Economic Development And Women Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Economic Development And Women Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of economics research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

The consequences of economic development on women during the last half of the twentieth century have been tumultuous as traditional cultural protections and limitations prescribed for women are constantly being challenged and reconfigured. Around the world women have organized to influence development policies and to moderate the adverse impacts of rapid socio-economic change, an activity collectively referred to as women in international development (WID). This combination of activists, practitioners, and scholars has lobbied international agencies, national governments, and nongovernmental organizations so successfully that the consideration of women has become an integral part of development planning. The cumulative result of this political activity, given focus and visibility through the United Nations (UN) World Conferences for Women, has been the creation of a global women’s movement, perhaps the most significant social movement of our times.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

The first section documents the incorporation of women’s issues into international development policy at the UN and at the national levels as a result of pressure by women’s organizations, and reviews the four world conferences for women. The second section follows the evolution of programming for poor women in developing countries and underscores the significance of organizing women at the village or community levels. Significant debates about the goals and process of such programs are summarized. The final section shows how topical conferences organized by the UN provided a venue for inserting critical women’s issues into official UN documents concerning human rights, population, and habitat.

1. Affecting International Development Policy

The UN was established in 1945 with its 50 members drawn largely from industrialized countries. By the mid-1960s, a majority of the UN members represented developing countries of Asia and Africa. Their concern with economic development propelled this new dimension into global politics. The first UN Development Decade 1960–70 emphasized infrastructure and industrial projects and was modeled on the successes of the Marshall Plan for redevelopment of a devastated Europe. Former colonial countries, which had often resisted granting independence, sought to maintain their trading advantage with former colonies by supplying funds and personnel to assist in modernization of these countries. Other industrialized countries as well as the former USSR and the Eastern Bloc offered bilateral assistance to selected countries. Respective UN agencies established programs in health, agriculture, employment, and education; the World Bank provided loans at low interest rates. Since some were much better positioned than others to benefit from these programs, the immediate result of these vast infusions of funds was increased inequality of income within the countries.

Concerned with this trend, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) reacted to the UN Report on the World Situation by passing a resolution in 1963 tying social and economic issues together. Social issues clearly applied to women, since women delegates at the UN were often leaders of women’s organizations in their own newly independent countries that were demanding a voice in planning at home, they supported a 1963 UN General Assembly resolution calling for women to be appointed to those bodies preparing national development plans (Jayawardene 1986, Snyder and Tadesse 1995).

The debates about development priorities were reflected in the Second Development Decade 1970–80, with its emphasis on basic human needs. The refocus of development programming from macrodevelopment toward outreach to people was critical as it allowed advocates for women in development to document the distinct ways that economic development affected women as opposed to men. Poor women everywhere perform economic activities, from farming to microenterprise to household production; because income data excluded subsistence and exchange activities, women’s roles were invisible to planners who subsequently ignored or undercut women’s livelihoods. Impetus for including women in development planning emerged, as do so many ideas whose time has come, from three distinct directions: from women in the UN, from women in Washington, DC, and from national women’s organizations in developing countries.

1.1 Women Influencing The UN

The nineteenth-century women’s movement focused on women’s legal rights, particularly the right to vote. These issues, including education, continued to dominate the UN Commission on the Status of Women after it was set up in 1947 as the result of lobbying, especially by women from Latin America who had been active in a similar body of the Organization of American States. Despite a limited budget and staff, the Commission, working with international women’s organizations participating at the UN, was successful in steering a series of conventions through the UN General Assembly on women’s rights relating to citizenship, marriage, and inheritance. Planning for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) began in 1965; before it was recognized as a treaty in 1980, additional articles were added to reflect documents from the women’s conferences (see below). UN conventions must be ratified by member states before they take on the force of law in a particular country, but ratification does not always mean implementation. Nonetheless, the existence of CEDAW and other UN documents exerts strong pressure on governments to expand women’s rights. Women’s groups often present ‘shadow’ reports to the UN Committee that monitors implementation when they believe their governments are not complying with the Convention (Fraser 1999, Winslow 1995).

