Chapter 7


British Aid and Gender


Any assessment of the extent to which British aid has been meeting the needs of the poorest communities in the Third World is obliged to examine its impact on women. There are often great differences in consumption levels and access to resources within Third World families between male and female members. The impact of development projects on the welfare of women is crucial in determining the benefits or otherwise to the family as whole. As we will see below, improvements, as a result of "development", for a male head of household have been known to result in a decline for the rest of the family, for example.

While this problem has been acknowledged by the Overseas Development Administration it is clear that this is a huge area in terms of numbers of people involved and the universality of its occurrence. No aid agency can claim to have done anything more than scratch the surface of this development area.

It is convenient, for the purposes of this account, to take as our starting point the initiation, by the UN in 1975, of an international debate on the subject of development and gender in the form of the UN Decade for Women. The inspiration for this initiative came from the pioneering work of Ester Boserup, Women's Role in Economic Development, in 1970 which was probably the first definitive analysis of this dimension of development studies. As a result of this debate, a number of governments began to promote development programmes aimed specifically at women. The decade ended with a UN Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi in 1985 at which a set of recommendations called "Forward Looking Strategies" were adopted by all UN member states, which attempted to address the problem of integrating women into the development process.

Britain supported the UN initiative and has promoted a number of projects which were aimed at women. It adopted the recommendations of the Nairobi conference. The recommendations focussed on the continuing lack of political will which existed within the majority of member states to end the exclusion of women from the development process. They also called upon each country to draw up a plan of action with guidelines and appropriate procedures as well as monitoring and evaluation techniques aimed at implementing the Conference recommendations. They further called for improvements in access by women's organisations to credit, extension services and training and for women's development needs to be integrated more centrally into development education programmes. They also called for greater participation by women in technical cooperation assistance, where the percentage of women taking up overseas study had been particularly low, and for a more equitable gender balance at all levels in the administration of aid.[282]

As with the UN targets on aid as a proportion of donor country GNP, verbal acknowledgment of recommendations is an abstraction unless a timetable for implementing them is drawn up. An attempt to pin down the Minister for Overseas Development on this was attempted in the Commons shortly after the Nairobi Conference by the Alliance MPs David Alton and Alan Beith through a series of written questions. These question asked what steps the Minister was taking to emphasise strategies to assist women to generate income, to strengthen the evaluation of the effect of Britain's aid programme on women, to enhance the role of African women as food producers, to ensure that women are given access to training programmes and to establish special relief programmes. Mr Raison replied:

"We support the objectives contained in paragraph 115 of the United Nations Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. Procedures were introduced in the ODA in 1984 to ensure that project work took better account of the role and needs of women... Assessment of how aid projects affect women is already an integral part of our evaluation studies. With our partners in the OECD we are considering how to improve the information in this respect, particularly governing statistics at our disposal... we support the recommendations in paragraph 177... and fully appreciate the importance of African women as food producers. We should be happy to consider requests from African Governments to help in enhancing their role in this respect... We should be happy to consider requests from developing countries, to which paragraph 186... was directed, to help with the activities there specified, including, where appropriate, training in Britain... We fully recognise the problem of refugees and displaced women and children, and have responded generously to special appeals from... international agencies..."[283]

The ODA published in 1986 a booklet, Women in Development and the British Aid Programme, setting out its policy on women and development, as well as a later edition in 1989, Women, Development and the British Aid Programme.[284]

The first edition came under attack in a report from the pressure group War on Want because it committed the ODA to implement projects aimed at women only where it was considered "relevant", because it rejected the idea of financing some projects entirely for women on the grounds that ODA thought that this would be "tokenism", and because it rejected the idea of setting up a special unit to deal with women's affairs. The ODA 1986 booklet also quoted Minister Timothy Raison saying:

"I am against the notion that we should split the aid programme with different sectors by age, sex, class or creed."[285]

Against this the War on Want Report pointed out:

"But the aid programme is already split, with women and the poorest groups receiving few of the benefits of aid and most of the problems. And while women are the responsibility of all the staff at the ODA, by default they become the responsibility of no-one... few project documents are required to include a statement describing the impact on women."[286]

One of a long series of closely related questions from Gwyneth Dunwoody reflecting the War on Want Report to Minister Chris Pattern took up these issues:

"Mrs. Dunwoody asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) if he will create a special fund to finance projects of specific interest to women giving priority to funding projects established by Third World women's organisations, and if he will make a statement. (2) if he will increase the number of women's advisers to form a fully funded and resourced women's unit designed to initiate policy on women and development and to oversee its implementation.

"Mr Chris Patten: Our policy is to integrate concern for women into all ODA activities. ODA officials are aware of the importance attached to taking account of the impact of our activities on women and our social development advisers provide the experts needed. I believe that a separate women's unit or special fund would tend to 'marginalise' women' interests."[287]

The same report further pinpointed the problem of identifying women's needs in the construction and implementation of aid projects in the appraisal, monitoring and evaluation process which all ODA projects have to undergo. A Checklist at the appraisal stage and a Policy Guidance Note on the Role of Social Advisers is supposed to ensure that these needs are kept in mind. If the ODA staff formulating a project consider that there is a danger that women's interests may be affected, then they should consult with the social development adviser. Even if this is not done it is assumed that the Checklist has been consulted. But, as the War on Want report notes, in contrast to economic, financial and technical issues:

"There is no requirement to include in the project appraisal a statement on the social impact or the impact on women. There is, therefore, no way of assessing if the checklist and the guidelines have been used. The range of guidelines to be consulted within the ODA is massive."[288]

Similarly with the monitoring stage:

"The way monitoring is carried out varies with the Geographical Departments and country desks at ODA HQ and also with the different (overseas) Development Divisions... Development Divisions (however) might not have enough staff to make detailed studies on the social or gender impact of the programme. It seems that project monitoring varies with geographical area, and does not fit the ODA's official blueprint."[289]

And at the evaluation stage:

"The incorporation of women and development in the new (1986) guidelines is a result of new agreements within the OECD. However, an impact statement on women is not required and from studying some reports, it appears that mention of women depends rather on the attitude of the evaluators."[290]

As the report also pointed out, evaluations which might be deemed embarrassing to Britain or a recipient government are not made public. The ODA claims that these projects account for a third of all projects. As the War on Want report states, this makes an assessment of evaluations and their conclusions in relation to women virtually impossible.

