Within the broader processes and programs for development, the international community has recognized the importance of supporting the advancement of women in developing countries. As the honourable Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, declared on International Women’s Day in 2005 “study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” 1 Nevertheless, there has been a consistence failure of development plans, which, in congruence to critiques about feminist theories, have been attributed to underlying assumptions about the status of women in the Third World (Parpart, 1993). The intersection of international development with feminism has produced a number of approaches to addressing women’s issues, with the most recent approach being Gender and Development (GAD). This perspective is theoretically based upon the Socialist feminist theory, focusing on gender rather than women, particularly the social construction of gender roles and gender relations (Rathgeber, 1990). This approach emphasizes the importance of examining the gender division of labour in specific societies, particularly the more invisible aspects of women’s productive and reproductive work, and the relationship between these labour patterns and other aspects of gender inequality (Parpart, 1993). It also looks at the issue of power as it relates to gender, and accordingly develops strategies for empowering women and challenging the status quo (Kabeer, 1991). Thus, this approach offers the possibility of transforming gender roles.
Moreover, GAD recognizes that development is a complex social issue and advocates of this approach state that this paradigm takes a holistic approach, exploring “the totality of social organization, economic and political life in order to understand the shaping of particular aspects of society” (Rathgeber, 1990:494). Furthermore, within this paradigm, women are viewed as agents of change rather than passive recipients of development assistance, calling for women to organize themselves in order to achieve social, political and economic empowerment (ibid). The GAD approach has offered development planners a way of differentiating between practical (i.e. specific, daily) gender needs and strategic (or more long-term empowerment) needs for women.