Gendering the Development Agenda

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Scholars of Women’s Studies are continuously critically engaging with culturally defined gender roles and raising questions about the way we have organized ourselves, our major political and social institutions and knowledge itself. To understand the meaning that these scholars imply when they speak of gendering development agenda and the agenda itself, it becomes imperative to understand the following five forms of the interaction between feminism and development:


Women in Development (WID)

Women and Development (WAD)

Gender and Development (GAD)

Women, Environment and Development


Postmodernism and Development


Central Concept/Idea

WID involved an integrationist approach to bring women full force into a presumed progressive system of development is pertinent.

As per WAD, women’s oppression and marginalisation was due to the way their labour had been integrated into global capitalism by the core countries.

GAD focusses not on the identities of women as opposed to men, but the gender ideologies, structures and norms which construct the different positioning of both men and women. Therefore, this paradigm believed structural change was imperative to emancipate women.

WED drew parallels between men’s control over women and male control over nature and connections among masculine science and industrialization and assaults on the ecological health of the planet.

PAD advocated an emphasis on differences, providing space for the voices of the marginalized, and disrupting the representation of women in the South as an undifferentiated “other”.


In order to improve the living conditions of women, it was imperative to increase their participation and increase their share in resources, employment and income.

5 sub-approaches:

Welfare, Equity, Anti-poverty, Efficiency and Empowerment

To understand the predicament of women within capitalist societies, Marxist analysis and its historical and materialist method, and feminist analysis, concentrating on the identification of patriarchy as a social and historical structure, were integrated.

Allocation of tasks needs to be changed as sexual division of labour in a society was one of connection in which men and women became dependent on each other.

Emphasis on unequal control over resources and treatment of gender as a critical variable in interaction with class, race, and other factors was a prerequisite shaping processes of ecological change.

Accepting and understanding

difference and the power of discourse, and foster open, consultative

dialogue to empower women in the South to articulate their own needs and agendas.


  • Addressing women’s issues like maternal mortality
  • Setting up women-only projects and organizations for promoting their needs and interests
  • Using production and reproduction as inseparable aspects of development theory
  • Reproductive democracy, including collective participatory control over family
  • Procreative decisions
  • Collective control over commodity production
  • Integration of gender in the discourse and using this perspective to look at the structures and processes giving rise to women’s disadvantaged position and the notion of male superiority
  • Identification of key weak links in official policies for strategic interventions for women emancipation.
  • A combination of Gendered knowledge, gendered environmental rights, and gendered environmental politics,
  • The notion of “sustainable development” was used as an opportunity for challenging the development-equals-economic-growth equation from the perspective of a feminist methodology.
  • Critique of colonial and contemporary constructions of the “Third World” woman deconstruction of development
  • Recovery of women’s knowledge and voices
  • Celebration of differences and multiple identities
  • Consultative dialogue between development practitioners and their “clients”

Depiction of Women (Stance)


Super-exploited working class.

Social actors within wider structures of constraints and a heterogeneous group divided by class, race and creed.

Victims of the violence of

patriarchal development, women resisted this “development” to protect

nature and preserve their own sustenance:

Women are their own agents with heterogeneous interests and needs.


of Development

Progressive System.

Gender-determined and a class process.

Development from this perspective is the process of improving the ability of individuals and of society to the whole range of human needs: physical, emotional and creative (Young, 1997).

Superimposition of the scientific and economic paradigms created by Western gender-based ideology.

Development, which is currently a Westernized concept, needs to be modified to include multiple voices and implications of social practices.


  • Imposition of North’s agenda on South without adequate understanding of Southern women
  • Shallow social and economic analysis while neglecting gender relations
  • Neglecting social relations of gender within classes
  • Incomplete consideration of variations in patriarchy in different modes of production and their impact on women.
  • Universalizing the Western sexual division of labour and employing categories like “labour” and “production” rooted in the culture of capitalist modernity
  • Failure to provide a genuine alternative to mainstream development
  • Difficulty in implementation due to questioning of underlying social, economic, and political structures
  • Involvement of modernist tendencies while still essentializing poor women.