Such a view was echoed also by Oxfam in its Oxfam White Paper. This says that the ODA's way of dealing with women's issues

"... might just be a sustainable point of view if there was evidence that the aid programme was seen to be taking the 'gender" issue seriously. Sadly, it is not.

"At the moment responsibility for women's issues is split between the Social Development Advisers. Yet a recent analysis shows that only some 28 per cent by value of projects fell under the scrutiny of the Social Development Advisers. Yet it is clear from first-hand observation by Oxfam and other voluntary agencies that many of the projects falling under the 72 per cent of the remaining projects affect women directly – and sometimes devastatingly... if all projects were to be referred to the Social Development Advisers, the current resources available to them would mean that they would either be completely swamped or, at best, able to give projects no more than a cursory glance."[291]

Once again these issues received an airing in the Commons during the series of written questions from Gwyneth Dunwoody, formulated as follows:

"Mrs Dunwoody asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether all documents issued from his Department carry an assessment of the impact of their projects or programmes on women and if he will make a statement.

"Mr Chris Patten: Since last year it has been standard ODA procedure for evaluations to include an assessment of the impact of the aided activity on women where this is relevant. The evaluation reports issued will include these assessments".[292]

The Minister's answer, of course, neatly side-stepped the question, which was whether all documents assess women's interests. The recurrence of the words "where relevant" already used in the ODA booklet on women and development also indicated a continuation of the policy of leaving decisions about women's interests dependent on the subjective interpretations of the assessors of projects rather than making it a mandatory requirement.

The War on Want report did note, however, that the ODA had recently tightened up its procedure for large projects, but as we have noted already "large projects" accounted for only a tiny proportion of the aid programme – 90 per cent of aid projects were less than £1 million at the time the report was written in 1987. There is no reason to suspect that this proportion has changed substantially since then, if allowances are made for the effects of inflation. ODA Social Development Advisers, however, now claim that there have been some positive developments on this question. In response to a question about whether it was mandatory to assess projects in terms of their effects on women, they gave the following reply:

"Well, the Minister's said it in public now and it's in our report. It only became mandatory six months ago. We have to report to the Minister every year on progress on our women and development strategy and then make recommendations about how to do it better. One of the recommendations which the Minister has accepted in that report is that [AW1] any project more than £250,000 there must be a mandatory women and development statement. The £250,000 cut off was to appease the geographical desks who didn't want to have to fiddle with too many regulations on very mini, mini projects.There are very few projects really as projects which are less than £250,000."[293]

Proposals for projects over £250,000 are now obliged to state whether any disadvantaged sections of the population, including women, will benefit from the project, which has led to more projects being submitted to the Social Development Advisers. However, the role of the Social Development Advisers is still largely confined to commenting on projects initiated elsewhere, rather than initiating projects themselves explicitly to help women. One issue raised in both the War on Want report and the Oxfam White Paper on the division of responsibility for women's interests between two social development advisers was raised in the Commons:

"Mrs Dunwoody asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the present women's adviser post will be reformulated within the aid programme so that it is held by one woman who has no additional responsibilities.

"Mr Chris Patten: Specialist advice on women's issues is provided by the ODA's social development advisers. This ensures that our concerns for women's role in development and measures taken to enhance it are understood in a broader social context; I believe this makes our work more effective."[294]

Another problem which the War on Want report highlighted was the low percentage of women being given training under the technical cooperation programme. This programme allows students from recipient countries to be given training in Britain and allows technical experts from Britain to provide assistance in recipient countries. The report drew attention to figures in an ODA evaluation of the programme that in 1981 only 14 per cent of students coming to Britain under the technical cooperation programme were women.[295]

The ODA argued that the causes of this low figure were under- representation of women in host developing countries, the low number of nominations by recipient governments and the supposed inability of women to accept nominations because of domestic commitments.

The War on Want report, whilst accepting that there was an under- representation of women in developing countries themselves, contested the view that women necessarily felt the absence of their families more than men students and cited the evidence of an MA research thesis by an aid administrator.[296]

The report went on to suggest other factors which could just as easily form a basis for research into this whole question. These were the fact that awards were offered in defined subject areas, such as engineering and science and agriculture, which were perceived to be male preserves and the lower number of awards granted to subjects where women were more likely to study, such as health, nutrition education and welfare, the lack of additional resources lower down the education ladder to enable girls to attain higher educational qualifications and the unwillingness to provide quotas for female trainees.

The question of "male" subjects reflects the priorities of the aid programme as a whole with its emphasis on high-tech capital intensive "hardware" projects and its lower priority in practice, in terms of finance devoted, to poverty-focussed projects.

Once again this aspect of the report received attention in the Commons:

"Mrs Dunwoody asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if his Department finances research on the problems of recruiting and selecting women trainees on British Aid-funded scholarships; and what research has been done by his department on how the proportion of women on the technical cooperation training programme can be increased.

"Mr Chris Patten: We intend to finance research on the constraints to increasing the proportion of women benefiting from ODA-funded training awards. Terms of reference for such a study have been prepared and we are in the process of identifying a suitably qualified researcher.

"Mr Tom Clarke asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the number of women, and the percentage they constitute, who obtain places on technical cooperation training courses.

Mr Chris Patten: Women received 980 (16.8 per cent of the total) new training awards in the year ending 31 March 1987."[297]

Another question related to the number of women employed by the ODA itself.

"Mrs Dunwoody asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he had any plans to conduct a study on the proportion of women in the Overseas Development Administration; and if he will publish in the Official Report the changes in that proportion over the past five years.

