Tegelijkertijd en tussendoor : gender, plattelandsontwikkeling en interactief beleid

Bock, B.B.


This study sets out to explain the specific character of women's participation in rural development. Its focuses on the fact that although rural women take an active part in practical initiatives they do not figure in the process of rural policy decision making, neither do they make use of those policy instruments meant to stimulate bottom-up innovative initiatives. The absence of women in the policy process is surprising, as the participation of rural inhabitants is one of the primary objectives of the Dutch government's new, interactive model of policy making.

A two-fold approach is used to analyse the manner in which women participate. The general framework employed here to analyse and understand rural development is derived from endogenous rural development theory. Emphasis is put on the role rural inhabitants' play in the process of change. Rural development does not just happen to them or emerge as a result of development policy. It is co-produced and defined by rural peoples' activities and initiatives. The specific line of action women follow in this process is studied from a rational choice perspective. The rational choice approach fits in with the endogenous theory of rural development as both approaches presuppose purposeful and goal-oriented behaviour in men and women and their ability to overcome restrictions. As this study assumes, this agency is reflected in the choices women make. Analysing the choice process can explain why women prefer different solutions to men and looks beyond the exclusion of women from the policy process. By analysing the considerations that motivate rural women to follow a specific approach, it is possible to respect the agency of women but to take external factors beyond their control into account as well.

This approach also provides an opportunity to clarify the meaning of gender within endogenous rural development theory and to explain the interaction between gender and endogenous development. The following questions must, therefore, be answered. First, how can we explain the inequality in the chances open to women and men when it comes to participating in rural development within a theoretical framework that presupposes the goal-oriented behaviour of actors and their ability to overcome restrictions. Given this assumption it would be reasonable to expect that both sexes would be able to take part in the process of change. This first question leads directly to a second. It is often assumed that the endogenous model of development offers women a better chance of active participation than other exogenous development models. Is this assumption correct?

The objectives of this study include an analysis of how the introduction of the interactive governance model has affected the participation of women. The expectation was that interactive politics (like endogenous development) would provide women with more opportunities for participation. However, this has not been theoretically elaborated or empirically tested.

1 Research questions

The research questions explored draw on the results of several research projects. These studies have examined Dutch rural women 's participation in rural development from different perspectives - the initiatives taken by rural women take themselves, their representation in the policy process and the way they use policy instruments. As a result it is possible to get a thorough picture of women's role in the development process and to understand the interrelation between different facets.

Initially two hypotheses were formulated. These seek to explain the behaviour of women, first as a reaction to not having the resources necessary to access the policy process, and second as the desire of women to generate extra benefits by choosing a practice-oriented participation mode. The empirical results confirm the relevance of the chosen theoretical approach but also give reason to change and further elaborate the hypotheses.

Research question 1

Why do most rural women prefer to participate in rural development by way of practical initiatives?

The study demonstrates that the approach women choose is characterised by a specific pattern of activities rather than by a clear-cut preference of a certain type of initiatives. Other than might be expected women do not only undertake economic or social initiatives but develop political ones as well. Furthermore, they do not always act as individuals: they take collective action as well. Women do design all their activities in a similar way. Their initiatives are generally small scale and informal in organisation. Their participation in activities is non-committal. This ensures that any activity undertaken will fit into the multi-tasking scheme that typifies a rural woman's responsibilities.

When it comes to economic business most women prefer to act on their own. By keeping things in their own hands they want to limit financial risk. By performing their tasks ' simultaneously and in between ' they want to prevent the farm and their families from suffering because of their new commitments. Their political initiatives take place in the informal political sphere: outside established political structures and within loosely structured voluntary groups in which they participate as private individuals and not as ' representatives ' .

These groups often concentrate on practical problems in women's direct environment. However, women co-operate for other reasons as well. In their groups liked-minded women exchange knowledge and experience and offer each other moral support in dealing with the critical attitude of many of their colleagues, relatives and even friends. As a result of their informal and small-scale nature, women's activities and groups often remain unseen by policy makers. These gatekeepers of the policy process do not know of the initiatives being taken by women and women's groups and do not acknowledge their political character. As a result they do not perceive rural women as relevant participants in the policy process.

As might be expected women choose their course of action because they assess the costs involved to be low and expect that the activities will fit easily in their other responsibilities. In doing so they take the existing gender-specific division of labour in agriculture and rural society as their point of reference, and the traditional norms and values that confirm this division. By starting their new activities cautiously and out of sight, women try to come up to the traditional standards of good behaviour.