Extremely utopian without an instructive blueprint for policy change

  • In extremes, could hinder collective action among women
  • Jargon of postmodern writing was an unsurmountable obstacle for people mired in illiteracy and economic crisis

Links with other Theories of Development


Dependency and Neo-Marxist approaches to Development

Socialist Feminism and Feminist Anthropology

Environmentalism and Political Ecology


From the above table, we can deduce that the paradigm that actually most prominently talks about gendering development is Gender and Development, though all paradigms have certain implications to this regard. [1]

Since development intends to change people’s lives, individually and collectively, it takes into its purview the established structures and institutes. Overlooking relevant gender factors in macroeconomic policies and institutions can undermine the successful outcome of those very same policies and institutions as these structures have gendered dimensions which influence the processes as well as the impact of development. Therefore, it is imperative that gender perspectives, especially women’s voices and perspectives, inform policy making and development planning.[2]

Gendering the development agenda makes women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences indispensable to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes intended for development. It entails the embedding of gender mainstreaming and gender equality in all development agendas and asserts that without a gender perspective, development will remain but an unfinished agenda. It also talks about investing in women, not because of instrumentalism, but because of its value in its own right and their treatments subjects, not objects of policies in the political and international realm.

Development policies are unlikely to be effective if disadvantaged groups in the process of development do not have the capacity to obstruct unsatisfactory policy outcomes. Therefore, planners and policy-makers must be watchful of the major aspects of socially endorsed gender functions and the specific needs of both the genders. If development policies are to be sustainable, they must consider existing gender disparities in employment, poverty, family life, health, education, the environment, public life and decision-making bodies

Gendering the development agenda focusses on immediate issues like reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence alongside long-term issues such as patriarchy, stereotyping, objectification, and oppression. It encompasses a retake on the definition of desirable development and the strategies needed to achieve it and rethinking of development as a masculine enterprise, throughout the planning cycle. It talks about a paradigm shift from a view of development planners in which women are vulnerable and should be provided with aid to the view in which women can be empowered actors of development and challenging the traditional balance of power. Women need not be seen as victims, but their capacities as social actors who are capable of affecting change should be acknowledged and their voices should be a part of the dialogue for an inclusive and gendered development agenda.

This approach looks at women’s real problem as the imbalance of power between men and women and focuses on both women’s practical as well as strategic gender needs by challenging existing divisions of labour and power relations. Thus, gendering the development agenda uses a gender lens to formulate development and shape policy, taking into account the significance of gender relations as an organising dimension within households, communities and public policies, and the implications of the universal practice of placing women in an inferior position as compared to men.

If private sector labour and credit markets alongside private process of information dissemination make it likely that women will be less mobile than men, then public mechanisms must exist to offset the bias. A gender analysis of Structural Adjustment moved the focus from UNICEF’s concern with women as a vulnerable group to an understanding of the male bias in economic policies.

Gendering development agenda implies not simply conducting ‘impact’ studies and auditing of budgets without being given a chance to develop and critique content of policies and budgets with respect to gender. It denotes acceptance of gender needs, not for instrumental reasons such as ‘educate women to reduce fertility’ but for reasons in their own right such as ‘educate women so as to enhance their functionings and capabilities and expand their freedoms’. It means not only well establishing gender in development discourse, but for the extent of change in women’s lives to match the discursive landslide and the development of effective gender policies within key policy spaces and documents. It represents, not a token, partial or selective incorporation of gender into policies, but an infiltration inside development agencies of gender to combat the current development planning orthodoxies and ineffective mainstreaming and changes to goals, strategies, actions and to organizations, institutions, cultures and behaviours. It involves taking care of not only practical gender needs but also strategic gender needs and the gender division of labour that creates those needs. It envisages a pro women agenda with women specific expenditures in the areas of water supply, sanitation, solid waste management and bus transit.

Identifying gender constraints is important while formulating policy. Explaining this through an example, 30% of labor in all agricultural activities is supplied by women in India and less than 10% of women farmers own land. So over 90% of women don’t have access to information and farm support services as the traditional focus of most extension services remains the farmer-landowner,who is in a position to claim credit and invest in inputs and new technology.[3]

Gender relations are specific mechanisms whereby different cultures determine the functions and relationships of each sex and their access to material resources, like land, credit and training, and ephemeral resources such as power. Gender relations manifest themselves in the form of division of labour, fiscal and financial policies, the responsibilities of family members inside and outside the home, education and opportunities for professional development and a say in policy-making.[4] Therefore, themes related to development include the inequality between genders across all areas (even those such as infrastructure and economics which are apparently ‘gender neutral’), the disproportionate amount of work done by women, and yet the absence of women in development policy or group decision making—in general, all of this being linked to the subordination of women. The development agenda, covers, but is not limited to education, health, economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment. It includes all areas of life and all policies – fiscal, trade, agriculture, industry, infrastructure, labor and employment.

