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close this bookWomen's Rights and Development (Oxfam, 1995, 50 p.)
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A development agency as a patriarchal cooking pot the evaporation of policies for women's advancement

Sara Hlupekile Longwe, Longwe Clarke and Associates, Lusaka


Ten years ago, in the UN Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, the nations of the world set themselves brave goals for women's empowerment and equality. But the plain fact is that these goals have not been achieved; indeed, little or no progress has been made. In many developing countries, the position of women has worsened over the past ten years, and there has been a worldwide pattern of increased feminization of poverty.'

This is despite the fact that, after the 198S World Conference on Women, all major development agencies altered their policies, to ensure a better focus on various aspects of women's equality and empowerment. We are left with the question of why such a large collective development policy has produced virtually no results.

The usual assumption is that the development agencies are trying hard, but are up against resistance from the patriarchal governments and traditional societies of the Third World. But in my experience, the situation is not so simple. This paper argues that lack of progress in the implementation of policies for women's advancement must be seen in terms of the common interests of both the development agency and the Third World government. In other words, the reason for the lack of progress is better understood in terms of a patriarchal alliance between the two sides.

This paper therefore looks at the various ways in which, in the hands of a typical development agency, the policy on women's advancement simply evaporates. It is argued that this tendency towards policy evaporation originates in the patriarchal culture of the development agency, which naturally impedes its ability to implement policies concerned with women's equality and advancement. The principles and values of feminism would not only contradict the agency's internal norms and traditions, but would also stand in the way of cosy and comfortable alliances with the patriarchal governments of the Third World.

First, we shall look at this strange process of policy evaporation. Then we shall attempt to analyse the structure of the 'patriarchal pot' in which the policy evaporated. We shall look at a development agency in terms of the male bias implicit within its values, ideology, development theory, material interests, organization, and procedures. We are, as it were, peering into a complex cooking pot, the lid of which normally remains closed. This is the pot into which policies for women's advancement are thrown. It is the strange patriarchal pot of much input, but no output. Officially, the policy exits, and the pot does not. But this paper says that the policy has evaporated, and we are looking for the pot.

Welcome to NORDIDA

For a concrete example of a patriarchal cooking pot we really need to look at the real-life world of a particular development agency, and its programmes in a particular country. But if we do that, we shall have to endure a dreadful chorus, entirely denying the existence of any patriarchal cooking pot. This chorus will come from those who wear different theoretical spectacles to myself and who therefore cannot see gender inequality or gender issues. For them, development is a non-political activity, and feminism is a dirty word. For them, the patriarchal cooking pot is genuinely invisible. To save myself from being deafened by this chorus of denial, I shall take us away to the country of Nordia, a very isolated country in the North, which no foreigner except myself has ever visited. Nordia has its own government development agency called NORDIDA, which is an administrative extension of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Nordia. We shall look at the development activities of NORDIDA in the People's Republic of Sundia, one of the least developed countries in Southern Africa.

The NORDIDA policy of women's empowerment

Ten years ago NORDIDA adopted a radical new policy called Women's Empowerment for Development. As in other development agencies, this policy development followed the guidelines of the Fonvard Looking Strategies. The new NORDIDA policy guideline was approved by the Parliamentary Committee on Development, after consultation with NODA, a network of NGOs in Nordia concerned with women's advancement. Through NODA, the women's movement in Nordia managed to shift the policy in the direction of definite commitments to work for women's advancement in developing countries.

Previously NORDIDA policy had adopted a welfare approach to women's development, focusing on separate 'women's projects' concerned with improving women's income and access to resources. The difference between the new policy and the previous policy is easy to summarise: the previous policy was concerned with improving the welfare of women, taking the existing social system and traditions as given; by contrast, the new policy is concerned with enabling women's advancement by women's increased mobilisation and empowerment, with overcoming discriminatory practices, and with giving women an equal place in society.

The new policy involves gender mainstreaming: addressing issues of gender equality in all projects supported by NORDIDA. By comparison with the earlier, welfare approach, the 1985 policy represents a radical policy shift. However, it should not be thought that this represents a policy challenge to the government of Sundial On the contrary, Sundia has, like all other UN members, assented to the Fonuard Looking Strategies, and in 1983 ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Furthermore, the government of Sundia has published its own fairly radical policy statements on women's advancement. The Sixth National Development Plan has a chapter on 'Women and Development' which states that women must be 'equally the participants and beneficiaries' in the development process. In addition, women's participation in decision making is an explicit objective of the government's new policy on decentralization, which gives more political power and autonomy to district government. At the administrative level, the government has established a WID Department in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

Policy evaporation

But, in Sundia, all these bilateral policy commitments have evaporated. Before we begin to look for the underlying patriarchal culture which has caused such policy evaporation, we should first examine some of the main external signs of this evaporation.

