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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

From WID to GAD: Conceptual Shifts in the Women and Development Discourse



This paper provides an introduction to “women and development” by tracing the main trends in the way women’s issues have been conceptualized in the development context. Part I of the paper explains the emergence of women in development (WID) in the early 1970s, highlighting in particular a dominant strand of thinking within WID that sought to make women’s issues relevant to development by showing the positive synergies between investing in women and reaping benefits in terms of economic growth. Even though making efficiency-based arguments proved to be effective as a political strategy for having women’s issues taken up by donor agencies, it also entailed a number of controversial outcomes. An undue emphasis was placed on what women could contribute to development (at times based on exaggerated claims), while their demands from development for gender equity became secondary and conditional upon showing positive growth synergies.

Part II of the paper looks at the analytical and intellectual underpinnings of the shift from WID to GAD (gender and development). Gender is being used by researchers and practitioners in a number of different ways. The theoretical underpinnings and policy implications of two prominent frameworks for gender analysis (and training) — the “gender roles framework” and “social relations analysis” — are discussed at some length. These frameworks are then linked to two relatively recent sets of literature on gender: the first on gender and efficiency at the macro-economic level, which shares several premises with the gender roles framework, and the second on women’s empowerment strategies, which can be seen as the action-oriented outgrowth of social relations analysis.

The authors highlight two main tensions that emerge from the different conceptualizations of gender. First, at the analytical level, there are critical differences in the extent to which the “togetherness” or “social connectedness” of husband and wife is given analytical weight; a pervasive feature of (predominantly neo-classical) economic models of gender is to use analogies from elsewhere in the economic repertoire, which tend to miss some important dimensions of togetherness characteristic of husband/wife relations. Second, at the political level, the extent to which the goal of “gender-aware” development is to be linked to “top-down” or “bottom-up” strategies remains controversial. While women’s NGOs and grassroots organizations have an important role to play in creating space for women to politicize their demands, there are serious limits to what institutions of civil society can achieve. The state still remains responsible for regulating macro-level forces in a more gender-equitable manner. It is with this point in mind that the possible points of convergence between top-down and bottom-up strategies can be explored by women and development advocates.

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  • Pub. Date: 1 Feb 1995
    ISSN: 1020-3354
    From: UNRISD