Women and Development (WAD)

This post focuses on the key aspects, traits, development, application, practise, and critique of Women and Development (WAD).
The blog aims to engage the readers in:
  • Understanding the shift in approaches to the development of women and the global historical context. 
  • Gaining a critical knowledge of the fundamental characteristics and contributions of the WAD approach to development. 
  • Learning how to use the WAD technique while researching or putting development initiatives from a gender perspective into action.


  1. Introduction
  2. Women and Development (WAD) : An Overview
  3. Origin of WAD
  4. Theoretical approach
  5. WAD: Focus and features
    1. Emphasis on women’s power
    2. Women-centric approach
    3. “Give credit where its due”
    4. Predominant in NGO sector
    5. International Structures of Inequality
  6. Criticism of WAD
  7. Conclusion


Women and Development (WAD), one of the three main theoretical critical frameworks defined by Rathgeber (1990), marks the second change in the attitudes of international organisations and women's groups. The current lesson focuses on the main attributes, traits, development, application, practise, and critique of WAD.

Women and development (WAD): An Overview 

WAD is a theoretical and practical framework for learning about and engaging in development. Despite having many distinguishing features, it is frequently mistaken for WID. Instead, it represents a break from the WID approach and was developed as a response to the shortcomings of modernization theory and the WID approach in explaining women's exclusion from development. It makes use of dependency theory and a neo-Marxist feminist viewpoint. The WAD method primarily contends that women have always participated in development processes and did not become fully integrated into development in the 1970s as a result of the WID approach's efforts. Therefore, rather than only focusing on their integration, it is interested in the interaction between women and development processes. It emphasises the value of women's work both within and outside of the home for the survival and upkeep of their cultures (Rathgeber, 1990).

Origin of WAD

The 1970s were when the term WAD was created (Sorensen, 1998). This crucial aspect of gender studies dates back to the 1975 First World Conference in Mexico City. It was born out of a critique of the explanatory constraints of modernization theory and the WID approach in Mexico, where women from the South argued that the development model lacks perspectives from the South, rejecting the efforts and strategies of First World feminists to advance gender equality. Women's Advancement in Development (WAD) stated that development was not a means of advancing women and advocated a paradigm change about the subject. Instead of treating women as passive recipients of development aid, it was rather argued that their active participation makes development possible. As a result, they should participate actively in development programmes (World Conference on Women, Mexico, 1975). Women have always been an essential component of development processes, according to WAD, and the exogenous development processes of the 1970s did not lead to their active involvement in development (Rathgeber, 1990). It was born out of thought that recognised the risks of integrating women in a patriarchal society. The 1950s and 1960s saw numerous nations acquire their freedom and independence, which is also thought to be when WAD first emerged. After their countries gained independence, many women fought for their nations and wanted to contribute to nation-building efforts.

Theoretical approach

By virtue of the theoretical framework in which it is situated, WAD differs from WID. Instead of examining the connections between women and development, WAD concentrates on the more extensive and intricate relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. It is commonly recognised that WAD aims to understand women's development challenges from the perspectives of neo-Marxist feminism and principally draws from the dependency theory, despite the fact that there has been little thinking done about WAD due to its special character of work in development.


Some academics, dissatisfied with Modernization theory's justifications, turned to Marxism, the theory's most thorough critique, for solutions to problems relating to women's development. Marxist historians cite Friedrich Engel's contention that the growth of capitalism and private property is what led to women's oppression and subjugation. Thus, it was thought that achieving gender equality was conceivable following a successful class struggle and the fall of the capitalist system. Since they believe that patriarchy is a byproduct and effect of the capitalist system, Marxist philosophers downplay the critical role that patriarchy plays in determining women's subordinate position.

