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Gender and Development

What is in this guide

  1. Why should organisations understand gender and development
  2. Important things to know about gender and development
  1. The position of women in South Africa
  2. The difference between sex and gender
  3. The different roles men and women play
  4. Gender and development
  1. How to do a gender analysis
  2. How to do a gendered needs assessment

  1. Why should organisations understand gender and development

Organisations that work in communities and try to address development and to empower people, should take the issue of gender very seriously. Many development activists see "the people" as their target group and do not try to understand the different realities of men and women's lives. Even in cases where women are specially mentioned as the most important target group, proper analysis is seldom done about the impact a project or policy will have on the lives of women.

An example is a rural job creation project that aimed to deal with the fact that 40% of people in a community are unemployed. The planners failed to further analyse this figure and did not realise that in fact only 20% of men were unemployed while a massive 60% of women had no work. About half the poorest families in the area were also headed by single women. The project involved employing people to build a 20km road and required that 30% of the workers should be women. Because of the higher percentage of men employed and the lower level of unemployment, the project made a big difference to the economic situation of men and their families. The economic status of single women who headed families was hardly affected. Women who did work on the project also had great difficulty because they worked long hours and could not attend to all their other responsibilities such as childcare, cooking, housekeeping, fetching wood and water, etc. A proper analysis of the needs and conditions of women may have lead to a project that employed more women for shorter hours.

Understanding gender and applying a basic gender analysis are essential tools for development activists. You do not have to be a gender activists who wants to work for the emancipation and equality of women to use a gender analysis. Every community or development activist who wants to improve the lives of people should know how to use these tools.

  1. Important things to know about gender and development

  1. The position of women in South Africa

Women perform two thirds of the world's work
Women earn one tenth of the world's income
Women are two thirds of the world's illiterate
Women own less than one hundredth of the world's property

- United Nations statistics

In this section we will look at the facts about women in South Africa. We will give figures to show the inequalities that still exist and that affect most women's lives

Where do women live

Women make up just over half of the population in South Africa, but when you look at the population in the poorest areas like rural areas and informal settlements there are always many more women than men.

Just over half of all women live in the rural areas where they can barely survive. Access to land and support for small-scale farming is a major problem for African women.

Family life

Apartheid and the migrant labour system tore apart African families. 30% of African and 26% of all households are headed by women - this usually means that there is no man contributing to the family income.

In most families women work outside the home and take full responsibility for housework. They work long hours to cook, clean and care for their families. Almost all families have young children as well as old or disabled people who are cared for and nursed by women.

Women and education

Almost half of all African women have grade 7 or less education and many women have no schooling at all.

In high schools there are more girls than boys, but the boys have a much higher matric pass-rate. This may be because girls have more responsibilities for childcare and housework and less time for studying than boys.

60% of all men have post-matric qualifications, while only 40% of women do.

Women and work

Women have a higher unemployment rate than men and 4 out of every 10 women are unemployed. For African women the unemployment figure is 50% and for young African women it is a shocking 70%.

Many of the women who are employed work in the most exploited categories of work - farm and domestic work.

In the workplace, women with the same education as men earn about 80% of the wages men get. So if a man is paid R2000 for a job, a woman in the same job earns about R1600.

Women are quite well represented in public service (government) jobs but they work in the lower paid jobs. Only a handful of women work in management. Only 15-20% of local government employees are women and very few of them are in management positions.

Women and government

Because of the one-third quota introduced by the ANC in the 1994 elections, 30% (almost one third) of all members of parliament and provincial legislatures are women. No party other than the ANC had a quota for women, and they all have less than 25% women in legislatures. Among cabinet ministers about one third are women.

In local government women are also under-represented. 28% of councillors are women and very few of them hold important positions like mayors or chairs of committees.

Women in community life and organisations

Women do most of the work that helps communities deal with their problems, but have little political power in leadership structures. Examples where women make up the majority but have almost no positions of power are in churches and rural areas that fall under traditional leaders.

In political parties women are very badly represented among leadership and in provincial and national executives of all parties, men fill about 80% of the leadership positions.

In Cosatu where women make up 37% of the members, only 14% of shopstewards are women.

Violence against women

South Africa has the highest rate of rape and wife battering in the world. One out of every four women are beaten by their partners. Every minute at least one woman is raped somewhere in South Africa. This means that about one third of all women are raped in their lifetimes.

  1. The difference between sex and gender

Sex is biological and gender is cultural:

People treat gender roles as natural, but they are not, they are dictated by society and are often oppressive to women. For example a woman's sex makes it her job to breast-feed a baby - no-one else can do it. But when the baby is weaned, it is still the woman's job to feed the baby because society expects that from her. This is her gender role. The man can just as easily do the job since there is nothing biological that prevents him from shopping, cooking food and feeding the baby. Most men do not do housework because it is seen as women's work.