"Mr Chris Patten: The Overseas Development Administration already monitors the proportion of women in its employment, their access to training and relative success in career advancement. The proportion of women employed in the Overseas Development Administration on 1st April of the past five years and on July 1987 is:


Year            Total Staff        Number of Women         %


1982              2,035                      771                   37.89

1983              1,927                      714                   37.05

1984              1,753                      684                   39.02

1885              1,617                      641                   39.64

1986              1,608                      635                   39.49

1987              1,548                      622                   40.18[298]


The publication of the War on Want report would, as we have seen, appear to have been an important stimulus to activity in the Commons. In addition to the already mentioned long series of related written questions put by Gwyneth Dunwoody to the Minister of Overseas Development Chris Pattern, many more questions, some thirteen in total on similar themes, were put over the next few years. The report had obviously generated a good deal of concern.

As we have already seen in the chapter on Aid and the Environment, there is evidence from a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General that Environmental Advisers have not been properly consulted in a number of projects. This was also true for Social Development Advisers. It will be recalled that in the case of the ATP funded Rihand Power station project :

"... the [Overseas Development] Administration gave urgent approval in principle, subject to confirmation of the project's developmental value at appraisal and to the Department of Trade and Industry's acceptance that it should be financed from the Aid and Trade Provision. The Administration did not have a detailed specification for the power station or know of its intended location; and there was no prior assessment of its priority or soundness. However, they expected the project to qualify for aid because of the known shortage of generating capacity in the Indian power system."[299]

The results of such lack of assessment on social developmental grounds were summarised by Percy and Hall in their 1989 report:

"In total 267 villagers, predominantly small and marginal farmers, were driven from their homes. Before the bulldozers moved in, a neat package of 'resettlement and rehabilitation' measures were drawn up by the project authorities. These included money for lost homes and lands; the building of a housing colony; training in new skills; and preferential employment in the plant and ancillary industries.

Haraq, a tribal who owned three acres: 'The authorities will not give me a penny for my land. I have no 'patta' (land entitlement deeds)'. He is not alone. When we spoke to him 116 families faced the same problem. Without the deeds the authorities will not pay up."[300]

In addition, the jobs provided in the power station were only 70 in number and all were casual, part-time, unskilled and with no training provided. One might well ask how this particular project bettered the employment or housing prospects of the women who were displaced as no information on, or evaluation of, this dimension of the project is provided.

In the related Amlohri open-cast coal mine project which was to supply the power station, the National Audit Office report states:

"Administration advisers had not visited the site; social development and environmental advisers were not consulted...The extent of the appraisal was comparable to those for Aid and Trade Provision projects and fell short of the depth normally accorded to Country Programme projects...The Amlohri submission to the Projects and Evaluations Committee made no reference to the issues of land acquisition and resettlement...There was also conflicting evidence about the extent of land resettlement and the size of the population affected. There has also been unrest between villagers and mine staff.[301]

The Oxfam White Paper suggested a number of areas which the ODA ought to focus on if its implementation and evaluation of projects in relation to gender is to be serious. It argued that if all projects were to be assessed by social development advisers then this department should be strengthened so that it could do the job properly. Secondly, since women were the poorest of the poor in the Third World, a stronger commitment to poverty-focussed aid was necessary. Thirdly, Britain's commitments to the recommendations contained in Forward Looking Strategies, as with other UN targets, was abstract until a timetable for implementing them was established. This should be a priority. Lastly, since structural adjustment hit the poorest hardest, and women and children in particular, a commitment should be made to adopt the proposals of UNICEF on mitigating the effects of such adjustments and, in particular, avoiding a too rigid imposition of such measures.

In the 1989 edition of the ODA booklet, the formulation in the earlier addition of the objective of implementing projects aimed at women "where relevant" was dropped and replaced with "wherever an opportunity arises". This is another fairly typical piece of Whitehall rhetorical ambivalence in the sense that, in the Third World, where examples of the exclusion of women from development are everywhere, it seems to imply that somehow there is a shortage of possible opportunities to help women.

Similarly there was little change on "tokenism":

"We aim to take account of women in all parts of the aid programme. We expect ODA officials, whatever their field of responsibility, or specialism, to seek the fullest participation of women in development activities. We do not want women's interests to be marginalised or given token recognition."[302]

This view regards the placing of responsibility for women's issues in a specific unit as somehow mutually exclusive of an ongoing attempt to "take account of women in all parts of the aid programme", but this is not necessarily the case. Why not do both and at least ensure that at least some projects aimed at women are implemented by a special unit for women's projects? Such an approach recognises that it takes time to eradicate institutional gender-bias, but that steps could be taken to make a start in the meantime, in a specially set up unit staffed by women motivated to oversee it.

Aid Minister in the mid-1980s, Timothy Raison, expressed his view on this question in an interview conducted as part of the research for this thesis as follows:

"CE. What about the issue of a special unit for women?

TR. What would the object be?

CE. Well, the argument has been that a special unit concentrating on initiating projects especially for women, instead of commenting on projects or advising people who are running projects initiated elsewhere,... a women's unit would be able to ensure that at least some projects would be actually got through....

TR. Well I'm rather sceptical about that. I mean there were many projects, important projects which were to do with women. Take one example the Orrissa, the big ODA project in Orrissa, very much to do with women and children.

CE. It's a question of: does the amount of resources devoted to women reflect the actual need...?

TR. Well, you know, there comes a point where I just don't go along with this argument. I think you should help communities and I think communities happen to be made up of men, women and children and if you are trying to help the community you should consider them all. I don't particularly believe in a separate aid programme.

CE. There have been arguments that...

TR. I know there are arguments, but one doesn't have to accept every, you know, fashionable idea that's put forward if one is being valid."[303]

It would appear from the above that this former ODA Minister does not recognise that women are either disadvantaged compared to men in relation to development or in need of special and specific support in terms of aid. This was made clear at a later point in the interview when he was specifically invited to recognise the disadvantaged position of women.

"CE. If you are considering the needs of the poorest isn't it women who are at the bottom of the pile?

