This article provides information about the importance of women in development policies:
It was only in the 1970s that development policy oriented itself to women as a distinctive category rather than as a residual one. Development planners of the time were faced with the failure of the trickle-down theory, with problems of poverty and unemployment that seemed to have aggravated with economic growth and with the need to focus on basic needs and poverty alleviation in the second decade of development.
At around the same time the women’s movement gave a strong voice to the idea that women’s issues have development policy implications. Several studies highlighting women’s productive activities, especially women’s critical role in food production, women’s preponderance among the poor of the world and researches linking women’s fertility to their status in society came to the fore and substantiated the need to integrate women in developmental goals. Thus the UN Decade for Women was declared.
This brought about a marked change in how development came to be directed at women. Before 1970, policy makers had focused on women in very gender-specific ways. While men were targeted for development as household heads and breadwinners, women were seen primarily as mothers and dependents, hence were beneficiaries of welfare measures rather than development itself.
The welfare category has its obvious negative connotations for it is seen in most quarters as a residual category made of dependents who failed to be self-reliant, hence must be helped. Since women were type cast in their sex roles without reference to the reality of developing and underdeveloped countries, the kind of initiatives directed for them were programmes on nutritional training, home economics, maternal and children’s health care and family planning.
This assumption of female domesticity came to be challenged by researches that pointed to women’s productive roles and involvement in basic needs of their families. Development initiatives thereafter translated these insights into income enhancing programmes for women as women came to be conceptualised as managers of low income households.
For most purposes during this interim phase development initiatives for women retained their “welfarist” projection and avoided any redistributive outcomes. It was much later, in the 1980s when the world economy was undergoing deterioration that there came about a growing emphasis on women as economic agents in their own right.
It came to be realised that women’s productive capacities had been under-utilised and as economic restructuring came to be prescribed through processes of liberalisation and privatisation, it came to be hoped that free market enterprise would make for a more efficient usage of human resources, both male and female. During this time, women first came to be given focus as key agents of the development process and were encouraged to take up micro enterprises, small scale business ventures and parallel marketeering.
However, this emphasis on women’s economic agency has its serious pitfalls. The basic subordination of women and exclusive responsibilities of home and childcare continue and with structural adjustment programmes and the wrapping up of the state welfare measures, these responsibilities only increased, thus making unreasonable demands on women’s time and energies. The free market itself is not all that free for women to enter the market with these disadvantages and end up getting more exploited.
The efficiency approach of women’s development again does not go very far in making change for better conditions in women’s lives or for equality to men. The old fable of the fox and the stork that both needed food to be served differently to them to be able to eat is an appropriate analogy to explain differential needs of men and women.
Feminists have sought to influence developmental planners with the idea that for achieving developmental goals of freeing women from their subordination and achieving gender equality, recognition needs to be given to the gender division of labour in production and reproduction. This would lead to better appreciation of the differential needs of men and women.
Equity and empowerment cannot be achieved in policy approaches that merely add women to existing developmental plans. Development policies must be based on a social relations framework that accounts for the differences in gender roles and needs. Additionally, development policy cannot justifiably premise itself on a universal category “woman” which does not exist.
There are material differences in power, resources and interests of women across the world that effectively stand disguised and denied behind the concept of woman’s development, a fact that came to be deeply resented by women’s groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Development does not operationalise itself in terms of uniform benefits for all men and disadvantages for all women. Women are on structurally disadvantageous terms with men but then Third World men and women are structurally disadvantaged as compared to First World men and women. DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), a network of Third World activists proposed therefore that the strategies for a more equitable development need to be worked out from the vantage point of the most oppressed women who are disenfranchised by class, race and nationality.
Only then can the complexities of subordination be fully taken care of in developmental agendas. Over the years, these insights have influenced development policies and achievement of equality, equity and empowerment became legitimate developmental goals of women across the world.