If you walk into the NORDIDA office in Sundia, the evidence of policy evaporation soon becomes apparent. Let us suppose you are a gender consultant who has been called in to look at attention to gender issues in a NORDIDA programme - let us say the NORDIDA Programme of Support to the Health Sector in Sundial The first thing you would do is to ask for a copy of the programme plan and read it in the light of policy requirements. You conduct your initial gender assessment by setting the provisions of this plan against the requirements of the NORDIDA 1985 policy on Women's Empowerment for Development. The table overleaf summarises your findings, and provides an example of the process of gender policy evaporation.

Programme cycle and gender policy evaporation

Aspect of programme cycle

Aspect of gender evaporation

(Critique of the programme plan)

Situation analysis: There is an overview of main

Critique of situation analysis: Some credit has to be health

problems in Sundia and the deteriorating

given for the fact that gender issues have been health status of the

rural population. There is a

mentioned. However, the separate section on separate section on

gender issues, which states that

gender issues indicates that the policy of there is a general

problem of discrimination against

mainstreaming gender issues is being avoided from women in

Sundia, but a lack of gender-

the out set. The gender aspect to fall problems should

disaggregated data and information on how

have been identified. The separate section on customary and

discriminatory practices affect

gender issues does not identify the particular women's health


gender issues affecting the health sector. The claim

that gender-disaggregated data is not available is


Policy environment: The Health Sector Support

Critique of policy environment: There is no mention of

Programme is justified in terms of softening the

the gender implications and inequalities arising impact of

structural adjustment and in terms of

from structural adjustment policies (despite the supporting

government policy on decentralizing

literature on this subject). The NORDIDA control over the health

sector. It is mentioned that

policy on women's participation and empowerment it is NORDIDA

policy to focus benefits on the most

is not mentioned or interpreted for the health vulnerable, and to

increase women's access to

sector. Instead the NORDIDA policy is reduced to resources for

improved health.

an interest in Access to resources'.

Overall programme strategy: The strategy is to

Critique of strategy: Now all sign of a gender improved provide

health services and packages to the most

perspective, or even women's concerns, has needy, to enable

increased home care and

disappeared ! despite the need for a strategy to increased capacity

in rural health clinics, and to

pursue the previously mentioned policy interest in promote

community participation in planning and

increasing women's access to resources, and also implementing

health reforms.

despite the need to ensure women's participation as

a component in community participation.

Programme goals: These are mainly concerned

Critique of goals: The goal concerned with gender

with outlining programme purpose in terms of

issues has been separated from other goals. All of

delivery health packages, supporting the Ministry

the urgent and glaring gender issues in the health

of Health planning unit, and supporting the

sector have been ignored. The remaining goals is

formation of district health management boards.

low-level in terms of NORDIDA and Sundian policy

There is one goal concerned with improving

on gender. women's access to health resources.

Project objectives: The Programme is divided into 12

Critique of objectives: The small interest in gender

projects, each with detailed objectives. No objective

issues which remained in the Goals has not been

mentions women or gender, and no objective can

translated into any project objectives aimed at be

construed as being concerned with addressing a

improving women's access to health resources


Obviously, the process of gender policy evaporation

is now complete.

Project management and organization: Here there is

Critique of project management: Women's some detail on the

distribution of responsibility

participation in project planning and management between

NORDIDA, Ministry, and District. There

should be a necessary part of community is a short section on

community participation,

participation. This would enable women's control which does not

mention women's participation.

over the reform process, to ensure that there is a fair

gender distribution of labour in home care, and to

ensure that the health care needs of women and

children are met.

Programme implementation : The NORDIDA health

Critique of implementation: Visits to several project adviser claims

that gender issues have been omitted

sites reveal that the claims that projects are from project

documents to avoid unnecessary

addressing gender issues are completely false. Such argument at

the planning stage. But the health

claims may have been made in good faith, by a adviser says staff

have been trained to be 'gender-

person with no understanding of gender issues. The sensitive',

and issues of women's participation and

programme has no gender adviser. One project gender equality

are addressed at the

manager flatly states, 'This is a health project, not a

implementation stage.

women's liberation project.'

Looking at the 'gender critique' of the NORDIDA health programme shown in the table, the reader may get the uneasy feeling that she has already been to Sundia, or at least other places very like it. Gender policy evaporation is a common phenomenon. Sometimes the policy evaporates bit by bit, between policy and implementation. Sometimes you only have to turn over a page of the plan, and all the gender issues previously mentioned have suddenly disappeared - evaporation can be a very rapid process

Looking back at the original 1985 policy on Women's Empowerment for Development, we can see that its main aspects of gender equality, empowerment, and mainstreaming have effectively been discarded. The gender critique shows that the NORDIDA office in Sundia has not adopted the 1985 policy, but must instead be operating the pre-1985 policy, confining women's development to an interest in welfare and increased access to resources. In other words, the above example is enough to reveal that the 1985 policy is being ignored.

We might have spent more time, and had more fun, identifying the further evidence of policy evaporation in Sundial But this is not our main purpose here. The surface evidence of evaporation is presented here merely for the purpose of provoking an interest in its underlying causes. Who is doing what, and why?

