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Fixing women or fixing the world? 'Smart economics', efficiency approaches, and gender equality in development

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This article focuses on the current trend for investing in women and girls as ‘smart economics’, which is a direct descendant of the efficiency approach to women in development (WID) prevalent in the wake of the economic crisis in the 1980s. We highlight the dangers of conflating the empowerment of women as individuals with the feminist goal of removing the structural discrimination which women face as a gendered constituency, and consider the implications for feminists in development if they adopt smart economics-speak and work in coalition with individuals and organisations who have fundamentally different aims. This has attractions in strategic terms, but risks recreating the very problems gender and development seeks to transform. Cet article se concentre sur la tendance actuelle de l'investissement dans les femmes et les filles dans le cadre de l’« économie intelligente » qui tire directement son origine de l'approche d'efficacité pour ce qui est des femmes dans le développement (WID - women in development), approche qui était très courante au lendemain de la crise économique des années 1980. Nous mettons en relief les risques que comporte le fait de relier l'autonomisation des femmes en tant qu'individus et l'objectif féministe d’élimination de la discrimination structurelle à laquelle se heurtent les femmes en tant que groupe constituant représentant un sexe, et nous examinons les implications pour les féministes dans le secteur du développement si elles adoptent un discours d’économie intelligente et travaillent dans le cadre de coalitions avec des personnes et des organisations dotées d'objectifs fondamentalement différents. Cela présente des côtés attrayants en termes stratégiques, mais risque de recréer les problèmes précis que le genre et le développement cherchent à transformer. Este artículo se centra en la tendencia actual de la “economía inteligente”, la cual propone invertir en las mujeres y niñas. Dicha orientación se remonta al enfoque basado en la metodología de la eficiencia aplicada a las “mujeres en el desarrollo” (WID por sus siglas en inglés), que prevaleció tras la crisis económica de los años ochenta. Las autoras advierten sobre el peligro de confundir el empoderamiento de las mujeres como individuos, con el objetivo de las feministas de eliminar la discriminación estructural enfrentada por las mujeres como grupo de género. Asimismo, analizan las implicaciones que, en caso de trabajar en coalición con personas y organizaciones cuyos objetivos son distintos, podría tener el uso del lenguaje de la economía inteligente para las feministas en el desarrollo. Aunque ello representa ventajas en términos estratégicos, si reproduce los mismos problemas que la perspectiva de género y el desarrollo buscan transformar, puede encerrar riesgos.
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Fixing women or fixing the world? ‘Smart
economics’, efficiency approaches, and
gender equality in development
Sylvia Chant & Caroline Sweetman
Published online: 08 Nov 2012.
To cite this article: Sylvia Chant & Caroline Sweetman (2012) Fixing women or fixing the world? ‘Smart
economics’, efficiency approaches, and gender equality in development , Gender & Development, 20:3,
517-529, DOI: 10.1080/13552074.2012.731812
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552074.2012.731812
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Fixing women or fixing the world? ‘Smart
economics’, efficiency approaches, and
gender equality in development
1
Sylvia Chant and Caroline Sweetman
This article focuses on the current trend for investing in women and girls as ‘smart
economics’, which is a direct descendant of the efficiency approach to women in
development (WID) prevalent in the wake of the economic crisis in the 1980s. We
highlight the dangers of conflating the empowerment of women as individuals with the
feminist goal of removing the structural discrimination which women face as a
gendered constituency, and consider the implications for feminists in development if
they adopt smart economics-speak and work in coalition with individuals and
organisations who have fundamentally different aims. This has attractions in strategic
terms, but risks recreating the very problems gender and development seeks to
transform.