By the late 1970s, a number of Marxist academics had come to the view that traditional Marxism could not be applied to understand contemporary society. Neo-Marxist methodologies were developed as a result of this. Neo-Marxist notions of dependency and global systems are frequently linked to approaches to development. They believe that rather than internal causes as envisioned by conventional Marxism, underdevelopment is caused by external circumstances. Some prominent feminists additionally broadened this discussion by incorporating a sophisticated understanding of reproductive labour and the significance of class in women's lives (while still adhering to a Marxist framework) (Sargent, 1981). This fusion of neo-Marxist ideas and the feminist movement's wider discussion of development is represented by WAD.

Dependency theory

This theory, which was an advanced branch of neo-development Marxism's thought, used the Marxist criticism of Western capitalism to explain Third World underdevelopment issues. The Dependency theorists attacked the Modernization theory, which placed the blame for the Third World's underdevelopment on the West and contemporary society. According to dependency theorists, a Third World that is distant and reliant benefits the capitalist metropolis, and capitalism maintains this dependency. They demand that Third World nations be cut off from Western technology and ideology in order to develop more independent societies and political institutions. They see the West as the oppressor.

This view is distinct from the majority of Western theories of development. One distinction is that it was developed in the Third World, especially Latin America, as opposed to among academics and intellectuals in the West. Any socio-economic indicator put the Third World nations at the bottom of the spectrum. Thinkers who focused on Third World Dependency questioned the reasons behind such injustices and disparities. Their main goal was to change these unfair circumstances and discover solutions to promote more equality among all nations and peoples.

Radical Feminism: 

The growth of radical feminism (see box #2) coincided with the advancement of dependency theory. Together, they demand a break from these power sources and criticise the social structures that are already in place. Radical feminists criticised the justifications of Marxist and Liberal feminism, contending that patriarchy is the basic cause of inequality and that it occurs in all countries, including those in the First and Third worlds. Thus, for some of them, the development of "women only" or "men-free" systems is the answer. To shield women's issues from male dominance, they proposed developing alternative, women-only social structures. This strategy culminated in the WAD strategy (Rathgeber, 1990).

WAD: Focus and features

Emphasis on women’s power

WAD is distinctive in its emphasis on the power of women in society. It recognizes and appreciates women’s knowledge, goals, work and responsibilities that they have always contributed to the processes of development. It points out that women have always been participating in agriculture and other activities of development but their contribution has always been overlooked and marginalized in development plans of their countries 

Women-centric approach

Therefore, the WAD method only focuses on women. It implies that there be development initiatives focused only on women that represent their needs and shield them from patriarchal dominance. The goal of these initiatives, according to theory, is to protect women from the patriarchal hegemony that prevails in the mainstream development that is frequently driven by men in a patriarchal culture.

“Give credit where its due”

The motto "Give credit where credit is due" perfectly sums up the major component of the WAD strategy. Two-pronged efforts were made to accomplish this. First, attention was given to creating campaigns to influence development strategies by elevating women's issues to the top of both national and global agendas. This entailed raising knowledge and understanding of the demands and roles of women. Second, efforts were undertaken to organise women into autonomous local groups so that their relationships might be strengthened. Both programmes sought to adapt bureaucracy to the demands of women. The difficulties in integrating women into mainstream development projects—which were perceived as being dominated by patriarchal ideology and interests—led to the establishment of this woman-focused organising. However, autonomous organisation also came with certain dangers. These organisations typically undertake less urgent, demanding, and visible activities (Connelly, 2000). Due to a lack of financing and assistance from established organisations, they remained small-scale. There hasn't been much theoretical exploration of this strategy as a result. The scholars have not been able to think much about persons working within this perspective because of the priority and active engagement at policy level.

Predominant in NGO sector

This strategy continues to be effective in the NGO sector even though it is unpopular and unfavourable in mainstream development's power centres, where women continue to mobilise at the grassroots level. NGOs are playing a role in creating networks between these organisations, between these women, and between them and other important players. Governments are now recognising them more and more, and their concerns are no longer openly and completely disregarded. A large portion of the Third World's women's movements have occurred within this framework, where women's activist organisations have persuaded governments to pay attention to their problems.

