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Addressing Rural Gender Issues: A Framework for Leadership and Mobilisation

3. Three Levels of Gender Issues: Technical, Social and Political
It is particularly in the area of gender that we need to be aware of the technical, social and political dimensions of a problem. If a problem is tackled merely at the technical level when it also has important underlying social and political dimensions, then the intervention strategy is likely to be ineffective.

Here the technical dimension refers to the obvious empirical manifestation of a problem, and also how it affects individuals. In terms of gender issues, we might be looking at women's lack of land (relative to men), their lack of literacy, lack of skills training, lack of access to market, limited access to agricultural information, and so on. If a gender issue is interpreted at this level, a development programme may intervene directly to provide literacy training, or agricultural information, increased access to market, and so on.

But underlying the technical dimension there is likely to be an important social dimension. For instance, women's lack of access to various factors may be tied in with their more domestic location and duties, and the traditional culture of women staying on the farm; conversely males have more freedom of movement to access schooling, information, markets, and so on. If this is the case, then interventions to address the situation must take into account the social dimensions of the problem, for instance by adapting interventions to women's current pattern of social gathering and interaction (e.g. church meetings), rather than attempt new social forms (e.g. night school classes) which might severely contradict and upset the existing social conventions and values. Of course it may be necessary to break with tradition, and introduce new social forms, even new institutions. If so, the problem must be properly understood, and interventions developed with and for the community themselves, taking account of the political dimensions of the problem.

The underlying political dimension involves issues of power and control. This is especially so in the area of gender, where all countries - to greater or lesser extents - are patriarchal. There is a longstanding tradition that the man is the 'head of the household', and the wider political and administrative structures tend to be a reflection of this patriarchal pattern. This leaves women with little control over land and capital - or even over her own labour! It is therefore to be expected that men will resist any programme intervention that seeks to lesson men's privileges, and their power and control over women. Of course it may be that addressing important issues in rural development must necessarily address issues of women's oppression and subordination. But if so, development agencies must understand the problem area, and how to develop strategies for women's participation and mobilization in a process for empowerment and liberation. By the same token, if a development agency blunders innocently into this area, whilst not understanding the underlying gender politics, they may never understand the process by which their development programme collapsed and failed.

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