The larger pattern of policy evaporation

The above example of policy evaporation is not peculiar to NORDIDA; it is common to most development agencies operating in Sundial Gender policy evaporation is the norm in all bilateral and UN agencies. The only development agencies which are making a serious effort are some international NGOs; their programmes are concerned with linking up with Sundian NGOs, particularly those which form part of the growing Sundian women's movement.

Policy evaporation among the major development agencies is closely mirrored by policy evaporation within the Sundian government. The process of evaporation follows the same pattern here as in the development agencies: there is some enthusiasm for a gender-oriented development policy at the political level of government, but evaporation rapidly occurs when these policies reach the government bureaucracy. Although the government has established a WID Department in the Ministry of Planning, this department has made little progress in persuading the sectoral ministries to produce gender-oriented policies and plans.

Feminist analyses of bureaucracy

Our interpretation begins with the general notion that NORDIDA is a patriarchal organisation which automatically repudiates any feminist ideas and policies. In this, NORDIDA is merely following the pattern of all other institutions within the Nordian government bureaucracy. Let us first look at the adequacy of this type of explanation.

There is a growing feminist theory of organisations which interprets bureaucracy as being inherently patriarchal. The general theoretical framework for this literature is Weberian: the starting point for analysis is that the Weberian ideal for bureaucratic organisation is male gendered and women are accommodated only on male terms. In other words, women are accommodated either in subordinate female gender roles, or else as honorary males.

From this perspective, the very structure and rationality of bureaucracy is interpreted as intrinsically patriarchal.' The hierarchical chain of bureaucratic authority is seen as contradictory and antagonistic to women's more participatory way of making and implementing decisions. Similarly, Weber's model of a legal rational system of bureaucratic thinking is interpreted as contradictory to the more open, pragmatic and consensual modes of thought which characterise female ways of thinking

The bureaucratic division of labour into specialised professions is seen as a division into male gender roles, contrasting with a female division of labour which depends on each individual playing a multiplicity of female gender roles. Perhaps most important, bureaucracy is seen as patriarchal in that it is male dominated, and serves male interests. However, investigations into the patriarchal nature of bureaucracy have so far been confined to an analysis of the internal gender relations of bureaucracy. In other words, there has been a concern with how domestic relationships of male gender dominance are reflected in the pattern of gender relations in the office and factory.5 Bureaucracy is seen as a 'male club' where women, if admitted, are domesticated and subordinated.

However, in this paper, our interest is very different from the approach of the existing literature, in two important ways. Firstly, we are not concerned here with the lesser matter of how women employees are placed and treated within the bureaucracy. In other words, we are not primarily interested in the position of female employees within NORDIDA (subordinated though they may be). We are here looking at the more fundamental matter of how a bureaucracy maintains and reproduces patriarchal culture in the wider society. More specifically, we are interested in how NORDIDA contributes to the continued subordination of women in Sundia, despite have been given the opposite mandate.

Secondly, we argue that the Weberian interpretation of bureaucracy does not explain the evaporation of policies on women's advancement. On the contrary, the Weberian model of bureaucratic principles and rules should rather ensure that the policy is taken seriously. Instead of looking for the patriarchy inherent within the bureaucracy, we should be looking instead for the non-bureaucratic aspects of NORDIDA's organisation which have diverted it from its formal obligation to implement the policy on women's advancement. Therefore we shall consider NORDIDA here as a combination of two different and antagonistic organizations: overt bureaucracy but covert patriarchy. This line of analysis is pursued in the remainder of this paper.

NORDIDA as a bureaucracy

Let us first look at how NORDIDA functions in its overt form, as a Weberian-style bureaucracy. Here our concern is to show that, from a Weberian theoretical perspective of bureaucracy, the evaporation of policy is incomprehensible at three levels: policy, planning, and organization. Let us look at each of these three levels in turn.


NORDIDA does not make policy. Policy is made at the political level of government, and NORDIDA's job is to implement it. To some extent it may have to interpret policy, and to balance policy priorities, but such policy-related activities are then subject to scrutiny at the political level of government, especially by the Nordian Parliamentary Committee on Development.

According to the Weberian legitimation of bureaucracy, implementation of given policies is the central purpose of the chain of command

(from the government). In this area, bureaucratic rules and procedures are primarily concerned with ensuring that policy guidelines from the top generate appropriate action throughout the organization. The hierarchy of command and the organizational system are primarily concerned with policy implementation.

It follows that wilful policy evaporation within NORDIDA cannot be justified in the terms of Weberian theory. Within a Weberian interpretation, policy evaporation is incomprehensible. When a NORDIDA official 'waters down' or ignores the policy on women's advancement, the official is actually remaking policy. To negate policy is automatically a huge policy intervention. This entails his/her assuming powers which are not given in the chain of command, which contradicts a basic principle of bureaucracy.