TR. Well they are a very important part but I think... my view is that if you are doing an agricultural project you should look at the community as a whole. You should say we are concerned what happens to the women, what happens to the children, what happens to the men, what happens to the families. I mean that's the approach I would take."[304]

The view that gender was not a high priority under Raison is shared by ODA Social Development Advisers. In claiming that their opposition to a Women's Unit has now been vindictated by the decline in WID units in other development agencies, they admit that women's issues were not taken seriously within the ODA when it was opposing such a unit in the early and mid-1980s.

"I mean it really was a very marginal issue ... in all honesty when the ODA in the early '80s said that there shouldn't be a WID unit because it would marginalise they were obviously not giving the issue much importance."[305]

As a spokesperson for the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO), which lobbies the ODA on gender issues, about a gender unit at the ODA, points out, in relation to a women's unit[AW2] :

"I think it demonstrates a specific level of commitment to the issue. And also it depends what they do with it... what do they do with this gender unit. If they let it get on with its own work, no need to sort of fund its own women's issues, women's organisations or women's projects then, yes, it will be marginalised. But if they actually integrate it into that whole system whereby projects pass through the gender unit to have it okayed as far as a gender perspective is concerned then of course it will have much greater impact on their work. And then what kind of authority are they going to give that veto. On the environmental thing... because the environment is such a buzz word and it's such a hot issue at the moment. If the environmental impact is considered too negative, too much, too awful they won't let a project go through, they won't go past that stage of project proposaling, of getting a project proposal together. So would they then give the gender unit the same level of authority in terms of vetoing a particular project because it is detrimental to women in this particular country or that particular area or what have you? Then, you know, it makes a difference. But if they are just going to have a gender unit that's stuck off on the side there and just gets on with its work in whatever way it does, is given a budget or not or whatever, then yes it might become marginalised, but not necessarily – it depends what they do with it."[306]

On the other hand, the Social Development Advisers say that they want to avoid the situation in some other aid agencies where there are small WID units and WID specific projects, but where they only account for, say, 5 per cent of the budget and the rest of the aid programme ignores women's issues. This is obviously another very real danger to be avoided. A new system of internationally agreed statistical reporting on aid for women to the OECD DAC by bilateral aid agencies has been negotiated recently. This attempts to incorporate data on "WID-specific" projects as well as on "WID-integrated" aid. ODA Social Development Advisers claim that this now obliges desk officers to ask themselves a number of questions in relation to women and ensures that women's issues are consciously incorporated into project design. The requirements for statistical reporting are thus being used as a lever for the inclusion of gender issues. Social Development Advisers also point to other developments in relation to gender.

The vehicle for statistical reporting is a series of questions which forms part three of the Checklist for the Participation of Women in Development Projects. These questions are reproduced in Appendix 5.

The first two questions simply ask whether women are the primary targets, ie WID specific (question 1) or part of a more general target group, ie not WID specific (question 2). A negative answer to both these question means that the project is classified as "WID not relevant". A positive answer to either of the questions leads to four subsequent questions designed to identify the project in terms of positive measures to relate the project to women. These questions therefore asked whether there had been consultation with women (question 3); whether women participated actively in the implementation of the project (question 4); whether barriers to women's participation have been identified and whether measures have been taken to overcome them (question 5); and whether expertise on gender questions had been utilised throughout the project cycle (question 6). If the answer to all the questions was positive then the project is classified as WID-integrated. If at least one positive answer was given, but less than all four, then it is classified as WID-relevant. The other parts of the Checklist deal with project design (part 2) and provide some information on women in development issues (part 1).

The use of the Checklist by the ODA is reviewed in the Report of Progress in Implementing ODA's Policy on Women in Development 1989/90, which is the annual report to the Minister on these issues. Annexe 1 of this report notes that the Checklist had not yet reached the desks at Higher Executive Officer (HEO) level and below. It also reported that the Checklist had not been circulated for insertion into the ODA Office Procedures, contrary to ODA policy. It seems that it was later decided that it should not be included in the Office Procedures after all and that it would be used merely as a vehicle for training. The reason for this is not clear, but it certainly prompted the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO) WID Group, an organisation which has been lobbying the ODA, to question the commitment of ODA officials to this Checklist.

The same annexe reported on the work of a team from University College, Swansea which had investigated project submissions for evidence of gender awareness. The team found that only 40 out of the 201 projects over £50,000 submitted during 1989 and 1990 even mentioned women at all. Of those that mentioned women, however, 13 were found to have a potentially negative effect on women. Eighteen were classified as "WID-not relevant". The remaining 22 projects were classified as either WID-relevant (20 projects) or WID-integrated (2 projects). There were apparently no WID-specific projects submitted in this two-year period. Thus only 10 per cent of projects had any measures which were designed to make them relevant to women; 90 per cent were completely irrelevant to women. Only 1 per cent could be said to be systematically attempting to address women's specific needs. No projects were initiated specifically in the interests of women. This is not a very impressive score when one considers that women are a disadvantaged majority of the Third World population!

They also managed, as we have already noted, to persuade the ODA in 1988 to develop a strategy plan for women and development which the advisers regard as a breakthrough. They have to report once a year to the Minister on progress in relation to women and development and make recommendations on how to improve it. As we have already noted, the number of Social Development Advisers in London has increased from two in 1986 to five now. In terms of projects aimed specifically at women, there are a few projects but this aspect of the aid programme is still very minor.

"We've got two kinds of project: WID-specific and WID-integrated. And WID-specific are projects which are focussing specifically on women. Now we can do those in the ODA, but we don't do it with earmarked money – it's just part of the bilateral aid programme. We don't have many of them, but we do have one or two. But most of our projects would be WID-integrated."[307]

The ODA Social Development Advisers cited as a "flagship" project relevant to women the Ghanaian Non-Formal Literacy Project. The project attempts to strengthen the work of the newly created Non-Formal Education Division of the Ghanaian Ministry of Education. This body was created with the intention of eliminating illiteracy in Ghana by the year 2000. It is attempting to do so through community-based informal adult education techniques, with the emphasis on providing "functional literacy" related to practical everyday requirements of the learners. The project is funded by the World Bank's Ghana Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Costs of Adjustment (PAMSCAD).

