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Technology, Gender, and Power in Africa
First edition 1989
© International Development Research Centre 1989
PO Box 8500, Ottawa, OnL, Canada K1G 3H9
Reprinted 1990, 1993
Technology, gender, and power in Africa. Ottawa, Ont, IDRC, 1990. x + 185 p. (Technical study / IDRC)
/Women’s role/, /technology transfer/, /social change/, /Africa/— /women’s rights/, /decision making/, /self-help/, /economics/, /research needs/, /organization of research/, /references/.
UDC: 396:001.92(6) ISBN: 0-88936-538-5
Technical Editor: W.M. Carman
A microfiche edition is available.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the International Development Research Centre or the Rockefeller Foundation. Mention of proprietary names does not constitute endorsement of the product and is given only for information.
Abstract / Résumé / Resumen
Abstract — This book demonstrates that the study of gender relations and the power of women is central to an evaluation of development efforts in Africa. The interactive relationship between technology transfer and gender factors is explored using case studies and examples from the development literature on agriculture, health, and nutrition, as well as from feminist scholarship on Africa. Faulty approaches to the topic and biases at all levels of policy-making have led to ineffective or even harmful projects. Insights about the significance of gender factors do not easily cross the boundaries between different fields of inquiry. Part I presents the different conceptual frameworks within which the topic has been considered. The fields of African studies, women’s studies, and development studies are critiqued, and useful approaches are identified. The invisibility of gender in development studies and aid practice is explored at length. Part II examines the research findings of African women to identify the factors that either render women powerless and disadvantaged or create the conditions for their authoritative participation in development. Part III identifies issues and interrelations that have not been addressed in previous research and suggests promising ways to frame future research on women and technology in Africa. The social, economic, and technical empowerment of women at the community level is seen as vital to effective development efforts.
Résumé — L’auteure montre que l’étude des rapports des sexes et le pouvoir de la femme sont au coeur de l’évaluation des efforts de développement en Afrique. Elle explore l’interaction du transfert technologique et des facteurs liés au sexe à l’aide d’études de cas et d’exemples tirés de la littérature du développement en agriculture, santé et nutrition et de l’ensemble de connaissances sur le féminisme en Afrique. De fausses approches du sujet et les préjugés dont sont empreintes les politiques à tous les niveaux ont entraîné la réalisation de projets inefficaces, voire nocifs. Les idées sur la signification des facteurs liés au sexe ne franchissent pas facilement les frontières entre les disciplines. Dans la partie I, l’auteure présente les différentes perspectives dans lesquelles le sujet a été étudié. Elle fait la critique des perspectives études africaines, études des femmes et études sur le développement et indique des perspectives utiles. L’auteure s’étend longuement sur le fait que le rôle des sexes soit passé sous silence dans les études sur le développement et dans l’aide au développement. Dans la partie II, elle se penche sur les résultats de la recherche sur la femme africaine pour déterminer les facteurs qui la rendent impuissante et la défavorisent ou créent les conditions favorables à sa participation autoritaire au développement. Dans la partie III, l’auteure s’arrête sur les questions et les interrelations qui n’ont pas encore été étudiées et suggère des perspectives intéressantes dans lesquelles placer les futures études sur la femme et la technologie en Afrique. L’auteure estime que l’acquisition d’un pouvoir social, économique et technique par la femme au niveau communautaire est essentielle à l’efficacité des efforts de développement.
Resumen — Este libro demuestra que el estudio de las relaciones entre los sexos y el poder de las mujeres es fundamental para evaluar los esfuerzos que se hacen con el fin de desarrollar a Africa. En sus páginas se explora la interacción entre la transferencia tecnológica y los factores relacionados con ambos sexos utilizando estudios y ejemplos extraídos de la bibliografía del desarrollo sobre agricultura, salud y nutrición, así como del conocimiento feminista sobre Africa. Enfoques erróneos sobre el tema y prejuicios en todos los niveles de formulación de políticas han conducido a proyectos inefectivos o incluso dañinos. Los conocimientos acerca de la importancia de factores relacionados con el hecho de pertenecer al sexo masculino o femenino no se transmiten fácilmente entre diferentes campos de estudio. En la Parte I se presentan los diferentes marcos concetuales de trabajo dentro de los cuales se ha considerado el tópico. Se hace una evaluación critica de los campos de estudios sobre Africa, las mujeres y el desarrollo y se identifican enfoques provenchosos. Se explora extensamente el papel invisible que ha desempeñado el sexo en los estudios sobre el desarrollo y en las prácticas de prestacion de ayuda. En la Parte n se examinan los resultados de la investigation realizada sobre las mujeres africanas con el fin de identificar los factores que las despojan del poder y las dejan en situation de desventaja o bien crean las condiciones para que participen con pleno derecho en el proceso de desarrollo. En la Parte III se identifican cuestiones e interrelaciones no tratadas en investigaciones anteriores y se sugieren maneras promisorias para enmarcar investigaciones futuras sobre las mujeres y la tecnología en Africa. La concesión de autoridad a las mujeres en los niveles social, económico y técnico de la comunidad se considera como vital para que sean efectivos los esfuerzos en la esfera del desarrollo.
