Women Fieldworkers and the Politics of Participation

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Kathleen O’Reilly Women Fieldworkers and the Politics of Participation and development (GAD) approaches (see Moser 1993), gendered participatory approaches have grown popular as project planners seek ways to incorporate women’s knowledge and labor into development projects. In development projects, groups of people in poor countries undertake some kind of major infrastructural work, like road building; or smaller-scale economic activities, like building and organizing schools; or income generation programs. These projects are usually funded by a donor institution like the World Bank. The development project that I studied is building a massive drinking water supply scheme. Like many development projects, some project activities are facilitated by an nongovernmental organization (NGO). While NGOs have been multiply defined, as I use it in this article, an NGO is a nonstate and not-for-profit group of people who do paid social work. Fieldworkers form the link between international development policies and target populations in villages. Corresponding with the rise of gendered participatory approaches to development, women have been recruited into projects as facilitators of women’s participation components. Once hired, these women fieldworkers often find themselves at the margins of their organizations (Vasquez Garcia 2001; O’Reilly 2004) or discover that they, too, are the targets of development efforts (Springer 2001; O’Reilly 2004). Thus, women’s participation raises two problems in overlapping spheres: first, how to interest and include local women; and second, how women fieldworkers will (be F ollowing on the heels of the women in development (WID) and gender My deepest thanks to the many individuals associated with this drinking water supply project. I am especially obliged to the PSS fieldworkers who enthusiastically and patiently shared their lives and

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