  1. Gender analysis and development

Gender analysis is a way of looking at and understanding the complex needs of the community you serve. Instead of categorising people as "households" or "the poor" where you make assumptions about the people as one family unit, a gender analysis helps us to take a much closer look at the realities people face. It separates analysis of men and women - their problems, needs and access to power and resources.


A very typical rural development project in an African country made loans available to men as heads of households to develop small farming. This was a response to a needs assessment that found that farming in the area needed some capital investment to become productive. When most of these projects failed, funders investigated and found that the loans were not used for farming, or if used it was for inappropriate things. They also found that farming was actually done by women and most of the men went to work in the cities. But the loans were made to the men and, because of their traditional role as head of the family, they could make decisions about how to use the money.

A gender analysis was done and overcame the problem - it became clear that women are the farmers, but have little say in the households or the community. Loans to women, support services and forums for making collective decisions were set up and the money was used to turn poor farmers who barely survived into productive ones.


  1. How to do a gender analysis

A gender analysis or perspective looks at the roles society says men and women must play as well as the unequal power relations between men and women. It then looks at the needs that arise from gender roles and how to respond to them.

The roles are broken into three categories:

1. Productive role - work that brings in money
2. Reproductive role - work around the house, food and family
3. Community role - organising social events and services in the community

All these roles are important for organisations to consider and take into account. In the next section we will explain the different roles and their implications.

1. Productive role

Productive work is making things or providing services that can be traded for money. Both men and women are involved in productive work, but the types of work they do are very different and are often divided according to their gender roles.

Professional jobs are very divided - most of the people in management are men, most clerical workers are women. Most teachers and nurses are women, most principals and doctors are men.

Most skilled workers and artisans are men, most cleaners and domestic workers are women. Most paid farm workers are men, while the women who grow crops for their families to eat are unpaid. In all sectors of the economy, men occupy the majority of the higher paid jobs. Even when men and women have the same jobs, men are usually paid more.

The informal sector is a very important one for economies of developing countries since it is often the fastest growing sector. Women are the majority of the producers in the informal sector. This sector lacks support and infrastructure and is usually not represented in local decision-making forums.

Implications for community or development organisations

Economic and social development is an important part of development work. To empower women and remove the barriers to their participation in the economy we must analyse their present productive role and look for opportunities to improve things.

Women should be targeted for income-generating and employment projects. Consultation around such projects should directly involve women.

The informal sector should be included in all local forums and other structures set up to deal with development or other community issues.

Local government should investigate the needs of the informal sector and include it in planning - things like space, security, storage facilities and power supply. Planning around transport, safety, childcare, health services, account pay-points, etc. should take into account the needs of working women.

Training and skills development should specially target women - whether these projects are organised by government of non-governmental organisations.

2. Reproductive role

Reproductive work is the care and maintenance of the household and the family. It includes bearing and caring for children, cooking, collecting water and fuel, cleaning, shopping, mending and looking after the disabled, old or sick members of the family. In all class and race groups this work falls mostly on women's shoulders.

Most women work long hours in and around the house, get less sleep than men and have little time for leisure. Although every household needs a lot of housework, it is not valued - it is not seen as real work and is not paid for. Most poor women work almost twice as many hours per day as their male partners.

Implications for community or development organisations

Because women play the reproductive role, they are the main users of local services. When basic resources, services and facilities are absent, their work burden increases. For example, in many rural areas women spend hours every day collecting water and wood.

If we are are serious about improving women's lives, we must push local government and community or development organisations, to prioritise projects that will free women to become more active in other areas of work like productive work and political leadership. Childcare facilities, safer streets, running water, electricity, access to cheap shops, accessible clinics and public transport are all things that will make women's lives easier while also improving the lives of all who live in the community.

As the main users of services, women should also be targeted for consultation and participation in community meetings that discuss service provision and development projects.

In the long term we also have to fight to change our culture so that the "reproductive" work is shared between men and women.

3. Community role

Community work is the collective organising of social events and services, including local political activities. Things like funerals, churches, welfare organisations, civics, community meetings, campaigns, self-help projects and water committees.

Community work can be split into two main roles:

Women form the majority of the people who do community work (managing) while men occupy the majority of the leadership positions (politics). Churches are good example of how the work is divided. The majority of active members are usually women and they organise most of the social events and welfare services. The vast majority of the people in positions of power - like priests and church council members, are men.

