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Women, the State and Development


Development can be described as the growth and improvement in a country’s social, economic and even political conditions of a country. As such, development is used to refer to the improvement in the ways that particular countries manage their natural and more so human resources for the purposes of creating wealth and improving the lives of their populations (What is development, 2004). The two most important areas when analysing development are economic and human development. In economic development, how wealthy a country is and how the wealth is made is what is measured to ascertain the same. For instance, does the country rely on agriculture or the service industry? On the other hand, human development measures the degree to which the population of a particular country have access to wealth, such things as nutrition, health, knowledge and to such other things as political and cultural freedoms. (What is development, 2004) With the measuring of human development, it becomes easy to know the standards of living in a particular country as well as the quality of life in those countries. Ultimately, the simplest definition of development is the movement from one level to another. Thus, development is an all-encompassing concept meaning transformation in number, size or even quality.

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When comparing the levels of development between any two countries such terms as less developed (LDC) and more developed countries are used. In most cases, the comparison is in economic or in human development terms. Consequently, the less developed countries can be said to be those that have not improved economically compared to other countries in the world, say the more developed countries. It would then be correct to argue that in the less developed countries, not only are the standards of living much lower, but so is the quality of life compared to the more developed countries. This is because in the less developed countries, the bulk of the population usually have little or no access to the wealth of the country. Concurrently, they also have no access to good health and/or nutrition (What is development, 2004).

When measuring just how developed a country is in relation to another, development indicators are used. Development indicators range from health, education and even education. Thus, the larger the size of the population of a country that can access good quality education, thereby improving their levels of literacy, the better their access to medical care and the type of industry that they are involved in all point to how developed a country is. The more developed a country is, the more its people are able to access good quality medical care and education plus be involved in tertiary industries (service industries) as opposed to primary industries (such as farming). However, while development indices are important in measuring just how developed countries are, they can also be misleading. This is because the indices are based on the averages of the particular countries. Consequently, while the development indices may indicate that a particular country is developed, they often leave out the fact that even in that country there are still segments that are undeveloped, without access to health or education. In other cases, the data used in the indices may be out of date or even non-existence. It is for this reason that United Nations Human Development Index is used. It assesses, life expectancy, adult literacy and education and the GDP per capita in countries. Subsequently, countries that have high life expectancy, high levels of adult literacy and a high GDP are said to be more developed than countries that do not meet the same criteria (What is development, 2004). The development debate has its origins in the 1960’s, when it primarily focused on economic growth.

Women and Development

Human development is a crucial aspect of development without which a country cannot be effectively developed. Thus, a country is only as developed as its people have access to good health, nutrition and other provisions necessary in development. According to Griffiths, the concept of women and development can be traced back to the 1950’s and 60’s when most developing countries were freeing themselves from the yoke of colonialism. At that particular time, the women who had been part of the independence movements were fighting to be included in the nation building teams. The period also marked the shift from the trickle down approach to development to the more encompassing basic needs approach. In this approach, participation of the poor in society increased. In addition, women’s needs and contributions to society were appropriately recognized. Consequently, activists not only in national but also in international debates seriously articulated women’s issues as well. The central thesis of women and development was that both men and women could be elevated from poverty but only if they were both actively involved in development efforts.

Women make up part of the people in a particular country. According to USAID, women are key to the effective development of any country. If any lasting developmental progress is to be achieved, it is important that women and the important role that they play in development is acknowledged and sustained. (2008) Women make up over half of the world’s population so it would be correct to argue that they do indeed play a significant role in development. However, despite their large number and the recognition of the important role that they play, they still face certain obstacles that not only hinder their personal developments but also the development of the countries that they live in. For instance, according to USAID, some 774 million adults in the world do not have access to good education and are illiterate. Of these, 64% are women. (USAID, 2008). Not only do women have little or no access to important opportunities, they also have no access to resources and decision-making processes.

