"IF ONLY WE COULD FIND A
GOOD WOMAN ": WOMEN
AS POLICYMAKERS IN DEVELOPMENT
Elsa M. Chaney
Women in Development:
A New Direction
One result of International Women's Year has been
a growing recognition of women's potential role in
development. There is now not only an acknowledgment
that women have an intrinsic claim in justice to be
included, but a growing realization that women, as the
new Section 108 of the 1977 International Development
and Food Assistance Act puts it, "are a significant
human resource for enhancing development efforts."
As did the UN Conferences on Population and on Food,
the IWY Conference in Mexico City focused the world's
attention on an issue and effected a change in atmosphere.
The situation of the world's women began to be taken
more seriously. One evidence is the proliferation of
women in development offices, committees and programs
initiated by national governments (in both the developed
and developing countries); the UN system, particularly
through its regional economic commissions; the European
Economic Community; private voluntary agencies, church
groups and the like. (For a recent review of these
initiatives, see U.S. Congress: 1978.) In responding
to the Percy Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of
1973, my own Agency can claim a modest share of credit
in having been first to launch such an effort a year
before IWY, and perhaps in setting an example for others
During the past several years, there has been
a growing concurrence in the U.S. community, among
academics associated with development, and in the
Congress, that U.S. bilateral assistance should be
directed towards fostering equitable growth and
alleviating poverty in the Third World.
Under the "New Directions" mandated in recent
development assistance legislation, the Agency for
International Development is attempting to turn its
programs, projects and activities towards enhancing
efforts of developing countries to fulfill the basic
human needs of their people. While there are differ-
ences of opinion on the exact "mix" of projects which
might add up to a successful "New Directions" program,
there is general agreement that development assistance
directed towards large, capital-intensive projects has
not trickled down to the poor majority. Indeed, as
Barbara Ward has suggested (1971), development assist-
ance may rather have exacerbated what she has termed
the "widening gap" between the world's rich and poor;
between rich nations and poor nations; between the
small elites of developing countries and their own
poor majorities, and we might add, between women and
men of the poor majority and between girls and boys of
the developing world who do not start out in life with
the same options.
United States development assistance agencies
are attempting to revamp their philosophy, approach
and programs towards helping the world's poor increase
their capacity to meet their own needs for nourishing
food, clean water, clothing, minimum shelter, health
care and education. The World Employment Conference
of 1976 which launched the basic needs strategy spe-
cifically noted that "women constitute the group at
the bottom of the ladder in many developing countries
in respect of employment, poverty, education, training
and status" and recommended that special emphasis be
placed in developing countries on promoting the status,
education, development and employment of women and on
integrating them into the economic and civic life of
It would be naive to overestimate what even "redi-
rected" development agencies can accomplish. In some
cases, perhaps all that development assistance can do
is ameliorate the misery of the poor. Yet palliatives
are not to be scorned in the absence of any real pos-
sibilities for radical change in structures. If the
drudgery in the lives of poor women can be eased only
a little; if one bore well means that a village's
women do not need to walk long distances every day to
haul water; if a small electric mill frees women from
hours of grinding flour between stones, should we
neglect such measures because we are not able to do
anything more fundamental? There also is something to
be said for attempting to monitor development programs
so that they do not worsen the lot of women by making
them unintended victims of economic progress. (For a
discussion of how Western concepts of development
have undermined women's position in many traditional
societies, see Tinker 1974 and 1976.)
The Policy Background
What is the situation of the world's poor women?
What kinds of projects will help them? How long will
such projects be needed? Should there be special
projects directed to "women only," or should women be
incorporated into general development efforts? These
questions are best answered by women of the developing
world themselves, at the national, regional and local
levels, as well as by improving our overall infor-
mation on women's needs and contribution. But action
need not wait until data are perfect. We have some
general notions based not only on statistical sources,
but also on the dozens of small-scale research studies
carried out by social scientists in Asia, Africa and
We know, for example, that over most of the world
women lag far behind in literacy. In most developing
countries, a girl's chance at formal education or
specialized training is less than a boy's--no matter
what the laws say.
Whether mother or daughter, a woman's day is full
of drudgery: she may walk miles to gather firewood,
carry water, launder clothes. She may spend hours
grinding grain, processing and storing food. Her day
may also include a long stint at hoeing, planting or
weeding, since women in developing countries grow
from 40 to 80 percent of the domestic food supply and
often do a significant share of the work in cash crop-
ping as well. She generally will care for the small
animals and may look after the other livestock. Yet she
will often not get the calories she needs--whether or
not she is nursing a child--because she eats what the
In most places, women have limited opportunities
to earn cash. Yet their need to supplement the family
income or to support children if there is no adult male
present may be critical. As more and more men migrate
to mines, oil fields, plantations or cities in search
of jobs, wives who stay behind in the rural areas become
de facto heads of household. Yet control often is
entrusted to male relatives who do not migrate.
Only rarely do women gain title to land, obtain credit
or benefit from rural development programs giving
technical training and agricultural inputs to male
Women who migrate to the cities often are not much
better off. They tend to cluster at the lowest levels
of the traditional labor market--typically domestic
service, street selling or (in Asia) casual unskilled
construction work. Studies show women from the country-
side have less job mobility than male migrants.
Often they are women alone, principal providers for
dependent children whom they must also set to work at
odd jobs (see Buvenic and Youssef 1978). ,
TTI ruraTl a places alike, 'as women observe
more of their children growing to adulthood, they
would like to have fewer pregnancies. But they or
their partners lack a safe and sure method to control
fertility. Women need better health care, safe water,
decent shelter for themselves and their households.
All this is not to imply that men of the poor
majority have no needs or lead lives of happy indolence.
Nor would informed observers assert that women every-
where are uniformly oppressed. Women's position varies
from country to country and even from region to region,
depending upon social class, education, religion,
cultural heritage and level of development. In coun-
tries where trained persons still are scarce, for
example, many educated women rise to positions of
influence far surpassing those occupied by women in
societies considered to be "developed." There is
evidence, too, that women in tribal and peasant cul-
tures often are accorded a more equal status than
their modern sisters because their economic contri-
bution to the household is recognized as vital to
the family's survival.