Cet article se concentre sur la tendance actuelle de l’investissement dans les femmes et
les filles dans le cadre de l’« e
´
conomie intelligente » qui tire directement son origine de
l’approche d’efficacite
´
pour ce qui est des femmes dans le de
´
veloppement (WID -
women in development), approche qui e
´
tait tre
`
s courante au lendemain de la crise
e
´
conomique des anne
´
es 1980. Nous mettons en relief les risques que comporte le fait de
relier l’autonomisation des femmes en tant qu’individus et l’objectif fe
´
ministe
d’e
´
limination de la discrimination structurelle a
`
laquelle se heurtent les femmes en
tant que groupe constituant repre
´
sentant un sexe, et nous examinons les implications
pour les fe
´
ministes dans le secteur du de
´
veloppement si elles adoptent un discours
d’e
´
conomie intelligente et travaillent dans le cadre de coalitions avec des personnes et
des organisations dote
´
es d’objectifs fondamentalement diffe
´
rents. Cela pre
´
sente des
co
ˆ
te
´
s attrayants en termes strate
´
giques, mais risque de recre
´
er les proble
`
mes pre
´
cis que
le genre et le de
´
veloppement cherchent a
`
transformer.
Este artı
´
culo se centra en la tendencia actual de la ‘economı
´
a inteligente’’, la cual
propone invertir en las mujeres y nin
˜
as. Dicha orientacio
´
n se remonta al enfoque
basado en la metodologı
´
a de la eficiencia aplicada a las ‘‘mujeres en el desarrollo’’ (WID
por sus siglas en ingle
´
s), que prevalecio
´
tras la crisis econo
´
mica de los an
˜
os ochenta.
Las autoras advierten sobre el peligro de confundir el empoderamiento de las mujeres
como individuos, con el objetivo de las feministas de eliminar la discriminacio
´
n
Gender & Development Vol. 20, No. 3, November 2012
ISSN 1355-2074 print/1364-9221 online/12/030517 13 Oxfam GB 2012
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552074.2012.731812
517
Downloaded by [Oxfam UK] at 07:35 02 September 2015
estructural enfrentada por las mujeres como grupo de ge
´
nero. Asimismo, analizan las
implicaciones que, en caso de trabajar en coalicio
´
n con personas y organizaciones cuyos
objetivos son distintos, podrı
´
a tener el uso del lenguaje de la economı
´
a inteligente para
las feministas en el desarrollo. Aunque ello representa ventajas en te
´
rminos
estrate
´
gicos, si reproduce los mismos problemas que la perspectiva de ge
´
nero y el
desarrollo buscan transformar, puede encerrar riesgos.
Key words: smart economics; efficiency; feminist economics; empowerment; gender
equality; World Bank
Introduction
There has been enormous progress on ‘mainstreaming’ gender equality concerns into
development since the United Nations (UN) Decade for Women (1975
/1985). Yet when
we look back over the past 30 or so years, we can perhaps detect a sense of plus c
¸
a
change, plus cest la me
ˆ
me chose (the ‘more things change, the more they stay the same’),
in that the majority of development actors remain focused on narrow economic
development goals. Comparatively few have genuinely shifted their policies and
missions to reflect a concern for more holistic ideas of human development
(epitomised by the work of Amartya Sen), rights-based development, or notions of
human well-being and happiness.
This article focuses on the current widespread interest in ‘smart economics’, which
rationalises ‘investing’ in women and girls for more effective development outcomes
(Chant 2012). Soundbites on ‘smart economics’ as the rationale for investing in women
and girls have become ubiquitous. For example, UNICEF refers to the ‘Double
Dividend of Gender Equality’ (www.unicef.org). Policymakers and practitioners report
needing to argue for funding for programmes with gender equality aims on the basis
of broader social and economic impact (a trend noted in Moser 1989, who dubbed this
the ‘efficiency approach’ to women in development).
The agenda of smart economics is a far cry from the nuanced and subject-sensitive
ideas of what the empowerment of women and the attainment of gender equality
actually entails, to be found within the gender and development literature [ranging
from the early work of Caroline Moser (1989) to map what empowerment might look
like in project terms, to the ongoing work of Naila Kabeer (2003) which focuses on both
structure and agency, and to the highly participatory research and activism associated
with the Department for International Development-funded Pathways of Women’s
Empowerment project at the University of Sussex
/ see PoWE 2012]. A gender and
development approach recognises gender inequality as a relational issue, and as a
matter of structural inequality which needs addressing directly and not only by
women, but by development institutions, governments and wider society.