International Structures of Inequality

The WAD method, which departs from WID, emphasises the importance of global inequality structures. Because of the way wealth is allocated, it believes that both men and women are excluded from the global economic institutions. It acknowledges that even males from relatively lower socioeconomic strata experience oppression and are negatively impacted by global production mechanisms. However, even within WAD, these concerns of gender relations inside classes, cross-gender alliances, and divisions within classes are not addressed in a systematic or analytical manner. Rathegeber (1990) contends that although WAD addresses the issue of class on paper, in practise, issues of race, class, or ethnicity are disregarded when formulating development projects, and women are put together into specific special economic programmes. WAD emphasises that if international frameworks remain inequitable, women's status cannot be changed, but it does not acknowledge the predominance of patriarchy and uneven social connections.

Criticism of WAD

Similar to WID, WAD has drawn a lot of flak for both its theoretical and practical stance. According to Rathegeber (1990), WAD falls short in its analysis of the connections between patriarchy, forms of production, and the marginalisation of women. It also assumes that as international conditions improve, the position of women around the world will improve, focusing exclusively on the unequal international structures and class disparities. The main critique from WAD is the neglect of the patriarchal ideology.

Additionally, WAD and WID have come under fire for their exclusive focus on the productive lives of women while ignoring the reproductive component of women's work and lives. The role and impact of dependency theory are evident in WAD's emphasis on purely economic and political economic analysis. Women's lives are impacted by the focus on including them in economic undertakings, as they share in productive employment while continuing to handle reproductive obligations on their own (Roberts, 1979). Within the WAD paradigm, women's reproductive work in social and cultural contexts is given no economic significance because it exclusively places value on actions that lead to revenue (Rathgeber, 1990).

Concerns concerning the size and marginalisation of the scale of WAD initiatives are another aspect of the WAD method that has drawn criticism. They contend that because of their size and the underprivileged status of these women, the development projects aimed solely at women will struggle or ultimately fail. The "small scale, women-only WAD projects" can only have a limited amount of transformative effect over social relations of gender due to a lack of mainstream awareness and support. This is not meant to minimise the important achievements made by WAD in terms of raising awareness and bringing women's specific problems into the realm of policy.

Furthermore, the WAD method tends to view women as a class and pays little attention to the distinctions among women, which is risky enough. The issues of class, ethnicity, etc., have received less attention. It is erroneously believed that the answers offered by WAD practitioners for a group of women, based on those women's experiences, may address issues facing all women.


WAD is said to provide a more critical conception of women's position because it was developed as a response to the shortcomings of the WID approach. It correctly emphasises the relationship between women and the work that they do in their communities as economic agents in both the public and domestic domains. It makes an important contribution by embracing women as key economic actors. It also emphasises how crucial it is to improve the equity of global institutions. However, it also falls short of performing a thorough examination of the socioeconomic relationships between patriarchy, the economy, and the problem of women's oppression, much like WID did. While ignoring the necessity of analysing patriarchy, it does not seek to fundamentally alter gender-based social interactions. In order to create and carry out women's only initiatives, it focuses on the representation of women through intervention tactics that are geared toward women and downplays the importance of other identities and power relations that affect women, such as those involving class and race.


  1. 1. Connelly,Patricia M, Murray,Tania Li, MacDonald,Martha and Parpart,Jane L (2000) Theoretical perspectives on gender and development. International Development Research Centre. Ottawa. 
  2. Rathgeber, E.M. (1990). WID, WAD, GAD: Trends in Research and PracticeThe Journal of Developing Areas. Vol. 24, No. 4 (Jul., 1990), pp. 489-502Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4191904. 
  3. Roberts, P. (1979). The Integration of Women into the Development Process’: Some Conceptual Problems. The IDS Bulletin. Volume 10 Issue 3. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1759-5436.1979.mp10003013.x
  4. Sargent, L. (ed.), 1981, Women and Revolution, Boston: South End Press. 
  5. Sorensen, B. (1998). Women and Post-conflict reconstruction: Issues and Sources, UNRISD: Geneva. 
  6. Tong, R. (1989). Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. Boulder: Westview Press, 1989.


Thank You

Contact Form