Yet an impressive number of studies now demon-
strate that in all societies, including our own,
women and men have differential access to power and
resources. In theory, at least, few any longer dispute
that the gaps between men's and women's options must
begin to close before women can become truly equal
partners, able to shoulder the burdens and responsi-
bilities of development and able to reap its full
Concepts and Implementation
In principle, then, there is broad agreement on the
necessity and advantage of incorporating women in
development. Yet translating concepts into practice is
not easy. Certainly many promising efforts are
underway, initiated by institutions and agencies
all over the world, public and private. When we
compare our situation today to that of even five years
ago, we realize that we have come a certain distance.
Nevertheless, in terms of the total development effort,
resources devoted to making women fully participant
have been miniscule.
As was suggested above, there is a growing accept-
ance of the conceEt of incorporating women into the
development enterprise. Indeed, many top officials
are now on record as enthusiastically in favor of
doing so.3 There may be occasional lapses as when a
senior AID official claimed he had a problem under-
standing universal discrimination against women because
his own wife is assistant manager of a bank and his
daughter is about to get her law degree. At lower
levels, there also may be pockets of bureaucratic
resistance to the women in development idea, just as
there is resistance to taking into account in develop-
ment human rights, appropriate technology, environmen-
tal concern, or any new direction. What has impeded
swifter progress, however, is lack of sufficient com-
mitment to implementation of what now is stated policy
in most development agencies Why should this be so?
The situation may, in part at least, grow out of
the fact that historically the world-wide development
"establishment" has been male--and there has been very
little progress in recruiting women into senior and
mid-level policy and executive positions. It is
this question which my paper addresses. We can approach
the question of women and development policy from
A. What is the impact of development policy on
women (and, for better or worse, on their
status and well-being and that of their house-
B. What is the impact of women on development
policy (and, consequently, on the whole devel-
opment enterprise, but particularly on the
amount and kinds of resources directed to
The first question is one which currently is the
topic of lively debate, numerous seminars and work-
shops on how women have been virtually ignored in
the development process, and sets of guidelines on how
to incorporate them. Today there is at least some
attempt, in my own Agency and in others, to insist
that special provision be made in each program and
Project so that women share in development benefits.4
At the same time, there is a growing cautionary lit-
erature pointing out how development programs, at
times, have not simply ignored women, but adversely
affected them. A commonly cited example is the agrarian
reform or agricultural development project which
provides land, training, credit and inputs only to
men, thus seriously jeopardizing women especially in
regions where they traditionally do most of the farming.
The second question has, of course, also been
addressed--principally in pointing out that almost all
women are involved in some kind of productive activity
(and hence in development,whether they are formally
"incorporated" or not), yet they hardly ever are
involved in development in a political or technical
sense, either at the local level, in national govern-
ments or in international development agencies (see,
for example, Papanek 1977:14-15 and Mead 1976-77).
We know, by now, the historic reasons for women's
absence from the command echelons of society, including
policy-making, and they will not be reviewed here.
The issues to be addressed in this paper revolve
around the possible consequences of shifting from an
almost exclusive concern with Question A to some
consideration of Question B. What difference would it
make in policy terms if women (and men fully sensitive
to women's situation in the developing world) were
involved at all levels of development planning?
My thesis is that we would see some difference
if more women were involved in policy making. Policies
certainly are not linked to gender in any mystical
way, nor are all female officials necessarily con-
scious of women's special situation and needs in
the developing world. Indeed, a few women officials
in my own Agency and in others--particularly those
who "made it" on their own in the pre-women's move-
ment era--specifically disassociate themselves from
any consideration of women as a separate development
However, the simple fact is that the "women issue"
is more salient to women, particularly to those women
who want to be involved in development because they
have studied or had experience working with women in
the Third World. We have a rapidly expanding pool of
younger women with degrees in comparative disciplines,
agricultural economics, agronomy and rural development
and/or with Peace Corps or analagous service. We have
an older generation of women with years of experience
in extension work, many of whom have gone far beyond
the boundaries of conventional home economics toward
creative innovation in rural development. Let us
suppose that both types were to be recruited with
greater vigor by my own and other development agencies.
What kinds of changes, additions or modifications in
policy might we expect--not only in relation to women,
but to the total development effort?
Answers to this question must remain highly
speculative, since we have few concrete examples of
differences in policy outputs between female and male
policymakers. We do know that, worldwide, women in
legislative and executive positions often tend to
specialize in health, education uand wl1fre ma.ures
related to the needs of women and children--an extra-
polation of women's role in the family to the larger
community and even the nation. In many countries,
women are forced into feminine-stereotyped fields as
a justification for exercising a public career at all.
Several scholars have explored the implications of the
"supermadre" syndrome, an approach to public policy
which has had both neJ.c-ive and positive consequences.
Among manyN '.3ible modifications and innovations
we might expect from women policymakers and project
directors, the following are suggested, then elaborated
1. More consistency in efforts to address the
potential contribution and needs of Third
2. Attenuation, if not elimination, of male bias
in the design and implementation of develop-
3. Recognition and enhancement of women's produc-
tive roles in developing economies, rather
than the view that women simply are benefici-
aries of development with no contribution to
4. A genuine shift in the priorities of devel-
opment towards a basic human needs strategy;
5. A waning of objections to women's projects
on the pretext that any changes in women's
lives and status may go against a developing
country's religious or cultural norms;
6. A greater understanding that there are no
neat formulae, no universals in development--
much less in the integration of women--and
a greater willingness to experiment, innovate,
take risks and tolerate ambiguity;
7. A qualitative transformation of the total
development effort through the inclusion of
a feminine perspective on a range of concerns
considered in the past peripheral "women's
issues," but which have now moved to the cen-
ter of the policy arena: for example, human
reproduction, food, the environment.
