Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Gender and development

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The pre-World War II period saw flourishing movements of various forms of feminism; however, the nexus between (economic) development and women was not clearly articulated until the second half of the 20th century. Women first came into focus in development as objects of welfare policies, including those focused on birth control, nutrition, and pregnancy. "In 1962 the UN General Assembly asked the Commission on the Status of Women to prepare a report on the role of women in development. Ester Boserup's path breaking study on Women's Role in Economic Development was published in 1970. These events marked monumental moments in developing the liberal paradigm of women in development, and the welfarist approach still remains dominant in development practice today. This article reviews the dominant liberal approaches, including women in development (WID), women and development (WAD), gender and development (GAD) and neoliberal frameworks (Singh, 2007). There is significant overlap among these approaches (for example, WID can be seen as an early version of the neoliberal framework).


Women in development (WID)

Theoretical approach

The term “women in development” was originally coined by a Washington-based network of female development professionals in the early 1970s who sought to question trickle down existing theories of development by contesting that economic development had identical impacts on men and women. The Women in Development movement (WID) gained momentum in the 1970s, driven by the resurgence of women's movements in developed countries, and particularly through liberal feminists striving for equal rights and labour opportunities in the United States. Liberal feminism, postulating that women's disadvantages in society may be eliminated by breaking down customary expectations of women by offering better education to women and introducing equal opportunity programmes, had a notable influence on the formulation of the WID approaches.

The focus of the 1970s feminist movements and their repeated calls for employment opportunities in the development agenda meant that particular attention was given to the productive labour of women, leaving aside reproductive concerns and social welfare. This approach was pushed forward by WID advocates, reacting to the general policy environment maintained by early colonial authorities and post-war development authorities, wherein inadequate reference to the work undertook by women as producers was made, as they were almost solely identified as their roles as wives and mothers. The WID's opposition to this “welfare approach” was in part motivated by the work of Danish economist Ester Boserup in the early 1970s, who challenged the assumptions of the said approach and highlighted the role women by women in the agricultural production and economy.

A dominant strand of thinking within WID sought to link women’s issues with development, highlighting how such issues acted as impediments to economic growth; this “relevance” approach stemmed from the experience of WID advocates which illustrated that it was more effective if demands of equity and social justice for women were strategically linked to mainstream development concerns, in an attempt to have WID policy goals taken up by development agencies. The Women in Development approach was the first contemporary movement to specifically integrate women in the broader development agenda and acted as the precursor to later movements such as the Women and Development (WAD), and ultimately, the Gender and Development approach, departing from some of the criticized aspects imputed to the WID.


The WID movement faced a number of criticisms; such an approach had in some cases the unwanted consequence of depicting women as a unit whose claims are conditional on its productive value, associating increased female status with the value of cash income in women’s lives. Furthermore, the WID, although it advocated for greater gender equality, did not tackle the unequal gender relations and roles at the basis of women's exclusion and gender subordination rather than addressing the stereotyped expectations entertained by men. Moreover, the underlying assumption behind the call for the integration of the Third World women with their national economy was that women were not already participating in development, thus downplaying women's roles in household production and informal economic and political activities. The WID was also criticized for its views on the fact that women's status will improve by moving into “productive employment”, implying that the move to the “modern sector” need to be made from the “traditional” sector to achieve self-advancement, further implying that “traditional” work roles often occupied by women in the developing world were inhibiting to self-development.

Women and development (WAD)

Women and development (WAD) is a theoretical and practical approach to development. It was introduced into gender studies scholarship in the second half of the 1970s, following its origins, which can be traced to the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975, organized by the UN. It is a departure from the previously predominant theory, WID (Women in Development) and is often mistaken for WID, but has many distinct characteristics.

Theoretical approach

WAD arose out of a shift in thinking about women’s role in development, and concerns about the explanatory limitations of modernization theory. While previous thinking held that development was a vehicle to advance women, new ideas suggested that development was only made possible by the involvement of women, and rather than being simply passive recipients of development aid, they should be actively involved in development projects. WAD took this thinking a step further and suggested that women have always been an integral part of development, and did not suddenly appear in the 1970s as a result of exogenous development efforts. The WAD approach suggests that there be women-only development projects that were theorized to remove women from the patriarchal hegemony that would exist if women participated in development alongside men in a patriarchal culture, though this concept has been heavily debated by theorists in the field. In this sense, WAD is differentiated from WID by way of the theoretical framework upon which it was built. Rather than focus specifically on women’s relationship to development, WAD focuses on the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. This theory seeks to understand women’s issues from the perspectives of neo-Marxism and dependency theory, though much of the theorizing about WAD remains undocumented due to the persistent and pressing nature of development work in which many WAD theorists engage.

