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James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

Gender and Development Discourse – Women and Women headed

households in Southern Africa


I’m not sure why I feel that I should be working in the development field and I’m
not sure that I should be introducing a paper with what is in essence a question.
But in the course of my interaction with development studies through the
development discourse, I seem to be in a perpetual state of unsure-ness. I am
unsure if I partially understand or will ever begin to understand the complexities
of human society and development. To be entirely honest, I am not even entirely
sure if I understand myself and yet, in the course of development studies, we are
asked as students to attempt to understand complexities that I often feel are
beyond my capacity to understand. In order to enable at least some degree of
understanding, we are asked as students to examine and critique current and
past examples of development discourse, policy and practice. Coupled to this
ask, we are asked to examine and critique, critiques of the same material that
have been produced by fellow academics and students in the field of
development and development practice. For example, my colleague Alcino das
Feliciades Fabião has written a paper entitled “Women-headed Households;
Poverty and Land Reform, in Southern Africa” and this paper is such a critique, a
peer review.

At this point I have the benefit of hindsight, because his paper is about gender
and development, produced for a seminar about gender and development that
we have already attended. As a side bar, a question was raised during the course
of this seminar, by another of my colleagues, Dominique Marshall Smith and I
would like to use this question as part of the introduction to this paper. He
essentially asked what the purpose of development studies was, if in reality it
seemed to make very little difference to the lives of those human beings that
were being ‘developed’. The answer provided by our lecturer Dr. Harald Witt,
was a telling observation of the enormity of the challenges of development. If my
memory serves me correctly, he said that, “Globalisation is a reality and there
are people being left behind by this process, we seek to understand why and
how to include them, before the gap is so large that it becomes impossible to do
so and because we owe it to them”.

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

It is a mammoth task and the complexities of globalisation and development are

almost impossible to comprehend holistically. Neither this, nor Alcino’s paper
attempts to do that, merely to look at one aspect of development, namely
gender and its relation to development both procedurally and contextually.
Hopefully the fact that both Alcino and I are men, able to afford university tuition
and live what is in essence a life very far removed from the lives of women living
in a rural and impoverished setting. Does not detract too much from the fact that
we are both attempting to understand at a minimum, at least some of the
complexities that pertain to women and women headed households, poverty,
land and rural development in Southern Africa.
Land and Rural Development in Southern Africa

There are many people living in a deep rural and impoverished context in
Southern Africa and there are many people who do not have access to land at
all. Land reform processes in Southern Africa seek to address these issues by
providing land to those who do not have it and thereby (it is hoped), the means
to begin to build up livelihood assets, lift themselves out of poverty and become
‘developed’. The fact that the attempts being made to achieve these lofty goals
are predominately driven and funded by some of the same countries that
formerly colonised Southern Africa, is somewhat ironic. Particularly when the
reason that Southern Africa currently exhibits a complex dichotomy between
highly developed and extremely underdeveloped regions/areas, is as a result of
these previous attempts at colonisation and thereby a radical alteration of the
process of natural development in this region. However, putting these matters
aside for the moment as they are somewhat outside the ambit of this paper. I
will look at the way in which Alcino has presented the arguments put forward by
various authors that are listed both in the reference section of Alcino’s paper and
this paper, that attempt to describe the gendered nature of land reform and
poverty alleviation in Southern Africa.

Gender and Feminism

Alcino does not begin his paper with an adequate understanding of the
theoretical discourse around gender and feminism and its relation to
development in Southern Africa. He alludes to the importance of the United

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

Nations (UN) decade of The Women 1975 – 1985 (Serote, 2001) but does not
leave the reader with a clear understanding of its import and significance to
development practice over time. The fact that the rise of feminism and its impact
on policy making in the developed world, begins in the Developed countries has
a direct bearing on the flavour of subsequent gender related development
theory. This fact is mentioned in the introduction to the Serote paper where a
definition of feminism is provided. The Serote paper also begins with a block of
text that reads, “Feminism has had a profound influence on development
studies, just as it has in the social sciences in general. It has brought about a
significant sensitization to the different positions of men and women in
development situations and particularly the importance of power (relations).”
(Serote, 2001, pp 155) The paper further mentions the fact that gendered power
relations and an understanding thereof are a significant component of the
theoretical approach to gender driven development. These power relations were
exposed through various gendered theoretical approaches to development that
began to be utilised in development practice the 1970’s.