In most economies, women encounter difficulty with regard to availing credit facilities as they are unable to put collateral up the collateral that lending institutions require. Legislation doesn’t grant women with property rights at par with men or at times fails to acknowledge them as heads of household. There are also barriers for them for joining farmers’ associations, especially those concerned with processing and marketing.[5]

Gendering the development agenda encompasses the three aspects of gendering of international development policy, the interrogation of development policy through a gender lens and the analysis of global structural change. Gendering it would involve acknowledging non-typical and changing gender roles and questioning cultural norms regarding families and households. This understanding extends the agenda from women’s reproductive roles (health, family planning, education), through economic roles (employment, income generation, household budgeting) to generic issues of macro-economic planning, environmental degradation and conservation, structural adjustment and debt and civil and political organisation.

For engendering, the development agenda includes the growth model which entails perceiving women, first, as producers of economic goods by recognition which requires integrating male-female differences in their constraints and potential to development policies and second, of non-economic goods that contribute to development which entails incorporating unpaid work as a macro-economic variable which contributes to the well-being of population and in the formulation of human capital.

The 11th Five Year Plan itself had a lot of provisions for gendering the development agenda.

To cite an example, the Plan stated “that 85% of farmers who are small and marginal are increasingly women and who find it difficult to access the inputs…” and that “with the share of female workforce in agriculture increasing, and increased incidence of female-headed household, women names should be recorded as cultivators in revenue records […] the gender bias in institutions for information, credit, inputs, marketing should be corrected by gender-sensitizing the existing infrastructure providers; women’s co-operatives and other forms of group effort should be promoted.” It also stated that female beneficiaries must be 30% in all schemes and women’s credit fund must be set up alongside provision of women-friendly technologies and appropriate training.

Another instance of a gendered approach could be the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons’ Report on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, submitted to the UN Secretary General which proposes that gender equality be integrated across all goals, both in specific targets and making sure that targets are measured separately for women and men, girls and boys.

To summarize, the development agenda must consider existing gender disparities in the various aspects of development as shown on the following page:


  1. Pearson, Ruth (2006), Gender and Development, in Clark, David Alexander [ed], The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp189-196
  2. Peet, Richard and Hartwick, Elaine (2009), Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives, [Second Edition], The Guilford Press, New York and London, pp240-274
  3. Graham, C. (1994), Safety Nets, Politics and the Poor: Transitions to Market Economies, Washington DC: Brookings Institution
  4. Vivien, J. (1995), How safe are social safety nets, European Journal of Development Research, Vol 7 No 1
  5. Young, K. (1997), Gender and Development, in N. Visvanathan, L. Duggan, L. Nisonoff & N. Wiegersma [eds], The Woman, Gender and Development Reader, (pp. 51-53)
  6. National Alliance of Women (2008), Engendering the 11th Five Year Plan, 2007-2012
  7., accessed on 4th June, 2014
  8., accessed on 4th June, 2014
  9., accessed on 4th June, 2014

[1] It must be noted that gender, being used in this context, implies its abstract nature in terms of the absence of a concrete, visible and countable body as compared to women and its relational nature in terms of the system of relations between men and women.

[2] Since gender is seen as a universal organising principle of all human activity in the social, economic and cultural realm, it is rational that gender analysis should be central to all policy and practice that is aimed at engaging with and eliminating international inequality and poverty through developmental efforts.

[3] Another example for this, comes from Chile, where the introduction of a new scheme (POJH) targeting heads of household (mostly made leads, women were 25-30% of beneficiaries), and which paid 40 percent of the minimum wage, led to the feminisation of a pre-existing programme (PEM), paying only one quarter of the minimum wage. (Graham 1994; Vivien 1995).

[4] For instance, gendered exclusion in a lot of sectors is linked to the public/private divide that identifies men’s role as being in the public world of politics and paid employment, and women’s in caring and child-rearing in the home.

[5] A closely related instance in which women have access to credit, but access remains inadequate due to gender relations that adversely affect women is the provision of credit to low income landless women in rural Bangladesh. Research finding suggest that the official figures mask a great degree of male appropriation of women’s loans. This is found to be an outcome of women’s inability to control resources allocated to them and mediation by powerful social relations and gender ideologies that put them in a subordinate position and do not give them full autonomy.

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