Boserup Revisited. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7: 279 98.
- Bhavnani, K.-K., Foran, , & Kurian, P. A. (2003) An Introduction to Women, Culture, and Development. In: Bhavnani, K.-K., Foran, J., & Kurian, P. A. (Eds.), Feminist Futures: Re Imagining Women, Culture, and Development. Zed Books, New York, pp. 1 21.
- Blumberg, L. (1995) Gender, Microenterprise, Performance, and Power: Case Studies from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Swaziland. In: Bose, C. E. & Acosta-Bele´n, E. (Eds.), Women in the Latin American Development Process. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, pp. 194 226.
- Bolles, L. (1988) Theories of Women and Development in the Caribbean: The Ongoing Debate.’’ In: Mohammed, P. & Shepherd, C. (Eds.), Gender in Caribbean Development. University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, pp. 21 34
- Bolles, A. L. (1993) Doing It for Them- selves: Women’s Research and Action in the Commonwealth Caribbean. In: Acosta-Bele´n, & Bose, C. E. (Eds.), Researching Women in Latin America and the Caribbean. Westview Press, Boulder, pp. 153 74.
- Boserup, E. (1970) Woman’s Role in Economic Development. Martin’s Press, New York.
- Burn, M. (2005) Women Across Cultures: A Global Perspective, 2nd edn. McGraw Hill, New York.
- Gunder Frank, (1969) Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution. Monthly Review Press, New York.
- Karides, (2002) Linking Local Efforts with Global Struggles: Trinidad’s National Union of Domestic Employees. In: Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics. Routledge, New York, pp. 156 71.
- Mohanty, T. (1991) Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. In: Mohanty, C. T., Russo, A., & Torres, L. (Eds.), Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, pp.1 47.
- Moser, C. (1989) Gender Planning in the Third World: Meeting Practical and Strategic Gender World Development 17: pp. 1799 825.
- Naples, N. & Desai, (2002) Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Trans national Politics. Routledge, New York.
- Sen, G. & Grown, C. (1987) Development, Crises, and Alternative Visions. Monthly Review Press, New
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