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In recent years, developing nations have undergone dramatic economic changes that have tended to result in a deterioration of life conditions for the majority of citizens. Analysts have pointed to the differential response to these changes by gender. Most literature, however, takes a top-down approach in which women are considered mainly as reactors to macrolevel changes, which leaves the impression that African women are objects rather than agents of development. In this article we take an alternative approach by considering how women's actions can transform the existing social structure. We focus on women's responses to crisis and change in Uganda and the way these responses reflect attempts to reconstruct social life along more gender-egalitarian lines.
Although a number of studies have examined the gendered impact of recent economic changes in sub-Saharan Africa, relatively few have focused on Uganda. Uganda, however, presents a unique case for understanding the response of poor men and women to crisis conditions and women's contributions to the change process. Two decades of political upheaval, including a civil war that began in the early 1970s, severely disrupted the nation's economic and social fabric. When peace was restored in the late 1980s, Uganda was faced with the need to massively rebuild its economy at a time when most of the developing world was plunged into severe financial crisis. The Ugandan population thus has confronted a more profound case of restructuring than has been seen in most other African nations.
How have Ugandan women responded to recent changes? To what extent have they challenged preexisting divisions of labor and gender ideologies? How have women reconstructed gender relations in thought and in practice to facilitate national development? We address these questions in the following ways. First, we discuss how analysts have treated women's responses to change and limitations to these approaches. Second, we give a historical overview of the gender system and political economic changes experienced in Uganda.
Third, we show how social structural changes, although they created widespread hardship and struggle, provided openings to advance women's interests. We argue that the intersection of the gender system and the profound political-economic upheaval in the 1970s and 1980s spurred the mass-based mobilization of women, peasants, and marginalized political factions. When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government took power in the mid-1980s, it responded to these constituents. The NRM created new avenues of women's political participation and increased, albeit in limited ways, women's access to and control over financial resources. At the same time, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and indigenous women's groups became key players in Ugandan development. These changes - the rise of women in the guerrilla movement, subsequent political and economic restructuring, and the role of NGOs and women's groups - have altered traditional ideologies, divisions of labor, and the social construction of gender itself.
Fourth, we consider the outcomes of the previous changes for contemporary gender relations in Uganda. We draw from research on a general sample of women and men from two regions of the country and from a sample of small-business owners who represent the nascent entrepreneurial class. We discuss the different types of strategies women employ, such as small-scale entrepreneurship and networking. These strategies may go beyond women's practical or daily survival needs to advance longer-term needs toward empowerment. The studies suggest a shift toward more egalitarian household decisionmaking and a growing feminist consciousness in contemporary Uganda.
Finally, we discuss the implications of recent changes in gender roles and ideologies for influencing national development. Women's attempts to create change, even at the level of their personal life experiences, can be seen to have influenced macrolevel social structure. We question the extent to which women's postinsurgency gains will be sustained under conditions of long-term national development.
Responding to Change and Shaping Social Structure
Research on women's response to change tends to have several limitations. First, neoclassical economists and some political economy scholars view the household as a homogeneous actor interested in maximizing group utility.(1) Thus, there is a tendency to see changes in women's participation in extra-domestic activities such as employment, revolutionary movements, or financial networks as an extension of household rather than gender-based interests. As a consequence, women's actions are often portrayed as inner-directed and protective of household interests rather than as ultimately transformative of social structural relationships.
To clarify how women's actions can shape the broader social structure, Maxine Molyneux has identified two types of gender interests that women pursue.(2) Practical gender interests are related to women's immediate concerns, which include material goods for family survival and support for public welfare. Strategic gender interests involve feminist objectives of women's autonomy and emancipation, such as eradicating the sexual division of labor. Conceptually, practical and strategic gender interests are usually treated separately. In practice, one may evolve into the other, or they may overlap. Further, because women's lives vary by class, ethnicity, region, and other factors, experiences of the patriarchal world system will not be uniform within gender. Thus, women's interests are complex, interrelated, and crosscut by varying personal and social structural experiences. No single path signifies women's pursuit of progressive social structural change.
Analysts may also overlook attitudinal changes that accompany women's initiatives. For instance, women's personal perceptions of empowerment and, thus, of power within the family itself may be altered as a result of individual efforts, such as entrepreneurial activities. Collective activities to reduce hardship, such as work and credit groups are often seen as limited to economic survival strategies. Such endeavors, however, also have the potential to change gender ideology and to form the basis for new national …