The background to the PAMSCAD in Ghana has been highlighted very effectively by Teresa Hayter. Structural Adjustment Programmes have led to a number of IMF/ World Bank riots in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Zambia. There was also tension between the government and the trade unions in Ghana in 1987. In the same year UNICEF published Adjustment with a Human Face: Protecting the Vulnerable and Promoting Growth, which argued that Structural Adjustment should be implemented with less of the burden falling on the poor. The initial reaction of the World Bank was to question whether Structural Adjustment had any effects on income distribution. For example in Ghana the PAMSCAD project was initiated in 1987 by UNICEF and the Ghanaian Government. Hayter quotes from a very revealing article in the Financial Times, which said:

"Initially the World Bank, on which the success of Ghana's economic programme largely depends, would have little to do with the PAMSCAD proposals. According to Accra-based UNICEF officials, it denied that the adjustment policies it was financing with $160m credit were having negative social effects."[308]

However, it later began to acknowledge that short-term, "transitional" hardship was occurring and that certain well-placed sectors of the population were capable of undermining Structural Adjustment unless certain measures were taken to alleviate the effects of austerity on these groups. The Bank consequently reversed its decision not to fund PAMSCAD. One of the threatened groups cited by the article was "rural households with low productivity". It is against this background that the Ghana Non-Formal Literacy Project has to be viewed.[309]

The ODA co-funded the pilot phases of this project, contributing £1.4 billion over a three year period from 1988 to 1991 (although the pilot areas were selected in 1988, delays meant that the pilot phase did not get under way formally until 1990). The project was subsequently extended nationally, and this phase is due to run until 1996.

It might have been expected that a "flagship" women's project would have consciously incorporated from its inception special measures to address the enormous problems faced by women trying to overcome illiteracy. A summary of the pilot phase of the project written by ODA Social Development Adviser Pat Holden appeared to recognise that this was not the case, however, when it spoke of future specific measures designed to benefit women rather than already existing ones:

"... from the beginning there has been a strong emphasis on literacy for women... although women currently attend classes in large numbers, their particular needs will receive closer attention in future through consultancy support to the WID officer in the NFE Division. Areas to be considered are:-

      evaluation of materials and how appropriate they are to women's needs (ie most women are overwhelmingly concerned with access to credit).

      research into women's needs.

      the training of women facilitators (currently the majority are men).

      the consultation process with women over functional requirements/timing of classes.

      links between functional literacy and community action/empowerment – breaking the 'culture of silence'.

      provision of child-minding.

–     appropriate buildings (classrooms have small seats which make it difficult for women with babies on them).

      consultation with women's organisation/their involvement in the programme."[310]

The project would appear to have suffered from the classic problems of many projects which have not been specifically initiated for women from the beginning. This may well have been connected to the way in which the Ghanaian PAMSCAD programme was initiated. The programme as we have seen above was in fact initiated by UNICEF and the Ghanaian Government. The World Bank was subsequently "morally shamed" (in the words of an Accra-based aid official mentioned in the Financial Times article cited above) into backing it. The ODA also then supported the programme. The Social Development Advisers it would thus seem were obliged to operate on the familiar basis of damage limitation after the project had been initiated. The fact that the majority of facilitators were men would seem to indicate that insufficient thought had gone into the need for recruiting more women at the inception of the project, for example.

The Project Identification Proposal for expansion of the project nationally submitted to the World Bank in 1991 by the Ghanaian Ministry of Education does devote a paragraph to the fact that women are disproportionately affected by illiteracy: "While 42.2 per cent of Ghanaian males aged 9 years or over could write, only 23.4 per cent of women could do the same."[311]

It also specifically mentions as one of its long-term objectives the need "to identify groups of illiterate villagers of both sexes who are interested in becoming literate." (p10) The section on research mentions the need for this to include the "learning needs of women" (p11). A number of references are made to the need to involve women's organisation, the 31st December Women's Movement, in the project. In the chapter on selection of voluntary facilitators, "women's group organisers" are mentioned as having shown interest in wishing to participate in this role, although no steps are outlined to ensure that women do in fact participate proportionately to their percentage of the population. In the chapter on training "women in development" is listed as being a topic to be covered (p46) and the regional training teams are described as being made up of "7 highly qualified men and women". There is also a reference to the need to evaluate "the impact of the literacy programme on the economic and social status of women" (p68). However, there is repeated usage of the word "manpower" in the document, indicating an insensitivity to the gender connotations of language being used.

It has to be said, therefore, that although women get a mention in the document there is nothing like the systematic attention required to the need for active measures designed to address the enormous and specific problems that women face in trying to overcome illiteracy. In the seventy pages the references are few and far between, and they are left unelaborated. Women are mentioned in passing, nearly always in merely a part of a single sentence. The most that is devoted to them is one paragraph at the beginning which mentions that they are disproportionately affected by illiteracy. There are no specific proposals on how to redress this, however. The Project Identification Proposal document, therefore, does not really enlighten the reader in relation to what this "flagship" women's project is all about. It is clear that the project falls into the category of "WID-relevant" but not specific in keeping with most other ODA projects.