Whereas in other policy areas an official's repudiation of poling would merit dismissal, in the area of women's advancement the official may instead be praised for being honest and pragmatic. Clearly, in this policy area, a different value system is operating. Something else is going on.


Similarly, policy evaporation during the planning process is incomprehensible according to Weberian principles. The bureaucracy works according to given rules and procedures. In planning, this means taking the policy as the guideline for the recognition of problems. The purpose of development plans is precisely to over come the problems which are brought to light by setting the development policy against the facts of the situation in Sundial The problems so identified lead to development goals, since the goals are concerned with overcoming the problems. Goals lead to project objectives, and these to activities which will address the problems. This is part of a logical planning process which is essential to a Weberian bureaucracy.

The gradual evaporation of policy during the planning process is inexplicable in Weberian terms. It entails logical slippage from due process, which is bureaucratic irrationality. It can only be understood as a mistake, which must be corrected if procedures are to be properly followed. But if there is a pattern of evaporation throughout the area of policy on women's advancement, then this cannot be a mistake. It reveals that there are other norms operating, quite outside bureaucratic norms. We must ask ourselves whether there is some other set of norms and rules operating, which are quite different from bureaucratic norms.


A third aspect of Weberian bureaucracy is that it adapts to new policy and new demands by developing specialised departments, staffed by professionals with training in the area of the new policy interest. But, when you ask the NORDIDA office in Sundia why the health sector programme has overlooked gender issues, the answer is likely to be: 'We have nobody with the training to understand these things.'

According to the policy, each NORDIDA programme is supposed to have a gender adviser. However, when you look at the plan for the Health Sector Support Programme, you find that there are detailed terms of reference for three or four specialised advisers, but no mention of a gender adviser. Such a situation, ten years after the publication of a new policy, reveals a clear unwillingness to develop the necessary specialist expertise to interpret and implement the policy. Again this behaviour is incomprehensible within a Weberian theory of bureaucracy. It demands some other explanation.

From a Weberian perspective, bureaucrats' official opinions are formed only in terms of given policies, and given rules and procedures. Officially, they do not have their ohm personal opinions, or if they do, such opinions must not interfere with their work. From Weber's point of view, the whole point of a modern bureaucracy was that it broke with earlier and medieval systems of administration which were patrimonial, patriarchal, autocratic, arbitrary, inconsistent, and irrational.

Overt bureaucracy and covert patriarchy

The evidence drives us towards an understanding of the patriarchal behaviour of NORDIDA in terms of its departure from Weberian norms of bureaucracy. It is not enough to say that NORDIDA is a bureaucracy and that bureaucracies are inherently patriarchal. The above analysis reveals that if NORDIDA sticks to the bureaucratic rules, it cannot ditch the policy on women's advancement. We suggest that an organisation such as NORDIDA has to be understood in terms of two very different forms of organisation, the overt and the covert, which both inhabit NORDIDA:

· The overt organisation is the government bureaucracy, with its explicit policies and procedures and its legal-rational system of analysis, which is legitimated in terms of the Weberian ideal of what a bureaucracy ought to be. In other words, the Weberian model is the legitimating ideology of the bureaucracy.
· The covert, patriarchal organisation, or the 'patriarchal pot' within the organisation, which runs counter to the Weberian model and which enables the subversion of all policies and directives which threaten covert patriarchal interests.

In other words, NORDIDA is simultaneously two organizations under the same roof. The overt organisation is a conventional bureaucracy, which is obliged to implement policies handed down by government. The covert organisation is what we have here called the 'patriarchal pot', which ensures that patriarchal interests are preserved. When presented with feminist policies, the overt and the covert organizations have opposing interests, values, rules and objectives: bureaucratic principles demand implementation, while patriarchal principles demand evaporation.

The culture of the patriarchal pot

If we are to put the label 'patriarchal pot' upon the organisation which subverts female gender interests, we need to understand more about the way the patriarchal pot can exist alongside bureaucracy, given their apparently antagonistic relationship. We need to know more about the structure and behaviour of the pot and how it maintains its existence, which means analysing the interests served by the pot, the ideology which legitimates it, and the procedures which maintain it. Furthermore, if the pot is actually antagonistic to bureaucracy, we need to know how the contradictory and cancerous pot can continue to survive and thrive in partnership with bureaucracy.

Internal NORDIDA interests

The patriarchal interests within NORDIDA are not hard to find. First, of course, like other bureaucracies North and South, it is male dominated. Gender inequalities in recruitment, conditions of service, and promotion are essential to maintaining the NORDIDA tradition of male domination, male culture, and male club atmosphere. NORDIDA is run as a wing of the Nordian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has always been a male preserve.

Implementing a development policy for women's advancement therefore threatens the male domination of NORDIDA. It immediately suggests the need to recruit more women, and even more threatening - to recruit feminists. Herein lies the internal threat to NORDIDA: that feminist recruits would not confine their interests to the advancement of women within Sundia, but would be equally interested in the advancement of women within NORDIDA.

