Aims: The role of participation in promoting sustainable economic development especially in rural communities cannot be overemphasized. Participation encourages ownership and sustainability of development efforts well beyond development interventions. However, participatory development has been more logically accepted than implemented; and participation is ordinarily used in practice to describe some involvement of all actors, irrespective of the level of involvement. We revisit some of the key theoretical issues surrounding the concept of participation, particularly the different levels of participation. We then empirically apply some participatory rural appraisal tools, particularly access and control profiling and the triple roles framework in Cameroonian communities, in an attempt to demonstrate how gender-sensitive participation can promote sustainable rural economic development.

Results suggest that participatory approaches can unravel key relationships such gender based access and control over different resources and intra-household division of labor, which are crucial in promoting sustainable economic development, especially in rural areas of developing countries.

We conclude with the need to consistently improve the level of beneficiary participation and to include gender analyses, as prerequisites to maximizing the economic benefits of the role of participation in sustainable economic development. In spite of the criticisms, the role of participation for sustainable (economic) development, especially in rural areas in developing countries holds great potentials. Nevertheless, and in line with previous contentions, the results of the case study examined here suggests however, that a case by case approach is necessary, rather than generalization, since the role of participation and the importance of gender differences for socioeconomic development can vary from one community to another and even within the same community. If well done and if the right tools are sequenced and applied appropriately, sustainable development stands to benefit from increased local participation. Only through increasing application and sharing of experiences will the capacity of participatory approaches to contribute to the newly developed global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) be established. Until proven otherwise, and drawing from the results of this study, it seems plausible to vouch for increased participation as a lever for enhancing sustainable economic development, especially in developing countries.

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