Despite the suffusion of gender in almost all socio-cultural-economic-environmental endeavour, the gender lens to development needs to be interpreted with respect to its context-specificity.
We write this essay to essentially emphasise on a few critical rationales for contextualising gender in the developmental discourse. Our fundamental contention here is that gender is not merely an equity concern, but is cross-cutting and in-built across the triad of the irreconcilable trinity of equity, efficiency, and sustainability, which are the three major pillars of development governance at global, national, sub-national, and local levels. Rather, bringing the gender dimension in the broader developmental policy discourse helps in the reconciliation process.
Development discourse has undergone significant changes over the last fifty years with the paradigm shift from reductionist “growth” paradigm to holistic “sustainability” concerns. UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), therefore, today stand as the cornerstone of global development governance, despite “growth-fetishism” persisting in many parts of the developing and underdeveloped world. This new holistic approach to development enshrined in the SDGs talk of gender equality as one of the goals (SDG 5) to be achieved by 2030 like all other goals. The concern of “en-genderising” the development discourse is of course not new, and has been on vogue over the last 4-5 decades. As has generally been witnessed over the last few decades, the analysis by placing a gender lens in the development discourse is being accentuated through efforts by development practitioners, advocates of gender equality, and scholars working at the interdisciplinary interface of gender and the development discourse.
Though it may be felt that gender neutrality brings about objectivity in analysis without getting value-judgmental, the concern of development at a particular level gets more normative. At a deeper level of the developmental discourse, gender gets suffused across all arenas of the study, policy and practice. The generic misconception about adding a gender lens to development has been with merely adding women in the decision-making or studying gender independent of various other developmental facets, highlighting the simple organic divergences between man and woman based on their reproductive abilities, menstrual cycles, etc. or about ending sexual abuse and marital hostilities. According to a 2015 publication by Connell and Pearse, the gender lens to development brings about an understanding of the systemic structures, functions, and processes institutionalising gender in power relations on multiple scales. Of course, the processes at various scales need to be construed through the forces that are contingent upon the ambient socio-economic-cultural processes. Therefore, despite the suffusion of gender in almost all socio-cultural-economic-environmental endeavour, the gender lens to development needs to be interpreted with respect to its context-specificity. In the words of Wendy Harcourt, “Gender is lived differently in diverse places, bodies and locations. Gender and development looks at how gender relations occur on a local to a world scale, as local gender relations interact with the global arena.”
Apparently, gender equality appears to be an “equity” concern. Marginalisation of women and transgender and their deprivation from ownership of resources continued for centuries in certain geographies. From a pure ethical-normative perspective, this deprivation creates unequal power relations that emerged from sheer biological differences at birth. From a feminist viewpoint, this creates an unequal world. This can be evidenced from the fact that there are still 49 countries in the world where there is no law which can protect women from domestic violence and 39 counties in the world still do not allow equal inheritance law for daughter and son.
On the other hand, a deeper insight into bringing in the gender lens to development brings forth the “efficiency” dimension of development paradigm. Studies show that women’s economic empowerment can help poverty reduction, and create a more educated next generation. This became apparent with the shift about the perception of women. Status of women changed from recipients of welfare schemes to active contributor to development process. It was understood that development cannot be achieved without active involvement of women in the development process.
The quintessential role of women in development received momentum in 1970 when the General Assembly of the United Nations decided in favour of integration of women in development strategies for the second United Nations development decade (1971-80).The concept of Women in Development or WID also emerged around that time. The idea here is that by addressing equity concerns, efficiency concerns can also be addressed. As more opportunities for women are created, they can meet family needs, which can have positive impact on national development. The concept of Gender in Development or GID developed in 1980s looked at women’s role from a much more holistic perspective than WID. It looked at all aspects including improving educational and employment opportunities for women.
From here flows the sustainability concern. To elucidate that, we bring in the notion of four factors of capital, namely, social capital, human capital, physical capital, and natural capital. A recent ORF paper argued that the SDGs are embedded in these four factors, which are also enabling factors for ease of doing business. It needs to be noted here that the gender lens to development brings forth the view that all the SDGs are contingent upon the achievement of SDG 5.
In this context, we refer to a 2015 McKinsey report that raises concern about Saudi Arabia’s depleting oil reserves, which so far has been the fulcrum of the Saudi economy. What will happen to Saudi Arabia in a “non-oil” economy? McKinsey prescribes that the economy needs to realise its potential through a productivity-led transformation. This is possible through a shift from the government-led economic model to a more market-oriented approach: this definitely needs enabling greater women participation in the workforce that may go against the norms of Saudi’s otherwise conservative social system. In one sense, the prescription is for replacing the losses from an otherwise depleting “natural capital” through better utilisation of “human capital” in a more diversified economy. This will help sustaining the growth, and lead to lower exploitation of the natural capital. This is where the “sweet spot” of demographic dividend can be hit: a situation when in an economy, skilled, productively employed healthy workers grow faster than the population.
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Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh is a Director at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India. In that capacity, he heads two centres at the Foundation, namely, the ...Read More +
Dr. Dutta Gupta is currently associated with BML Munjal University as Associate Professor of Economics. She is a Ph.D. in Economics from Jadavpur University. She ...Read More +