Role of Women

In the developing countries especially, the role of women in development and especially sustainable development, cannot be discounted. Manuh posits that in most developing countries, agriculture forms the backbone of their economies and their economic growth and development. There would be no development if first of all the issue of food security, through agriculture, was not addressed. Agriculture is the main primary industry in African countries.(1998) Through agriculture, the developing countries are not only able to produce food for subsistence purposes but they are also to produce for export. Mostly, developing countries do not add value to what they produce and in most cases export it like it is. Concurrently, it is mostly women who are to be found in the farms, where they provide the bulk of the labour (Manuh, 1998). This is despite the fact that most of the women do not own their own farms and derive little or no direct benefits from the farms which are mostly owned by the men folk. According to Manuh, (1998) 80% of the economically active women labour is employed in agriculture and women ultimately comprise 47% of the labour force employed in farming especially in sub Saharan Africa. More over, in countries such as the Sudan, women produce about 30% of all the food consumed therein while in the republic of Congo, the women toil much harder and produce 80% of the food. Overall, women in the developing countries more so sub-Saharan Africa, can be said to be responsible for the production of 70% of the food consumed, are involved in 50% of the food storage and perform 60% of the agricultural promotion (Manuh, 1998).


With agriculture being the most important sector in the development especially to the developing countries, and with women playing such crucial roles, it would be important that they are not neglected at all. Again, it would also be important to address the problems that the women face as far as their participation in agriculture is concerned. For instance, as has already been pointed out, women form the bulk of the labour in agriculture despite the fact that very few of them own their own tracts or pieces of land. Even where they own land, it is usually very small in size and much less fertile compared to the large plantations owned by their male partners and siblings (Griffiths, 2006). Griffiths posits that in women and development, the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy cannot be sidelined. Accordingly, women will continue to be sidelined and subordinated by the men; working in the plantations and farms owned by men, owning small pieces of land and not accessing credit facilities as easily, for as long as capitalism is the dominant economic system in any country. With men dominating most of the professions from politics to economics, the end result is that women participation in the said fields will continue to be minimal. It would be correct to argue that the situation where men dominate over women is likely to continue for the simple fact the man may not really want to change the status quo. More over, women also lack the necessary farm inputs, credit facilities and technology. Thus, it would be crucial that the issues of access to land, credit, extension services and technology are addressed. National governments especially have an important role to play in removing these obstacles. Through institutional reforms and the building and formation of partnerships with women associations and the private sector, women enabling policy environments can be formed. However, according to Charlton, Everett & Staudt, in most developing countries, women are often left out of the formulation and implementation of development and other crucial policies that affect them in one way or another. (1989) Consequently, women can then be provided with the necessary affordable credit with which they can purchase or lease farms and purchase the necessary farm inputs and technology (Griffiths, 2008).

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With little or no access to formal education, women have not been adequately able to advance in society. This has been attributed to the fact that the school is a gendered landscape in most developing countries (Griffiths, 2008). More often than not, boys are sent to school while the girls are left at home to take care of the families. More over, even in the event that the girls do go to school they still have to drop out in order to get married. 785 million adults are said to be illiterate in the world, women make up two thirds of this number. Again, school curriculum’s are not in any way developed to help girls acquire the necessary skills. In most instances, the curriculum’s are gender biased and stereotypical. The result of this is that there is gender inequality. Boys are more often than not given more and better than girls to advance their education. While it is necessary that women’s access to education and educational facilities be increased, the endeavours are often undermined by such factors as economic crises, budgetary cuts and debt servicing troubles in the developing countries. It then becomes crucial that first and foremost, gender inequality is dealt with. Because with inequality come discrimination which makes things even harder for the women. This is the only way through which the role of women in the development of their countries can be improved. With increased educational opportunities, women are more likely to be able to participate more in activities that will result in the development of their countries, for instance the formulation of women friendly economic policies (Griffiths, 2008).

Apart from decreased access to education, women also face another obstacle in the fact that they can also not sufficiently access clean water and sanitation. This exposes then to a myriad of diseases and ultimately death. It would be correct to point out that as women are exposed to precarious situations they become less able to better themselves or to even effectively contribute to the development of their communities and the country as a whole (Griffiths, 2008).

In most developing countries, conventions and international agreements on women’s rights have been signed and ratified. Nevertheless, the same have not been authorized as part of the national laws. This then becomes a major obstacle to the development of women and their role in development. This is then compounded by the fact that women in most developing countries are in most cases ignorant of the fact that these laws exist so that they may benefit. This can be linked to the fact that few women have advanced education and are therefore able to understand of issues that affect them and how the issues can be effectively dealt with (Griffiths, 2006). Evidently there is need for change. Governments in the developing countries need to modify their national laws so as to accommodate the changes. Without the necessary laws in place, it would be correct to state that the situation women are having to deal with may never be effectively solved.