It is only in recent years that researchers have started to examine the relationship between technology and gender. This report was originally prepared for a meeting entitled “Gender, Technology, and Development A Diagnosis of Available Literature,” which was held in New York, 26–27 February 1989. Jointly sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Health Sciences Division of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the meeting brought together a small group of developing- and industrialized-country researchers and specialists to discuss the gaps in the literature on the connections between health, agriculture, gender, and development.
One of the key findings of this meeting was that, for most women in the developing world, technology has failed. Attention was focused on health-related technologies aimed at nutrition, control of reproduction, and improvement of child care, and on agriculture-related technologies including mechanization, higher yielding seed varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, food processing, plant breeding, and genetic engineering. It was recognized that most of the technologies that have been developed have not served effectively. Frequently, they are not being used, are being used sporadically, or are being used incorrectly. For the most part, these technologies have been developed on the basis of Western models and Western notions of what people in developing countries want and need. Technologies are not neutral — they are value-laden from beginning to end.
This book explores the relationship between technology, power, and gender. It provides an extensive review of the literature and makes many thoughtful suggestions for more effective and appropriate technology development and use. This book will undoubtedly be a valuable teaching and research tool for scholars, planners, and students involved in development.
Eva M. Rathgeber Coordinator, Women in Development Unit International Development Research Centre
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This book emerged from a joint project of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1986, the two organizations commissioned a number of studies on gender, technology, and development in the Third World: this publication, in its first version, was one of them. The study was to focus on the ways in which different types of community organizations in Africa, both indigenous and externally imposed, influence the introduction and sustained use of agriculture-, health-, and nutrition-related technologies. The report of the study was to cover the following four areas: existing conceptual approaches to the subject, major research findings highlighting areas of consensus and disagreement, issues and interrelations that have not been addressed in previous research, and promising ways to approach the topic for future research.
The work expanded considerably during substantial revisions in 1987 and 1988, developing certain lines of inquiry and including more references. While adhering to the original structure shaped by the four areas outlined above, this book has a wider focus, covering everything from technology transfer to a wider array of questions about the women in development (WID) enterprise. It is hoped, therefore, that this publication will be of use not only to those specializing in technology transfer but also to a more general audience of scholars and practitioners concerned with gender and development and, indeed, with Third World political economy.
I owe special thanks to several people at IDRC. Richard Wilson, Director of the Health Sciences Division, and Eva Rathgeber, Coordinator of the Women in Development Unit, supported and encouraged me at different stages of the endeavour. Margo Hawley, Reference Specialist in the IDRC Library, entered the literature search with enthusiasm, imagination, and efficiency, ensuring me access to a wide variety of material. In Toronto, my Research Assistant, Vuyiswa Keyi, provided valuable assistance in tracking down sources and in shaping the questions to be asked of the literature. My deepest appreciation goes to my husband, Stephen Katz, for his perceptive suggestions, tactical assistance, and his support of the intensive electronic cottage industry that writing of this kind has become.
Technology, according to Achebe (1983), is “an attitude of mind, not an assemblage of artefacts.” The experience of Third World societies with Western technology over the past 25 years has proven the wisdom of this statement. The massive transfer of technology, both as artefact and as information, has often been accompanied by misuse, misallocation, or misunderstanding in the recipient countries. In particular, it has generated negative consequences for women, children, and communities — nowhere more so than in Africa.