Because the concerns of women are not very salient
to them, male officials seem to find it difficult to
consistently integrate the women in development idea
into their thinking--and hence into the development
programs and processes they control. Senior officials
of many agencies and international entities now are
capable of insightful and informed statements on
women when they specifically address the issue.
But there is a marked tendency to overlook women
when these officials deal with the functional areas
of development. Because they have not fully integrated
knowledge about women's critical role in agriculture,
rural development, shelter, science and technology,
and other areas not viewed as traditionally "feminine"
into their own worldview, they simply forget about
the "woman issue" unless they are focussing on it.
It is amazing how often our own office still must
mau-mau our male colleagues to remind them that a
policy paper or a project proposal would be strength-
ened by taking into account the part women play, to
the improvement of the total effort. Most often
now, these reminders are taken seriously, and the
matter redressed--yet the "tsk tsk" and the "you for-
got again, gentlemen" are not the most effective
policy tools. What would help immensely would be the
active collaboration of women officials and experts
in the various functional areas of development who
would incorporate a concern for women in a policy
statement or as a project component from their incep-
tion, thus gradually eliminating the need for a special
staff to act as policewomen.
Women typically have not been involved in those
larger economic activities until recent times considered the
keys to development: international trade and finance; inter-
national lending and balance of payments negotiation;
production, buying and selling of agricultural, mining
and other commodities and raw materials in the world market.
Nor have women been part of the large-scale, male-
dominated development "enterprises" which deal with
health, sanitation, shelter, communications, rural
electrification, technology transfer, agrarian reform
and agricultural modernization. Even in those agencies,
public and private, which deal with population, .women
are found in large numbers only at the lower levels
of family planning and maternal health delivery sys-
tems, but planners, policymakers and upper-level
administrators are with rare exceptions male.
/ Now there are more and more women with the capa-
city and training to take their place in these larger
systems as policymakers and, at another level, as
experts and consultants on project design teams/
As one step in solving the often-v iced problem
that "we can't find a good woman, our office is in
the initial stages of working w'th several women-
in-development centers to whi we have awarded con-
tracts to identify, roster, rief, backstop and, later,
collect the experiences o a corps of women in devel-
opment technical assist ts available for short and
long-term assignments,/not only to AID missions but
to other development agencies as well. In other words,
we are helping institutionalize an "old girls network."
Incidentally, e shall insist that all those in
the network be ood" women: competent, knowledgable
and experienced, but not r quire that they be extra-
ordinary. Often the sti ulation that a woman be
"good" implies that she/must be twice as good as a
man to be considered.
Also related to the goal of more consistent atten-
tion to women is the necessity for developing an
adequate data base on women's situation and status.
In our own Agency, we have been working for the past
year to incorporate key socio-economic indicators,
classified by sex and a e, into the Agency's data
systems. We resisted t e first suggestion that such
indicators be stored i a "special file," knowing that
then they would be cal ed up only when someone was
designing a "women's project."
Now within the ne t few months, policy people,
project designers an others who have occasion to call
for print outs and c oss tabulations for a variety
of needs will, whet er they ask for them or not, be
faced with statisti s on the gaps between women and men
in literacy, school enrollment, employment and the like.
In cases where rel able data is not available the
computer will carr blank spaces--hopefully, flags
to our AID mission to either supply the missing
information if the know good sources, or to encour-
age the gathering of such data by the appropriate
national entities in the host country. But we know
we will need persons in the countries with a con-
cern for expanding the knowledge base on women before
these things will happen.
Projects to improve national statistics on women
in the developing countries are a logical next step,
particularly when much can be done simply through
minimal financing to encourage the reporting of data
already collected by sex in censuses and national
sample surveys. Probably not much will happen here
either, unless women in the developing countries
undertake the task. In my own experience, for example,
work done in Peru and Chile on gleaning data on women
through secondary analysis of national statistics
has been done by women professionals in several key
agencies--often on their own time.
Our concern with socio-economic indicators cannot
rest, however, on simply accepting what is available.
We must also look critically at the historical devel-
opment of current measures used to evaluate economic
progress and question the very nature of the measures
themselves when they are used to evaluate development.
More and more we are coming to realize that the quan-
titative indicators designed to measure such phenomena
as the movement of international capital, trade balances
and the like are inadequate to tell us what we need
to know about such crucial issues as equity, human rights,
quality of life and the participation of women.
Specifically, we do not have universally-accepted
measures of women's actual and potential economic
contribution to development, even though women in
the Third World always have been intimately involved
in those economic systems which deliver to the poor
their basic human needs in food, shelter, education,
Women and men's economic participation follow dif-
ferent modes. For one thing, women often engage in
productive work which is not paid for in cash and
hence is not included in national account statistics.
At best, they may be included as "unpaid family workers."
For another, women's participation in paid economic
activity often is discontinuous, with several inter-
ruptions for pregnancies and other family-related
"time outs." Sometimes her economic participation is
so intermittent that a woman scarcely distinguishes
it from her domestic routine. For many Third World
women, even those tasks for which they receive remu-
neration simply are viewed as the prolongation of their
home-making responsibilities and thus not reported.
ost women, rural and urban alike, make some economic
contribution to the household, even if it is nothing
more elaborate than cooking extra food to sell at
their doors. Yet such activities often are crucial
to the household's survival even if they cannot be
measured by ordinary yardsticks.
It appears that here, again, women officials
have a task to challenge what Sutton (1976:186)
has called "the power to define." One reaction to our
own office's concern with introducing better ways
to measure women's contribution was an outraged com-
ment in a memo that "the next thing you know they'll
be advocating changing the GNP." Exactly. We touch
here on the necessity to oppose the male-defined
view as the only (and somehow, sacrosanct) reality
with a feminine perspective. A world in which men
have been the active participants in devising measures,
standards, values, meaning, symbols and conceptual
frameworks is one in which women's activities are
regarded as subsidiary and dennr'ry to' and dependent
upon male ends. As Sutton puts it,
In their [women's] present attempt to replace
an imposed vision of reality with one they them-
selves define and control, women are becoming
conscious of the extent to whichh the world is a
male domain and culture is/a structure of knowl-
edge and beliefs erected y men to define them-
selves, their world, and omen's place in it.
