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African Study Monographs, 22(4): 175-193 December 2001 175




Minako ARAKI

Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University


The whole population of rural women nominally form the targeted groups.

Outsiders assume that women’s groups mean the same things to all the actors involved.

However, findings from rural Zambia, first, show that each individual saw different interests and meanings in the Women’s Clubs independent of the agenda of the initiative, which resulted in their participation and non-participation. Some interpreted the activities of the Women’s Clubs differently from those of the outsiders. Even among the members, there were diverse meanings for participation, ranging from economic purposes to just being with others. Non-participation was due to either self-exclusion by choice or by circumstance.

Secondly, contrary to the assumption that the group would act as a unit with common interest because of the shared gender, conflict as well as co-operation arises within groups.

Women’s Clubs faced risks of dissolution or division at junctures. The relevance of development initiatives hinges on more critical reflection on the practices which are heterogeneous and diversified.

Key Words: Development aid; Grass-roots groups; Gender; Southern Zambia.


To present this human world as a problem for human beings is to propose that they “enter into” it critically, taking the operation as a whole, their action, and that of others on it. It means “re-entering into” the world through the “entering into” of the previous understandings which may have been arrived at naively because reality was not examined as a whole (Freire, 1974: 154-155).

From August 1987 to July 1990, I worked as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer in Monze District, Southern Zambia. During this period, I was attached to the Ministry of Labour, Social Development, and Culture, and worked mainly at the Monze District Social Development Office (SDO). Through the grass-roots groups called “Women’s Clubs,” a variety of development agencies including the SDO were making efforts to implement their own development interventions in Monze.

Originally, Women’s Clubs in Zambia were organized in the welfare approach in which women were labelled as “mothers and wives”, and later on the label was shifted to “unutilised resources” in efficiency approach (Bardouille, 1992). In the labelling framework, developers are active subjects who select one aspect of the lives of the targeted people as passive recipients. This tendency was also found in 176

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Monze. It seemed to regard development intervention as the active actor with rural society seen as passive in twofold ways. First, development interventions were assumed to be active forces in the sense of taking initiatives towards the targeted as passive recipients, in relation to the interface of development projects and rural society. Secondly, rural society was assumed as passive in the sense that the people needed to be helped or empowered by outsiders as if they were living passively, as if ultimately their livelihoods were dependent on the state. As I stayed in Monze, instead of looking at the people as targets of the programme, I came to want to see the programme through the people’s eyes and to see the totality of their livelihoods which comprise of their own strategies and development interventions if any. I begin by explaining how I arrived at some issues to be questioned, showing the trail of my experiences and thoughts to reach the point of departure.


In Monze, to co-ordinate women’s work efficiently, a Women’s Co-ordinating Committee (WCC) composed of a part of the staff of the Ministries of Agriculture, Social Development and Health, and the Home Craft Centre was established in

1988. The team targeted a specific population of rural women in order to offer them packages of skills and knowledge through Women’s Clubs. However, the task mainly fell on the extension workers to explain about the Women’s Club and to form more Women’s Clubs in order to present more packages. Not surprisingly, faced with a quota and transport constraints, the extension workers tended to work with only those who were willing and easy to contact.

At the very beginning of my work, I did not know what “extension” workers were or why they were so called. My concern was well described in African Laughter by

Doris Lessing (1992: 216):

I met an Agricultural Extension Worker.

What is an Agricultural Extension Worker? you may ask, if still capable of being amazed at the jargon of bureaucrats.

An Agricultural Extension Worker is an expert in Agriculture. But why Extension Worker?

Don’t ask, just don’t bother to ask, but from one end of the world to the other, people who know about crops and soil and beasts are called Extension Workers.

Don’t you see? It is an extension of knowledge.

Never mind.

I minded and wanted to investigate further. Paulo Freire, in the classic works such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) and Education for Critical Consciousness (1974), discussed the concept of extension and its mechanistic connotation. He cautioned against the danger of “assistencialism which contradicts man’s natural vocation as subject in that it treats the recipient as a passive object, incapable of participating in the process of his own recuperation” (Freire, 1974: 15). In this kind of “assistencialism”, extension implied “an action of taking, of transferring, of handDifferent Meanings and Interests over Women’s Clubs 177 ing-over, and of depositing something in someone” (Freire, 1974: 99).

Relating this to Women’s Club’s activities in Monze, the WCC’s work was to extend something such as skills and knowledge, towards someone, in our case, to rural women. The subject was the development agency while the object was rural women. We were concerned with this situation, and felt strongly the need of an alternative approach. We, then, decided to attend the Training for Transformation workshops, whose basic element was Freire’s work on critical awareness. After the workshops, we went back to the villages, and organised workshops that incorporated games, simulations, and songs to make the members of Women’s Clubs more participatory and critical, so that they would analyse their own situation and come up with their own action planning (Araki, 1992; 1998).

From the viewpoint of extension practice, one of the main objectives of promoting any project through the Women’s Clubs was to transfer power or resources to those who did not have them. Given an economic and materialist framework, the term empowerment seemed to fit easily; it entailed the have-nots, the powerless or the disadvantaged acquiring or being given more power than they currently had, just as they could acquire or be given more money, more goods, or more knowledge. In this context, Women’s Clubs functioned as vehicles and bridges to enable outsiders to gain access to those “hidden” within rural society, and supply them with packages for empowerment the outsiders deemed to fulfil their needs.