Whose fault is this? The issue has been debated in an endless series of publications and conferences written or sponsored by donor agencies, academics, and nongovernmental organizations. To answer the question and to get beyond blaming either the givers or receivers of the technology, we must take Achebe’s (1983) idea a step further and understand technology as a social construct and a social practice — the product of a particular society’s history. At the same time, we must recognize that new technology, arising from the political and economic needs of a particular era of development in a particular society, generates new forces of production and new social relations. In other words, technological artefacts are the raw material created out of historical experience, which, in turn, recreates society.
In the Western world, because technological advance and economic development have gone hand in hand, we do not see the historical and cultural specificity of our artefacts, instead viewing them as neutral objects, the inevitable products of progress “stacked conveniently for ease of lifting” (Achebe 1983). We may now be starting to question the effects of certain technologies — from computers to pesticides — on our society and environment; on the whole, however, we still see technology as a physical rather than social presence. Those who do argue that technology is a social construct, such as environmental groups, are not easily heard, given this dominant perception of technology.
For this reason, it is difficult for us to understand the problems of technology transfer in the Third World. Third World leaders and experts themselves, recruited to our vision of technology as a socially neutral force, have also been stymied. Critics within Third World countries rarely find a politically legitimized means of challenging this vision. Therefore, an inquiry into the problems of technology transfer must pay careful attention to the conceptual frameworks that shape the understanding of relations between the developed and the developing worlds. In particular, the way in which these frameworks define the problems of the Third World must be critically examined.
Fortunately for Third World development and our understanding, gender has become an issue. The feminist imperative has forced the search for answers to two key questions regarding technology transfer. First, it must be asked if the outcome envisaged is really development Unless women and — by intimate but not previously self-evident implication — children are unequivocally served, society itself has not been served. ‘Appropriate technology’ initiatives, for example, have often been inappropriate for women. The great achievement of feminism in the past 15 years has been an emerging moral and scientific commitment to the truth that women are half of humanity and that gender relations are as fundamental a shaping force in society as are economic relations or political structure. Indeed, there is no political economy that is gender neutral, as those who are willing to look discover. In development discourse, women are no longer entirely invisible, even if they still get far from equal time.
The second question is closely related to the first. Because of the push to evaluate technology transfer in the light of gender questions, it must be asked if Third World social reality has adequately been taken into account in technology-transfer schemes and studies. It is no longer possible to view technology as artefact or to avoid the difficult task of examining our underlying assumptions about Third World societies. The scientific accuracy of each development study, or the degree to which it is value laden, can be tested by asking whether gender has been properly accounted for.
It is with these questions that this book is preoccupied. Implicit in the mandate of the study is an understanding that technological change is a social process. We cannot investigate this process, however, without considering the dialectical relationship previously discussed. Each element of technological innovation that has been introduced, whether transferred from the Western technology complex or designed for the perceived needs of Third World communities, carries with it assumptions regarding the proper social organization for its use. Community structures, from family to women’s organizations, therefore, have not been inert recipients of the technological freight; rather, they have either actively reconfigured themselves to the requirements of the technology, or they have rejected or redirected the intended use of the technology. Only where the technology transfer has been designed on the basis of real needs, as perceived by the recipients, and on fully understood social relations has the technology clearly achieved its purpose.
In Africa, agriculture, health, and nutrition are largely the responsibility of women. Therefore, successful technology transfers in these fields are those that empower women, strengthening rather than weakening their community involvement and their decision-making authority in the village and the family. All too often the reverse has been true, with profoundly negative consequences. The new technology has not had its desired effect and, moreover, African women have found themselves with increased workloads, a more subordinate position within the family, attenuated communal life with other women, and lost rights to resources. These circumstances compromise women’s abilities to fulfill their traditional production, health, and nutrition responsibilities, not to mention their new, development-linked responsibilities. Yet previous studies have tended to focus on technology adoption to the exclusion of questions of “technological maintenance and operational control” (Bryceson 1985:8). From such a perspective, it has been possible for many studies to construe the village and family as obstacles to technological change rather than as active participants in its acceptance, modification, or rejection. Furthermore, this approach has rendered invisible the effects of technology on social relations.