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Women as a development resource: the rise and rise of a big idea
The thinking behind smart economics extends back until at least the lost decadeof the
1980s, when it became eminently obvious that women, individually and collectively,
were acting as a buffer to the fall-out of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs). The
effects of SAPs included rising male un- and under-employment, falling purchasing
power, and scaled-down public-sector service provision. As Diane Elson and others
noted at the time, women were expected under SAPs to substitute for the failure of
state institutions to provide health, education, and other services for their citizens
(Elson 1991), and to make ends meet in an era of high and increasing unemployment.
Critiques of anti-poverty approaches to women in development have highlighted
the severe toll that increasing hours and intensity of work had on womens sleep,
leisure, and food (Jackson 1996). Feminists have also flagged up the limits to womens
social capital
/ that is, their reciprocal bonds and friendships / which have been relied
on to subsidise household and community survival during sustained periods of
economic crisis (Gonza
´
lez de la Rocha 2007). Yet of course, despite the critiques
asserting the injustice and unsustainability of passing the buck to women to ensure
economic survival, women did make a vast difference. Through their efforts, in the form
of increased efforts to earn money and cut back on domestic budgeting, and intensified
unpaid labour at household and community levels, households were cushioned to a
substantial degree from the worst effects of neoliberal restructuring (Elson 1991).
At the start of the focus on gender mainstreaming, at the UN Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, growing consciousness of womens apparent
ability to withstand economic crisis and carry on providing gave rise to the core message
in the World Banks flagship publication on gender issues that year: Enhancing Womens
Participation in Economic Development (World Bank 1995). In a chapter unashamedly
entitled The Pay-offs to Investing in Women, the World Bank professed that:
Investing in women is critical for poverty reduction. It speeds economic development by raising
productivity and promoting the more efficient use of resources; it produces significant social
returns, improving child survival and reducing fertility, and it has considerable inter-
generational pay-offs. (1995, 22)
Added to the economic messaging came statements alluding to evidence of other social
goods to be gained by investing in women, drawing on evidence associating female-
controlled income with better outcomes for children (Whitehead 1984), and associations
between female education and lower fertility rates (Jeffery and Jeffery 1998).
From Beijing onwards, gender equality and the empowerment of women became
increasingly adopted as a goal which made simple economic sense. The World Bank
made an explicit link to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3, Promoting Gender
Equality and Womens Empowerment, in the Gender Action Plan (GAP) 2007
/2010, as
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well as in several other World Bank publications. Gender equality itself is here
depicted as smart economics, in that it enables women to contribute their utmost skills
and energies to the project of world economic development. For example, the Global
Monitoring Report argues that:
[i]n the long run ...greater gender equality in access to opportunities, rights and voice can lead
to more efficient economic functioning and better institutions, with dynamic benefits for
investment and growth. The business case for investing in MDG 3 is strong
/ it is nothing
more than smart economics. (World Bank 2007, 145)
Yet as Naila Kabeers work has shown, including her 2003 work on the Gender
Equality MDG alluded to earlier, attention to collective action to enable women to
challenge structural discrimination has been downplayed in analyses of what womens
empowerment means in the context of the MDGs, in contrast to the education,
employment, and political leadership of individual women.
Today, the win
/win synergies assumed to exist between gender equality and
efficient economic development form part of the mission statements and change goals
of a wide range of development organisations. Many have adopted a particular focus
on young women and girls. For example, in Plan Internationals The State of the
Worlds Girls 2009: Girls in the Global Economy. Adding it All Up (2009), quotes from
two senior World Bank personnel stress that girls matter
/ not only in their own right,
but to the project of economic development. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then Managing
Director of the World Bank,
2
is quoted as claiming that: Investing in girls is the right
thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do. The current President of the Bank, Robert
B. Zoellick,
3
further asserts that: Investing in adolescent girls is precisely the catalyst
poor countries need to break intergenerational poverty and to create a better
distribution of income. Investing in them is not only fair, it is a smart economic
move (Plan International 2009, 11, 28).