The issue on which the ODA have made some progress is on training in gender issues. One day a month is set aside for this training. The forms which institutional gender bias take have been succinctly summarised in relation to professional disciplines within rural development institutions by Penelope Roberts as follows:

"The biases of professional disciplines represented by the major departments responsible for rural development have been persistently in favour of export crops rather than the food crops which women grow, in favour of large livestock rather than the small livestock which women may own, in favour of forestry rather than the maintenance of village fuel supplies for which women are responsible. The gaps between professions makes matters worse. Water engineers design rural water supplies without any knowledge of the preferences of the water hauler or of how to learn from and advise women users about maintenance and management. Agronomists develop new crops without considering how they are to be processed or by whom, let alone whether they are suitable to the undervalued but irreplaceable skills of cooking to which women must devote so much of their time."[312]

An unpublished Oxfam paper in 1983, by Suzanne Williams, further stressed the need for the involvement of women in the design and implementation of aid projects and showed that the controversy over the need for women staff and special agencies for dealing with women's issues is symptomatic of a very real and deep-going problem and is not just a rhetorical dispute. Firstly, given the fact of women's relative powerlessness within the Third World community and within the household, it is most often the case that they are represented by men when development decisions are taken and this is further compounded by the fact that aid agencies are staffed disproportionately by men. When it is considered that, as Williams points out:

"The nature of the problem itself often makes it extremely difficult for Oxfam field staff to obtain the information necessary for an understanding of the real needs of poor women. In societies where women are not permitted by men to take part in discussions on a community level, it can be difficult even for female field staff to gain access to the silent half of the community. It is virtually impossible for male field staff. The same usually holds true for intermediate agents. In addition, it is often important to realise that women will often, by virtue of their social context, transmit the dominant representations of themselves."[313]

Williams goes on to recommend, among other things, that in the formulation of (in this case Oxfam) aid projects attempts should be made to gain direct contact with women, and clearly, in this context, the existence of women field staff is not merely a question of the rights of women to be employed proportionately within British aid agencies, but it is also a crucially important issue if access to the female half of Third World is to be achieved at all.

Within the household itself, Williams also notes that development projects which benefit males may actually worsen the position of women and children. Agricultural schemes which encourage production for sale rather than domestic consumption may result in the transfer of resources from the subsistence of the women and children to cash income which remains with the male head of household.

"Women suffer most from failure of development projects to look at intra-household relations, for cash income which comes into the household is usually controlled by the males, and women commonly say that they spend it on personal articles instead of on food for the women and children. This gives rise to the situation often cited, where women and children are malnourished and ragged, while men of the household have new clothes or such items as bicycles, wristwatches and radios. Women's status within the family can drop relative to the men's with the introduction of new opportunities for the men, such as technology and cooperative membership, and this worsens male/female relationships within the household and rebounds on the nutritional state of the children...The household is the last bastion of the now discredited 'trickle-down' theory..."[314]

Williams goes on to argue for more attention to the position of the growing phenomenon of the female-headed household, the welfare of which can be undermined by development based on the needs of men, for example through the disruption of long-standing, communally-based land-holding patterns which have traditionally enabled women to contribute to the family income. She cites childcare as an area in which aid projects could help to enable women to take greater advantage of training and education. She argues that aid projects ought to recognise the importance and value of existing women's work and help them to carry out this work more effectively rather than adding other forms of work which would not decrease the already heavy traditional work practices, but simply extend the total volume of duties. The importance of extending women's control over their fertility and the reduction of social and religious constraints is stressed, as is the effect of cashcropping in reducing the variety of available food for consumption and its effects on women's health. Access to land, resources, credit, education and training are also considered and women's interests in relation to the changes which development brings are highlighted.

Whilst the shift from communally-based ownership of land to individual ownership which often accompanies rural 'development', for example land reform or registration, can often lead to the dispossession of small rural communities in general, women are particularly hard hit because their traditional use of land is undermined as its ownership is formalised and it is registered in the names of male heads of households. Women lose the ability they had under traditional ownership to sell their surplus production for cash. As Williams points out:

"This is the beginning of the impoverishment process for women: for land is usually security for credit, and land ownership often the criterion for access to agricultural extension services, irrigation and membership of cooperatives. Women's status relative to men's in rural areas suffers as a result, and women increasingly take over all the subsistence farming work, which can result in an unmanageable workload, and loss of opportunities to gain any sort of cash income."[315]

Williams goes on to recommend that this dimension of rural modernisation and development be taken into account when planning aid projects relating to land reform. A basic theme running through Williams' paper is that unwanted side effects of so called 'development' which is not conscious of women's interests, can make matters worse. Improvements in technology can be monopolised by men. Typically men are offered training in new agricultural production techniques and not women, who are swamped with childcare responsibilities and subsistence food production and who do not have the time for such things. Taken together with membership of cooperatives which are often limited to men, this can mean that the modernisation of production of a particular women's crop leads to the transfer of this crop to production for cash under the control of men which, as we have seen, can result in a loss of resources for family consumption and the transfer of these resources to cash for the male head of household. Williams highlights the importance of training opportunities for women and the need to ensure that aid projects address the questions of childcare and the organisation of food processing on a collective basis to create the space needed to enable women to attend training and educational programmes. The illiteracy gap between the sexes is growing, and when this is taken together with the gender imbalances in British Technical Cooperation training uptake by women, the extent of the problem becomes starkly clear.

Williams' paper demonstrates the range of issues which must be considered in planning and implementing women's aid projects and drives home the point about the vital importance of women aid workers in assessing and implementing aid projects aimed at women.

The failure of the 1986 edition of the ODA booklet on women to recommend that more resources be provided to enable women to train at the lower level of educational provision to enable women to achieve educational qualifications and get out of the trough of poverty and ignorance, and the emphasis on "male" subjects, highlighted by the War on Want report, would seem to be important.