One of the Initial approaches to gender driven development in the 1970’s, called
the Women in Development Approach (WID), sought to equalize the power
relationship between men and women in developing countries. Women were
seen as the ideal vehicle for an approach that was closely modeled along the
lines of modernization theory. To this end it was felt that the empowerment of
individual women would lead to a radical alteration of the nature and structure of
developing societies which would accelerate their progress toward the western
notion of development. (Serote, 2001) As mentioned in the Jackson reading “WID
sees women’s poverty as the consequence of underdevelopment rather than of
subordination.” And although poverty and gender seem to be linked, one cannot
only look at the one through the lens of the other (Jackson, 1996). The fact that
this approach ultimately led to a follow on approach called Women and
Development (WAD) in the 1980’s, is due to the recognition that the WID
approach neither radically modernised developing countries nor significantly
altered the plight of women in developing countries.

The WAD approach like the WID approach also attempts to alter the power
dynamic that exists between the genders. But it significantly realises the fact
that gendered oppression and capitalism are more closely linked than was

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

assumed by the WID approach. The WAD approach attempted to unpack the
effect of capitalism, dependency theory and the money market on the power
relationship between men and women in the household. The WAD approach also
acknowledged the fact that women did not need to be developed as they were
already a part of the development process and in fact had always been so. It did
however like the WID approach focus on the causal link between women and
poverty and unlike WID sought to alter the relationship between capital and
poverty at a societal level. The WAD approach however allowed those women
who were not employed in the formal economy to fall through the development
cracks and it did little to alleviate the plight of women in the informal sector.
(Serote, 2001)

By the 1990’s a shift had occurred away from WAD to a theoretical approach
called Gender and Development (GAD). The GAD approach attempted to provide
a more inclusive theoretical platform for gender and development and
recognised the links between politics, socio-economic and household dynamics in
developing societies. This approach sought to ally the various feminist
approaches to development and to include the support of men in the process of
gender development, rather than working exclusively within a particular gender
driven paradigm. (Serote, 2001)

Land and Gender Reform - Theory, Policy and Practice

Theoretically, the idea of land reform and its relationship to development and in
particular gender development is a simple one. Identify individuals who are
disenfranchised and/or impoverished and/or landless and give them access to
land and thereby a means to sustain themselves. Ensure that this process is fair
and equitable and both men and women are equal beneficiaries. Through a
process of agrarian reform these individuals will then be shown how to feed
themselves and their families, produce a surplus and thereby enter the
mainstream economy. This theory seems to follow along the lines of the
Christian ethic “give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, teach them how to
fish and they’ll feed themselves.”

In practice, the practicalities of firstly undoing what colonialism has already done
and secondly ensuring that the process actually achieves the stated outcomes

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

are significantly more complicated. For instance, a particular flaw with many of
these theoretical approaches to development, that the Hall reading, ‘Design for
Equity: Linking policy with Objectives in South Africa’s Land Reform’, attempts to
address, lies in the actual implementation of development theory, through a
theory driven policy framework (Hall, 1998). Linked to this, is the difficulty of
measuring both poverty and development and the inability to measure (i.e. GDP,
Gini Coefficient, HDI and GDI) effectively whether development especially gender
development has in fact occurred. (Serote, 2001)

Hall’s argument is divided into four key areas, which she provides in the synopsis
of her argument and are outlined below:

• An overestimation of the ability of a policy to induce change and an

underestimation of the capacity of people with power to alter policy measures
for alternate objectives.
• A tension that exists between policies seeking to achieve societal equity and
increased productivity at the same time without providing a clear
understanding of how to achieve these goals concurrently.
• Explicit theoretical commitments that manifest as rhetoric and do not provide
a policy implementation framework, methodology (or a means to measure the
results of implementation).
• Unrealistic policies that do not take account of the available resources and
are hastily implemented, which for instance sacrifice equity for productivity or
vice versa. (Hall, 1998).

