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Questions of Agency: Development, Donors, and Women of the South

Nkiru Nzegwu


Asked what development means to her, a peasant woman in rural Kenya had this to say:

During the anticolonial campaigns we were told that development would mean better living conditions. Several years have gone by, and all we see are people coming from the capital to write about us. For me, the hoe and the water pot which served my grandmother still remain my source of livelihood. When I work on the land and fetch water from the river, I know I can eat. But this development which you talk about has yet to be seen in this village. - Reported by Achola O. Pala 1981, 214.

The term “partnership” has frequently been used by international donor agencies to describe relations with southern women and southern NGOs. 1 In “The Challenge of Partnership,” Beth Woroniuk, Patricia Keays, and Jancie Brown observed that the word “partnership” was inappropriately used by international aid agencies and NGOs to describe relations with recipient organizations that are anything but partnerships. 2 They pointed out that “[m]any organizations use the term ‘partners’ interchangeably with ‘groups we fund,’” without seriously examining the underlying power structure governing the relationship. In a similar but related context, Honor Ford-Smith, a Jamaican activist, explained that the use of “[t]his egalitarian label does not change the reality” on the ground. 3 She described how the development goals of southern women’s groups were sometimes thwarted by the kind of demands donor agencies make on groups whose proposals conflict with their notion of what economically poor women should be doing (1998). On numerous occasions, the Jamaican drama troupe known as Sistren Collective was pressured into taking on standard income-generating projects because donors who operated with Women-in-Development (WID) and Women-and-Development (WAD) frameworks could not grasp the idea of the power of consciousness raising and the income-generating potential of theatrical work. Evidently, as these interventions increased, they subsequently set the Collective on the path to implosion.

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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