The World Bank Group President, Robert Zoellick, visited Turkey in July for the launch of a new initiative called The Gender Certification Program. According to the World Bank's website, the program is intended to "support private sector firms that succeed in promoting gender equality as a business practice" and thus pave the way for equal opportunities in the work place for both men and women. One of the World Bank's concerns is that although Turkey has been highly successful in closing the gender gap in education, less than one-quarter of working-age females have entered the workforce in Turkey.
A 2009 World Bank report purports that "increasing the number of women who are actively employed in Turkey would reduce poverty, increase national economic output, and lead to improvements in social indicators." Zoellick's comments during his recent visit echoed these ideas, noting "The World Bank supports gender equality all over the world" and "gender equality means a smart economy." From these statements, it appears that The World Bank views Turkish women as a largely untapped potential for furthering Turkey's socio-economic development.
These views are largely in line with the Women in Development (WID) approach that has dominated World Bank and other international development policies since it emerged in the 1970's. This approach is primarily concerned with improving access and increasing the participation rates of girls and women in education and the labor force. As such, achieving gender parity in both schools and the labor force is an indicator of national development.
What is relatively new for the World Bank in this initiative is the World Bank's greater emphasis on gender equality, a concept that gained considerable attention through the Gender and Development (GAD) approach to development. The GAD approach emerged in the 1980's in opposition to the WID framework, which, despite its popularity among policy makers, was widely criticized due to its narrow scope and oversimplification of the gender issue and its solutions. The GAD approach argues that the mere inclusion of women in the development process is not a sufficient condition for attaining gender equality. Instead, it contends that social structures create inequality and that these deeply entrenched forms of gender discrimination must be challenged (Unterhalter et al, 2005).
Despite the World Bank's use of GAD terminology, particularly around gender equality, the WID approach appears to be driving its recent efforts in Turkey, this time focusing on the workplace rather than education. To better understand how GAD concepts are able to find their way into development language of the World Bank and other organizations without radically transforming those same policies, it is helpful to look at the core concepts of the GAD approach and consider how they are being defined, measured, and adopted among international development organizations and institutions.
The GAD framework is centrally concerned with the removal of structural barriers to gender equality and women's empowerment. It has made great strides in creating dialogue around the concepts of gender equality and women's empowerment and introducing them into the mainstream development agenda (Kabeer, 1995). However, attempts to conceptualize, define, and operationalize both gender equality and women's empowerment remain illusive (Kabeer, 1995; Unterhalter et al, 2005). The absence of an agreement on what exactly these two concepts mean in terms of development leaves room for various interpretations and jeopardizes the very essence of the GAD approach.
The GAD understanding of gender equality is much more complex than the WID framework and does not easily lend itself to simple definitions, explanations and policies. It attempts to make gender central to the concerns of policy makers through gender mainstreaming while at the same time, avoids offering overly simplistic conclusions and prescriptions characteristic of the WID approach (Kabeer, 1995 in Unterhalter et al, 2005). Unfortunately, the complexity of the GAD approach and absence of a clear definition of gender equality in education make it difficult to track progress towards this goal. In an attempt to fill this void, gender parity, which can be quantitatively measured, is often used as an indicator of or synonym for gender equality. Subrahmanian (2005) shows that although gender parity and gender equality have very different meanings, they both appear on the list of Millennium Development Goals and are often used interchangeably. This confusion further complicates evaluation of the two goals because gender parity is a quantitative goal that requires quantitative measures while gender equality is largely a qualitative goal that needs to be assessed qualitatively. Furthermore, gender parity is only one step towards achieving gender equality in education, and cannot offer a complete representation of gender equality. Because these two concepts have such different meanings, which in turn determine how gender parity and gender equality are measured and evaluated, it is necessary to achieve greater clarification of these terms in order to properly measure progress towards gender equality in education.
Equally difficult to define and measure is the concept of women's empowerment that is at the core of the GAD approach to gender and development. Women's empowerment is a central concept within the GAD framework in which power, or the lack thereof, are of primary concern. As Kabeer (1995) points out, not everyone accepts that empowerment can be defined and, for some, its fuzziness is what gives the concept value and room to breathe. Although many development organizations now claim women's empowerment as their aim, there is still no agreed upon definition of this concept (Murphy-Graham, 2008). In the absence of a clear definition, the term women's empowerment has been overused, misused and is becoming a synonym for participation, which bears a close resemblance to the WID approach that GAD proponents criticized.
In an attempt to provide a clearer conceptualization of women's empowerment and how it might be measured, Kabeer defines women's empowerment as "the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such an ability," (1995). Even if such a definition is widely accepted, Kabeer cautions that the indicators used to measure empowerment must also be carefully selected to avoid the risk of analysts applying their own interpretations and values to these indicators of empowerment. In order to ensure that indicators mean what they are intended to mean, Kabeer advocates for the triangulation of evidence based upon three inter-related dimensions: access to and opportunities to use resources, agency in decision-making and achievements.
The complexity of the GAD approach and its inability to define its most essential concepts of gender equality and women's empowerment leaves a lot of room for interpretation and poses serious challenges to its intended implementation in the mainstream development agenda. Because GAD concepts such as gender equality and women's empowerment have not been clearly defined, these terms can easily be appropriated by development agencies such as The World Bank to reflect their own ideas and agendas, which are not necessarily GAD-oriented. As a result, GAD goals may become lost in the interpretation of those who appropriate them. Therefore, when evaluating international development policies and programs, it is necessary to look beyond the discourse and carefully examine their content, with a critical eye toward their approach, definitions and indicators.
Taking this into consideration, should we expect any dramatic changes in the institutional mission statements of development agencies or their policies as they take into account new approaches and ideas? Is it fair to blame development agencies for obfuscating GAD and WID approaches in their development agenda when they were never clearly delineated in the first place? As a famous quote by Anais Nin reminds us, "we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are." Finally, to what extent is it even possible to translate such abstract goals of gender equality and women's empowerment into concrete policies with measurable indictorswhile keeping the core of the GAD approach intact?
Kabeer N. (1999). Resources, agency, achievements: Reflections on the measurement of women's empowerment. Development and change, 30, 435-464.
Murphy-Graham, E. (2008). Opening the Black Box: women's empowerment an innovative secondary education in Honduras. Gender and Education, 20, 1, 31-50.
Unterhalter, Challender, and Rajagopalan (Chap 3), Measuring gender equality in education. In Aikman S., & Unterhalter E. (2005). Beyond access: transforming policy and practice for gender equality in education: Oxfam Pub.
Subrahmanian, R. (2005). Gender Equality in Education: Definitions and measurements. IJED, 25, 395-407
Turkey model nation in gender equality, says World Bank head. (2011, July 20) Hurriyet Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/%20n.php?n= turkey-model-nation-in-gender-equality-says-world-bank-head-2011-07-20
The World Bank. (2009). Turkey's greatest untapped potential: women.
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The World Bank. (2011). KAGIDER and the World Bank sign Memorandum of Understanding in Support of Turkey's Gender Certification Program.
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