Practical approach

The WAD paradigm stresses the relationship between women, and the work that they perform in their societies as economic agents in both the public and domestic spheres. It also emphasizes the distinctive nature of the roles women play in the maintenance and development of their societies, with the understanding that purely the integration of women into development efforts would serve to reinforce the existing structures of inequality present in societies overrun by patriarchal interests. In general, WAD is thought to offer a more critical conceptualization of women’s position that does WID.

The WAD approach emphasizes the distinctive nature of women’s knowledge, work, goals, and responsibilities, as well as advocating for the recognition of their distinctiveness. This fact, combined with a recognized tendency for development agencies to be dominated by patriarchal interests, is at the root of the women-only initiatives introduced by WAD subscribers.


Some of the common critiques of the WAD approach include concerns that the women-only development projects would struggle, or ultimately fail, due to their scale, and the marginalized status of these women. Furthermore, the WAD perspective suffers from a tendency to view women as a class, and pay little attention to the differences among women (such as feminist concept of intersectionality), including race and ethnicity, and prescribe development endeavors that may only serve to address the needs of a particular group. While an improvement on WID, WAD fails to fully consider the relationships between patriarchy, modes of production, and the marginalization of women. It also presumes that the position of women around the world will improve when international conditions become more equitable. Additionally, WAD has been criticized for its singular preoccupation with the productive side of women’s work, while it ignores the reproductive aspect of women’s work and lives. Value is placed on income-generating activities, and none is ascribed to social and cultural reproduction.

Gender and development (GAD)

Theoretical approach

The Gender and Development (GAD) approach focuses on the socially constructed differences between men and women and the need to challenge existing gender roles and relations. This approach was majorly influenced by the writings of academic scholars such as Oakley (1972) and Rubin (1975), who emphasize the social relationship between men and women. These relationships, they argue, have systematically subordinated women. GAD departs from WID, which discussed women's subordination and lack of inclusion in discussions of international development without examining broader systems of gender relations. Influenced by this work, by the late 1970s, some practitioners working in the development field questioned focusing on women in isolation. GAD challenged the WID focus on women as an important ‘target group’ and ‘untapped resources’ for development. GAD marked a shift in thinking about the need to understand how women and men are socially constructed and how ‘those constructions are powerfully reinforced by the social activities that both define and are defined by them.’ GAD focuses primarily on the gendered division of labor and gender as a relation of power embedded in institutions. Consequently, two major frameworks ‘Gender roles’ and ‘social relations analysis’ are used in this approach. 'Gender roles' focuses on the social construction of identities within the household; it also reveals the expectations from ‘maleness and femaleness’ in their relative access to resources. 'Social relations analysis' exposes the social dimensions of hierarchical power relations embedded in social institutions, as well as its determining influence on ‘the relative position of men and women in society.’ This relative positioning tends to discriminate against women.

Unlike WID, the GAD approach is not concerned specifically with women, but with the way in which a society assigns roles, responsibilities and expectations to both women and men. GAD applies gender analysis to uncover the ways in which men and women work together, presenting results in neutral terms of economics and efficiency.In an attempt to create gender equality, (denoting women having same opportunities as men, including ability to participate in the public sphere; GAD policies aims to redefine traditional gender role expectations. Women are expected to fulfill household management tasks, home based production as well as bearing and raising children and caring for family members. The role of a wife is largely interpreted as 'the responsibilities of motherhood' Men however, are expected to be breadwinners whom are associated with paid work, and market production. In the labor market, women tend to earn less than men. For instance, 'a study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found massive pay inequities in some United Kingdom’s top finance companies, women received around 80 percent less performance-related pay than their male colleagues.' In response to pervasive gender inequalities, Beijing Platform for Action established gender mainstreaming in 1995 as a strategy across all policy areas at all levels of governance for achieving gender equality.

