Gender and change - core approaches and institutions with view to the African context

Gender issues is important to processes of change and development and has increasingly become part of transformative agendas (i.e World Banks third Millenium Development goals). Here we provide a very brief summary of someapproaches and institutions that has contributed to bringing various aspects of gender issues to these agendas - and point to core institutions in the subSaharan African context that are critically engaged in these debates .

“in the vast and ever-growing literature on economic development, reflections on the particular problems of women are few and far between”.
— Boserup, Ester (1970). Woman's role in economic development. London: George Allen & Unwin, preface.

Women in Development (WID) is an approach that emerged in the 1970s, calling for treatment of women's issues in development projects and to integrate women in global economies by improving their status in existing social structures. (ref. the establishment of a special Division for Women in United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and The Harvard Analytical Framework,). The WID approach have been criticized.  for invalid basic assumtions and for ignoring the larger social processes that affect women's lives, their reproductive roles and hence are root causes of gender inequalities.

The Gender and Development (GAD) approach of the 1980s put more emphasis on gender relations -  the way in which men and women participate in development processes - and hence propose a broader view than stricly focusing on women's issues. This gender analysis center on the socially constructed basis of differences between men and women and the need to challenge existing gender roles and relations (ref. the establishment of gender mainstreaming strategy in the 1995  Beijing Platform for Action to achieve gender equality and the Moser Gender Planning Framework). The GAD approach has been criticized for neglecting the bonds between men and women together with the potential for changes in roles.

Neoliberal approaches to economic development has also increasingly focussed on gender(i.e The World Development Report 2012 was the first report of the series examining Gender Equality and Development). Smart economics is for example an approach that defines gender equality as an integral part of economic development and seeks to spur development through investing more efficiently in women and girls (i.e. financial inclusion through microfinance; Women’s Development Business (WDB) in South Africa and microfinance). Feminist scholars debates as to the effects of this and some argue it creates new forms of inequality and exploitation (i.e. Fraser 2012). Critics also claim that smart economics: subordinate the intrinsic value of gender equality,  ignore the need of systemic transformation; feminise responsibility, overemphasise efficiency and represent an opportunistic pragmatism that overlooks cooperation and collaboration between males and females  (i.e. Chant 2008, 2012, Kabeer 2003, Zuckerman).

Smart economics is concerned with building women’s capacities in the interests of development rather than promoting women’s rights for their own sake.
— Chant 2012

Chant (2012) warns that feminists should be very cautious about “supporting, and working in coalition with, individuals and institutions who approach gender equality through the lens of smart economics. This may have attractions in strategic terms, enabling us to access resources for work focusing on supporting the individual agency of women and girls, but risks aggravating many of the complex problems that gender and development seeks to transform.”

 African gender institute (AGI), is localised at Univeristy of Cape Town, South Africa. A main AGI project is Gender and Women's Studies for Africa's Transformation (GWS Africa). Amina Mama , a key figure within the AGI/GWS, has criticised discourses of women in development for stripping gender studies of politically meaningful feminism (Mama 2006) .GWS Africa is working to promote a more critical African feminist discourse (i.e ,pan-African feminist forum at UCT in 2002 and  the online journal Feminist Africa). Although Gender and/or Women's Studies Departments across Africa are on the rise a GWS 2000-2 study concluded these were dominated by a WID approach.


AGI/GWS Africa, "has been a major force for increasing women's access to internet communications" (Hafkin 2000,




Mama, Amina (2006)  "Gender studies for Africa's transformation", in African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development, ed. Thandika Mkandawire, London: Zed Books and CODESRIA, 2006.

Mama, Amina  (2006)  "Introduction" , inAfrican Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development, ed. Thandika Mkandawire, London: Zed Books and CODESRIA, 2006.

Amina Mama (2011). "What does it mean to do feminist research in African contexts"Feminist Theory & Activism in Global Perspective: Feminist Review Conference Proceedings: e4–e20. Retrieved 2012-12-16.

Chant, Sylvia; Sweetman, Caroline (November 2012). "Fixing women or fixing the world? ‘Smart economics’, efficiency approaches, and gender equality in development". Gender & Development 20 (3): 517–529.

Fraser, Nancy (2012). "Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History" (PDF)Working paper. Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme. p. 14. Retrieved 2 November 2013

Hafkin, Nancy J. (2000). "Convergence of Concepts: Gender and ICTs in Africa". In Adera, Edith Ofwona; Rathgeber, Eva-Maria. Gender and the information revolution in Africa. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

Kabeer, Naila (2003). Gender mainstreaming in poverty eradication and the Millennium development goals a handbook for policy-makers and other stakeholders. London: Commonwealth secretariat.

Razavi, Shahrashoub; Miller, Carol (1995). "From WID to GAD: Conceptual shifts in the Women and Development discourse" (PDF)United Nations Research Institute Occasional Paper series (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) 1: 6. Retrieved 22 November 2013.

Scott (1996). Gender and development.

Singh, Shweta. (2007). Deconstructing Gender and development for Identities of Women, International Journal of Social Welfare, Issue 16, pages. 100-109.;jsessionid=09C94FBBE7E0BEC3236A99D8FDEE28DA "any prevailing ideas about development, dependency, capitalism, and socialism are anchored in social constructions of gender differences."