Sutton points out that t is consciousness of cul-
ture as a set of concepts nd images controlled by
men reflects the experien e of women in Western society,
and may not be universal But it is the Western world
view, "where men have b en dominant in those sectors
concerned with commodity production, power"--and,
in the context of this dis ussion, we add develop-
ment--which has defined e onomic and social progress
and the tools to measure/them. As Zeidenstein (1978:
16) remarks, development efforts could be enhanced
"if visions were broadened and planners could
seek to understand w at is acceptable and accessible
with 'women's cultu es'--those world views that are
distinct from those of men."
Finally, apart from designing new measures for
aggregate data, other important sources of knowledge
about women are the time-budget and other micro studies
which are making us aware of women's economic con-
tribution. Once again, most of the initiative in
carrying out these studies has been taken by women.
s Zeidenstein (1978:4) asks why this "rich literature
concerning women and development" is not more widely
known and used by development specialists, while the
process of learning about women's roles is, he says,
In my opinion, the answer to these questions
is that political, attitudinal, and conceptual
blocks have been erected by hierarchies prejudiced
by male-defined standards and modes and by male-
oriented conceptual frameworks. Consider, for
example, the complaint that knowledge about women
is still too scanty to allow sufficient analysis
to support policy formulation and programmatic
action but clearly, there is already more
relevant knowledge available than is being used
[and] .development planners and programmers
are well accustomed in most countries to operating
on imperfect knowledge in other areas This
is a troublesome paradox that implies powerful
The above discussion leads us to a second consid-
eration. Women are left out of the development process
not only because men fail to focus consistently on
their needs and contributions (which might be the result
of faulty perception or lack of integration of increas-
ing knowledge about women in their world view), but
also because male bias excludes women in the design
and implementation of development projects. Such bias
may stem from an almost universal failure of male U.S.
development experts to understand and appreciate women's
productive role, particularly in rural areas of the
Even in the U.S., women's participation is not
recognized. As Kohl (1977:47) has suggested in a
study of the North American family farm5, because the
house is defined as woman's responsibility, and the
farm enterprise as the man's, the dominant ideology
portrays agriculture as a male occupation. Such a
stereotype flies in the face of what we all know at
the experiential level: that women (and children)
typically contribute large amounts of agricultural labor
to the U.S. family farm. This attitude carries over
into the agricultural colleges (where, until recently,
women interested in rural life dedicated themselves
almost exclusively to home economics) and, because
rural development initiatives are dominated by officials,
consultants and contractors from the land grant uni-
versities, into the design and implementation of rural
development projects as well.
Even when women's labor on the U.S. family farm
is acknowledged, it is often perceived as abnormal,
an incursion into what is, by rights, a male sphere.
A senior agricultural specialist in AID brought us up
short one day when he announced that "the happiest
day of my life was when my mother no longer had to
go out to help in the fields" back on his family's
midwestern farm. The achievement of a goal signifying
middle-class success in the U.S. was translated by this
official into discomfort in and opposition to seeing
_any woman "in the fields." The perception that women
simply help out when seasonal work is heavy or until
there is money for a hired hand does not accord with
reality on the U.S. family farm where women most often
are full, if unacknowledged, partners in the enterprise.
They participate not only because their economic
contribution is valuable, but because they enjoy the
work and choose to do it. In Kohl's study, many women
put the farmwork ahead of housework in their scale
of priorities. (See also Moock, et al., 1976.)
In the developing world, there are places where a
sexual division of labor is maintained between house
and field, but women still have responsibility for the
crops and often for much more besides. On a visit
to a small farm community in the Andes, word was sent
to my guide to bring me to the house of the lieutenant
governor, a peasant in the traditional political
system which still parallels the official system in
rural Peru. A recent widower, the governor probably
had gotten the idea that any .rin2a wandering around
the sierra alone was available, since a female Peace
Corps volunteer had recently married a young peasant
farmer there. In any event, the lieutenant governor
left off his task of shucking corn with two neighbors
near his house, and straightaway asked me if I would
stay and become his wife.
Not wishing to offend--and curious, too, about the
offer, I stalled for time by asking what my duties
"To care for the children and cook the meals."
(His small children, motherless for six weeks, peeked
around a corner of the house.)
"To care for the garden and the house animals--
but not the field animals." (The surprise on the
faces of the neighbors made me decide afterwards that
the omission of the field animals was a concession
to the gringa who probably would have her hands full
with the chickens and pigs wandering in and out of
the house, in any case.)
"To go to the fields in harvest and seed time."
Pointing out that my home was far away and my mother
would be very sad if I never returned, I told the gov-
ernor that I had noted many fine young women in the
village who would be proud to become his wife and went
my way. The incident points to a truth: the family
farm, whether in the developing or developed world,
demands the partnership of a strong and able woman,
and is not a viable enterprise for a man alone.
The converse, a woman farmer alone, either by tradition
as in parts of Africa (where the husband may have a
"visiting relationship" with several wives) or by
necessity when men have migrated from the countryside
appears to be much more feasible. This is not so
different from the U.S. As Kohl points out, the wife
typically does "men's work" on the family farm, but
the man will not join in the housework or childcare--
thus preserving the fiction that the woman only helps
him, while her chief responsibility remains in the
Many examples of male bias in development pro-
jects could be cited. A description of an agricultural
project in the African Sahel crossed my desk recently.
The project designers state that in the province where
the project is to be carried out, 48 percent of the
farmers are women. So far, so good, you may say:
the planners have seen the light. But wait--three
sentences later, without any apparent consciousness
that the statement is extraordinary, the designers
mention that 15 percent of the project inputs are
to be set aside for the women! There is no explana-
tion of the discrepancy; the implication is that we
are to applaud that the women farmers are included
at all. Indeed, the projects description was sent to
our office as an example of a women in development
Another striking example of male unwillingness to
support what women do is contained in an evaluation
of a World Bank project in another Sahelian country.
