Development and Gender Essay

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Development refers to changes that advanced capitalist nations frequently measure using a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and its degree of industrialization, urbanization, technological sophistication, export capability, and consumer orientation. In contrast, countries of the global south view 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. Many of these survival problems result from the cumulative effects of unequal and dependent relationships that were established during colonization and are recreated in the present using structural adjustment programs and other strategies promulgated by supra-national agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Although early international development programs ignored their needs, usage of women’s unpaid or underpaid labor has been crucial to many development programs and policies. In the mid-twentieth century, modernization approaches to development were most common. They assumed that developing nations needed to industrialize rapidly in order to gain economic strength, and that democracy, gender equity, and national prosperity would follow from industrialization. Such programs relied on manufacturing for export and foreign investment, and did not encourage self-sufficiency in the global south.

By the 1960s and 1970s, dependency theorists argued that this form of modernization allowed industrial nations to exploit developing ones. Other scholars noted that modernization theorists paid little attention to women’s particular needs and had incorrectly assumed they would benefit in a trickle-down” fashion as economies improved. Therefore, 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, which try to incorporate strategies to enhance women’s position.

Women in Development

Until Boserup’s work (1970), women were considered only as dependents who pursued reproductive roles; little attention was paid to women’s economic contributions in the agricultural or informal economies of various global south nations. Her research fostered a conceptual shift from modernization theory to women in development approaches, resulting in increased research on previously ignored sectors of working women who are essential to developing economies, including domestics, tourist workers, women traders and street sellers, craft producers, and sex workers, as well as to families headed by women, who are often landless. Supporting this shift, the United Nations proclaimed 1975 as the first International Women’s Year and then 1975-85 as the Decade for Women,” acknowledging that women had been active participants in the development process from the beginning, and should now become visible in development agencies and policies.

Several types of WID-based development projects began in the 1980s. The most common were income-generating programs that focused on traditional women’s skills like sewing and handcrafts. Yet, these projects rarely were successful because of the low profit in these areas. Another approach, which has achieved international popularity over time, is to give women micro-entrepreneurs access to small loans with reasonable interest rates and low collateral requirements, allowing women to attain more autonomy and their small businesses to grow.

Gender and Development

Many development projects based on 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 GAD an empowerment” approach (Moser 1989) because its goals are to create development projects based on the needs of grassroots women, and to challenge women’s subordination in households and in societies, not only to provide services.

Among the strategies used in the urban global south are organizing collective meals, health cooperatives, or neighborhood water-rights groups, while indigenous and peasant women in rural areas create projects around agricultural issues such as land tenure or plantation working conditions. Rather than privatizing their survival problems, women collectivize them and often place demands on the state for rights related to family survival.

By the 1990s international development agencies were adopting 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. Recently, such agencies have used the European model called gender mainstreaming,” which requires that a gender analysis occur within all bureaus and agencies to make sure that gender equality is considered in government policies. As an activist alternative, there also are many grassroots feminist groups (e.g., Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, DAWN) developing transnational linkages with a GAD perspective.


  1. Boserup, E. (1970) Woman’s Role in Economic Development. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
  2. Moser, C. (1989) Gender planning in the third world: meeting practical   and   strategic   gender needs. World Development 17: 1799-1825.

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