Implications for community and development organisations

Women are seldom well represented in the community structures that are consulted about development, services and projects - structures like Local Development Forums. But when it comes to voluntary work that is needed to make things work, there is often an assumption that women will have the free time to do the work. (Even though less women are in formal employment, studies show that they work longer hours than men because of all the household work they do)

Many projects and programmes fail because of poor consultation. Development workers must make sure that women are properly consulted - if it is not possible to meet them as leaders of community structures other ways must be used.

It is only when women are part of the political decision-making process that decisions will be made that are practical, acceptable and implementable, and that will benefit women's lives.

Responding to gender needs

In each of the areas of productive, reproductive and community work, men and women will have different needs according to their gender roles.

To overcome the inequalities between men and women, development workers must respond in two different ways to the needs of women:

Practical needs - we must make the lives of women easier. Their reproductive roles give them a huge extra burden. By considering programmes that deal with childcare, accessible healthcare, access to water and electricity and efficient public transport, the burden of work to care for the family and household can be lessened.

Strategic needs - in the long term we must try to change the unequal power relationship between men and women. Women must get access to things that will empower them - like training, loans, signing power for renting houses and representation on political structures.

Any development programme or project should be assessed in terms of both of the above, and the question should always be asked whether a programme makes women's lives easier and/or empowers women. Obviously all projects will not be able to do both.

The easiest way to do a gender analysis to see if a project has the correct goals and objectives is to ask these questions:

There are also other questions you should ask before you even start planning the details of a project. Projects must be based on needs assessments and community consultation. It is in the consultation process that women often get left out. The methods we use to communicate with the community may also leave out more women than men. The following questions should be asked to do a gender analysis of the process:

Questions around the process:

Questions around the outcomes of the project:

  1.  How to do a gendered needs analysis

When doing a needs assesment, it is very important to separate the information you collect about men and women if you want to respond effectively to needs. For example you may have an unemployment rate of 40% in a local community. When you separate the figures you could find that 55% of women and 25% of men are unemployed.

Needs can be assessed in many different ways. You can do research and surveys, have ward meetings, meet interest groups and do house visits. Find out as much as you can about the problems and needs of the people in your area.

The form on the next few pages is a good way to start if you want to do a general needs assessment. When you fill in the form below you will get some idea of the problems women face in your area. If you do not know all the answers, try to get the information from the municipality, the clinic, community organisations or government services. The census should also have information about the economic status of people in your area.

If you want to do a needs assessment about a specific issue like health or housing, you will obviously have to get much more detail than this form allows. Direct consultation and research should also form part of your needs assessment for a specific project.

1. People

(Get estimates from municipality or clinic statistics

How many people live in your area------------------------------------
How many of those are women/girls------------------------------------men/boys -------------------------------
How many people are under 18------------------------------------over 65 -----------------------------------
How many of over 65's are women------------------------------------and men ---------------------------------

2. Facilities

How many of the following are there and what are the problems for women

Number Problems
Primary schools------------------------------------------------------------------------
High schools------------------------------------------------------------------------
Creches ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Community halls ------------------------------------------------------------------------

How far from where most people live are the nearest:

Distance Problems for women
Police station------------------------------------------------------------------------
Post office------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fire brigade------------------------------------------------------------------------
Public phone------------------------------------------------------------------------
Magistrate's court------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pension pay point------------------------------------------------------------------------

3. Work

What % of adults are unemployed: men ________________ women________________

What kind of work do most women do?

Write all the most common things, the problems there are and the estimated pay for that kind 
of job and how many women do that type of work. 
At the bottom of this section is an example of how to fill it in.

Type of work ProblemsPayHow many women
Domestic worker 

Bad pay, long hours, no benefits,  
own children, no buses after 5pm

R500 p/mth

30%, one third

4. Water and fuel

Where do households get water from - write all the different ways in different parts of 
your community and the problems for women:

AreaWater sourceProblems

What do most people use for fuel for cooking?
(for example: wood, electricity, paraffin, gas, coal, dung)


5. Housing

What kind of houses do people live in? 
Write the different types in different parts of your community.

AreaType of housingProblems

6. Transport

What kind of public transport do most women use and what are the problems?


Type of transportProblems

7. Health, welfare, social and legal issues

What are the most common health problems for:

Girls under 16  _________________________boys under 16 _________________________
Women 17 - 40 ________________________men 17- 40 ___________________________
Women 41- 64 _________________________men 41- 64 ___________________________
Women over 65 ________________________men over 65 ___________________________

What are the most common family problems that women have to deal with?


What are the most common problems about crime and violence that affect women?



What kinds of discrimination still exists against women?




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