Coupled to the points mentioned by Hall are the difficulties of measuring the
outcomes of development practice mentioned by Serote that are outlined below.

• Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is a classic economic measure that measures

the production of goods and services, but fails to measure goods and services
that never have been part of the market, such as a women’s sweat equity in
the household that is not seen to have a monetary value.
• The UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures income, education
and lifespan and does not measure gender inequality or sweat equity either.
• The UNDP’s Gender Development Index (GDI) also fails to adequately
measure the differences between genders and sweat equity.

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

• The Gini Coefficient measures the disparity between household indicators

effectively and is a better measure of poverty than it is of gender equity, it
however is a measure based on income and also fails to measure sweat
equity. (Serote, 2001)

Thus as simple as it may sound in theory to effect both land reform and gender
development, it is debatable whether or not this will be the actual outcome, for
two reasons, firstly it is debatable whether theory becomes policy becomes
effective practice and secondly there are no real effective tools to measure the
outcomes of this practice even if it does occur. The sociological tools necessary
to achieve a true measure of the outcomes of land and gender reform are far
more complex than economic measures could ever hope to provide.

Evidence of the complexities that form part and parcel of land reform and gender
reform are provided in the readings by Hemson, Bob, O’Laughlin and Sender,
these readings were well covered by Alcino in his paper ‘Gender and land
reform, in Southern Africa’ and ‘Women headed households and poverty
in Southern Africa’.


Bearing in mind that Alcino is from Mozambique and an English second language
speaker, he has made an impressive attempt to both understand and collate the
various readings that relate to gender issues, land reform and poverty alleviation
in our course handout. While I might have structured the paper somewhat
differently, starting with the various approaches to gender and development
namely WID, WAD and GAD and then compared them in the following sections to
the examples of development processes and projects that formed part of our
readings. Alcino did in fact effectively cover these issues in the body of his

Alcino writes in a way that allows the reader to comfortably follow his line of
reasoning and his paper shows evidence of a fairly good understanding of both
the issues and the readings around gender and land reform. His paper is
structured in a fairly logical way although I might have done it somewhat
differently as I have displayed above. His use of language shows a comfortable

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

grasp of the concepts and an easy ability to reason them out. There was some
confusion for me as a reader regarding the links between the stages of
development theory presented in the conclusion, but Alcino managed to provide
an insightful conclusion with regard to gendered development and the results
thereof nonetheless. I would feel comfortable with the recommendation that
Alcino has fulfilled 68 - 75% of the requirements for this paper.


Nicholas Whitcutt – Public Works project – 60% quota – Youth and women
lumped together- discrete interventions no good, projects need to be sustained
over longer periods and interconnected – Social pressures not adequately dealt
with, harassment and social pressures result – women have to fill other
household roles as well as working – men see women as unqualified to do menial
tasks requiring strength, but rural woman are already well acquainted with hard
physical labour i.e. drawing water, hewing wood, house building (eSdangeni).
Monitoring and prior negotiation of outcomes essential for success.

Thomas- Slayter, B & Sodikoff, G – “Gender is one of the key variables

defining access to and control over natural resources (in many African countries).
Gender is a determining factor in the division of labour, rights and
responsibilities and therefore affects the sustainability of livelihoods and the
equitability of development.” – Anecdotal evidence but no gender ‘disaggregated
data’ to support the notion that women need to benefit from development
projects (the reality of development rhetoric). – Process is more important than
the results – The Gambia; difference between male and female focused projects
led to conflict over land use in the vegetable garden (Trees vs. Vegetables) –
‘Sustainable economic activity and equitable social relations’ require enabling
conditions, ala conditions for takeoff, (Gender disaggregated data, Extension and
training, local participation and organization, livelihood security and local to
global partnerships) – Rwanda women’s aquaculture project was not sensitive to
ethnicity, poverty and collective behavior , isolationism may have contributed to
1994 genocide (1997 Carnegie commission quoted in article) – Tools for effective