Reading between the lines raises many interesting
questions on how the image of the farmer=male=better
During the preparation of the project no specific
consideration was given to women, even though
they were known to play a key role in food crop
production, in the processing of wild palm oil
fruits and in the marketing of oil and maize.
The women have not yet given full support to
the project: It has eliminated a good part of
their annual income, a loss which has been offset
only in part by the possibility of obtaining
paid work in the cooperative Some additional
measures (participation in the cooperative struc-
tures, establishment of stores for the supply of
staples, etc.) would undoubtedly increase the
women's support for the project. That support
is essential to its continued success _for the
women can undermine the design (emphasis added).
They might protest, for instance, by processing
more fruit themselves instead of having them
delivered to the mill
In the early stage of the project, the Bank's
lack of attention to the needs of women farmers
might be explained by its over-optimism about
labor availability, which made the project appear
less dependent upon female participation. The
emerging labor shortage, however, and the large num-
ber of women in the [palm fruit] nurseries, should
have made the Bank more aware of the special role
played by women in a project that had been designed
mostly with men in mind.
A number of interesting questions, some of which
the evaluator himself does not appear to perceive,
are raised by this appraisal. Why was "labor avail-
ability" implicitly defined as male labor availability
when women were already doing the work? Why was the
project clearly presumed to be better off if not forced
to depend upon female participation--an option the
designers "optimistically" felt they could avoid?
Was the presence of women in roles Westerners would
define as unfeminine--crop production, processing a
commercial product, marketing--seen as abnormal, a
situation which a development project could correct
by substituting male labor?
Are women now only to be
pacified with "additional measures" (others mentioned
include a program of home economics!) because other-
wise they will "undermine" the project--and not because
most of their income has been cut off? Is the reluc-
tant concession of possible additional participation
in the cooperative structures now contemplated only
because there is an emerging labor shortage or because
the women might boycott the mill?
Such examples could be multiplied. Lest one con-
clude that these are atypical, let me assure you that
they are illustrative of definite patterns of sys-
tematic male bias throughout the development enterprise.
In my own Agency, we are conducting an interesting exer-
cise with a random sampling of the 1980 budgets of
AID missions. Each mission must present four budget
levels and indicate what it could accomplish at each
level of funding: minimum, current, proposed and
expanded. So far (to be fair, we are not yet finished
with the analysis), we note that women's projects
when they are included at all inevitably are the pro-
jects a mission proposes to cut if it is forced back
to a minimum level of funding. Women are not perceived
to be one-half of the population--indeed, more than
one-half if we are talking about the poor majority.
Women's projects are the "frills" you cut out so that
you can carry on with the real work of development.
One wonders if the priorities would be so arranged
if more mission directors were women.
Women's Productive Role
Bringing more women officials into the develop-
ment enterprise might also have the consequence of
shifting concern almost exclusively from women as
beneficiaries to women as productive contributors,
as active agents of development. Germain has explored
this question forcefully in a recent article (1976-77),
and I will therefore only touch upon several high-
lights of her argument. Germain's principal thesis
is that the hardworking, shrewd and productive women
in many Third World countries should not be viewed
simply as beneficiaries or "welfare problems," but
resources upon which development planners should draw.
While not suggesting that women should now be involved
only because we suddenly have discovered they can be
important means towards development success, she
nevertheless makes a strong case that there are eco-
nomic justifications for full investment in women--
and indeed, that development progress will seriously
be jeopardized if policies and programs for women continue
to be concentrated mainly on welfare services (health,
family planning) and instruction in nutrition, child-
care, and home economics.
Certainly no one would argue against such programs;
the case Germain and others are making is that even
in these programs the approach must be broadened to
include women in their non-mothering roles. Sometimes
reading through project descriptions in my own agency,
one wonders if the men ever see women except in relation
to their reproductive capacities (and, not coincidentally,
when they are most dependent). Nutrition projects are
invariably cast in terms of the importance of sufficient
calories for pregnant and lactating mothers, and health
projects also emphasize maternal and child health,
never mentioning that women also have general health
needs that ought to be addressed. As Zeidenstein
(1978:10) observes, the emphasis in such programs has
been on "women as nurturers of others: food preparers,
bearers of children, sources of human milk. Programs
must also recognize that women need nutritious foods
when they are not pregnant or nursing."
So far as their directly productive roles are
concerned, Germain outlines the case succintly.
Third World women, she say, especially poor women
desire training, tools, and organization mechanisms
to help them do better the productive work they
must do, to reduce the burdens of that work, and to
increase income from it.
Basic Human Needs
Such a redirection of our orientation toward
women in development from the "demand" or beneficiary
side of the development equation to the "supply" or
productive side will lead inevitably to more emphasis
on basic human needs. It is the world's women, far
more than the men, who have been channelled by cir-
cumstances, custom and prejudice to the direct respon-
sibility in providing their own and their families'
food, clothing, shelter, first education and primary
health care. John J. Gilligan noted recently (1978)
that in the year he has administered the Agency for
International Development, he has become convinced
that the economic and social development of the
may well depend on women--far more than it will
depend on men Forty to seventy percent of
Third World agricultural labor is female. Depending
on the traditions and customs of a particular coun-
try, they plant the seed, haul the water, till the
soil, harvest the crops, market the produce, tend
the animals and strive to keep their families
alive by growing the village vegetable gardens .
If women--in their interest and ours--are sig-
nificantly to increase food production, they must
learn the use of new fertilizers, irrigation sys-
tems and power machinery. They must have roads
to get their produce to market, and they must have
transportation on those roads. They must have pro-
vision for food processing and storage and under-
stand how to use it, and they must have simple
economic structures to provide them with credit.