Development organisations and governments have been joined in this focus on the
business case for gender equality and the empowerment of women, by businesses and
enterprises which are interested in contributing to social good. A key example is the Nike
Foundation, in its Girl Effect initiative
/ Investing in Girls has the potential to save the
world (www.youtube.com/watch?v WIvmE4_KMNw). One of the promotional
videos of the Girl Effect campaign takes the message of investing in girls to perhaps
even more extreme lengths by proposing that once these investments are made girls will
do the rest, change the course of history, and safeguard the future of humanity.
4
The real impact of smart economics on women
Why does the rise and rise of smart economics matter? We think that even if everybody
/ women and men, girls and boys / nominally stands to gain from the adoption of
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smart economics as a rationale for investing in women and girls, it is nevertheless
critical to ask some hard questions about principle and practice.
In particular, it is imperative to ask whether the goal of female investment is
primarily to promote gender equality and womens empowerment, or to facilitate
development on the cheap, and/or to promote further economic liberalisation (see
Chant 2012; Zuckerman 2007). This is because
/ as feminist critiques of SAP showed so
clearly
/ the actual lived experience of women in poor households and communities
suggests that a win
/win scenario in which poverty is alleviated, economic growth is
assured, and gender equality attained, is very far from the truth.
In fact, in the wake of macro-level global economic changes and the imperatives of
poverty reduction, women and girls in many societies are faced with a grassroots
reality of compensating for economic austerity measures and decline, which are
compounding various complex crises including food security, climate change and the
ongoing spectre of HIV. Relying only on female populations even to guarantee
business as usual, let alone transform the world, demands super-human sacrifices in
terms of time, labour, energy, and other resources (Chant 2012).
Listening to the voices of real women on the ground, it is quite clear the toll that
complex crises are taking on their lives, and the injustice that this represents. As
examples, here are two voices from recent research by Sylvia Chant (2008), which
indicate a decided trend towards a feminisation of responsibility and/or obligation.
In the Philippines, one 44-year-old female shopkeeper, part-time hospice worker, and
mother of four, declared:
A poor man will say I do not have a job, I do not have some things, and usually most will
resort to gambling or drinking ... vices ...to try and compensate them for what they dont have.
Whereas a poor woman will carry her responsibilities. She will create something in order to have
earnings. I have to have a sari-sari store (small grocery shop) to have earnings. I have to cook to
eat, to sustain ourselves, different to a man. (ibid., 177
/8, Panel 3)
In the Gambia, another mother of four, a 35-year-old fruitseller and batik-maker
echoed this:
Men are not doing anything / if they pay for breakfast, its women who pay for lunch and
dinner. Women pay for school lunches. You see the festivals, and its the women who are
selling ...some men are not working, and some men refuse to work, or if they work they dontdo
it for that [the family]. (ibid.)
From such a vantage point, it is heartening / and no surprise / that Elaine Zuckerman
from the international financial institution (IFI)-watching Washington DC-based non-
government organisation (NGO) Gender Action, complained that the World Banks
focus on gender issues in the GAP 2007
/2010 amounted to a business case [which]
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ignores the moral imperative of empowering women to achieve womens human
rights and full equal rights with men (Zuckerman 2007, 1). She further observed that:
Adhering faithfully to the Banks decades-old business model, GAP aims to increase womens
participation in land, labour, products and financial markets
/ while privatising them as much
as possible
/ which benefits corporations the most. (ibid., 2)
Possibly in reaction to such critiques, GAP 2007/2010s successor: Applying GAP
Lessons: A Three Year Road Map for Gender Mainstreaming 2010
/13 incorporated
some welcome shifts in approach and in thematic priorities. As pointed out by Gender
Actions Elizabeth Arend (2010), for example, highlights included strengthening
gender mainstreaming in Bank operations, an increased focus on maternal mortality
and reproductive health, and more comprehensive plans for gender-focused monitor-
ing and evaluation.
However, on a more negative note, Elizabeth Arend (2010) contends that these
advances are held in check by the World Banks reticence on how it actually
incorporates gender issues in projects with gender coverage and how these have
actually benefited women. Another major problem is the pernicious, if not explicitly
articulated, presence of smart economics in GAP 2010
/2013, which prioritises the
need to build and disseminate a solid business rationale for gender equality [which is]
the basic incentive for Bank staff to mainstream gender issues and for client countries
to demand gender equality work (ibid.).
