Development communication addresses issues of gender in a variety of ways. Communication projects designed to address social problems, such as health, agriculture, population, nutrition, education, democracy, and other topics, may either target women or consider gender as a way of understanding the social context in which the issue might be best addressed. In addition, development communication also refers to the way that development discourse communicates particular assumptions made about groups of people, such as women and men, as responsible for social problems and subsequent change. The history of development communication has transitioned from no attention to women, to a recognition of women in development (WID), to gender and development (GAD), to more recent concerns raised that are pertinent to global feminism.
Following little attention to women or gender issues by early development communication scholars such as Daniel Lerner, women in international development (WID) approaches emerged in the early 1970s. Notably Boserup (1970) used data from Sub-Saharan Africa to show how women’s economic status was harmed by colonial and postcolonial aid policies favoring men. Development increased women’s workload, as men’s work was redirected to cash crops or urban employment. Women, who had traditionally farmed with the assistance of men, became almost solely responsible for food production and childcare, in addition to being forced to earn cash in the informal market.
From Boserup’s and others’ research, WID scholars argued for integrating women in economic development, an argument that catalyzed the 1975 –1985 UN Decade for Women and the implementation of women-specific programs in most aid agencies. Many studies show, however, that these changes were cosmetic and did not alter the capitalist-patriarchal basis of modernization. They affected a small minority of projects and most women remained marginalized (e.g., Staudt 1985).
The liberal feminist strategies of WID have been critiqued not only for their failures, but also for ignoring women’s reproductive work, exploiting their labor, and neglecting gender relations (Mohanty 1991). Hence, while adding women to development has helped address an affirmative action problem, it has not necessarily improved women’s lives. After a half-century of development aid, women remain poorer than men, with the greatest gender disparities in the poorest developing countries. This affects development, as improvements in women’s employment and education have been correlated to virtually all indictors of positive social change (UNDP 2007).
These findings led to the gender and development (GAD) framework, which is more sophisticated than WID in addressing the gendered context of every situation, including the ideology of male superiority and men’s control over resources. Especially instrumental in this shift was DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), a group of activists, researchers and policymakers formed during the Decade for Women (Sen and Grown 1987). GAD challenges the distribution of power in societies. GAD’s objective of empowering women by transforming patriarchal socio-economic structures threatens donor agencies that seek improvements in economic indicators but oppose fundamental social change. Nonetheless, agencies such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have embraced the rhetoric of GAD. However, as with WID stipulations, GAD applies only to some projects, and evidence thus far indicates little change in USAID practice (Wilkins 1999). Despite decades of research and dialogue on development communication, gender remains inadequately addressed.
Media and information and communication techologies (ICTs) have the potential to reinforce as well as resist women’s secondary status. For example, the Internet, mobile phones, and other interactive technologies may facilitate the sharing of information, but may also exploit women through limited and harmful representation. Hence, media monitoring and women’s media projects constitute a key area for scholars and activists (Gallagher 2001).
In addition, the spread of ICTs is widening information gaps, often referred to as the digital divide. Cybercafés and mobile phones require discretionary resources, less available to women than men. As literacy is essential for the Internet, extending women’s access requires improvements in their education (Hafkin 2006).
At the level of project communication, there is consistency between those who advocate grassroots, participatory, project planning and implementation and those who agree with GAD ideology. Critical and feminist examinations of large-scale modernization-based projects, particularly social marketing and entertainment education campaigns, are needed to expose biases that may neglect and harm poor women, while privileging men and commercial interests. While these projects are often associated with large bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, they are increasingly sponsored by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as well, many of which receive funding from government-affiliated agencies. In addition, more projects aligned with community media practices are being engaged by women’s collectives (Steeves 2007).
In sum, attention to both communication and gender in development are necessary for women’s political, economic, and cultural empowerment, as well as successful outcomes in vital areas such as health, education, and income. The spread of new information and communication technologies intensifies this mandate.
- Boserup, E. (1970). Women’s role in economic development. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Gallagher, M. (2001). Gender setting: New agendas for media monitoring and advocacy. London: Zed Books.
- Hafkin, N. (2006). Women, gender and ICT statistics and indicators. In N. Hafkin & S. Huyer (eds.), Cinderella or Cyberella? Empowering women in the knowledge society. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian, pp. 49 –70.
- Mohanty, C. (1991). Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourse. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo, & L. Torres (eds.), Third world women and the politics of feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 51– 80.
- Sen, G., & Grown, C. (1987). Development, crises, and alternative visions: Third world women’s perspectives. New York: Monthly Review Press.
- Staudt, K. (1985). Women, foreign assistance and advocacy administration. New York: Praeger.
- Steeves, H. L. (2007). The global context of women in communication. In P. J. Creedon & J. Cramer (eds.), Women in mass communication, 3rd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 191–206.
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007). Human Development Reports. At http://hdr.undp.org/en.
- Wilkins, K. (1999). Development discourse on gender and communication in strategies for social change. Journal of Communication, 49(1), 46 – 68.
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