Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Gender Alternatives in African Development: Theories, Methods and Evidence]

27–29 October, 2005
Cairo, Egypt

Number of visits: 3724

In the period since the beginning of the 1990s, CODESRIA has been at the forefront of the quest to harness the efforts of African scholars in both extending the frontiers of knowledge production around issues of gender, and doing so in a manner that ensures that for as many scholars as are active in its networks and at other African sites of scholarly work, gender is integrated into their frames of analyses. This has been done in line with the Council’s institutional commitment, integral to its Charter mandate, to produce knowledge that is not only anchored in the realities of the African continent but which also contributes to the progressive transformation of livelihoods and is premised on contributions drawn from multidisciplinary perspectives. The results which have been accumulated from the experience of the Council and other like-minded institutions have, at one level, resulted in an efflorescence of studies on various aspects of the gender dynamics of development, an expansion in the community of African scholars with an active interest in gender research, the networking of that community on a sub-regional and pan-African scale, and the projection of the voices of its members on a global scale.

At another level, however, few will doubt that for all the progress which has been made in promoting the idea of the centrality of gender to the robustness of any social research and the completeness of any project of social transformation, a considerable amount of work still remains to be done. The challenges that are posed are many but in summary could be said to centre around the need to consolidate the many critiques of development that have been made from various gender – and feminist perspectives into a comprehensive, internally coherent and consistent set of alternatives on the basis of which further advances in theory, method and praxis could be achieved. Engendering African development requires close attention not only to the analytical tools of the researcher but also to a gendered critique of development that questions the very foundations on which the African developmental process rests and the terms on which it has proceeded as a pre-requisite for new theoretical approaches and policy instruments. In sum, what is called for today is a complete paradigm shift, for which new scholarship will be necessary.

To be sure, the Women in Development (WID), Women and Development (WAD)/Gender and Development (GAD) strategies that shaped policy interventions and informed scholarly reflections in the 1960s and 1970s went some way in addressing some of the gender-based contradictions in the development process. However, they were limited by the fact that they remained within the established parameters of the state-led model of development and the discourses of its organic intellectuals. Also, they tended to limit the terrain of analysis to either narrowly economistic considerations or perspectives that were beholden to a notion of development as economic growth. Furthermore, women continued to be treated more as objects of history rather than as makers of history in their own right; they “received” development but were not the makers of development. Gallant efforts that were made to draw attention to trends in the informal economy – the cultural and artistic expressions of women’s developmental work, the status of the domestic economy of care, the transformation of gender identities in the production and commercial processes – and innovations in science and technology did not succeed in altering the terms of the debate and generating an alternative discourse in part because of the increased donorisation of gender as a tool of policy.

The decline of the state-interventionist strategy of development that occurred in the wake of the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s represented a setback for the WID–WAD/GAD approaches precisely because their intellectual roots were undermined by the radical shift in direction that occurred as the ideology of the market and IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programmes gained ground. Subsequent efforts made to transcend the WID-WAD/GAD framework initially centred on strategies for expanding access to micro-credit schemes in order to mitigate the costs of neo-liberal economic adjustment and enhance women’s participation in market processes. Later on, investments were made in exercises designed to modify dominant macro-economic models and policies in order to better accommodate gender concerns. In this connection, gender-budgeting enjoyed perhaps the highest profile. The political corollary of this was the rise of state feminism symbolised by the office of first ladies and the campaign for greater gender balance in the institutions of state power. But these approaches too, for all their success in keeping the Gender Question on the radar, did not, in most cases, transcend the parameters set by the new discourses of the market and the political economy of neo-liberalism; their political flipside may have served to reinforce existing structures of unaccountable power.

Looking at the Africa of the 1980s and 1990s, there is a lot to be regretted by the failure of dominant discussions on development to tackle the roots of the inability of scholars and practitioners to break out of the (self-imposed) prison represented by the theoretical and institutional boxes from which they work. For, as the state went into decline, market failures proliferated, violent conflicts burst out or acquired a new lease of life, new local and international diasporas were born, the boundaries of the informal economy expanded, the HIV/AIDS pandemic took its toll, and the economy of care grew further in significance, the role of women in the well-being of the household and society became ever more significant. Without doubt, the continued reproduction of economy and society in Africa depended on the tenacity and ingenuity of women. In this changed context, the nature of the gender relationship became ever more central to the prospects for development whether viewed from the vantage point of the production process (including labour markets), the state-citizen relationship, the negotiation of the market and market relations, efforts at reinventing the state, and innovations in the arts, culture and technology. These developments added up to create a radically different context for gender relations that must, of necessity, be taken into account in a holistic re-thinking of development in Africa.

The agenda of social transformation in the development process has remained a live one which is in need of being creatively re-visited at a time when questions are cumulating on the limits of the market and the costs of the maladjustment of African economies and societies. Participants in the CODESRIA Gender symposium will be invited to take stock of the experience of previous efforts at engendering African development with a view to charting intellectual and policy alternatives that could serve as a basis for the production of new knowledge and analytic tools. Think-pieces are being commissioned to cover various aspects of the gender and development debate in order to allow the participants in the symposium to consider new conceptual perspectives and debates, and new theoretical possibilities on the basis of a re-reading of history and the generation of fresh evidence. Among the sub-themes around which reflections will be organised are:

i) Gender Silences in the Theory and Practice of Development;

ii) Gender in the Re-thinking of the Theory and Practice of Development;

iii) New Directions in African Feminist Perspectives on Development;

iv) Adding African Value to Gender, Feminism and Development;

v) Speaking to Power: New Modes of Social Mobilisation for Equity and Voice;

vi) Subverting Power: New Spaces for Engendering Development;

vii) Overthrowing Power: New Gender and Feminists Challenges to Governance;

viii) Reclaiming Development through the Arts and Culture;

ix) Gendered Innovations in Science and Technology for Development;

x) Documenting Impact and Assessing Progress: New Methods and Tools;

xi) Building on Women’s Local Initiatives for an Alternative Development;

xii) Transcending Boundaries: Women Organising in a Globalised World.


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