At the same time, pressure by developing country delegates was building to consider women’s economic roles, in addition to legal and social rights that were still the primary focus of the Commission. A 1969 report of a meeting of experts reiterated the evidence of increased inequality between rich and poor under the capitalist approach to development, and since development ignored women’s economic roles, the report stressed the importance of ‘integrating women in development’, a phrase widely adopted in subsequent documents. A second experts’ meeting in 1972 was convened to explore the relationships between women and development and was co-sponsored by the Commission. Rapporteur of the meeting, and member of the UN Development Planning Committee, was Ester Boserup, whose landmark book Woman’s Role in Economic Development had been published in 1970 (Boserup 1970). Of her role in that meeting, Boserup writes that the Secretariat of the Commission ‘saw it as a means to get members of the Commission to change their focus from the generally unpopular subject of abstract women’s rights to the popular one of economic development’ (Boserup 1999, p. 49).

Boserup had found that even in countries with a large participation of women in agriculture, women were nonetheless classified as housewives or ‘nonactive’ persons. To challenge these data categories, Boserup assembled case studies from Asian and African countries that provided hours worked by women and men in both paid and unpaid work, including agricultural work, household enterprises, and the fetching of fuel and water (Boserup 1970). Women’s work varies by agricultural system: in Africa south of the Sahara women are the primary farmers while men assist in clearing the fields and protecting their homes. The plow changed agricultural techniques and required men as well as women to work in the fields but gave men control over new technologies, to women’s disadvantage. Boserup believed that population increase drove the technological change which in turn altered women’s roles. Male migration to cities is easier where women are farmers as in Africa; female migration predominated in Latin America where women had little agricultural role (Boserup 1999). Her work sparked a tremendous interest in producing further case studies to corroborate or challenge this evolutionary presentation.

1.2 Adding A Concern For Women To National Policy

The UN influences the world view on issues through debate, resolutions, and world conference, but it does not set national policy. The shift of goals in the Second Development Decade documents caused the US Congress to amend its Foreign Assistance Act of 1960 to include an emphasis on basic human needs. As a result of lobbying by the women’s caucus (Women in Development or WID) of the Society for International Development (SID), the amended law of 1973 incorporated language of the UN 1969 resolution to integrate Women in Development programming (Tinker 1990). An office of Women in Development was established within the US Agency for International Development to carry out the Congressional mandate.

The United States was the major donor country at the time; its policies were widely observed in the West. Because the WID amendment required existing programs to consider women’s roles when implementing them, it had an immediate impact on the development community and precipitated resolutions in UN implementing agencies and changes in assistance policies in many countries. These rapid changes occurred as a result of the efforts of women within the institutions concerned as well as activists in national and international women’s organizations. (Women’s activities in UN agencies and in NGOs are reported in Meyer and Prugl 1999.)

1.3 UN World Conferences For Women

The growing strength and visibility of the reinvigorated women’s movement supported the CSW’s request for a conference to mark International Women’s Year in 1975. The UN concurred, proclaiming the themes for the year and conference as ‘equality, development, and peace’ reflecting the primary preoccupations of the three UN Blocs of East, West, and Third World. The official World Conference for Women was held in Mexico City in June 1975. The upsurge of support for further exploration of women’s changing status led the UN to declare a Decade for Women 1976–85, and to hold both a Mid-decade Conference in Copenhagen in 1980 and one discussing ‘Forward Looking Strategies’ in Nairobi in 1985. In 1995 a Fourth UN World Conference for Women was convened in Beijing.

At each major UN world conference since 1972, nongovernmental organizations have organized a parallel event, an NGO Forum, that is open to the public. These meetings combine professional panels with the gaiety of a fair; they provide a way to disseminate new ideas and research to UN delegates as well as among the growing NGO community. Participants at the parallel NGO conferences far exceeded official delegates and provided most of the media coverage. The number of women and a few men attending NGO activities has risen steadily: 6,000 at Mexico City, 8,000 at Copenhagen, 14,000 at Nairobi, and 20,000–25,000 at Beijing; official delegates of states and UN agencies have increased to about 3,500 while the number of NGO representatives allowed to observe the official proceedings has grown to nearly 1,000. Nearly 30,000 participants and numerous media gave exceptional visibility to women’s issues during the Beijing meeting.