Caroline Moser developed the Moser Gender Planning Framework for GAD-oriented development planning in the 1980s while working at the Development Planning Unit of the University of London. Working with Caren Levy, she expanded it into a methodology for gender policy and planning. The Moser framework follows the Gender and Development approach in emphasizing the importance of gender relations. As with the WID-based Harvard Analytical Framework, it includes a collection of quantitative empirical facts. Going further, it investigates the reasons and processes that lead to conventions of access and control. The Moser Framework includes gender roles identification, gender needs assessment, disaggregating control of resources and decision making within the household, planning for balancing work and household responsibilities, distinguishing between different aims in interventions and involving women and gender-aware organizations in planning.


GAD has been criticized for emphasizing the social differences between men and women while neglecting the bonds between them and also the potential for changes in roles. Another criticism is that GAD does not dig deeply enough into social relations and so may not explain how these relations can undermine programs directed at women. It also does not uncover the types of trade-offs that women are prepared to make for the sake of achieving their ideals of marriage or motherhood. Another criticism is that the GAD perspective is theoretically distinct from WID, but in practice, a program seem to have the element of the two. Whilst many development agencies are now committed to a gender approach, in practice, the primary institutional perspective remain focused on a WID approach. There is a slippage in reality where gender mainstreaming is often based in a single normative perspective as synonymous to women. Development agencies still advance gender transformation to mean economic betterment for women.

Gender and neoliberal development institutions

Among development institutions, gender issues have increasingly become part of economic development agendas, as the examples of the World Bank shows. Awareness by international organizations of the need to address gender issues evolved over the past decades. The World Bank, for example, started focusing on gender in 1977 with the appointment of a first Women in Development Adviser. In 1984 the bank mandated that its programs consider women's issues. In 1994 the bank issued a policy paper on Gender and Development, reflecting current thinking on the subject. This policy aims to address policy and institutional constraints that maintain disparities between the genders and thus limit the effectiveness of development programs.Thirty years after the appointment of a first Women in Development Adviser, a so-called Gender Action Plan was launched to underline the importance of the topic within development strategies and to introduce the new Smart Economics strategy. In 2012, the World Development Report was the first report of the series examining Gender Equality and Development.

Women have been identified by some development institutions as a key to successful development, for example through financial inclusion. One example is the Women’s Development Business (WDB) in South Africa, a Grameen Bank microfinance replicator. According to WDB, the goal is to ensure “[…] that rural women are given the tools to free themselves from the chains of poverty […]” through allocation of financial resources directly to women including enterprise development programs. The idea is to use microfinance as a market-oriented tool to ensure access to financial services for disadvantaged and low-income people and therefore fostering economic development through financial inclusion.

As a reaction, a current topic in the feminist literature on economic development is the ‘gendering’ of microfinance, as women have increasingly become the target borrowers for rural microcredit lending. This, in turn, creates the assumption of a “rational economic woman” which can exacerbate existing social hierarchies). Therefore, the critique is that the assumption of economic development through microfinance does not take into account all possible outcomes, especially the ones affecting women.

The impact of programs of the Bretton Woods Institutions and other similar organizations on gender are being monitored by Gender Action, a watchdog group founded in 2002 by Eliane Zuckerman who is a former World Bank economist.

Gender, financial crises, and neoliberal economic policy

The global financial crisis and the following politics of austerity have opened up a wide range of gender and feminist debates on neoliberalism and the impact of the crisis on women. One view is that the crisis has affected women disproportionately and that there is a need for alternative economic structures in which investment in social reproduction needs to be given more weight. The International Labour Organization (ILO) assessed the impact of the global financial crisis on workers and concluded that while the crisis initially affected industries that were dominated by male workers (such as finance, construction and manufacturing) it then spread over to sectors in which female workers are predominantly active. Examples for these sectors are the service sector or wholesale retail trade.

There are different views among feminists on whether neoliberal economic policies have more positive or negative impacts on women. In the post-war era, feminist scholars such as Elizabeth Wilson criticized state capitalism and the welfare state as a tool to oppress women. Therefore, neoliberal economic policies featuring privatization and deregulation, hence a reduction of the influence of the state and more individual freedom was argued to improve conditions for women. This anti-welfare state thinking arguably led to feminist support for neoliberal ideas embarking on a macroeconomic policy level deregulation and a reduced role of the state.

Therefore, some scholars in the field argue that feminism, especially during its second wave, has contributed key ideas to Neoliberalism that, according to these authors, creates new forms of inequality and exploitation.

As a reaction to the phenomenon that some forms of feminism are increasingly interwoven with capitalism, many suggestions on how to name these movements have emerged in the feminist literature. Examples are ‘free market feminism’ or even ‘faux-feminism’.