NORDIDA's eternal interests

Since we are looking at NORDIDA's operations in Sundia, we are here more interested in how NORDIDA's external relations serve to sustain the patriarchal pot. We need to look at the North-South patriarchal alliance which forges NORDIDA's character and sets the institutional norms on issues of gender relations in development.6

Here we have to understand the commonality of patriarchal interest between NORDIDA and its cooperating ministry, the Sundian Ministry of Planning (MOP). Both are government bureaucracies and therefore have common experience and procedures when it comes to delaying, subverting or ignoring government policies which threaten the privileges they have by virtue of class, tribe, religious group, gender, and so on. In fact, when it comes to falling short of Weberian ideals of legal-rational behaviour, the Sundian Ministry falls further short than NORDIDA.

As regards gender, the Sundian MOP has exactly the same problem as NORDIDA. It too is part of a government which, at the political level, has handed down policies on women's equality and advancement. In fact MOP officials have a more serious interest in ensuring policy evaporation: the government gender policy threatens not only male domination within MOP, but also threatens the continuance of the patriarchal control of society as a whole. The Sundian government policy on gender equality would challenge the customary laws and traditions which have always maintained male domination of Sundian society.

Therefore the patriarchal alliance between NORDIDA and MOP has a simple basis in common interest. The Nordian Ambassador, who is in charge of the Sundia NORDIDA office, always ensures that nothing disturbs such common interest. Diplomatic relationships have to remain very cosy, so that the Ambassador can have an easy life and spend most of his time at the golf club.

The men's club alliance

The easy and cosy relationship between the officials of NORDIDA and MOP needs also to be understood in terms of the 'men's club' culture to which they both belong. Officials on both side belong to the Sundian male culture of meetings, cocktail parties and the golf club. They live in a world of male privilege which, in Sundia, is even more premised on male domination than the equivalent social world in Nordia.

This men's club culture infects both the office and the social world of the high level bureaucrat in Sundial At the office, the privileged male work of high-level decision-making is supported by the menial female work of office cleaning, secretarial work and document production. Similarly, at the domestic level, the husband's full-time professional occupation is enabled by the 'little woman' at home who looks after the home, children, schooling, and shopping. The leisure hours at cocktail party and golf club are financed by the unpaid or exploited labour of the 'lower orders', especially their female members.

In the Sundian men's club, women are not discussed as equals, or even as human beings. Women are sexual objects or commodities, to be hunted as sexual prey or acquired for additional wealth and prestige. NORDIDA officials who attempt to introduce policies of gender equality into the development discourse not only upset the workplace, they upset the whole patriarchal culture. In particular, they upset the men's club, which is not only the centre of their social life, but also their essential meeting place for informal contacts and influence.

It is NORDIDA's membership of the Sundian men's club which, to a large extent, explains NORDIDA's frequent claim that 'we cannot interfere with the local culture'. The culture of male domination is the culture of the men's club; it is a club to which they themselves belong, and from which they profit.

The structure of the patriarchal pot

We have looked at the common interests and culture of patriarchal alliance which sustain the continued existence of the patriarchal pot. But we still need to look at how the pot actually works. How are we to understand the actual process by which a particular policy can evaporate while others do not? Here we have to look at the structure of the pot, in terms of its relationship to the overt bureaucracy and in terms of its legitimating theory and ideology.

Diplomacy in defence of patriarchy

The Ambassador's simple formula for implementing a NORDIDA development support programme in Sundia is to drop any aspect of NORDIDA policy which proves difficult in Sundial In fact the Ambassador's general stance on offering development assistance has no reference to NORDIDA policies: the explicit stance is merely to provide support for selected aspects of MOP programmes. As far as possible, the Ambassador tries to reduce NORDIDA policy in Sundia to the selection of the particular MOP programmes for which NORDIDA will provide support. Such a selection process is usually conducted as if there were complete Nordian-Sundian consensus on development policy.

However, this smooth diplomatic gloss conceals the need for policy-level negotiation in areas where in fact there is not a policy consensus. All NORDIDA development principles have implications for changing the structure of Sundian society. Therefore all development cooperation between Nordia and Sundia needs to be based on initial negotiations to ensure that the policy priorities of both sides are being pursued.

In practice there is currently considerable explicit conditionality on the provision of NORDIDA aid to Sundial This conditionality is concerned with enforcing Sundian conformity to a policy of structural adjustment which has been imposed by the IMF and which has the support of most development agencies in Sundia, including NORDIDA. But the imposition of structural adjustment entails no conditionality on gender equality. On the contrary, structural adjustment policies are actually detrimental to policies of gender equality and women's advancement.

Where structural adjustment is concerned, development agency policy is enforced by conditionality. But when it comes to gender equality, a different rationale comes into play. Suddenly NORDIDA behaves like a diplomatic mission rather than a development agency. Development policy principles strangely give way to diplomatic principles. About NORDIDA's gender policy the Ambassador suddenly becomes very diplomatic, and states that 'we cannot interfere with the internal affairs of Sundia'. On structural adjustment, the Ambassador's diplomatic gloss disappears, and he talks tough. But when he talks of gender issues, his diplomatic gloss becomes impenetrable.