But in the course of time women's behaviour generally changes and begins to bear more resemblance to the way men approach development matters. This is especially true when new economic activities are being considered for the farm. Although women start their activities in a small and cautious way, they prepare themselves for making bigger investments and professionalising their business in the long run. This is a result of the re-evaluation of the costs and benefits experienced. Some of the initially important costs lose importance whereas some of the benefits regain significance. Women learn that their approach may lead to additional problems because working methods are not efficient or result in a huge workload, stress and loss of time. Moreover, the chosen line of action may not be able to guarantee that certain costs can be prevented. Many women have, for example, found that people will criticise their initiatives whatever precautions they may take. However, when backed up by the knowledge that others appreciate their activities and motivated by the satisfaction derived from seeing their ambitions realised, women become capable of detaching themselves from their traditional environment. The supportive attitude of their own partner is of particular importance as is the backing they find in co-operating with other women.

The cost-reducing character of the way women participate can explain why women have chosen for a specific line of action. At the same time, however, it seems to be a temporary solution and typical of a starters ' model. Although the choice is limited in the beginning and the preference for a cautious start self-evident, the room for manoeuvre expands over time. Women take an active part in this expansion by creating and collecting extra resources, mobilising moral support and by developing a more self-conscious and independent attitude. This is the moment when external and policy-driven support should be offered. But up to now policy makers have not taken the characteristic women's approach with its typical dynamic into account.

Research question 2

Why does the introduction of an interactive governance model hardly affect women's involvement in rural development whereas its primary objective is to promote bottom-up participation?

The study demonstrates that the interactivity of the rural governance process is still very limited. It is mainly the government and the established political organisations that develop and implement rural policy. Economic problems and interests continue to attract the most attention and to determine the selection of political players. Women's access to the policy process remains restricted as many of the structures and rules of the old (neo-corporate) governance-model are still in operation. Consequentially the door continues to be closed to all those who do not possess the relevant political resources. The culture of the governance process has hardly changed. It is still dominated by disagreements and conflicting interests. These residues of traditional governance restrict women's access and hinder the functioning of those few women who do succeed in entering the policy process.

However, attempts to renew rural policy and governance have not been totally unsuccessful. The policy process is moving in a new direction. This is especially true for policy implementation that is being handled in a more interactive way. The implementation structures have become more informally organised and are therefore more accessible for rural inhabitants. In addition, an important task of the implementation committees is to communicate with rural inhabitants. Rural women participate relatively often in these committees, which confirms the positive relation between interactive policy making and governance on the one hand and the participation of women on the other. Women's influence on the content of policy is still limited, however, because the formulation and implementation of policy remain separate and women seldom succeed in entering the policy formulation process.

Engagement in the policy process carries high costs for women. There is the material expense of childcare and travel, for example, and rural women's organisations are generally unable to cover these costs sufficiently. Even more important though are the non-material costs that arise as a result of the opposition and resistance rural women and their organisations encounter when they demonstrate their political ambitions. The general disapproval of politically active women within the agricultural sector is an important factor. In addition, the established farm unions are afraid that separate representation of men and women will lead to conflicts of interest. Farm unions want to form a block of common agricultural interests against other interest groups and they put pressure on women to conform to this strategy. For many (farm) women this results in an inner struggle and high and painful costs as they feel they are being pushed to choose between loyalty to farming and loyalty to rural women.

The expectation that women will have different ideas about rural development than men provides regional governments with an important motive for involving women in the decision-making process. The potential conflict of interests between men and women may thus positively affect women's participation. The government's dominant position in the selection of participants may also work in favour of women's participation. However, here rural women's organisations confront a difficult dilemma. By following their own course of action as far as rural development is concerned, their chances of political participation increase, their political influence is strengthened and governmental support is gained. At the same time, however, they run the risk of loosing the support of the farm union. The alternative is to choose the side of established agricultural organisations and run the risk of putting the justification for women's separate representation on the line and of loosing the chance to defend the specific interests of rural women. Individual women, who succeed in entering the political arena, encounter similar problems. They find it extremely difficult maintaining themselves in this arena because the justification and value of their input is continuously under dispute.

It cannot be concluded from this study that women do not prefer to participate in formal politics. However, the fact that political participation carries high costs supports the assumption that participation in the policy process is not attractive for most women. Participation in the informal rural development arena involves fewer costs. In addition in the eyes of many women this type of participation carries a greater chance of success because it focuses on finding solutions to concrete problems.