Gilligan goes on to note that, until recently,
the wives, daughters and hired female laborers have
been largely ignored in development projects "because
Western development experts simply assumed that far-
mers were male," and he points to the remedy in "a
growing awareness of a fact that women everywhere
have always known: That women play the major role
in determining the health of their families, in acquir-
ing and preparing food for them." Such awareness would
be enhanced--and the whole basic human needs strategy
of development strengthened--if more women officials
were around to keep reminding their colleagues that it
is the women of the world who will be, as Gilligan
noted on another occasion (1977), "the decisive force
in seeing to it that the world's poor have enough
to eat, drink clean water, eat nourishing food, live
to adulthood and become literate."
Another difficulty in implementing the women in
development concept often voiced by male planners is
their perception that too much attention to women might
be offensive to host governments in certain countries
where legal or religious proscriptions limit women's
activities. Women themselves sometimes have inter-
nalized their society's prevailing beliefs on women's
proper role. Societies in the developing world quite
rightly want to preserve their own cultural values;
sometimes the trade-offs between gains in development
and loss in traditions are so difficult to balance
that countries are tempted to turn their backs on
Yet once having chosen development, modernization,
national liberation, or whatever the leaders may choose
to call it, nations cannot escape the fact that their
( &&a.' -h^ 4 fi aLia.foert>
societies change in fundamental ways. In the long run,
the fabric of cultures and the unity of families -Le
will be even more seriously torn asunder if the male
part of society attempts to enter the 20th century,
leaving most of the women to live under the restric-
tions of a previous era. It is not only educated men
who do not want ignorant village women for wives, for
that is how they come to perceive them. A UN study
documents the same problem even among relatively
uneducated male migrant workers who reject their tra-
ditional wives after even brief experience away from
Moreover, experience has shown that women in even
the most "backward" (to our way of thinking) areas
are ready to make progress. Everywhere there are women
leaders shrewd enough to make changes without offend-
ing their own cultural norms. It is often simply a
question of consulting them and letting them guide
us in helping them go where they wish to be. In such
situations, women experts and consultants, women
survey designers and project managers, have obvious
Our own Agency, for example, has an innovative
revolving rural credit scheme for women in 60 vil-
lages in Upper Volta. Women extension agents there
are being trained in loan management to get around
the fact that women may not deal with males who are
not family members. We need more such creativity,
rather than the attitude that nothing can be done
because of culture and traditions. The AID Women in
Development Office's "consultation" with Third World
Women at Houston last year provided much evidence
that women even in the most closed societies want to
improve their status :and options. An insightful
paper on women in the Near East, authored by Roxann
Van Dusen, AID's Women in Development Officer in the
Near East Bureau, makes the same point (1977), as
does Perdita Huston's Third World Women Speak Out
We need also to keep in mind that often the involve-
ment of women in economic activities may be quite in
keeping with their own societal traditions--that it
is our cultural norms which are offended. An AID
report (1978b) on women in Upper Volta strongly sup-
ports the idea that a wide range of women's activities
are in harmony with Voltaic traditions:
The Voltaic woman has always contributed to
the family's food production which is under the
control of the head of the family. She also had
a personal income under her own control, which
she used to provide for certain clearly prescribed
responsibilities to the family as well as her per-
sonal needs. It is this role of provider of spe-
cific indispensable items for the family and for
herself, and a certain self-sufficiency, which the
,women feel is threatened. Voltaic development
efforts tend to withhold from the woman agricul-
tural training, tools, and products necessary for
modern agricultural production, as well as trans-
portation, mobility, education, and resources for
entry into modern commerce or industry. She thus
becomes economically crippled in the modern world.
The women in this study want planners, Voltaic
and foreign alike, and all Voltaics (especially
husbands) to realize that active and responsible
participation in the economic life of the family
and the country is neither new nor threatening.
It is, indeed, necessary if the woman is to con-
tinue her role as an essential part of an harmo-
nious economic, social, and political unit instead
of following the essentially foreign pattern of
being limited to the role of wife-servant in the
service of the family.
Very often male officials object to women in devel-
opment programs as "exporting" the ideas of the U.S.
women's movement and therefore as another expression
of cultural imperialism. However, even a cursory
survey of new initiatives taken by women in the devel-
oping world demonstrates that the women in development
idea is broader than our own national women's movement
and was not directly produced by it. It is true that
U.S. women's organizations got behind the original
women-in-development amendment introduced by Senator
Percy in 1973. It is also true that strong resolu-
tions on the incorporation of women in international
development were passed at last November's National
Women's Conference in Houston. However, it is well
to recognize that the women's movement, as is the way
with social movements, now has a life of its own,
transcending the boundaries of the developed world
where it originated.
Ideas unleased by the International Women's Year
in 1975 and the current Decade for Women penetrate
to the farthest corners of the globe. A recent study
shows that the most modest slum dweller of Lima's
barriadas now knows that a sea change is in the air.
Such change may mean very little for her own life,
but now she will articulate her belief that women and
men have equal rights and responsibilities, and her
hopes that her daughters will have more options than
The worldwide women's movement is bound to have
repercussions which we do not yet fully understand
or comprehend. Outcomes of social movements are unpre-
dictable, outside of anyone's control. Additional
claimants on scarce resources and development gains
are threatening--just as were the claims of workers in
the Eurpose of 1858 and of Blacks in the U.S. in 1865.
We can respond to such claims creatively. We ignore
them at our peril.
Implementation of women in development also may be
impeded because many are distracted by a fruitless
search for some overall "philosophy" on which all can
agree, some neat formulae to guide the incorporation
of women into the mainstream of development efforts.
Almost to a man, our male colleagues in AID ask us
for such guidelines and formulae. Yet even in the
male world of development, the search for some kind of
simplified, handy "ABCs of development" has proved
illusory. If we have learned anything since the opti-
mistic days of the early 1960s when it seemed as if
problems in the developing world would at least be
under control in a decade or two, it is that develop-
ment is a complex process. Women in development is
no less so. Every variable we touch reverberates and
reacts with others in dozens of intended and unintended
consequences, some of which may not be perceived for
years, others of which we may never have more than
vague suspicions of any causal connection.