The 1989 edition of the booklet did, however, acknowledge the problem:

"... the greatest potential for improving women's opportunities lies in the education systems of developing countries. To participate fully in the development process and to control their own lives women need to be educated to the highest levels and when employed to receive further training which will help them acquire skills to overcome barriers to promotion opportunities. Through training and education programmes, the ODA is attempting to redress the disadvantages faced by women throughout the education system in developing countries, where schools report low enrolment, poor attendance and high drop-out rate for girls; as they progress through school to universities and higher education their numbers rapidly diminish. There are many contributing factors: parents’ perceptions that girls are poor investments for education, especially in households where resources are scarce; pregnancy and early marriage; social customs related to the segregation of the sexes. Sex-stereotyping of subjects and occupations persists with large numbers of girls 'pushed' into domestic science subjects and the majority still entering professions such as nursing and primary school teaching. Many women seek the opportunity for basic literacy or further education and training through non-formal programmes. A large number of ODA-supported projects have integrated training components providing agricultural extension, health education and training in income-generating skills. Women are often the main beneficiaries of these."[316]

Neither, significantly, did the 1989 edition of the ODA booklet on women and development repeat its three-point apology for the low number of women on TCP courses which was criticised by the War on Want report. Instead it said:

"We are making strong efforts to increase the numbers. An independent consultant has advised us on measures which we can take to improve the position. Our objective is to increase the numbers of women on courses across the board, not just courses conventionally thought to be 'for women'. We are also trying to make it easier for women to train. For example, mid-training leave is allowed on longer courses in Britain; more attention is being given to in-country training which is easier for women."[317]

The War on Want report noted that women, through social conditioning and lack of educational opportunities, are less likely to take up "male" subjects (which are in turn linked to the high-tech, capital intensive "hardware" priorities of the aid programme generally) and are more likely to be preoccupied with the "caring" professions. It drew attention to the importance of providing more places under the TCTP for these subjects:

"Locally initiated 'welfare' or 'domestic' projects receive less finance, although the TCTP awards go disproportionately to these projects. The priorities of the TCTP arrived at in agreement with the host governments, do not adequately reflect developing countries' pressing need to renew gains made in literacy, health, housing and nutrition."[318]

The response of the ODA to this in its 1989 booklet on women and development, however, was:

"The ODA and the British Council are pursuing ways to increase the numbers of women taking up awards in the 'non-traditional' study areas such as agriculture, engineering, housing and public administration."[319]

While there is of course nothing wrong with encouraging women to do this as such, in terms of development priorities it would seem to reflect the existing "hardware" priorities of the aid programme. These do not seriously address the need for a greater emphasis on the need for a more poverty and gender-focussed aid programme generally. This would require training in the areas of education, health, welfare, housing and nutrition for the kind of poverty-focussed projects that relate to such areas, with which women, by the very nature of their current position in society, are associated.

ODA Social Development Advisers point to research they have undertaken on the low numbers of women participating in the TCTP. This resulted in the Holden Report which analyses some of the problems. Its recommendations focussed on the sectoral imbalance in the aid programmes and advocated certain targets and quotas.

"1. The main constraint on women taking up TCTP awards is the Keysheet [guidelines on the country training programme] emphasis on large-scale infrastructural sectors rather than on social sectors, where women are more likely to be represented. Priority sectors as they are represented in training proposals on the country keysheet should adequately reflect social aspects of these sectors. ...

4. The target for increasing the numbers of women taking up TCTP should be an overall global increase from 15 per cent (the current figure) to 40 per cent to be achieved over a period of five years. This can be achieved in gradual stages, ie an increase of 10 per cent for the first year. ...

9. As an interim measure, countries with a particularly low number of women should use Section II [non-project-related 'open' awards]

10 ... a specified number of awards targeted at women could be given to every ODA-supported project employing a workforce above a specified number which is known to employ more than 5 per cent of women at middle-level grades and above."[320]

It seems that the ODA did not adopt the recommendations on formally set targets and quotas of this report, which was written by one of its own Social Development Advisers. Instead, it was left up to each desk to set its own targets on a voluntary basis which is dependent on the attitudes of the staff concerned. The ODA did not make measures designed to increase the representation of women mandatory – perhaps that is one reason progress has been so slow.

In 1987 the figure of 15 per cent of TCTP places taken up by women has been increased to 21.5 per cent in 1990. ODA Social Development Advisers put this increase down to a deliberate effort to push the British Council to get more women on the scheme. They cite the remaining problem of the sectoral imbalance in the aid programme as whole.

"The problems now are a) the structure of British aid, the fact that if we do a lot of engineering projects there are not many women engineers around so it's the sectoral balance which is now a constraint. The second problem is the attitudes of recipient governments because TCTP is government to government assistance... the whole TCTP now is largely structured around project-related training. Many of the subjects are traditionally non-female subjects and that is likely to affect the number of women coming through... But the way we do TCTP is currently being reviewed at the moment by ODA and this issue which you have raised is high on the agenda."[321]

Whilst the 1989 ODA women and development booklet does acknowledge some of the points raised above on the need for education and training of women at all levels of society, it also mentions some projects which fund women and development courses in British universities and also fund literacy and primary health care programmes in certain recipient countries. The question is, of course, where projects that do help women exist in the British Aid programme, they are usually small-scale programmes in areas which are rarely discussed at the highest levels. They rarely require a shift in donor or recipient development priorities and they are so small in scale as to have little major impact.

One of the projects mentioned in the ODA booklet on women (p19) is the Indo-British Fertiliser Education Project (IBFEP). The booklet misleadingly implies that the whole of this project is targeted at illiterate women farmers – it actually goes so far as to quote the total cost of this large project (£34.92m), thus leading the unwitting reader to assume that the whole of this money is being spent on what is actually only a part of the project. In fact, as we have seen in a previous chapter on the environment, this large "flagship" agricultural extension scheme has been criticised for its emphasis on high-tech methods and inputs with which the very poorest farmers (where women are grossly over-represented) can ill afford to experiment through lack of access to credit.

In reading the 1989 ODA booklet on women, one has the feeling that it is a public relations document which makes much of what is really very little in terms of funds expended. A reader surveying the projects mentioned has little conception of what this represents in terms of the proportion of the overall aid budget. When one considers the scale of the problems faced by women in the Third World it really does seem to be only scratching the surface.

A positive development within the ODA is the splitting of economic development and social development into two separate departments with the effective promotion of the Senior Social Development Adviser to a head of department. This can only help to increase the authority of the Social Development Advisers and generally increase their "clout" within the ODA.