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

measurement of gender equity are necessary but are limited in and of


Hemson, D – ‘Women are the key to household health and have borne the
burden of underdevelopment over the years’ (DWAF quote in article by Hemson)
– Focus of article; Gender aspects of water delivery, the participation of women
in managing water supply in South Africa – Institutional and Social Development
(ISD) and Project Steering Committees so far male dominated process (1994) –
Women are responsible for ensuring a supply of water for the families daily
needs, yet are absent from management as one of the key beneficiaries
(Women’s absence problem) – Tension between rural patriarchal order and lives
of women who will be directly affected by decisions around water – Failure of
projects is not just due to the non-participation of women alone, other complex
social factors also apply – 30% figure quoted by Government – Mvula water
committees study, ‘it’s always the men who are the chairs… participation of
women is tokenism’. – Traditional societies consider women’s role in decision
making as inferior to that of men’s consequently, women defer to men in
decision making and men have the last word – Men are regarded as the owners
of the land and all it’s produce, women are responsible for working the land –
Migrant labour and remittances have caused a shift in the balance of power and
women now make decisions for the household while the men are away at work,
however, even though the men are away the women always kept in mind what
the men would have wanted, not what they wanted themselves (deferred
participation) – Women lack psycho social support, self belief and self respect
and men are not supportive of their women when they are in positions of
authority. – Water committees are more autocratic than democratic with a few
authoritative individuals inhibiting wholesale participation in decision making. –
ABET, Gender sensitivity training, Technical training and women’s participation is
needed w.r.t. water in rural areas. – “Women’s participation is the key to
entrenching a democratic order in the rural areas”, is this where the tension
arises, do traditional authorities see this as a threat to their way of life?

Hall, R. – “A policy committed to gender equity, …, should have strategies,

policy instruments and implementation methods which are consistent with this
objective. If this is not the case, equity considerations are apt to remain at the
level of rhetoric and the objective remain unrealized.” – ‘…Limits of policy to

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

bring about social change’ – ‘Most conspicuous failure of development planning

is that it has not anticipated the probability of it’s own failure.’ (Robertson
quoted by Hall) – Society is not inert, but, policy planning and implementation
works along the line of a cetus paribus argument, in other words, all things being
equal, this policy will work, however society is both organic and dynamic,
therefore policies that are not premised on these characteristics are not going to
change society very much. – Dualism exists between equity and productivity
they are not seen as mutually attainable by the author under the present land
redistribution process. – Land Redistribution in South Africa is Market based and
demand led – those individuals with access to information and capital will
probably always win out, therefore women and poor men will probably end up
being marginalized. – Policy and Implementation where does the rhetoric end
and the reality begin?

Bob, U – ‘It is widely accepted that more than half of rural households are
headed by women, who together with children, make up the poorest of the poor.’
– Women have limited control of and access to natural resources – Ekuthuleni
community, Thukela river 928ha, marginal land (Helen Watson did the
environmental impact assessment, 2nd year stuff) – Majority of land use and
resource decision making done by men – Very low percentage of beneficiaries
are women and they were predominately settled in the more marginal areas. –
Gender relations and food security issues raised – Tensions between men and
women’s views of what constitutes the best use of the land, i.e. food production
vs. grazing for cattle. – Diversified income and livelihoods strategies found, i.e.
farm work, tuck shops, sewing groups, grants and sale of produce. – Grants
contributed a substantial share toward the community’s economic well being.

