Women's Breakthrough? Unpacking the Agency of Women in Rural Development in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Thokozani MOYO, University of Fort Hare, South Africa
Wilson AKPAN, University of Fort Hare, South Africa
Debates about how gender differentiation and patriarchy have relegated some women in many developing societies to domestic unpaid roles (mothers, housewives and nurturers) are not new. Such socio-culturally defined roles have been shown to restrict women’s effective participation in wider socio-economic development activities. However, in development thinking and practice, the ‘tide’ seems now to be turning. Women now, at least in theory, play a central role in human development plans and programmes portrayed by their benefactors (governmental and non-governmental agencies) as ‘gender sensitive’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘sustainable’. In this paper, focus is on the authenticity of claims of ‘women inclusivity’, ‘full participation’ and ‘sustainability’ made by Non-governmental organisations about community development programmes funded and supported by them in Raymond Mhlaba Municipality in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. A three-year multi-method study of NGO-funded sustainable rural development projects in selected communities in the region found that women played pivotal roles in the design, implementation and sustenance of the selected projects, thus making important contributions to food security in the households of project members. The deep level of women’s involvement in the projects bore robust testimony to the sponsors’ claims of inclusivity. However, the study found that the supported projects epitomised what may be termed a “transformation paradox”, as they were deemed by certain segments of the study communities as “women’s jobs” – that is, they were projects in which men could not, for cultural reasons, ordinarily participate in. Besides, the sustainability question remained debatable as some of the women participants were still economically dependent on welfare grants provided by the state despite their full involvement in the projects.