In some societies, for example, the teaching of
sewing, handicrafts, child care and nutrition may be
assigning women to the home and further reinforcing
sex segregation in economic activity (or indeed, as
Germain has suggested, reinforcing mothering roles
even where the agencies and governments involved are
concerned about reducing population growth). In other
societies, these activities may be important steps in
overall development. Progress in redressing this
situation is hampered, as Germain (1976-77:161) notes,
because there are "few experienced staff or useful
programmed policy models on which to draw."
Do women tolerate this kind of ambiguity more
easily than men? A final argument that more women ought
to be involved at both the program and policy level
might be made here. In the area of women and develop-
ment, there perhaps is only one certainty: that every-
thing is uncertain. Yet this need not lead us to
despair or inaction--we can move ahead, providing we
build on what we know and let each succeeding effort
inform and guide us on the next ones to be taken.
Close collaboration with local women and women's orga-
nizations is essential at every step.
What is certain is that every country and region--
indeed, every local village and community--must find
its own solutions. This means that policy on women
and development must be flexible, adapting to local
situations as they currently exist, identifying oppor-
tunities for constructive change, making allowances for
inevitable miscalculations, and taking both a short
and a long term view.
No argument is being made here for gradualism.
Margaret Mead (1976-77:159) takes a forceful stand
against slow change which, she says, often requires
adjustments that in turn become as dysfunctional as
the situation they were meant to correct. To accommo-
date extremely rapid change today, she says, it is neces-
sary to make as many simultaneous changes as possible.
for the involvement of women in international
affairs, all the precursors of change must go
on at once: the appointment of women to the
highest posts and the reorganization of the demands
on those positions so that they do not handicap
women who hold them; the insistence on proportional
representation of women in all international teams,
delegations, etc.; the creation of professional
institutions in which both boys and girls are
first taught to respect all fields of human activ-
ities and then given professional participation
in any of them
--for women: agriculture, irrigation, town
planning, architecture and the conduct of
--and for men: nutrition, child care, para-
medical services, domestic services, archi-
tecture and services, architecture and
The above comments of Mead lead us to the final
consideration in this paper:
that the participation of
women officials, at the local, national and international
levels would not only affect programming for women, but
has the potential to affect how we view development
In their traditional feminine pursuits, women
throughout the world have cared for the sick and old;
produced and processed the basic necessities of food,
clothing and shelter; taught the young; administered what
social welfare resources were available, and carried
on dozens of essential volunteer activities.
If we are considering a rational allocation of
resources, perhaps governments should not be too quick
to suggest that women move out of these fields into
those until recently considered more "developmental."
Who would then perform these productive and essential
tasks? Indeed, the very fields in which women today are
principally engaged cry out for inventive and enter-
prising women to revolutionize them. Except in certain
Western countries, men have not yet moved into these
fields in great numbers, and women will encr6unter few
barriers towards creative and innovative experiment.
Without entering into the controversy about devel-
opment priorities, there does seem to be general agree-
ment today that the concept of development needs to be
broadened. If this is so--if development demands both
economic inputs and investment in human resources--
Sullerot (1971:248) concludes that women today are having
their "unwitting revenge" for being left out, since
even the most powerful political leaders cannot impose
solutions without the positive collaboration of women.
Mead (1976-77:157-58) takes up the same theme; and
I will let her have the last word:
Regardless of whether women are better fitted to
plan for the care and feeding of children, the
conservation of food and resources, and the pro-
tection against threats of nuclear weapon build-
up and proliferation, these activities all have
present-day models in women's roles in families,
villages and neighborhoods. When there are no
women's voices heard in the international councils
related to food or population control, the debate
is one-sided .
At present, it is enough to know that because such
matters have been women's concern throughout the
ages, if women are excluded from decision making
at the present time, there will be no one to take
these matters into account. Cases in point are
the low status of women in the field of nutrition
in the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the
program for population control conducted by AID
which scatters contraceptives without carefully
considering the attitudes of women who will or
will not be bearing babies.
For a better balanced world, committed to conser-
vation, providing for the hungry and the deprived,
and cherishing the dwindling resources of the planet,
we need the participation of women, exercising the
historic role for which they have been trained .
1. In October 1974, the Agency for International
Development established an Office for Women in
Development, in response to the Percy Amendment
to the Foreign Assistance Act of the previous year
which called for U.S. bilateral assistance to "be
administered so as to give particular attention
to those programs, projects, and activities which
tend to integrate women into the national economies
of foreign countries, thus improving their status
and assisting the total development effort."
For the first 22 months of its existence, the Women
in Development Office at AID was part of the Agency's
Equal Opportunity Program Office. In August 1976,
the Office was separated from EOP with an Acting
Coordinator, and in April 1977, Arvonne Fraser
became Coordinator and the staff moved to its pre-
sent location. Under the recent AID reorganization,
the Office has become part of the Bureau for Pro-
gram and Policy Coordination.
2. See, for example, Boserup (1970); Boserup and
Liljencrantz (1975); Fernea and Bezirgan (1977);
Giele and Smock (1977); Hafkin and Bay (1976);
Iglitzin and Ross (1976); Knaster (1977); Nash
and Safa (1976); Rihani (1978); Saulniers and Rakow-
ski (1977); Tinker and Bramsen (1976); Youssef (1974),
and special issues of the Journal of International
Affairs and SiLns, cited in the bibliography.
3. See, for example, AID (1978:14-16; 20); John J.
Gilligan (1977 and 1978); Robert S. McNamara (1977)
and George Zeidenstein (1977).
4. For convenience, in our Office we have classified
women in development projects along a kind of con-
tinuum. Every project should be designed to include
women, and the impact statement--the requirement
that each project and activity be examined in terms
of its effects on women--can be, but often is not,
an indication that consideration of women has been
a major factor in designing the project. Unfor-
tunately, such a statement often is added on as an
afterthought, or is "boilerplate," lifted from
another project paper.