Serote, P – “Gender Relations and Identities are not universal, but vary from
culture to culture and from one geographical location to another within a
particular country. They are dynamic and change over time.” – “ A gendered
approach to development hinges on an understanding of power relations… key,
is the way in which power relationships are gendered.” – The classic economic
measure of development, GDP, does not measure goods and services that are
not part of the formal market place i.e. subsistence agriculture and unpaid
labour such as that performed by women in the household. – The HDI, GDI
(UNDP) and the Gini coefficient all fail to capture the dynamics of the gender role

James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

in development. – 1970’s gender development approach, WID, focused on

individual women and stressed the trickle down economic approach. Saw
traditional societies as authoritarian and male dominated, as opposed to modern
society, which was supposedly democratic and egalitarian - Beijing PFA adopted
by South Africa, prioritized five areas for action vis a vis women, namely;
violence, poverty, health, education and economic empowerment. – Failure is
that WID is based on a western style universal womanhood assumption and is
blind to the complexities of societal differences in gender relationships in other
regions of the world. – Next came the WAD approach, which followed from
dependency theory, it focused on capitalist power relationships and their link to
the development process. But was narrow in scope and limited in nature –
Followed by GAD approach in the 1990’s, combines WID & WAD and sees gender
and development as a complex interplay of societal processes such as politics,
economics and domestic forces. -

South Africa; WNC (Women’s National Coalition), recognizes complexity of

gender relationships and subordination of women and pushes for women’s
charter to be included in the constitution. - The constitution sets out to achieve
equality in status, protection and socio-economic inclusion in post 1994 South
African society for all women. – CEDAW (Convention for Elimination of all forms
of Discrimination against Women) ratified in 1995 (International Bill of Rights for
Women). – S.A. government, Office on the Status of Women (OSW), Commission
for Gender Equality (CGE) however these bodies are somewhat toothless and do
not have strong institutional linkages. Also there is some autonomy within the
government structures and regions and some areas of South Africa are not
particularly gender sensitive, particularly where traditional areas and politics
dominate. -

More recently, the Women’s Budget Initiative (WBI), seeks to transform

governments allocation of resources in a less gender biased manner. – Model
recognizes the ‘care’ economy, the unmeasured productive capacity of the
household, added to the goods and services that a household is capable of
producing and consuming. – Women’s contribution measured in sweat equity, a
kind of before & after, work tax, a double day for half the pay.

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James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

O’Laughlin, B – Botswana, Migrant Labour, Remittances, Women Headed

Households and Retrenchment. – Remittances fund rural agricultural production.


Bob, U. ‘Rural African Women, Food (In) Security and Agricultural production in
the Ekuthuleni Land Redistribution Project, KwaZulu Natal’. Agenda. No. 51,

Hall, R. ‘Design for Equity: Linking policy with Objectives in South Africa’s Land
Reform’. Review of African Political Economy. No.77, September 1998.

Hemson, D. ‘Women are Weak When they are Amongst Men: Women’s
participation in Rural Water Committees in South Africa’. Agenda. No. 52, 2002.

Jackson, C. ‘Rescueing Gender from the Poverty Trap’. World Development. Vol.
24, No.3, March 1996.

O’Laughlin, B. “Missing Men? The Debate over Rural Poverty and Women Headed
Households in Southern Africa”. Journal of Peasant Studies. Vol. 25, No. 2,
January 1998.

Sender, John. 2002. ‘Women’s Struggles to Escape Rural Poverty in South Africa’.
Journal of Agrarian Change. 2 (1), 1-49.

Serote, P., Mager, A and Budlander, D. ‘Gender and Development’. Coetzee, J.,
Graaff, J, Hendricks, F. and Woods, G. (eds). Development Theory, Policy and
Practice. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Thomas-Slayter, B and Sodikoff, G. ‘Sustainable Investments: Women’s

Contributions to Natural Resource Management Projects in Africa’. Development
in Practice. Vol. 11, No. 1, February 2001

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James Mardall – 202520037, Agriculture and Rural Development – Seminar 3

Whitcutt, N. ‘Public Works Projects – the Women’s Labour Quota Question.’

Agenda. No. 42, 1999.

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