To conclude this account, it is necessary to estimate the success or otherwise of the impact of the UN Decade for Women and the guidelines which came out of the Nairobi conference in a British context. The UN Decade for Women did set in motion some positive developments. These cannot all be attributed to the UN initiative, as the OECD played a part too in overcoming the inertia within national aid agencies. It had published its Guiding Principles to Aid Agencies for Supporting the Role of Women in Development two years before Forward Looking Strategies, and although its proposals were not so far reaching there is no doubt that it has played a positive role in at least getting women onto the agenda of national aid agencies. The fact that the ODA is obliged to acknowledge the existence of these proposals and engage in the kind of rhetoric which is in evidence in its booklets on women provides a useful lever for the development lobby to seize upon in the way in which this chapter has illustrated. It is interesting to note the development lobby's assessment of the present situation. In the case of War on Want, their assessment after the first edition of the ODA booklet on women was published, but before the second edition came out, was as follows:

"The few women and development policies that do exist are ineffective. The Women's adviser post does not in reality exist, the checklist and guidelines are not used. Research and evaluation are underfunded and their results are not fed back into effective policies. There are few safeguards of women's interests. Project planners and evaluators do not have to prove that they have taken women into account. Staff training takes the form of a part of a half-day once in some officers' careers. Few projects exist that are of direct benefit to women, and in the ODA the role of the women staff is more or less confined to clerical and secretarial grades. Above all, policy on women and development is just not taken seriously."[322]

However, the publication of the 1989 ODA booklet on women and development did receive a favourable response in some circles of the development lobby. The World Development Movement saw it as an important step forward from the 1986 edition. An article in the WDM newspaper welcomed the booklet's emphasis on "the importance of involving women at all stages of the project cycle" without apparently being conscious that this, as we have seen above, would require more than the efforts of the two social development advisers then responsible for that task. The article went on to welcome the fact that the booklet :

"... acknowledges that providing equal opportunities is not enough. The ODA have learnt from experience that women need special planning and assistance to take advantage of the opportunities. This is a very significant step forward on the part of the development planners. Another theme expanded is the importance of working with women's groups. The ODA clearly value their regular meetings with the Women's Organisation Interest Group (now called the National Organisation of Women's Associations) in which the WDM participates. The value of an open approach and a willingness to listen is stressed. Similarly the advantages of working through women's groups in developing countries is a major theme of the booklet."[323]

This difference in assessment probably reflects the difference in approach of the two Ministers: Timothy Raison, who was in office when the first edition was published, and Chris Patten, who was Minister when the second edition came out. Patten has been noted for his willingness to listen and discuss, and this was certainly the policy of the ODA under his direction. The difference in generation may also have been a factor. The fact that he was put into this job may well have reflected the need to meet the challenge created by an increasingly effective development lobby which was able to utilise the initiative of the multilateral agencies on such issues as gender and the environment.

[282]UN. Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. United Nations Decade for Women Conference. Nairobi, 1985.

[283]Hansard, 2 December 1985, c23-24 (Written Questions).

[284]ODA. Women in Development and the British Aid Programme. HMSO, 1986;and ODA. Women, Development and the British Aid Programme. HMSO, 1989.

[285]ODA. Women in Development and the British Aid Programme.1986, p5

[286]Mazza, J. Op cit, p31.

[287]Hansard, 16 July 1987, c599-600.

[288]Mazza. Op cit, p21.

[289]Ibid, p21-22.

[290]Ibid, p22.

[291]Oxfam. Op cit, p9.

[292]Hansard, 16 July 1987, c599.

[293]Interview with Rosalind Eyben, Senior Social Development Adviser, ODA. 4 July 1991.

[294]Hansard, 16 July 1978, c601.

[295]Williams, P R C. They Came to Train. ODA, 1985 (quoted in Mazza. Op cit, p13).

[296]Wiggans, R. Educational Aid – Women's Smaller Share. MA Thesis. University of London Institute of Education, 1985 (quoted in Mazza. Op cit, p13).

[297]Hansard, 16 July 1987, c599-601.

[298]Ibid, c601.

[299]National Audit Office. Op cit, p12.

[300]Percy and Hall. Op cit, p6-7.

[301]National Audit Office. Op cit, pp12-14.

[302]ODA. Women, Development and the British Aid Programme, op cit, p7.

[303]Interview with Sir Timothy Raison MP. 26 February 1991.

[304]Interview with Sir Timothy Raison MP. 26 February 1991.

[305]Interview with Rosalind Eyben, Senior Social Development Adviser, ODA. 4 July 1991,

[306]Interview with Maria Louise (NAWO). 18 August 1992.

[307]Interview with Rosalind Eyben, Senior Social Development Adviser, ODA. 4 July 1991.

[308]Financial Times, 6 June 1988 (quoted in Hayter. Op cit, p72).

[309]Hayter, T. Exploited Earth. Op cit, pp70-74.

[310]Holden, P. Ghana: Non-Formal Education Project. Unpublished ODA Internal Document (brief summary of project), nd.

[311]Government of Ghana Ministry of Education. Project Identification Proposal: The Expansion of Functional Literacy Campaigns Nationwide 1991-1996. Unpublished ODA internal document. January 1991. p8.

[312]Roberts, P. "Development Projects and Women". Links No 20. Magazine of Third World First. Sept 1984, p20

[313]Williams, S. Women in Development. Unpublished Oxfam paper. 1983, p2.

[314].Ibid, p6-7.

[315]Ibid, p15.

[316]ODA. Women, Development and the British Aid Programme (op cit). 1989 edition, p19.

[317]Ibid, p9.

[318]Mazza. Op cit, p13.

[319]ODA. Women, Development and the British Aid Programme (op cit). 1989, p19.

[320]Holden, P. Constraints to Increasing the Number of Women Benefiting from ODA-Funded Training Awards (The Holden Report). ODA, 1988, pvi. Unpublished.

[321]Interview with Rosalind Eyben, Senior Social Development Adviser, ODA. 4 July 1991.

[322]Mazza. Op cit, p39.

[323]The Spur, April 1989, p7.

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