Indian scholar, economist and philosopher Amartya Sen sees development as a gradual process of expanding freedoms equally for all people. Gender equality, from this perspective, is a core objective of development in itself implying that ‘just as development means less income poverty or better access to justice, it should also mean fewer gaps in well-being between males and females’ (World Development Report 2012).

Yet, today’s development realities beg the question as to whether we are achieving this objective sufficiently and in a reasonable timeframe. Although there has been considerable and important progress in terms of women’s well-being (in rights, education, health and access to jobs etc), what of their ‘ill-being’? It is still the case that NO country treats it women the same as its men.

‘Things have changed for the better, but not for all women and not in all domains of gender equality. Progress has been slow and limited for some women in very poor countries, for those who are poor, even amid greater wealth, and for those who face other forms of exclusion because of their caste, disability, location, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Whether comparisons between men and women in the same country, or absolute comparisons of women across countries, the progress in some domains is tempered by the sobering realities that many women face in others’.

World Development Report 2012

In this module we have chosen to focus specifically on women per se, and not gender in general for a number of reasons and to highlight a number of important issues.

The role of women in developing countries, as explored throughout this module, has been recognised as the single most important factor when it comes to bringing about and sustaining long term social change. Women are farmers and food providers (contributing to agricultural output, general environmental maintenance and food security); they are business people and traders (40% of the world’s labour force are women, not including informal work in the home, on the land, in the market place etc); they are heads of households (most of whom are likely to also have a full time job, as well as caring for children, elderly or sick relatives); they aremothers, carers and support workers (more often than not, in developing countries, this is voluntary); and they are community leaders, activists and role models (stemming from their roles in society as mothers, carers and support workers). Development affects men and women differently, often with a more negative impact on women. This can undermine women’s role, status and position within society and therefore perpetuates their inequality.

Women’s equality is vital to sustainable development and the realisation of human rights for all. Equality for women is vital economically, politically, socially, culturally and environmentally – it is also crucially a matter of basic human rights.

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