In light of the contradictoriness of GAP 2010
/2013, the World Development Report
2012 (WDR 2012), coming just before its mid-term point, provided a potentially
fruitful space for a reflective pause and re-consideration. This was especially so given
the World Banks apparent enthusiasm for consulting a wide variety of stakeholders
internationally (for a full discussion of Sylvias personal experience of engagement
with the creation of the WDR 2012 with LSE colleagues and affiliates, see Chant
2012).
The fact that WDR 2012 is the first of the World Banks annual flagship
publications ever to focus on gender is, as Shahra Razavi (2011, 2) describes, a
welcome opportunity for widening the intellectual space. It indicates that the World
Bank is taking gender seriously, which will certainly affect the ways in which gender
issues are addressed in the wider development community. However, despite the fact
that the WDR does employ rights speak and give priority to gender equality as a
core goal in and of itself, which is to be applauded, we remain concerned about the
fact that reference to gender justice and rights proceeds directly to the instrumen-
tality of gender (read women) for development: in the run-up to WDR 2012, for
example, the draft document which featured on the World Banks website
proclaimed that
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The Bank recognises the importance of gender equality for poverty reduction and development
effectiveness
and that:
One rationale for policies aimed at improving gender equality has been that such policies, if
successful, will yield a large dividend in terms of economic growth. (Chant 2012, Table 2)
In the final published version, there are numerous references to smart economics
which point to clever conflations, suggesting that efficiency and rights are one and the
same (Chant 2012). In the Overview alone, for example, we hear that Gender equality
matters intrinsically ... [and] instrumentally (World Bank 2011, 3) and that Gender
equality matters for development
/ it is smart economics. An instrument for
development (ibid.).
How will these apparent contradictions play out in policies and practices informed
by the WDR 2012? Is it really possible to promote rights through utilitarianism, and if
so, what guarantee is there that the formulations of gender equality, womens rights,
womens empowerment will be achieved?
What does smart economics leave out? A feminist critique
Even if we accept that smart economics amounts to an efficiency approach with
elements of empowerment bolted on to the side, the programmes with which it is
associated rely on a reductive understanding of development and its aims, and
critically assume a much smoother and easier transition between individual economic
empowerment and engaging with the social and political structures which constrain
individuals
/ and women as a collective marginalised group / in reality. These
structures discriminate on grounds of gender, race, and class, as highlighted in gender
and development writing since the inception of the field (see Young 1984, for example).
Smart economics seeks to use women and girls to fix the world. It may be well
overdue to hear how important women and girls are for economic survival, stability,
and growth, but the literature on gender and development has long borne witness to
this, starting with Esther Boserups classic 1970 text, Womans Role in Economic
Development. It is less welcome to women who are already contributing vast amounts
to both production and unpaid reproduction to be romanticised and depicted as the
salvation of the world. Embroiled in this message is the risk of overestimating what
women are capable of in a global order characterised by on-going gender bias and
structural barriers to their capabilities. For this reason, feminist understandings of the
empowerment of women and girls living in poverty in the global South emphasise that
this involves public action to transform the laws, policies, and practices which
constrain personal and group agency.
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Another question here is, what is to be done to address the interests and needs of
the growing world population of older women? An efficiency-driven focus on young
women and girls as smart economics leaves this critical part of the global population
out. Does the empowerment of women cease to be an issue when those women move
into adulthood, or go beyond their reproductive years? In respect of the private sector
and its adoption of girls as a particular focus, are human beings only worthy of
development assistance, with their considerable contribution recognised, when they
are attractive to the media, and support youthful branding and product placements?
In addition, aside from traditionally marginalised cohorts of women, what about
male stakeholders? Smart economics messaging, and the programming emanating
from it, focuses narrowly and exclusively on the agency of women and girls, and
leaves men and boys out of the picture. Is this because the focus is on economic
investment rather than economic, social, and political change, and economic invest-
ment in men and boys is regarded as already sufficient? Or is it because the
prospective returns to development from male investments might be less than those
in their female counterparts? And if the latter is so, to what degree does this imply
the perpetuation of stereotypes of male egoism and irresponsibility versus female
altruism and self-sacrifice (Brickell and Chant 2010).
