Women, International Development, and Politics: The Bureaucratic Mire

By Kathleen Staudt | Go to book overview

members and between leaders and members have become increasingly strained. And, together with the loss of cohesiveness, waning membership numbers have placed the cost of maintaining the organization on a shrinking core of women, with the result that even the possibility of breaking even by one's membership is threatened.

It is no wonder that MF women were content to end their "profit- generating" activities, to revert to inspections of traditional wealth only, and to hand over control of the Canteen, the hall, and the kindergarten to other interested parties. All these decisions are consistent in that, although they generate minimal income for the members, they eliminate the possibility that members will lose resources through their participation. The changes also obviate the need for close cooperative effort and mutual-aid schemes among members--arrangements that have been frought with increasing difficulties and strains.

The members, in effect, have become caretakers of an institution that, as before, no longer lost or gained its members anything, but also that no longer generated a development fund. It has come to be, in other words, a development failure.


Summary and Conclusions

The MFO is a case study of a sensitive bureaucracy, a favorable cultural environment, and a successful development institution that enabled the redistribution of wealth to women. However, the success of the MFO was never really based on the effectiveness of bureaucratic structure nor even on the content of the development plan. The socioeconomic context of the contemporary Tongan village very quickly infused the planned institutional model of self-help--just as it did unplanned traditional wealth organization--reformulating its structure and operation to reproduce indigenous social dynamics. And it was these same social dynamics--rather than changes in development structures and policies--that ultimately resulted in the decline and failures of the MFO.

Although my case study argues for the benefits of long-term, contextually oriented project evaluations and development research, the most important implication of this analysis is to call into question the entire development agenda--whatever its bureaucratic context. Development planners and agencies differ on the correct formula for Third World development, but they converge on the notion that a "correctly" conceived, structured, and implemented plan will work. Thus, as programs continue to fail, they attend to the problems in their own organization and conception (for instance, the local and unconnected nature of women's small-group rural projects) or to

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