Official UN conference documents are the subject of many rounds of debates in regional meetings and in preparatory committees, and the language is freighted with global debates of the day (Tinker and Jaquette 1987). Limited amendments are possible during the two-week conferences, but overtime activists learned how to insert phrases and paragraphs throughout the process so that the resultant documents reflected issues of concern raised by women’s organizations and research centers. Although official UN documents lack the force of law, the moral power of conventions is considerable and provides activists in individual countries with a powerful tool to demand reform at home.

The psychological dimensions of this mobilization process should not be underestimated. The four world conferences and the many events that surrounded them provided the opportunity for women to recognize that women’s agendas are legitimate, and united women across ideological and national boundaries. The networking that grew out of these lobbying efforts fed the global women’s movement.

1.4 Development As A Woman’s Issue

Of the three themes of the Second Decade, development was the newest and most salient to the Global South. Information on women’s roles in development was scarce. A major seminar, convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, preceded the Mexico City conference and brought together over 100 women and men who had studied these issues. The official conference created the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) to facilitate further documentation, and the UN Statistical Office began to request sex-disaggregated data from all member countries. The International Labor Organization produced studies on women workers around the world (Beneria 1982). Scholars from the developing countries wrote reports for the Copenhagen conference. This outpouring of literature on women and development documented women’s economic contributions to family and country, the existence of women-headed households, the impoverishment of women that followed monetization of the economy, the activities of women’s organizations and NGOs in poverty alleviation programs, and the limitations placed on women by religion, culture, class, and law. Development policies have been reconceptualized as a result of these studies that make women’s work—and the discrimination against them—visible.

2. WID Programming

The United States, as the major donor country, exerted strong political influence within the UN agencies as well as with the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development, a consortium of European and North American countries involved in development assistance. WID programming became an integral part of these agencies and of the many nongovernmental organizations which received funding from them. These implementing groups accepted the underlying liberal economic approach to development while criticizing policies that impacted negatively on the poor, especially women. In contrast, many academic women writing on WID issues identified themselves as marxist and emphasized the subordination and oppression of women resulting from patriarchy and capitalism.

To convince skeptical development bureaucrats, practitioners advanced the ‘efficiency’ argument: including women as economic actors would enhance the possibility of meeting project goals. Since previous programs that dealt with women focused on women as mothers and wives, the WID office consciously avoided projects on maternal and child health or on population, to avoid the stereotype of dependent mother. Subsequently, women’s health, family planning, and education programs were often combined with income-generating projects.

At first the tendency was to add programs for women to existing projects with little understanding of the political or economic practices in the recipient countries. For example, providing information on subsistence crops to men in Africa was not effective since women are the primary farmers in areas south of the Sahara. Similarly, including women in village meetings to decide where a well might be placed ignored cultural prescriptions against women speaking in public.

To reach poor rural women and understand their needs, women’s organizations, international NGOs, and development agencies began to focus their projects on women. The UN funneled grants to women’s community groups through the Fund for Women, now UNIFEM, that was set up at the Mexico City Conference (Snyder 1995). Rural women farm, collect fuel and water, and process, prepare, and cook food. More efficient cook-stoves, easier methods of grinding rice or grain, and closer wells or piped water reduced women’s work hours. Groups of women were assembled to learn the new technologies; literacy was often part of the training so women could read simple instructions. Activists took the issues of women in agriculture, technology, and energy to UN World Conferences on these topics. Lobbying at these conferences broadened the base of support for WID beyond women’s organizations.

Whatever the goal of the particular development project, other women’s issues quickly surfaced; a characteristic of women’s groups globally is that they address a wide range of concerns. For example, after the end of the Korean war, village women were brought together every month to receive birth-control pills. These women had seldom been out of the family compound once they were married. To open up their world by meeting other women and talking to the educated women from Seoul who convened the meetings expanded their horizons. These women extended their activities to reforestation, another government priority and therefore acceptable to husbands. Some groups used their income to visit shrines: for many women, riding a train was a novel experience.