However, empowerment in Freire’s sense is not just a matter of extending knowledge, skills, and resources to the oppressed. His interest was education, especially literacy programmes, through which partnership and dialogue between the oppressed and the educationalist might take place. He argued that everyone was a creative subject with their own knowledge and experience, and a complete misconception to regard anyone as an ignorant object. Thus, the role of a field worker was not the extension or banking of the knowledge, but to awaken critical awareness and enable people to realise the potential that was within themselves. The central point of his theory and practice is, thus, a critical consciousness, which he saw as the basis for collective action against oppression.

The WCC members were influenced by Freire’s focus. Rather than extending resources and skills, we now aimed to empower rural women by making them critical subjects. But in doing this, we simply shifted the emphasis from extension at one end of the spectrum to conscientization at the other. Yet, we were not able to escape from the same trap. Whether we wished them to be subject or not, the women were still being acted on and the recipients of initiatives coming from us outsiders. This

conundrum is comparable to Orientalism discussed by Edward Said (1978: 97):

On the level of the position of the problem, and the problematic... the Orient and Orientals [are considered by Orientalism] as an “object” of study, stamped with an otherness—as all that is different, whether it be “subject” or “object”—but of a constitutive otherness, of an essentialist character.... This “object” of study will be, as is customary, passive, non-participating, non-autonomous, non-sovereign with regard to itself: the only Orient or Oriental or “subject” which could be admitted, at the extreme limit, is the alienated being, philosophically, that is, other than itself in relationship to itself, posed, understood, defined—and acted on—by others.

178 M. ARAKI Whether through an extension method of transferring something to the “object” or conscientization to make the oppressed into a critical “subject”, I felt that rural women were still being acted on and stamped with an otherness, and that they were the “object”, in our situation, of the development intervention. There seemed no way of escaping from this.

As time went on I felt increasingly constrained by the outsiders’ mission to bring development, whether it was considered as top-down or bottom-up. As I glimpsed local people’s own perception, the gap between the programme’s perspectives and rural women’s own strategies of living was becoming unsurmountable. My situation in Monze was like “being lost in the forest in search of timber” (Salole, 1991: 11). I felt a strong need to figure out the “forest” itself, i.e., the totality of livelihoods of rural people, and to see the world through their eyes.

Through “entering into” the previous experiences and understandings discussed above, I formulated two research questions. First of all, as I felt the gap between the outsiders and rural people, there was the question whether the women saw the same interests and attributed the same meanings to the Women’s Clubs as seen by the outsiders and indeed from each other. Villarreal (1992: 259) discussed the multiple dimensions of how each woman reacted to the same project: “After all, this was a project which came under the umbrella of ‘development for women’. Nevertheless, the situation was never experienced exactly in the same way by all of the women, and each dealt, manipulated, and recreated her own distinctive dynamics of conditions and meanings.” Crehan (1991: 186) similarly argued that, “different actors do not always use the same basic concepts to structure and make sense of the reality in which they live. They may have quite different assumptions about the meaning and function of development and development projects.” Considering this perspective to look at the interface of development intervention, I felt the need to look more closely at how individual actors saw and acted on Women’s Clubs, and to investigate the diverse interests and meanings, if any, behind the motivations to be a member or not.

Secondly, the basic unit for planning women’s development was targeting or labelling people in a same category such as “rural women” and “poor.” Built into this was the assumption that this group would in fact act as a unit with the commonality of disadvantage, poverty and subordination, which went beyond administrative convenience. Members of groups were, therefore, assumed to work together to maximise their benefit, share the burdens and/or fight against the same enemy.

However, there was a need to investigate the assumptions of solidarity and homogeneity within a Women’s Club. Beyond that, I also questioned the fundamental assumption that women share and cooperate.


I. Research Sites Monze District, my research site, is located on the mid-Plateau in the Southern Province of Zambia. For many centuries, the Bantu people speaking a variation of Different Meanings and Interests over Women’s Clubs 179 the Tonga language (Chitonga) have lived on and around the Plateau. The total population of the Southern Province was 946,353, of which 157,451 was the population of Monze District (CSO, 1993). The economy of Southern Province is essentially based on agriculture and animal husbandry. However, there have been substantial changes in terms of type, quality and quantity of the crops which the peasantry cultivated and even in types of livestock kept. Over the years, maize superseded traditional crops such as sorghum and millet, and became the primary crop. In addition, cotton, tobacco and sunflower were introduced as cash crops. As a result, Southern Province became a leading agricultural region of the country (Chipungu, 1988).

However, Monze District has encountered a series of socio-economic changes externally and internally. One is the economic hardship partly due to the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) from the 1980s which widely affected the rural population of Zambia. As Geisler (1993: 1974) described, people in rural areas suffered from “a combination of rising cost of living, removal of agricultural subsidies, marketing and food.” Along with the drought of 1992, the epidemic of corridor disease and AIDS, that Foster (1993: 253) called a “combination of three catastrophes,” the hardships affected Monze District at the same time in the 1990s.

I returned to Monze from October 1993 to September 1994 after a 3 years’ absence from my previous stay. I considered variations in the history of Women’s Clubs to see if there was a difference in the way of using various groups for their livelihoods, and selected Mujika, Nteme and Bbwantu (Fig. 1) as research sites.

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