Thus other strategies become necessary. There are
women-pEecific or women-only_ projects, those designed
to help close a gap and enable women to catch up
in one area or another. Those who favor giving a
special impetus to women's programs and projects
have no desire to foster or reinforce separatism;
they simply recognize what experience has taught us.
Women are overlooked if their need to catch up--
educationally, economically, politically--is not
Then there is the add-on or women's component in
a larger project. For example, in agricultural
projects, we may look at women's role in food pro-
duction or in cash cropping, and devise women's
components to make sure that women who raise food
are not displaced; that they benefit from training
programs in their countries and in the U.S.; that
extension workers deal with women as well as men,
and that appropriate technology, agricultural inputs
and credit also reach women.
Finally, there is the possibility of incorporating
women into an integrated development project.
This goal is now largely a dream, not a reality.
We do not believe we know enough in most places to
put together a large, integrated development project--
much less one which takes into account what women
do in the region and how their situation can be
improved in several interrelated areas of life and
activity. Such projects require intimate and exten-
sive knowledge of all the factors involved in the
community, the region and the national economy;
the delineation of a set of goals, and of criteria
5. Kohl's case study is Saskatchewan, but her observa-
tions appear to hold for other rural areas of North
America in Canada and the U.S.
Agency for International Development
1978(a) Agricultural Development Policy Paper.
Washington, D.C.: AID.
Agency for International Development
1978(b) Social and Economic Development in
Upper Volta: Woman's Perspective.
Regional Economic Development Services
for Africa and Societe Africaine d'Etudes
et de Developpment.
Women's Role in Economic Development.
New York: St. Martin's Press.
Ester and Christina Liljencrantz
Integration of Women in Development:
Why, When, How. New York: United Nations
Women and World Development: An Annotated
Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Overseas
Mayra and Nadia H. Youssef
Women-Headed Households: The Ignored
Factor in Development Planning. Report
Submitted to the Office of Women in
Development, AID, by the International
Center for Research on Women.
Fernea, Elizabeth Wernock and Basima Qattan Bezirgan
1977 Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak.
Austin: University of Texas Press.
1976-77 "Poor Rural Women: A Policy Perspective."
Journal of International Affairs 30, 2
Giele, Janet Zillinger and Audrey Chapaman Smock, eds.
1977 Women: Roles and Status in Eight Countries.
New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Gilliagn, John J.
1977 "The Role of Women in the Economic Life
of the Thrid World," Address to the
Partners of the Americas International
Convention, Santo Domingo, November.
Gilliagan, John J.
1978 "Women and Their Importance in the Third
World," Address to a Conference of the
American Association of Univeristy Women,
excerpted in The Washington Post, June 24.
Hafkin, Nancy J. and Edna G. Bay
1976 Women in Africa:
Studies in Social and
1978 Third World Women Speak Out: Interviews
in Six Countries on Change, Development,
and Basic Needs. Washington, D.C.:
Overseas Development Council, forthcoming.
Iglitzin, Lynne B. and Ruth Ross, eds.
1976 Women in the World: A Comparative Study.
Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC/Clio Press.
International Labour Office
1977 Meeting Basic Needs: Strategies for
Eradicating Mass Poverty and Unemployment.
Journal of International Affairs
1976-77 "Women and Change in the Developing World,"
Special Issue, 30, 2 (Fall/Winter).
Kohl, Seena B
Women in Spanish America: An Annotated
Bibliography from pre-Conquest to Con-
temporary Times. Boston: G.K. Hall
"Women's Participation in the North
American Family Farm,: Women's Studies
International Quarterly 1, 1:47-54.
McNamara, Robert S.
1977 "An Address on the Population Problem,"
Massachusetts Institue of Technology,
1976-77 "Women in the International World,"
Journal of International Affairs 30, 2
1977 "Development Planning for Women," Signs:
Journal of Women in Culture and Society
3, 1 (Autumn): 14-21.
1978 Development As If Women Mattered:
An Annotated Bibliography with a Third
World Focus. Washington, D.C.: Overseas
Development Council. Occasional Paper
Saulniers, Suzanne Smith and Cathy A. Rakowski
1977 Women in the Development Process:
A Select Bibliography on Women in Sub-
Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Austin: University of Texas Press for
the Institute of Latin American Studies.
Journal of Women in Culture and Society
"Women and National Development,"
Special Issue, 3, 1 (Autumn).
1971 Women, Society and Change. Translated
from the French by Margaret Scotford
Archer. New York: McGraw-Hill Book
Sutton, Constance R.
1976 "The Power to Define: Women, Culture
and Consciousness," pp. 186-98, in
Roy S. Bryce-Laporte and Claudewell
S. Thomas, eds., Alienation in Contemporary
Society: A Multidisciplinary Examination.
New York: Praeger.
Tinker, Irene S.
1974 'The Widening Gap," International Devel-
opment Review 16, 4: 40-42.
Tinker, Irene S.
1976 "The Adverse Impact of Development on
Women," pp. 22034, in Irene Tinker and
Michele Bo Bramsen, eds., Women and
World Development. Washington, D.C.:
Overseas Development Council.
N I ,I
Tinker, Irene S. and Michele Bo Bramsen, eds.
1976 Women and World Development.
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and Briefing before the Subcommittees on
International Organizations and on
International Development, Committee
on International Relations. 95th Congress,
Second Session, March 8 and 22, 1978.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Print-
Van Dusen, Roxann
1977 Integrating Women inton National Economies:
Programming Considerations with Special
Reference to the Near East. Washington,
D.C.: Near East Bureau, AID.
Ward, Barbara, J.D. Ruannalls and Lenore D'Anjou, eds.
1971 The Widening Gap: A Report to the Columbia
Conference on International Economic
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New York, February 15 to 21, 1970.
New York: Columbia University Press.
Youssef, Nadia W.
1974 Women and Work in Developing Countries.
Berkeley: Institute of International
Studies, University of California.
Population Monograph Series No. 15.
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paper appearing as "The President's Report"
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1976 "The Economics of the Farm Family,"
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