When the Ambassador talks of structural adjustment, he is in charge of a bureaucracy. When he talks of gender issues, he is in charge of the patriarchal pot. We cannot describe his behaviour as bureaucratic in both cases, since the essence of the Weberian model of bureaucracy is that the same principles must apply to all cases.

Theory in support of pot preservation

The most important aspect of preserving the patriarchal pot is that it should remain invisible, since NORDIDA is legitimated as a Weberian style bureaucracy which follows established Nordian government policy. One important way of enabling the pot to evaporate gender policy quietly and invisibly is to adopt a vocabulary in which discussion of women's empowerment becomes impossible. This may be achieved by adopting a technical rationalization of the development process, which has no theoretical power for the analysis - or even the recognition - of the political and ideological aspects of the development process. Here the essential technical rationalization is to limit the discourse on women's advancement to the level of providing for women's basic needs and increasing women's access to resources. Within this vocabulary, it is possible to discuss women's advancement within the existing social system, and not in terms of the need to reform the social system.

An equally important point concerns the place of gender issues in the planning process. This is perhaps the most important theoretical principle of the patriarchal pot: the principle that addressing gender issues is a secondary concern in any project, and relates only to improved project efficiency. In other words, it is not a primary concern of any project to address a gender issue. The project's primary purpose relates to purely technical objectives: increasing the water supply, improving institutional capacity, or whatever. The purpose of gender analysis is to identify the different gender roles of men and women, so that both genders can make an effective and efficient contribution to project success.

The final important aspect of technical rationalization is that it automatically excludes all awkward normative and political words. This is in contrast to the NORDIDA policy document, which uses political phrases such as 'women's participation in decision-making', 'women's control over resources', and 'women's empowerment'. But in Sundia, the Nordian Ambassador has advised all NORDIDA staff that, as technical advisers, they should avoid all politically loaded words in planning documents. He has explained that this is particularly important in the area of gender, which is a 'sensitive' area in Sundial In fact, the Ambassador has advised all NORDIDA staff to avoid the phrase 'gender inequality', and instead to talk more diplomatically about 'gender differences'. He has advised that the phrase 'gender equality' was identified as particularly likely to upset the MOP, and that the word 'equality' should be replaced by 'equity' or other non-threatening vocabulary.

The implicit ideology of the patriarchal pot

Here we see that the purpose of theory is to obscure ideology. The underlying ideological principle is that systems of male domination in Sundia are not to be the subject of development interventions. Any intervention is this area is to be labelled as 'interference'.' Whereas, in general, socio-economic aspects of inequality may be addressed in NORDIDA-supported projects, the of structural gender equality may not to be the subject of development interventions, even in programmes concerned with other aspects of structural adjustment. The principle is that NORDIDA will work within the existing patriarchal structure.

This, of course, must remain covert ideology. It must remain covert for the simple reason that the overt principles are the exact opposite. Both NORDIDA and Sundia have explicit development policies concerned with promoting gender equality and ending practices of gender discrimination. This points to the absolute importance of technical rationalization as a system of discourse. Within a technical and nonpolitical vocabulary, the ideological contradiction between policy and practice never comes up for discussion. It remains invisible.

Covert procedures of the patriarchal pot

But the problem cannot be kept invisible entirely by controlling vocabulary. The problem still has to be managed in areas outside NORDIDA's vocabulary control. For instance there may be vocal members of the women's movement in both Nordia and Sundia who want to know why there seems to be no action on NORDIDA's policies for women's advancement. Within the Nordian government and parliament, there may be feminists who begin to realise that NORDIDA has no intention of putting the policy into practice and is instead actively thwarting the policy. Consultants and evaluators from Nordia and elsewhere may ask to look at NORDIDA-supported programmes, and they are very likely to compare policy with progress. All these situations have to be managed.

So, if a gender issue does actually get onto the agenda, how is it to be dealt with? The answer is that it must apparently be dealt with by normal bureaucratic procedure. But this must be done in such a way that the gender issue will slowly, slowly, evaporate away.

Of course this is not bureaucratic procedure in the Weberian sense. Weberian bureaucracy is, by definition, an efficient method of public administration. By contrast, the procedures of the patriarchal pot ensure that the issue evaporates before it has been addressed. The procedures of the patriarchal pot mock bureaucratic procedure, to make sure that what goes in, never comes out; the patriarchal pot enacts a strange slow-motion parody of bureaucratic procedure. What looks on the surface like bureaucracy is actually the slow destructive boiling of the patriarchal pot.