Smart economics

Theoretical approaches Advocated chiefly by the World Bank, smart economics is an approach to define gender equality as an integral part of economic development and it aims to spur development through investing more efficiently in women and girls. It stresses that the gap between men and women in human capital, economic opportunities, and voice/agency is a chief obstacle in achieving more efficient development. As an approach, it is a direct descendant of the efficiency approach taken by WID which “rationalizes ‘investing’ in women and girls for more effective development outcomes.” As articulated in the section of WID, the efficiency approach to women in development was chiefly articulated by Caroline Moser in the late 1980s. Continuing the stream of WID, smart economics’ key unit of analysis is women as individual and it particularly focuses on measures that promote to narrow down the gender gap. Its approach identifies women are relatively underinvested source of development and it defines gender equality an opportunity of higher return investment. “Gender equality itself is here depicted as smart economics, in that it enables women to contribute their utmost skills and energies to the project of world economic development.” In this term, smart economics champions neoliberal perspective in seeing business as a vital vehicle for change and it takes a stance of liberal feminism.

The thinking behind smart economics dates back, at least, to the lost decade of the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) in the 1980s. In 1995, World Bank issued its flagship publication on gender matters of the year Enhancing Women’s Participation in Economic Development (World Bank 1995). This report marked a critical foundation to the naissance of Smart Economics; in a chapter entitled ‘The Pay-offs to Investing in Women,’ the Bank proclaimed that investing in women “speeds economic development by raising productivity and promoting the more efficient use of resources; it produces significant social returns, improving child survival and reducing fertility, and it has considerable intergenerational pay-offs.” The Bank also emphasized its associated social benefits generated by investing in women. For example, the Bank turned to researches of Whitehead that evidenced a greater female-control of household income is associated with better outcomes for children’s welfare and Jeffery and Jeffery who analyzed the positive correlation between female education and lower fertility rates. In the 2000s, the approach of smart economics came to be further crystallized through various frameworks and initiatives. A first step was World Bank’s Gender Action Plan (GAP) 2007-/2010, followed by the “Three Year Road Map for Gender Mainstreaming 2010-13.” The 2010-13 framework responded to criticisms for its precursor and incorporated some shifts in thematic priorities. Lastly but not least, the decisive turning point was 2012 marked by its publication of “World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.” This Bank’s first comprehensive focus on the gender issues was welcomed by various scholars and practitioners, as an indicator of its seriousness. For example, Shahra Razavi appraised the report as ‘a welcome opportunity for widening the intellectual space’.

Other international organizations, particular UN families, have so far endorsed the approach of smart economics. Examining the relationship between child well-being and gender equality, for example, UNICEF also referred to the “Double Dividend of Gender Equality.” Its explicit link to a wider framework of the Millennium Development Goals (where the Goal 3 is Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment) claimed a wider legitimacy beyond economic efficiency. In 2007, the Bank proclaimed that “The business case for investing in MDG 3 is strong; it is nothing more than smart economics.” In addition, “Development organisations and governments have been joined in this focus on the ‘business case’ for gender equality and the empowerment of women, by businesses and enterprises which are interested in contributing to social good.” A good example is “Girl Effect initiative” taken by Nike Foundation. Its claim for economic imperative and a broader socio-economic impact also met a strategic need of NGOs and community organizations that seeks justification for their program funding. Thus, some NGOs, for example Plan International, captured this trend to further their program. The then-president of the World Bank Robert B. Zoellick was quoted by Plan International in stating “Investing in adolescent girls is precisely the catalyst poor countries need to break intergenerational poverty and to create a better distribution of income. Investing in them is not only fair, it is a smart economic move.” The global financial meltdown and austerity measures taken by major donor counties further supported this approach, since international financial institutions (IFIs) s and international NGOs received a greater pressure from donors and from global public to design and implement maximally cost-effective programs.

Criticisms From the mid-2000s, the approach of smart economics and its chief proponent –World Bank– met a wide range of criticisms and denouncements. These discontents can be broadly categorized into three major claims; Subordination of Intrinsic Value; Ignorance for the need of systemic transformation; Feminisation of responsibility; Overemphasized efficiency; and Opportunistic pragmatism.This is not exhaustive list of criticisms, but the list aims to highlight different emphasis among existing criticisms.