It is for this reason that planning efforts supported by development agencies have so often failed. Mohammadi (1984:80), of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, asserts that “in every respect, attempts to sensitise planners and reorient national planning processes to increase women’s participation have not yielded significant results; whereas, training women for participation in local-level decision making and planning has had surprisingly quick and strong impact.” Nowhere is such participation more important than in technology-transfer issues: women, who are the primary producers and ‘caregivers’ in African communities, are the key users of the technology that has the most direct impact on the economic well-being, health, and nutrition of African families.
This book will thus pay particular attention to the dialectical nature of technology transfer, a process that can either disequip or empower village women to engage in genuine development. It will go beyond preoccupation with the moment of transfer to consider the complex ways in which new technology and society interact Furthermore, the study will assert that the problems new technologies are designed to solve are themselves frequently a social construct. Africa is not naturally hungry, drought stricken, short of fuel, and diseased. As Doyal (1979:100–101) says with regard to disease, “contrary to common belief, [the] diseases of underdevelopment are not necessarily bound up with tropical conditions in the geographic or climatic sense. Cholera, plague, leprosy, smallpox, typhoid, TB [tuberculosis] and many intestinal parasites have all thrived in western Europe in the past.” Contemporary health problems “must be seen not as a ‘natural’ and unavoidable part of life in the third world”; rather, they should be viewed as a consequence of specific historical developments. By shifting the technology-related problems of agriculture, health, and nutrition from the realm of the natural to the realm of historical and sociological analysis, we may engender a more scientific and optimistic approach to their solution.
The literature on women and development in Africa makes it abundantly clear that an understanding of national and international political economy is necessary to explain the processes working to disadvantage women and undermine development. The link between international markets, commodity production, and male control of cash crops, for example, with its concomitant negative effects on the economic and political participation of women, has been documented in numerous studies. The two chapters in Part I chart the development of the relevant fields of knowledge within the different loci of research and action and point to the different constructions of the problem of technology, gender, and development. An important dimension of this overview, treated in Chapter 1, is a review of the development of feminist inquiry as a new field challenging conventional social science assumptions and a consideration of the relationship between this new field and African studies. In Chapter 2, the continuing invisibility of gender in a number of the research/action loci is explored; next, the special problems and opportunities of health and nutrition research are surveyed; and, finally, the sources of challenge to conservative views regarding development, particularly challenges from African women (often supported by progressive elements in multilateral and bilateral agencies), are identified.
Part II, which surveys research findings, focuses primarily on the local community, where the subtle interaction of technology and gender can be explored. Bryceson (1985:8) comments that, in most of the existing literature on women and technology, “male domination in its cultural and institutional sense, is treated as an historical given fact. Having identified the extent and incidence of the edge that men have over women in the acquisition and control of technology, the analyses rarely offer an in-depth dissection of its nature.” A major reason for the problem Bryceson (1985) identifies is the lack of historical and cultural specificity in much of the women and technology literature. Such specificity can be found, however, in the work of a small group of social scientists, including anthropologists and historians, who have done much to explain gender relations in different African societies. Chapter 3 explores the issues regarding technology, gender and development around which a consensus has emerged in the women-in-development (WID) and women-and-technology literature. Chapter 4 explores analyses of African gender relations that can provide a context for considering the issues presented in Chapter 3. The first part of Chapter 4 is an analysis of gender relations in Africa by way of a case study on women’s self help groups in Kenya. In the course of this analysis, an argument is made for a particular approach to the subject of gender relations in Africa: feminist political economy (the term is introduced and explained in Chapter 1). Synopses of two studies by African feminist scholars in the second part of Chapter 4 substantiate the case for this approach.
A major purpose of this book is to show how the combined insights of WID research and feminist political economy might become the basis for future research on technology transfer. A boundary problem exists not only between areas of scholarship that do not adequately interact but also between policy networks, which frequently have been unable to take mutual advantage of each other’s insights. According to Patricia Kutzner of the World Hunger Education Service (WHES) (personal communication, 1986), the inability of the food policy network to draw resources from the women’s studies network is a case in point. Part III, therefore, addresses new issues and interrelationships that might direct future research and overcome the limitations of past approaches. Chapters 5 and 6 set forth the issues and relationships, giving examples to demonstrate the efficacy of the approach being suggested, and exploring the conceptual problems identified in the literature. Chapter 7 outlines five tasks, each using a different method, as possible concrete ways to frame the topic for future research.