Let us take an example from the NORDIDA Health Sector Support Programme in Sundial Let us imagine that the visiting consultant, sent by the Nordian Parliamentary Committee on Development, has visited the project and has pointed out that Sundian government family planning clinics are discriminating against women. Specifically, the family-planning clinics refuse to provide women with contraceptives unless they bring a letter of permission from their husbands. In effect this makes contraceptives unavailable to most married women and to all single women. And a major part of the NORDIDA health sector budget is to provide support for family-planning clinics.

The consultant has clearly revealed a lack of attention to the NORDIDA gender policy on ending discriminatory practices. The First Secretary in the NORDIDA country office has to respond to this criticism, and may even have to be seen to take action and make changes in the office.

Let us now look at some of the ways in which the First Secretary may respond to such criticism. This will reveal some of the standard procedures of the patriarchal pot which may be used to ensure that this gender issue soon evaporates.8We can divide the procedures into verbal defence, diversionary action and ineffectual organisational change. Let us look at each of these categories in turn.

If possible, the First Secretary will want to confine his reaction to verbal defence, which involves defending the programme from the consultant's criticisms, which are portrayed as mistaken.

Procedures for verbal defence

Denial: The consultant, who was only here for a week, has misunderstood the problem. It is Sundian policy that contraceptives are made available only to couples. Thus the clinic is only following government policy, to which NORDIDA also must also conform.

(Flat denial is a dangerous procedure, because it usually involves obvious lies. In this case the claim about Sundian government policy is completely untrue!)

Inversion: There is a problem here, but it originates in the home and not in the clinic. It is husbands who insist that wives can only be given contraceptives with their permission, and Sundian wives accept this situation. This is therefore a domestic problem, in which the Sundian government cannot interfere, let alone NORDIDA.

(This should be recognised as a yet another version of the old strategy of blaming the victim.)

Policy dilution: NORDIDA policy is concerned with increasing access to resources, which we have done by providing more clinics and stocking them with a variety of contraceptives. We have done our part from a development point of view. The rules determining who is eligible to receive contraceptives must remain in the hands of the government, and this is a very sensitive cultural issue in which we could not possibly interfere.

(It is not true that NORDIDA policy is limited to providing resources to government. The policy also involves enabling women's empowerment, and overcoming the obstacles of discriminatory practices.)

Since verbal defence must entail misrepresentation or even plain lying, the First Secretary may choose alternative procedures which admit the problem and propose action to address it. This brings us to the procedures of diversionary action. These procedures are of course represented as purposeful, but in practice they are diversionary.

Procedures for diversionary action

Lip service: The consultant has pointed to a problem which has been worrying us f or some time. We are most grateful for her clear analysis of the problem and her recommendations for action. We intend to establish a Consultative Committee to look at these recommendations, which have implications for improving our attention to gender issues in all NORDIDA programmes.

(This is a procedure for sounding good at the time, but with absolutely no intention to take any action. It is verbal action not matched by any material action.)

Research study: The consultant has pointed to just one aspect of a large problem area, which is very sensitive and touches on matters of Sundian custom and tradition. We have decided to appoint a team from the Sundian Research Institute to look at gender issues in all sectors in the context of structural adjustment, and to make recommendations on the implications for NORDIDA.

(By the time the report comes out, at the end of next year, the original problem should have been forgotten. In any case, the report will be writtenlike a PhD thesis and most readers will not be able to understand it.)

Shelving: The Research Report on Gender Issues in the Context of Structural Adjustment in Sundia has now been completed. It has been sent to HQ in Nordia for their consideration, since it is one of several reports on this issue which were commissioned in different parts of the world.

(The Report has been shelved. It will never be seen again.)

Even more diversionary is ineffectual organisational change, since this is a mere preparation for subsequent diversionary action, and suggests a much longer time scale on the road to doing nothing. Moreover, if the organizational change is inappropriate, the effects will never be seen.

Procedures for ineffectual organizational change

Compartmentalisation: We are now establishing the new post of WID Counsellor to head the new WID section in the NORDIDA office in Sundial The WID counsellor will advise on gender issues in all projects, will supervise the planning of support for women's projects, and will be in charge of gender training for NORDIDA staff and counterparts.

(The NORDIDA country office is divided into sections by conventional sector: health, education, and so on. Therefore the creation of a separate WID section effectively treats gender as a separate sector, when it is actually supposed to be an inter-sectoral concern. This compartmentalisation contradicts the NORDIDA policy of mainstreaming gender issues in all sectors of development assistance. The WID counsellor will soon understand that hers is a very junior post and that promotion prospects depend very much on confining her interest to the separate women's projects and otherwise keeping quiet about gender issues.)

Subversion: I have appointed our Second Secretary, Mrs. Patrison, to take on the additional responsibility of WID counsellor in our office here in Sundial I know she is very young and has no previous experience in gender issues. But I am sure she will soon pick it up. (This appointment is an act of pure cynicism. Patrison is a junior official well known for her incompetence and administrative confusion, and famous for immediately losing any document which is given to her. As a junior official, she will not be in a position to influence the planning of sectoral programmes which are overseen by more senior officials. In this way, the NORDIDA policy of having a WID counsellor in each country office is followed in principle, but subverted in practice.)

