This article provides information about the importance of structural perspective on women’s development:
Structural perspectives on development are critical of the Women in Development (WID) approach of developmental policies for they start with the basic assumption of conflict in society that makes for competition for resources and power and that manifests itself in struggles of classes and groups, such that domination and oppression have a structural base.
Change itself in existing systems is seen not in terms of accommodation and reforms but in radical and revolutionary transformations that result in a more fair redistribution of resources and power. Marxism forms an important wellspring for the critical conflict view. Marxism holds, like the WID approach, that development as economic modernisation or capitalist development has led to the marginalisation of women in the developing world.
However, it goes further than the women in development approach in seeing sexual inequality at a deeper, structural and dialectical level and linking it to the uneven and unequal worldwide development of capitalism and to inequalities embedded in social classes.
However, there is criticism that Marxism fails to deliver what it promises for while it explains the capitalist development as a system of hierarchical structures of production that leads to the emergence of a small but powerful minority with resources and a much larger dispossessed majority that stands alienated from the means of production, it could by itself not explain women’s subordination further to the subordination of men that is created by the capitalist mass production. Feminists have critiqued it also for reducing women’s oppression to the abstract concept of a particular mode of production, thereby not paying any attention to the fact that men, and not just the abstract concept of capital, benefit from women’s oppression.
The agency and consciousness of human beings as social actors stands completely denied in this conceptualisation for the individual is defined purely in relation to class interests. Women’s opposition to male domination and control is itself dismissed as false consciousness and the result of the divisive strategies of the ruling minority.
Some feminists reworked with the basic Marxist argument to explain female subordination as a part of new constraints that came about as a result of inequities generated by capital intensive development on a global scale. One stream of feminists hitched their arguments to the dependency theories, furthering the argument that the capitalist mode of production has polarising tendencies and creates a relationship of dependency between the peripheral nations of the developing world with the metropolitan centres of the First World such that women’s development is adversely affected in the developing world peripheral countries even while women in the First World may come to enjoy opportunities hitherto inaccessible.
These theorists draw on Rosa Luxemberg’s thesis that precapitalist forms of production provide an essential subsidy to capital accumulation. Saffiotti suggested that the family was an example of such a precapitalist form of production that aided capital accumulation by drawing on the labour of women, their time and energies without adequate payment, because the family is organised in such a way that voluntaristic sentiments rather than contractual labour marks production relations.
Capital accumulation could take place in the metropolitan centres at the cost of women in the Third World countries that had to grapple with increasing poverty and marginalisation, even while their unpaid labour or their “reserve” labour was called upon to benefit the capitalist system.
A pervasive patriarchal sex role ideology was held to be the direct cause of women’s subordination for it rationalised women’s confinement to home on the basis of her biology and social role. Dependency feminists thus worked out connections between different forms of inequalities at the international, national and household levels. Yet, like the Marxist approach they held the view that men and women held common class interests and did not see the rationale for the material exploitation of women in their households by men.
Sexual aggression and subordination by men was attributed to the frustration and helplessness of men involved in exploitative capitalist production, thus ignoring the relationship of men and women itself in terms of a set of production relations wherein production of people itself was undervalued in comparison to production of things with exchange value.
Maria Mies, a German feminist while drawing again on Luxembourg’s thesis, has disagreed with the prioritising of class as the primary contradiction and sees the first contradiction to be that of gender. The basic biological difference between men and women, according to Mies meant that women experienced their relationship with nature and their environment differently; they experienced their whole bodies as productive and in tune with nature unlike men who could produce with their hands and the tools that became an extension of these hands.
According to Mies, men’s relationship with nature was predatory from the beginning and in his lust for power man established a similar relationship with women who seemed to be like nature. She sees capitalism as a more recent manifestation of a male patriarchal order that came into force far back in the history of mankind when men realised that the destructive tools that they could make could be used to domesticate women and animals and thus make for appropriation of economic surplus. Since women came to be seen as providing the essential physical precondition for male production, men made women as their first colony.
All subsequent development is likewise marked by the same predatory mode of production. Colonisation and “housewifisation” are two ways that women and the weak are reduced to, being nature and thence their control and exploitation becomes justified. Miess’ account deviates from traditional Marxist accounts in that it establishes the relationship between men and women as a relationship of power and instead of blaming capitalism for women’s oppression, blames patriarchy.
She traces different forms of violence on women as a manifestation of patriarchy irrespective of its forms in different production systems and exploitation and oppression as the common denominator for both First World and developing world women. Men everywhere are held to be violent for they uphold the global patriarchal hierarchy, but since the white men currently control the technology of destruction, Mies holds them more culpable than men elsewhere.