This study has several necessary parameters. One is geographic: Africa north of the Sahara is excluded from the review. Although there is no sharp boundary between Black and Arab Africa, and many arguments can be made for historical and cultural continuity between the two, it is an accepted convention in African studies to treat “Black Africa” as a distinctive geographical and cultural region. For all its diversity, “Black Africa” shares common historical themes and environmental opportunities and constraints. African societies have developed common responses to these opportunities and constraints, as their ancestral people, divided into four major linguistic groups, populated the continent during several thousand years of successful migration and settlement. Later, during the mercantile and colonial eras, they shared the experience of serious human losses and blows to their economic and political integrity at the hands of the Europeans. Central to the nature of African society before colonialism was a prominent role for women in economic production, and a concomitant socioeconomic and ideological position that, while subordinate to that of men, appears to have been considerably more favourable than that of women in other regions of the world. Since then, women have seen a loss of their traditional autonomy and authority. One of the fundamental tasks of development in Africa today is to discover ways in which women may regain their decision-making powers and control over resources.
A second parameter is linguistic: English-speaking Africa is the basis for this study, both to limit the material reviewed and because of less proficiency in French than I would care to admit. I would argue, however, that although different colonial and postcolonial strategies have led to some different directions for Francophone and Anglophone Africa, and although the French intellectual tradition has led to some different theories and emphases in research, the language of colonialism did and does not make for substantial differences in the experiences recorded here. Examples are taken from many countries to illustrate both the problems and the fruitful lines of inquiry to be found in the literature. Case studies are derived from two countries in particular: Kenya and Nigeria. There are large bodies of scholarship on each country, produced by both foreign and indigenous researchers. Each has significant work on gender relations and women’s position. Both countries exemplify the problems and opportunities for women inherent in contemporary African gender relations and both countries have examples of pastoral and agricultural societies facing the dilemmas of development. There are several important differences, however. One is the much greater degree of urbanization and the extensive involvement of women in trade in Nigeria. A further difference is the substantial presence of Islam in Nigeria; Kenya has a much smaller proportion of Muslims, religious affiliation being largely Christian. A third difference pertains to research on women and gender, an abundance of medical studies have been conducted in Nigeria; there is a relative paucity of such studies in Kenya. However, numerous sociological and anthropological studies, including some excellent theoretical work, have been conducted in Kenya; Nigeria’s record in the social sciences is less exciting.
A third parameter excludes consideration of women’s participation in the developed technology represented by factory production. Particularly in South Africa and Swaziland, women are being drawn into the type of light industrial wage labour that has been so well documented in Southeast Asia. Shifts over the past 20 years in the international division of labour have increasingly shunted production in such sectors as electronics and textiles to countries that can provide multinational companies with cheap — usually young, female — labour. Africa is not immune from this trend, and the implications for African women are potentially profound, as they have been elsewhere.
Exploration of these implications is, however, beyond the scope of this study. This publication, focusing on agriculture-, health-, and nutrition-related technologies, draws attention to the predominantly rural character of African societies. Whereas rapidly expanding cities have received much attention and industrialization is an important topic of analysis, the majority of Africans have seldom, if ever, encountered advanced industrial production. For women, in particular, problems must be identified and solutions sought at the local level. The wider technical issues that could be explored in the significant literature on urbanization, industrialization, and women and labour in Africa must, therefore, be left to another author.
The final parameter is a more haphazard one: the quantity of literature on technology and development on the one hand and on women and development on the other hand is so huge that no literature review can encompass, let alone comment meaningfully upon, the entire body of work. This study does, however, present an account of the writing that to the best of my knowledge accurately represents the different schools of thought, approaches, and contents comprising the literature. The reader will notice that there is no categorization of the literature by African and non-African authorship. As the review reveals, Africans contribute to each of the conceptual frameworks; ethnicity and race do not form any basis for classification. There is no “African approach” — although there are African concerns about Western domination of African thought
It is not the intention of this study to denigrate all technology transfer. Indeed, there are many cases of technology being adopted successfully, and to their great benefit, by women and communities — from safety pins and sewing machines to wells, mills, and cattle dips. The mandate of the IDRC/Rockefeller Foundation project, however, was to address the problem of understanding technology and gender in Africa, not to celebrate technological wonders for the Third World. Consequently, a major portion of this book is directed at how and why technology transfer fails and what might be done to make it succeed.
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