The high fence between the policy process on the one hand and the initiatives of ordinary rural inhabitants on the other are of importance too. Because of the lack of contact between policy and practice, the policy makers and the policy process remain invisible and unknown to most rural people. The prevalent distrust of politics in general and rural policy in particular play an important role here as well. The decision of women to restrict their involvement in rural development to their own backyard can thus count on more approval in their environment than a decision to get involved in policy making and co-operating with government to formulate governmental rural policy.

Research question 3

Why do rural women make hardly any use of the instruments the government installed to promote and support bottom-up initiatives?

Women make very little use of government subsidies. Moreover, in comparison to men, their proposals have little chance of approval. As expected this is to some extent the result of women's lack of the resources (time, money and contacts) that, de facto, regulate access to government subsidies. More important still is that the subsidy scheme presupposes a line of action and development model that is at odds with the approach preferred by women. As a result, from the start, women's projects have very little chance of being considered sufficiently innovative or worthy of subsidies. The instruments installed by government are, therefore, of little use to women. The same is true for others who may choose a similar approach. As the approach women prefer and the endogenous developmental approach are very similar, it can be concluded that the main Dutch rural development subsidy scheme is unsuitable for the promotion and support of endogenous development.

Whether the inaccessibility of subsidies motivates women to choose a different course of action right from the start cannot be deduced directly from an analysis of the subsidy scheme. However, it is very likely taking into account the many activities women develop without asking for subsidies. Moreover, women do not consider the rejection of a proposal to be a reason for giving up their activities. Seeing that they cannot access extra finance, women will return to their original, gradual and step-by-step model of innovation. The Dutch government shows little appreciation and support for this kind of innovation and paradoxically, it is just this attitude that continuously reconfirms and reproduces this type of women's approach and action. By refusing access to external resources, the government forces women either to break-off their initiatives or look for alternative solutions. In this way the different behaviour patterns of women and men are sustained and their differences in resources, status and position within the development process reinforced.

2 The choice of women's approach of rural development

Within the endogenous theory of rural development is has been impossible to explain why the course of action chosen by women is different to that chosen by men. This is because the endogenous approach presupposes the goal-oriented behaviour of actors but does not elaborate it any further theoretically. In this study it is tried to do this by analysing the behaviour of women from a rational choice perspective and by integrating additional theoretical concepts. In this way the different behaviour of women can be better understood and explained taking the unequal position of women and men into account without loosing sight of women's agency.

Rural women are just as capable as rural men of acting purposefully and in a goal-oriented way to overcome restrictions. The conditions under which they take decisions and act, however, differ because of the unequal position occupied women in society. Rural women do not only experience different restrictions to men but these restrictions have another significance. Rural women have limited access to economic and political resources and this together with the gender-specific norms governing proper behaviour play a particularly important role. Moreover, gender-specific behavioural rules affect the goals of both men and women and their relative importance. In short, the difference in resources, goals and priority of goals have to been taken into account as does the different and gender-specific distribution of costs, benefits and chances of success associated with specific lines of actions. As a result women and men have different amounts of space in which to manoeuvre. In typical male domains such as politics, women have a very limited amount of room to manoeuvre even if there is no sign of direct exclusion or prohibitions. Rural women may choose to take part in the policy process, but getting access will result in higher costs for women than for men. The alternative, more cautious women's approach invokes less resistance, is less expensive and offers, many women claim, more chance of success. A more even balance of costs and benefits explains why women's prefer such an approach.

The circumstances under which women make choices change over time and in part as a result of women's behaviour. Women expand their room for manoeuvre by generating extra resources and re-evaluating the importance of costs and benefit. Moreover, they distance themselves from the traditional behavioural code prominent in their environment and become less concerned about criticism from others. As a result different modes of behaviour become possible.

By making use of the concepts described above it becomes possible to explain why women and men act and participate in rural development in different ways and to understand the reasons for these differences. The application of a rational choice-perspective allows us not only to clarify the gender-specific character of the rural development process but also to identify the other inequalities that determine the chances of participation and the way in which it occurs. From this study it is clear that it is precisely by choosing their own and different solutions that actors express their ability to act despite the presence of restrictions. Acting in a different way can, therefore, be explained as a decision that actors take in favour of a particular participation mode because it is the one that best fits in with their circumstances. How much chance different participation modes have of influencing the development process will depend on its social and political context and the social position of the actors concerned. This also explains why differences in participation mode and chances between (groups of) actors reproduce other (social) differences as well. The agency of actors is limited by the restrictions that control access to all sorts of resources and which reflect status and position in society. The reward and disapproval of others is another important determinant of action.