Tokenism: l am pleased to announce that the wife of the vicepresident, Mrs. Charity Wander-Wander, has agreed to sit on our Sundia-NORDIDA Health Programme Committee. Until now the Sundian members of this Committee have been all men, but now we shall hear the women's voice on some of these cliff cult issues concerning tradition and custom.

(Mrs. Wander-Wander is a well-known traditionalist. In fact she is known for telling women to obey their husbands! There are many women prominent in the Sundian women's movement who should have been invited to sit on this Committee. In any case, half the members of this Committee ought to be women if the NORDIDA policy on women's participation is to be followed. Mrs. Wander

Wander has been invited as a token woman. In any meeting she will be allowed to speak for five token minutes, to ensure that 'the woman's point of view has been heard', before the men take their decision.)


Returning from the mythical People's Republic of Sundia, let us ask ourselves how mythical it really is. Is NORDIDA not very like an agency we know very well? Is Sundia not a country which seems to be very familiar? If any of this description of the patriarchal pot rings true in our own experience, then we need to think again about how the women's movement, North and South, can contribute to the process of women's advancement.

We may have previously, unthinkingly, regarded government and UN development agencies as a means towards women's advancement. And perhaps they could be. But the above analysis suggests that patriarchal agencies are very much part of the problem, and an obstacle to progress.

For the global women's movement, the unmasking of the patriarchal pot has endless implications. For instance, it shows that it is not enough to ensure the establishment of gender oriented development policy, on the assumption that this policy will then be pursued. Instead it shows that the women's movement, North and South, must also mobilise to monitor the activities and progress of development agencies, on the assumption that the gender oriented policy will not be pursued unless there is independent monitoring.

This paper has peered briefly into a government bureaucracy and revealed some of the ways in which it can work to maintain and reproduce patriarchy in the wider society. The analysis strongly suggests that feminists should also take government bureaucracies as a prime target of interest, to end their male majority and male domination, and to introduce gender equality and feminist principles. The women's movement is making a mistake if it does not take such an interest in the workings of government bureaucracy. If we want to change the world, we cannot dismiss bureaucracy as part of the 'male world', as if patriarchy could be defeated anywhere else - in the NG0 movement, in issue politics, and in alternative forms of organisation and government. Bureaucracy is not just another part of the 'men's club' which will hate to change in due course. Bureaucracy is the means by which patriarchy is perpetuated.

Moreover, it is not merely the internal patriarchal culture of bureaucracy which needs be reformed. A related, and more important, need is the need to reform bureaucracy so that it will implement, rather than evaporate, the policies on women's equality which are handed down from the political level of government. Bureaucracy must be converted to 'democracy'. This task may be necessary for all institutions of government bureaucracy in the North, not just development agencies.

But this paper was written merely to analyse the problem, not to explore the implications of the analysis. Perhaps that should be the subject of my next paper.


1 The declaration being prepared for presentation to the Fourth World Conference on Women, the UN Draft Platform of Action of March 1995, flatly states that 'the goals set forth in the Forward Looking Strategies have not been achieved' (para.35), and summarises the pattern of women's increased impoverishment (para.39).

2 Some readers may already be familiar with some aspects of Nordia and Sundia from my discussion of an earlier visit in 'Towards better North-South communication on women's development: avoiding the roadblocks of patriarchal resistance', paper presented at a WIDE Workshop on Gender Planning (Dublin, 28 February 1992). I am grateful to my partner Roy Clarke for the endless discussions which led to the invention of NORDIDA and Sundial It should also be noted that the invention puts me in the privileged position where my evidence cannot be challenged. My analysis of patriarchal resistance within development agencies was carried further in a subsequent paper, 'Breaking the patriarchal alliance: governments, bilaterals and NGOs', Focus on Gender 2:3, 1994.

3 For a recent overview of the literature in this area, and some of the latest contributions, see Mike Savage and Anne Witz (eds), Gender and bureaucracy, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992.

4 The claim that women have a different way of thinking was notably argued in Carol Gilligan, In a different voice, Harvard University Press, 1982.

5 Perhaps the most famous example of such an investigation is Rosemary Pringle, secretaries talk: sexuality, power and work, Verso, London, 1989.

6 My earlier paper, 'Towards better North South communication ...', referred to in note 3 above, represents my previous attempt to analyse the North-South patriarchal alliance.

7 For my earlier discussion of how the word 'intervention' suddenly changes to 'interference' see Sara Longwe, 'Institutional opposition to gender sensitive development: learning to answer back', Gender and Development 3:1,1995.

8 I first wrote about these 'procedures' under the heading of 'strategies of bureaucratic resistance' in Sara Longwe, 'From welfare to empowerment: the situation of women in development in Africa', Women in International Development, Working Paper no. 204, Michigan State University, Michigan, 1990.