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The meaning of development: African women speak

Barbara Anne Gardner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Historically, the concepts of international development and women in development (WID) have been constructed by white Anglo-Saxon men and imposed on the "Third World" and on "Third World" women. The voice of U.S. government texts is authoritative and presumes to speak for "Third World" women. Although most African women play a pivotal role in the lives of their people, their voices are absent from government development discourse. Most policy makers and planners rely on the knowledge found in texts written by Western, or Western-trained, researchers and experts. This textual knowledge is powerful because it is the "reality" upon which official action is based. The actions of development organizations often detrimentally affect the lives of "Third World" people--particularly women. In this study five African women development workers speak from their life experience and the work they do about what effective development means to them. Their words stand out against an analysis of modernization theories of development and WID discourse found in selected U.S. government documents. Recommendations from the women on how to ensure that development means something positive to people includes the importance of: (1) education for girls and women--including strong, role models of both genders for girls to learn from--that encourages them to be adventurous and courageous; (2) maintaining positive traditional values. Tradition can play an important role in development; (3) listening to the voices of women and youth. The creativity and wisdom of women have often been ignored. A balance must be maintained between respect for the wisdom of the old and the young; (4) changing the definition of what it means to have power, to one that is more popular, participatory and transparent; (5) African countries becoming more discerning about the kind of aid they accept; (6) African intellectuals speaking out against harmful practices of their governments; (7) working as development workers from the outside as communities help themselves from the inside.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Gardner, Barbara Anne, "The meaning of development: African women speak" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9721452.