Women play a crucial role in development. The issue of gender in development goes to show that equality in the status of men and women in any society is crucial in its development. With the understanding of the concept it also becomes easier to understand that in development it is not just about creating opportunities from which the people can earn sustainable livelihoods rather it also means the creation of a conducive environment for both men and women to seize those opportunities. For instance, with the women participating in agriculture, they are able to contribute to the GDP and overall economic growth of a country. However, with gender inequality this important role is not always realised. Thus, in order that the role that women play in development can be improved, it is necessary that policies are put in place that will address their positions and thereby accelerate the development of their countries. These policies need to be gender friendly. Women need access to resources such as land and credit. This requires that the legal and social cultural obstacles are dealt with. More over, the educational systems need to be looked. There is a need to change the curriculums such that they are not gender biased but instead give women better chances to better themselves and contribute to the development of their countries (Griffiths, 2006).

It is openly clear that women make up the bulk of the world population. It is then imperative that issues affecting them be addressed accordingly. While increased women participation in different fields is to be encouraged it should only serve as the stepping stone. Women are the only ones who can be able to deal with the issues and problems affecting them because they can not only understand but also relate better. The developing countries need to include their women folk not only in the social activities but political activities as well. This is the only way that meaningful social and economic development can be achieved. Take the case of Sweden for instance, it is one country that can be considered to be developed by all standards. And the secret lies in the fact that there is increased Swedish women participation in social, economic and political activities. This is something that the developing worlds, more so Sub Saharan Africa, need to emulate. Even in the developed countries like Sweden it is not that the women have it much easier rather than they fight much harder to empower and improve their social, economic and political situation. This means that if the women are not first and fore most proactive, no positive gains can be experienced as far as their situation is concerned. From the Swedish example, it then becomes clear that empowering the women in any country means the development of that nation (Griffiths, 2006).

Development is considered to be an all encompassing concept. It is simplest definition, it means the movement from one level to another or the change in size or even quality. In the analysis of development, both economic and human development is crucial. As far as economic development is concerned, the focus is usually on how rich/wealthy a country is and how the wealth is created. On the other hand, human development is concerned with how well the population can access the wealth of the country. Through the use of development indices, such as the United Nations Human Development Index, it becomes easy to tell if a country is less developed or more developed. Such things as literacy and life expectancy levels are measured. In human development the role of gender and especially women is focused upon. Women are considered to be an important factor in development. This is because like their men counterparts, they contribute to the economic growth and ultimately the development of a country. For instance, they form the bulk of the labour in agriculture, the primary industry in the developing countries. Still, they own little or no land owing to the patriarchal nature of the developing societies which seeks to engender inequality. However, even in instances that they own land, they still do not have access to affordable credit or extension services. Women in the developing countries also have little no education plus they cannot adequately access health and other social services. What governments in the developing worlds need to do is provide education for all. Education is crucial in helping to do away with women discrimination. Also, it will help in improving the literacy rates in these countries. With increased literacy it would be correct to point out that women participation in all spheres of life will also increase. This coupled with legal and institutional policies that are not so friendly women policies, prevent women from contributing effectively to their own development and the development of their countries. It is therefore important that women friendly policies are adopted. These policies should seek to abolish inequality to focus on the important role played by women in development. This means better access to education and health. Moreover, there is need for more women in the decision making positions.

Empowering women is one huge step towards the overall development of any country. Nonetheless, the empowerment of women needs to be done by actions and not just mere words. Equality, then should be the most important priority to policy makers especially in the developing worlds. It is time to walk the talk on women empowerment!

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  1. Charlton, S., Everett, J. & Staudt, K. (1989). Women, the state and development. New York: State University of New York press.
  2. Griffiths, R.J. (2006). Annual Editions: Developing world 07/08. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Manuh, Takyiwaa. (1998). Women in Africa’s development: Overcoming obstacles and pushing for progress. Africa Recovery Briefing Paper.
  4. USAID. (2008). Women in development. USAID.
  5. What is development? (2004).

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