Smart economics’ subordination of women under the justification of development invited fierce criticisms. Chant expresses her grave concern that “Smart economics is concerned with building women’s capacities in the interests of development rather than promoting women’s rights for their own sake.” She disagrees that investment in women should be promoted by its instrumental utility: “it is imperative to ask whether the goal of female investment is primarily to promote gender equality and women’s ‘empowerment’, or to facilitate development ‘on the cheap’, and/or to promote further economic liberalization.” Although smart economics outlines that gender equality has intrinsic value (realizing gender equality is an end itself) and instrumental value (realizing gender equality is a means to a more efficient development), many points out that the Bank pays almost exclusive attentions to the latter in defining its framework and strategy. Zuckerman also echoed this point by stating “business case [which] ignores the moral imperative of empowering women to achieve women’s human rights and full equal rights with men.” In short, Chant casts a doubt that if it is not “possible to promote rights through utilitarianism.”

A wide range of scholars and practitioners has criticized that smart economics rather endorse the current status-quo of gender inequality and keep silence for the demand of institutional reform. Its approach “[d]oes not involves public action to transform the laws, policies, and practices which constrain personal and group agency.” Naila Kabeer also posits that “attention to collective action to enable women to challenge structural discrimination has been downplayed.” Simply, smart economics assumes that women are entirely capable of increasingly contributing for economic growth amid the ongoing structural barriers to realize their capabilities.

Sylvia Chant (2008) discredited its approach as ‘feminisation of responsibility and/or obligation’ where the smart economics intends to spur growth simply by demanding more from women in terms of time, labour, energy, and other resources. She also agrees that “Smart economics seeks to use women and girls to fix the world.” She further goes by clarifying that “It is less welcome to women who are already contributing vast amounts to both production and unpaid reproduction to be romanticised and depicted as the salvation of the world.”

Chant is concerned that “An efficiency-driven focus on young women and girls as smart economics leaves this critical part of the global population out.” Smart economics assumes that all women are at their productive stage and fallaciously neglects lives of the elderly women, or women with handicaps. Thus she calls for recognition of “equal rights of all women and girls -regardless of age, or the extent of nature of their economic contribution.” Also, its approach does not talk about cooperation and collaboration between males and females thus leaving men and boys completely out of picture.

Chant emphasize that “The smart economics approach represents, at best, pragmatism in a time of economic restructuring and austerity.” Smart economics can have a wider acceptance and legitimacy because now is the time when efficiency is most demanded, not because its utilitarianism has universal appeal. She further warns that feminists should be very cautious about “supporting, and working in coalition with, individuals and institutions who approach gender equality through the lens of smart economics. This may have attractions in strategic terms, enabling us to access resources for work focusing on supporting the individual agency of women and girls, but risks aggravating many of the complex problems that gender and development seeks to transform.”

Alternative Approaches

Other approaches with different paradigms have also played a historically important role in advancing theories and practices in gender and development.

Marxism and Neo-Marxism

The structuralist debate was first triggered by Marxist and socialist feminists. Marxism, particularly through alternative models of state socialist development practiced in China and Cuba, challenged the dominant liberal approach over time. Neo-Marxist proponents focused on the role of the post-colonial state in development in general and also on localized class struggles. Marxist feminists advanced these criticisms towards liberal approaches and made significant contribution to the contemporary debate.

Dependency theory

Dependency theorists opposed that liberal development models, including the attempt to incorporate women into the existing global capitalism, was in fact nothing more than the "development of underdevelopment." This view led them to propose that delinking from the structural oppression of global capitalism is the only way to achieve balanced human development. In the 1980s, there also emerged "a sustained questioning by post-structuralist critics of the development paradigm as a narrative of progress and as an achievable enterprise."

Basic Needs Approach, Capability Approach, and Ecofeminism

Within the liberal paradigm of women and development, various criticism have emerged. The Basic Needs (BN) approach began to pose questions to the focus on growth and income as indicators of development. It was heavily influenced by Sen and Nussabaum's capability approach, which was more gender sensitive than BN and focused on expanding human freedom. The BN particularly proposed a participatory approach to development and challenged the dominant discourse of trickle down effects. These approaches focused on the human freedom led to development of other important concepts such as human development and human security. From a perspective of sustainable development, ecofeminists articulated the direct link between colonialism and environmental degradation, which resulted in degradation of women's lives themselves.


Gender and development Wikipedia