The smart economics approach represents, at best, pragmatism in a time of
economic restructuring and austerity. Without reform of the institutions whose
decisions and resource distribution shape their lives, women and girls are set up for
exhaustion and failure. As suggested earlier, analyses and programming informed by
an efficiency perspective have their roots in the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s,
casting women as agents of survival and recovery in states undergoing variations on
the standard SAPs package of reforms, focusing on cutbacks in public employment
and expenditure. In the present time of economic meltdown and austerity in many of
the countries of the global North, there is great pressure on the IFIs, on bilateral and on
international NGOs facing crises in funding, to invest in developing countries in ways
which are maximally cost-effective.
Smart economics oversimplifies complexity and shifts responsibility. Caroline
Moser (1989) charged the programmes that she saw as informed by an economic
efficiency perspective with focusing on women as being the solution to the crises
created by structural social and economic problems. Women are enlisted as
footsoldiers to serve in battles whose aims are not related directly to their interests
/
consigned to the role of conduit for policy (Molyneux 2006), in the service of others,
particularly children. This has been especially noted in the context of conditional cash
transfer (CCT) programmes and micro-finance initiatives which, in relying on
essentialising maternalist gender stereotypes and expecting particular kinds of
contributions from women, often lead to increased labour burdens and the perpetua-
tion of female altruism (ibid., also Brickell and Chant 2010; Chant 2008).
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These boost the appeal of programmes which depict their beneficiaries as
requiring merely a simple injection of funds or training before becoming powerhouses
of agency and action. Such programmes leave much of the responsibility for project
success or failure on the shoulders of the women and girls depicted as strong,
resourceful, and endlessly energetic in their efforts to better themselves, their families,
and their nations (Cornwall and Anyidoho 2010).
This reminds us of the scenarios critiqued by feminists in the 1980s, in which the
impact of SAPs on the care economy as governments rolled back social spending was
mitigated by womens labour in the soup kitchens and at home. How fanciful is it to
see the same dynamics of exhaustion, asset depletion, and disillusion now affecting the
women and girls which smart economics approaches depend on to deliver the
development goods? (Rai et al. 2011).
How should feminists engage with smart economics?
Many feminists working in development institutions who have profound ideological
difficulties with an instrumental focus on women that focuses on them and their rights
purely due to a concern for other development goals, actually use these arguments
strategically. The discussions at the Beyond Gender Mainstreaming Learning Event
which forms a part of the project giving rise to this issue of Gender & Development bore
witness to this reality
/ noted by Cecile Jackson in her 1996 paper Rescuing Gender
from the Poverty Trap. The work of gender mainstreaming in development is difficult,
often demoralising, and frequently very poorly resourced, in terms of both human
resources and financial support. This requires strategic decisions about working in
coalition with stakeholders whose understanding and vision of what they are about is
very different from ones own; and on flexibility in recognising shared opportunities for
work which further goals which are shared, sometimes by very different players.
Of course the resources which come to women and girls from programmes and
projects informed by efficiency and smart economics perspectives are incredibly welcome
to them. A pragmatic perspective which is widely held by many gender and development
policy advisors and practitioners is that these resources can be taken and used by women
regardless of the original intent. For many, they represent the only source of funds and
other resources. The working model of empowerment that these projects use depends on
attitudes and beliefs in wider society responding positively to a growing number of
women using resources wisely and transforming their family and community well-being.
The approach taken in projects is all-important. Micro-finance projects have been
widely discussed in relation to their ability to support the empowerment of women
involved in them (Mayoux 2006), but there is a clear message that the answer to the
question of how helpful they are is, it depends. One major factor is that projects which
focus on savings seem to be more successful than those focusing on credit. Another is
that transformative potential
/ Kate Youngs term, from her classic work on gender
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mainstreaming (1993) / needs to be integrated consciously into these projects. In
addition, development funders need to focus consciously on getting institutions right for
women(Goetz 1995), focusing on the links between male bias in their culture and broad
aims, the interventions they make and fund, and outcomes for women on the ground.
