Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

And If the Shoe Doesn't Fit? (Wear It Anyway): Economic Transformation and Western Paradigms of Women in Development Programs in Post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

And If the Shoe Doesn't Fit? (Wear It Anyway): Economic Transformation and Western Paradigms of Women in Development Programs in Post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe

Article excerpt


From its inception in 1973, the Women in Development (WID) paradigm of incorporating gender into projects for economic growth has dominated the development establishment. Although this model has been critiqued and modified over time, WID scholars, advocates, and practitioners continue to dominate the field and to set the agenda in most multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, as well as in international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the developing world.2 Since 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, aid organizations have attempted to implement WID theory and practice within the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Despite the millions of dollars of aid dedicated to gender programs and the hundreds of projects throughout the region, these efforts have met with limited success.

This article will briefly examine just one of the possible reasons why WID projects have failed to reach women in Central and Eastern Europe: the long-suppressed history of WID-funded projects, which beyond liberal notions of development, have also served as covert tools to stem the spread of Marxist ideology in the developing world. Traditional accounts of the integration of women into American foreign assistance programs have ignored the Cold War context and the U.S. government's fears that communist insurgents were successfully mobilizing Third World women for revolutionary causes. In some part, the roots of the WID model are intricately linked with the fight against global communism.

Exploring these roots will provide important clues as to why WID and its heir, Gender and Development (GAD), have been largely unsuccessful in the former Eastern bloc countries. Central and Eastern European socialism and its legacies have not yet been totally erased from the collective social and cultural memory of the region's women, many of whom may prefer political rather than "self-help" solutions to their economic plight. This important, yet forgotten history must be reclaimed and integrated into the way scholars and development professionals study and theorize the WID model.

WID Aid to Eastern Europe

The fall of the Berlin Wall exponentially expanded opportunities for gender-related development work in Eurasia. The sudden implosion of communism was unexpected by scholars, politicians, and activists in both the East and the West. Feminists around the world were equally surprised by the momentous events that came to mark the end of the greatest social experiment of the twentieth century. Soon after, armies of democracy consultants and privatization advisers invaded the former Eastern bloc, riding a tidal wave of Western aid (Wedel 2001). Gender experts and Women in Development advocates and practitioners were not far behind

In the early years of the transition, Western feminist scholars (both liberal and Marxist) began researching and publishing about the negative effects that economic transition was having on women in the former communist countries (Corrin 1992; Einhorn 1993; Moghadam 1993; Funk and Mueller 1993; Rueschemeyer 1994; Alsanbeigui et al. 1994). Some scholars also felt it was necessary to "bring the Third World in" so that parallels between the transitioning and developing countries could be drawn (Moghadam 1993; Jaquette and Wolchik 1998; Kotzeva 1999; Verdery 1996). This research sparked the active interest of the WID departments of multilateral and bilateral aid agencies. These agencies, in turn, began offering grants targeted to local women's groups as part of "civil society" building initiatives throughout the region.

After the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, cooperation among international women's agencies reached a zenith, and WID experts in the nonprofit sector began to "discover" Eastern Europe. International women's nongovernmental organizations based in the West recognized the plethora of opportunities available for gender-related work in the Central and Eastern European region and began applying for grants to do projects and carry out studies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.