3 Gender, endogenous development and interactive governance

Rural women's approach to rural development resembles the endogenous approach in mechanisms and intrinsic logic. This is especially true where new farm activities are concerned and here the endogenous model seems to be the women's line of development par excellence. Taking this observation as a point of departure policy makers ' recognition and promotion of endogenous development could be expected to entail an approval of women's approach to rural development as well. Moreover, their policy could be expected to offer women good opportunities to participate in the mainstream development process.

A similar line of argument leads to the expectation that interactive governance and policy making will promote rural women's involvement. The informalisation of political structures, broadening of the political agenda and clearance of traditional restrictions, should render the policy process more accessible for rural women. It should, moreover, attract more women as it gives more room to the more informal political manner of rural women and the political issues that have their specific interest. An interactive policy model is not, however, only of interest to women. Because of the increasing possibilities of co-operation between policy makers and rural people, interactive politics are also considered a prerequisite of successful endogenous development.

The access the endogenous development model and an interactive policy and governance process grant to rural women results in the first place from the approval and recognition of participation modes previously considered deviant and irrelevant. Secondly, both models foresee a fundamental change in processes and structures, which traditionally hampered the participation of women. In short, the organisational structure and ideological framework from which behaviour is evaluated have changed. And with the entrance of different political actors and rules the distribution of power and influence changes as well. Theoretically, rural women should get not only more appreciation for their involvement in rural development but more voice in the process as well.

This study, however, demonstrates that in reality this has only been achieved to a very limited degree. In part this is due to the fact that the fundamental renewal of the development and policy process, for which many policy documents have pleaded, has by and large remained rhetoric. In reality many of the traditional obstacles rural women experience have survived, together with old political structures, processes and definitions. Policy instruments offer those submitters who follow the rural women's or endogenous approach, little support as the instruments are build on the assumption of the traditional development model. The policy process has hardly changed and rural women have less access to policy negotiations compared to those men who represent the traditional governmental partners. Other newcomers have difficulty in passing through the traditional gateway too. However, it is rural women who experience the most opposition as they fight against the prejudices that would marginalise them as political irrelevant and ignorant.

But even if the endogenous development model were followed strictly, the equal participation of rural women would still not be guaranteed. As far as individual women are concerned, the endogenous model offers new opportunities for participation and acknowledgement. It is when the switch is made from the individual to the collective and regional development level envisaged in the endogenous model that it becomes clear that women face more obstacles than men. As this study demonstrates rural women groups do not only operate on a small scale, they remain stuck in the informal arena as well. They rarely meet administrators, policy makers or the well-known carriers of regional development in their own environment. Consequentially they have little chance to take part in formal policy making and to affect the rural development process as a whole. This is particularly so when the renewal of the policy process lags behind and traditional mechanisms and processes continue to function.

However, even where there has been a successful renewal of governance, rural women still experience many disadvantages and restrictions as a result of their unequal position in (rural) society. The government's responsibility as far as rural women's participation is concerned, therefore, goes beyond the invitation of women (or other new groups) to take part in decision-making and the adaptation of political structures and processes. It is also responsible for creating the preconditions that will allow rural women's participation to be successful and effective. The government should, therefore, offer material support to the representatives of new and not (yet) well-established organisations that still need this kind of support. Furthermore it should make sure that the input of newcomers is respected and taken seriously by all participants.

Despite these remarks it must be said that the introduction of the endogenous development model and the interactive model of governance and policy making is an important step forward in promoting rural women's participation. Until recently, efforts to advance equal participation generally consisted of little more that extra support that would enable women to behave more like men. This compensation has not only been insufficient in most cases but has merely served to reconfirm the status of women as stay-behind and needy persons. The introduction of a new development and governance model implies the deconstruction of restrictions that are intrinsic to traditional structures and processes. Still more important is that the new model breaks through the traditional images and definitions of relevant participation and participants. Within the new development policy rural women's different behaviour does not necessarily imply less respect and less influence anymore. By considering women's way of participation to be equal to men's and by offering women equal conditions for influencing the development and policy process, the government is supporting the realisation of more equal gender relations in agriculture and rural society as a whole. For lasting development this is an important precondition.