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Poverty, women and development: Evaluating women's perspectives and experiences of participation in World Vision area development programmes in rural Bangladesh

The study aimed to evaluate the impact on women of development initiatives by World Vision (WV), one of the world's largest development-focused Non Government Organisations (NGOs). Evidence of the impact on poverty through development initiatives is weak because many agencies have not monitored the impact of their interventions. This study evolved out of the need to evaluate individual programmes to understand and assess their impact on communities and their impact on some of the most marginalised members of communities, women. Gender inequity is endemic amongst the world's poorest people; the majority of whom are women and girls. This research provides the link between organisational ethos, theory and praxis and evaluates the impact of development from within the programme through the perspectives and experiences of participating women. Development initiatives evaluated were New Zealand funded programmes known as Area Development Programmes (ADPs). The ADP is a new development initiative originating within World Vision New Zealand (WVNZ) and applied globally. An ADP is a long term initiative (approximately 17 years) based on principles of empowerment, participation and partnership to facilitate transformative sustainable community based development. Community based initiatives are aimed at addressing the physical needs of community members and at supporting their increased access to health care, basic education, income generation and small business development. Human rights issues are addressed to promote social justice and the transformation of unjust systems and structures within communities. This empowerment based model of development is in contrast to WVs previous Community Development Projects (CDPs). CDPs were characterised by external control by WV staff and reflected a relief based welfare approach to development. No previous external evaluation of these ADPs had been conducted. A qualitative evaluation paradigm was chosen to explain the complex interrelationship between process, impact and change. Key questions this study answered were whether: WV addressed the needs of the poor, WV ethos and theory met with praxis, and women's lives were empowered and transformed. Background knowledge on WV s organisational ethos and their new development model was sought through archival data gathering and individual interviews with WV staff in Auckland, Dhaka and ADP communities in Bangladesh. I conducted a programme evaluation in three ADP communities enabling me to compare the impact of the programme on participating women in different regions. Two site visits were made to Bangladesh, the first to conduct a pilot study in which the research focus and methods were refined, and the second to gather data to evaluate the process and impact of participation in the programme for women. All the operational arms of the wider ADP programme were observed and semi formal discussions were had with other participating groups. This enabled me to gain an overview of the wider programme and to contextualise the smaller group processes. Bangladeshi ADPs involved Child Sponsorships, Women's Development Groups (WDGs), Men's development Groups (MDGs), New Mothers Groups, Adolescent Girls and Boys Groups and Nutrition Groups. Semi-structured community group interviews were conducted with members of the WDGs. WDGs are an important aspect of the broader ADP programme. Women were asked open-ended questions about the process of their involvement in the development programme and about their perspectives and experiences of personal, family and community change. Qualitative methods enabled an in-depth analysis into the social and psychological changes taking place for women. Results showed that participation in a WDG had a significantly positive impact on the lives of women. Participation in a WDG began a process of coming out, gaining voice, increased social cohesion and expanded opportunities. Women reported that their sense of isolation and powerlessness reduced and that WDG participation introduced or increased a sense of hope, caring and friendship. Knowledge was increased and skills were developed through the group education programmes. WDG members also participated in microfinance: Group saving schemes, revolving loan schemes and small business development (managed and operated by women) were a much valued aspect of the programme. Women reported that their ability to increase family income improved quality of life and family relationships (particularly amongst men). Participating women had a strong sense of community ownership and competence enhancement. Participation in a WDG introduced change into the physical, material, economic, psychological and social domains of women's lives. Synergy between ADP community members, WV programme staff, local NGOs, Government initiatives, the wider national community and the international sponsors were all important aspect of programme success. Overall, the ADP model provided a holistic, broad based approach to tackling poverty. WV succeeded in providing a development programme which began a process of empowerment and transformation for marginalised women within their rural communities. Women's hopes and dreams were being realised. Women's voices were being heard. A significant finding was that women's experiences of poverty and development were similar in all ADP regions. Prior research indicates that although people's backgrounds are diverse, the psychological and social impacts of poverty are similar for the poor across national boundaries. My findings show that women's experiences of poverty and development were similar within national boundaries; therefore, further research must explore the impact of empowering development models applied across national boundaries. Addressing the physical, material and economic aspects of poverty through empowering models of development is necessary; equally important is the need to address the psychological and social impacts of poverty. Unjust structures and systems must be addressed through the introduction of human rights and social justice education within oppressed communities and people groups. The application of socially just and rights based practices is necessary in order to introduce and maintain empowering, just, structural Global change within nations and across borders.
Type of thesis
Limmer, N. D. (2006). Poverty, Women and Development: Evaluating Women’s Perspectives and Experiences of Participation in World Vision Area Development Programmes in rural Bangladesh (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12676
The University of Waikato
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