As men migrated to cities in search of jobs, many rural women became temporary or permanent household heads. In contrast, in Latin America, women migrated while men stayed on the farms. Globally, about one-third of all households are supported by women; women with children are generally among the poorest households. Women-headed households became a new focus for programs directed toward reducing poverty.

The rapid monetization of the economy required married and unmarried women, urban and rural, to earn cash beyond their noncash economic activities. Income projects became the focus of many organizations. Early programs that emphasized crafts and sewing often produced poor-quality goods and seldom understood marketing. Even projects built on traditional skills seldom earned women significant profits.

Microcredit schemes have proved to be more widely successful. An early model is the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Landless women are organized into groups that use social pressure as collateral to ensure repayment. Members of the Bank must agree to Sixteen Decisions which encourage fiscal discipline, healthy lifestyles, and smaller families. The Grameen Bank trains the poor to reduce spending as well as to save and utilize credit. After learning to save even a few cents at each weekly meeting, women are allowed to borrow small amounts of money for entrepreneurial activities: raising a cow, selling street foods, buying a pedicab for a male relative, or even acquiring land to farm. Originally men were also borrowers, but their repayment rates were much lower; today the Grameen Bank members are about 98 percent women.

The Grameen Bank approach has been widely replicated, often without the specific social commitments required of Bank members. In Latin America, village banking is the predominant model. Women actually organize and run small banks. This model is more adapted to higher income countries. Microcredit programs have been widely introduced in the South (see Mehta et al. (1995) for a comprehensive list) and also in the United States.

Studies indicate that when women earn and control income it increases the health of their children, reduces domestic violence, and generally raises their bargaining power in the family (Tinker 1990, pp. 123–49, 150–61). Increased self-confidence of the women contributes to their greater role in community and women’s organizations. Other writers caution against the increased indebtedness that results from microcredit schemes. Still, credit at 16 percent per year is clearly an improvement over loans from moneylenders whose charges may be as high as 40 percent per month. Thus most families with loans increase their standard of living even if their new enterprises are not successful. Further, the poor understand the dangers of becoming beholden to moneylenders. A seven-country study of street food vendors found that the source of their capital was family and savings, not loans (Tinker 1997).

2.1 Debates About Program Efficacy

Development programs for women are multifaceted. Assisting women in traditional subsistence activities reduced the pressures on their spare time and allowed them to pursue income activities. When men migrated, women learned to make decisions and to write to their absent husbands. In cities, women often managed community organizations, earned money selling street foods, rented out rooms even in their squatter houses, and participated in building their own homes, all with the help of development or advocacy organizations. The unintended impact of these projects was often more significant than the original goal; social engineering is not an exact science.

Debates continue about which programs actually alter existing gender relationships or challenge the systematic subordination of women (Sen and Grown 1987, Moser 1993, Mosse 1993, Kabeer 1994). Many who work within the system to increase access to resources for women and the poor are vocal critics of the dominant economic model. Others argue for programs that strategically undermine gender hierarchy and often oppose capitalist reformism. These perspectives may seem difficult to reconcile, but both groups challenge programs that adversely affect poor women, and both support the empowerment of women. In fact, most programs organize women as part of the process; once organized, women’s world views expand and their sense of power increases.

A second debate concerns the positioning of women’s programs within the bureaucracy. Many involved in development organizations are concerned that women’s issues are still treated apart from the larger projects. Such separation results in low budgets and marginalization. These women advocate ‘mainstreaming’ women’s programs and encourage women’s organizations and NGOs to monitor project implementation to ensure women’s participation (Jahan 1995). Others fear the submersion of women in mainstream programs and urge a balance with programs focused on women.

A third debate concerns the term gender, a useful analytical tool for scholars but confusing in the real world. Not only is this abstract term difficult to translate, it is almost always used as a euphemism for women. In some countries, relabeling women’s programs as gender programs has diverted funding for training from women to men. Many activists believe that the use of the term gender undercuts the political importance of organizing women and creating the global women’s movement, perhaps the most significant social movement of the twentieth century (Basu 1995).

