Women in Development vs. Gender and Development

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Most of the people who inhabit this world live in poverty. However, women are more likely than men to be impoverished. This is called the feminization of poverty.[1] In the 1970s, feminists and agents of development came up with an approach to address this problem called the Women in Development [WID] approach. As the years went by, this approach was criticized. A new approach emerged out of this critique called Gender and Development [GAD] approach. This paper makes two arguments: that GAD is the best approach to address the inequalities women experience in developing countries, and that the WID approach must also play a supportive role in addressing these inequalities. A crucial difference between the GAD approach and the WID approach is that GAD focuses on gender whereas WID focuses on women[2]. Although many people may think this is the same thing, they are mistaken. Gender is a cultural construct. It is the set of dispositions, behaviours, and roles that a given culture considers appropriate for each sex. Sex, on the other hand, is different from gender. Sex is the physical and biological attributes that differentiate between males and females. The category of women, as focused on by the WID approach, is clearly a category of sex and not gender. This is a major flaw in the WID analysis, for it assumes that women will have common, homogeneous interests simply because of their sex. This ignores that women have varied and often conflicting interests depending on their class, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.[3] However, there are obviously areas where women have common interests; yet rather than calling these ‘women’s interests’, a more appropriate term would be ‘gender interests’. These are the interests that women or men share due to the specific concerns surrounding their gender roles and expectations.[4] Since the GAD approach focuses on gender and not sex, it recognizes that a woman’s interests will vary depending on the intersection of race, class, religion, and sexual orientation in her life. Theoretically, the GAD approach will take these differences into account rather than endorsing one-size-fits-all development solutions for women. The WID approach and the GAD approach are both concerned with improving the lives of women through development. However, their diagnosis of the problem and thus their proposed solutions are radically different. According to the WID approach, the problem is that women’s needs are excluded from the development process.[5] This is an inaccurate diagnosis of the problem and so it follows that the WID solution – that women’s needs be incorporated into the development process – is also inaccurate. This statement is not just supposition but based on observation of reality. The fact is that the WID solution has already been implemented for a couple of decades now. Ruth Pearson states, “[i]t is widely accepted in these times that development must be informed by gender analysis … so much so that the position has become commonplace rather than radical…”[6] And so, according to WID analysis, the problem has already been solved. Yet poverty and subordination remain major issues for women. Obviously, then, something else must be the problem, and GAD gets right to the root of it: patriarchy.[7] Patriarchy is a complicated concept with many layers of meaning, but in this essay it will be defined on three fronts: a system of male supremacy; a strict social code of rigid gender expectations in terms of disposition, behaviour, and roles; an ideology of dominance and subordination, whereas ‘masculine’ is associated with that which is dominant and ‘feminine’ is associated with that which is subordinate. The ways in which patriarchy subordinates and disenfranchises women are innumerable and beyond the scope of this essay. However, for now it is sufficient to say that the GAD approach recognizes patriarchy as the culprit and therefore the...
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