Much gender equality work relies on funds from organisations which have no such
issues with the concept of women delivering development goals to benefit others, with
little or no emphasis on the well-being, empowerment or rights of the women
themselves. To adopt a focus on smart economics is a useful pragmatic strategy for
many gender and development advocates and activists. Many of them would prefer to
use more radical and transformative messaging, but recognise that they are engaging
with politically and socially conservative institutions which need to be involved on
their own terms. For international NGOs and other development organisations
participating in advocacy and campaigning for change in international bodies and
national government, arguments based on justice and a commitment to equality may
have less chance of success than arguments linking (aspects of) the empowerment of
women with efficient, cost-effective development goals.
Conclusion
In smart economics, lack of an essentially political critique of what is wrong with
the world at the level of analysis results in programming which focuses solely on
the agency of individual women and girls to deliver development goals
/ changing
the world with minimal or no support from other actors. Since development
institutions are part and parcel of the structure of society surrounding women and
girls, they need in addition to analyse and challenge the structural inequalities
which constrain the rights, choices, aspirations, and dreams of women and girls.
This suggests a course of action which focuses on the relational aspects of gender
inequality
/ taking into account men and their roles, and concentrating on the
advocacy role of development institutions representing the interests of women and
girls to governments, among others. Feminists working in development therefore
need to be very careful 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.
We have argued in this article that the agenda of smart economics is a far cry from
the nuanced and careful ideas of what the empowerment of women and the attainment
of gender equality actually entails to be found within the gender and development lit-
erature. It is the descendant of the efficiency approach to women in development
identified by Caroline Moser in the late 1980s (Moser 1989). As such, smart economics
Gender & Development Vol. 20, No. 3, November 2012
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returns our gaze to women and their agency, in an approach which fails to focus on the
existence of structural discrimination against women in IFIs, governments, and private
business. This structural discrimination constrains the agency of women and girls and
presents many of them with insurmountable obstacles, despite their best efforts to
advance their own interests and meet their own needs.
In order to expand their agency, women and girls need well-placed actors in
development institutions to remove the structural constraints on it
/ by challenging
and dismantling gender
/ and race and class / biases in their analyses, policies, and
practice. In contrast to smart economics, what is needed is a gender and development
approach which recognises inequality as a relational issue, and which recognises the
equal rights of all women and girls
/ regardless of age, or the extent of nature of their
economic contribution. Gender and development should also involve the inclusion of
other social actors vital in supporting the empowerment of women
/ including, most
importantly, men and boys.
Smart economics is concerned with building womens capacities in the interests of
development rather than promoting womens rights for their own sake. We think this
matters, because it does the agenda of the empowerment of women and the attainment
of gender equality a very significant disservice. Going forward, it is necessary to
reassert the primacy of gender justice and rights in a manner which eschews the notion
that it is only worth investing in women if they can fix the world.
Sylvia Chant is Professor of Development Geography at the London School of Economics and Political
Science. Postal address: Department of Geography and Environment, LSE, Houghton Street, London
WC2A 2AE, UK. Email: s.chant@lse.ac.uk
Caroline Sweetman is Editor of Gender & Development.
Notes
1 Matthew Gutmanns main title for his 2009 monograph on sex, birth control, and AIDS
in Mexico was Fixing Men (Gutmann 2009). We are very grateful to Matthew for
giving us permission to adapt his phrase.
2 In July 2011, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala left the World Bank to become Minister of Finance
in Nigeria in the new administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
3 Robert Zoellick was appointed as the 11th President of the World Bank in 2007.
4 Interesting reactions to the Nike Girl Effect campaign can be read on the Aid Watch
blog on So now we have to save ourselves and the world too? A critique of the ‘‘Girl
Effect’’’ at http://aidwatchers.com/2011/01/so-now-we-have-to-save-ourselves-and-
the-world-too (last checked by the authors October 2012) and on Contestations, Dialogues
on Womens Empowerment, Issue 4, March 2011 at www.contestations.net/issues/issue-
4/ (last checked by the authors October 2012).
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