3. Contemporary Agenda For Women In International Development

As globalization is having a greater impact on the livelihood of women and men in the South than development assistance, efforts to change policy have shifted toward international trade and monetary institutions. Structural adjustment measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund generally resulted in reduced social spending, affecting women as caretakers as well as workers. National indebtedness in the South has sparked a campaign for debt forgiveness, arguing that the gap between rich and poor cannot be closed while countries must spend a high percentage of their foreign earnings repaying debt. The World Trade Organization is challenged by a host of activists across the political spectrum. NGOs organized Women’s Eyes on the World Bank.

Women’s organizations are also challenging patriarchy by declaring that women’s rights are human rights. Enunciated at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, this concept challenges customary law that enshrines women’s subordination and places domestic relations under civil law, and strengthens CEDAW.

Resolutions passed at the UN Conferences on Population, 1994, and Habitat, 1996, further strengthen women’s rights. Enhancing women’s education, eliminating violence against women, and allowing women to control their own fertility are now proclaimed as preferable ways to limit population growth. Access to land and housing is recognized as a critical tool to alleviate poverty among poor women.

Women are affecting trade policies and changing laws about women’s rights by strengthening international networks and by increasing their participation in democratic institutions, particularly in those countries formerly communist countries in Europe (Funk and Meuller 1993) or in Asia (Tinker and Summerfield 1999) and in the postauthoritarian states of Latin America (Jaquette and Wolchik 1998). These dual roles in the civil society are supported by many development agencies who previously limited themselves to economic activities.


  1. Basu A 1995 The Challenge of Local Feminisms (with McGrory E). Westview Press, Boulder, CO
  2. Beneria L (ed.) 1982 Women and Development. Praeger, New York
  3. Boserup E 1970 Woman’s Role in Economic Development. Allen and Unwin, London (reprinted 1998. Earthscan, London)
  4. Boserup E 1999 My Professional Life and Publications 1929–1998. Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, Denmark
  5. Fraser A 1999 Becoming human: the origins and development of women’s human rights. Human Rights Quarterly 21(4): 853–906
  6. Funk N, Mueller M 1993 Gender Politics and Post-communism: Reflections from Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Routledge, New York
  7. Jahan R 1995 The Elusive Agenda: Mainstreaming Women in Development. Zed Press, London
  8. Jaquette J S, Wolchik S L (eds.) 1998 Women and Democracy: Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD
  9. Jayawardene K 1986 Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. Zed Press, London
  10. Kabeer N 1994 Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. Verso, London
  11. Mehta R, Drost-Maasry A, Rahman R 1995 Credit for Women: Why Is It So Important? International Center for Research on Women, Washington, DC
  12. Meyer M K, Prugl E (eds.) 1999 Gender Politics in Global Governance. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD
  13. Moser C O N 1993 Gender Planning and Development: Theory, Practice and Training. Routledge, London
  14. Mosse J 1993 Half the World, Half a Chance. Oxfam, Oxford, UK
  15. Sen G, Grown C 1987 Development, Crises, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspective, a Report from DAWN: Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era. Monthly Review Press, New York
  16. Snyder, M 1995 Transforming Development: Women, Poverty and Politics. Intermediate Technology, London
  17. Snyder M, Tadesse M 1995 African Women and Development: a History. Zed Press, London
  18. Tinker I (ed.) 1990 Persistent Inequalities: Women and World Development. Oxford University Press, New York
  19. Tinker I 1997 Street Foods: Urban Food and Employment in De eloping Countries. Oxford University Press, New York
  20. Tinker I, Jaquette J 1987 UN Decade for Women: its impact and legacy. World Development 15(3): 419–27
  21. Tinker I, Summerfield G 1999 Women’s Rights to Housing and Land: China, Laos, China. Lynne Rienner, Boulder, CO
  22. Winslow A (ed.) 1995 Women Politics, and the United Nations. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT
Economic Education Research Paper
Economic Anthropology Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!