The World Bank and Women's Sustainable Economic Development: A Beautiful Marriage or a Contradiction in Terms?


Collison, Brooke. 2003. "The World Bank and Women's Sustainable Economic Development: A Beautiful Marriage or a Contradiction in Terms?" Canadian Woman Studies 23: 22-28.

Author: Brooke Collison


The World Bank (WB) boldly declares "Our dream is a world free of poverty"; there are, however, a number of parties (i.e., Bello; Lopez; Whitehead and Lockwood) who would beg to differ. Despite its critics, the WB states that in the last two decades, it has increased its focus on women and, more recently, on gender. In its approach to gender, the WB has adopted a "Gender and Development" or "GAD" model as a means of reducing gender disparities and increasing women's participation in economic development (WB Group 1999). However, in the following pages, I will argue that, despite its convincing rhetoric, current WB strategies for women's sustainable economic development in developing nations cannot achieve their stated objectives even with the WB's "progressive" GAD approach.
For all the criticisms of the World Bank and its GAD programs, there exist an equal number of proposed alternatives for women's sustainable economic development. Two words that often appear in the literature on GAD and women's sustainable economic development are "transformation" and "transformatory." Young (1997b) discusses the notion of "transformatory potential," which she identifies as the interrogation of practical needs, by women, to see how they can be transformed into strategic concerns. She defines strategic concerns as interests arising from the fact that women as a social category have unequal access to resources and power. Essentially, what such transformation means is changing what societies value and consider "productive." As both Kate Young (1997b) and Andrea Cornwall emphasize, abiding by current gendered categories or simply altering the division of labour will not bring about transformation for women or men. What this essentially means is shifting from integration to an agenda-setting approach (Razavi and Miller).
Lastly, any alternative measures for women's sustainable economic development must ensure that "gender" and "GAD" are defined and acted upon in their entireties. We must continue to challenge ourselves to think of gender not in terms of women, but in terms of women and men together. Although this article has focused primarily on women's sustainable economic development, it is clear that for such development to occur, relationships between men and women and the interests of both genders must be considered. Both women and men must undergo a reflective and transformative process (Young 1997b) in order to avoid "a zero-sum game in which women-in general are pitted against men-in-general" (Cornwall 24). It is clear that women's sustainable economic development cannot and will not occur in a vacuum. Rather, sustainable alternatives must include aspects of social equity, sustainable livelihoods, social justice, and ecological awareness (Bhatta) (Collison, 2003, p. 22).

Topics: Development, Gender Mainstreaming, International Financial Institutions

Year: 2003

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