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close this bookResources, Power and Women, Proceedings of the African and Asian Inter-regional Workshop on Strategies for Improving the Employment Conditions of Rural Women (ILO, 1985, 96 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPREFACE
View the documentACKNOWLEDGEMENT
View the documentANNEX I List of Participants
View the documentANNEX II Agenda
View the documentBACK COVER


Following the panel presentations the Workshop identified three major problem areas and divided itself into three working groups, viz. (1) Women's Access to and Control over Resources, (2) Organisation, Conscientisation and Participation, and (3) Women's Projects, Programmes and the Role of National Machineries. The working groups were primarily concerned with suggesting strategies for action. Each working group briefly identified the major Issues and then suggested a number of strategies as follow-up. In light of the discussions held and points of views expressed in both the working groups and the plenary, the following suggestions were made:


The working group discussed six major topics, viz. land, forest, food, co-operatives, credit and savings and marketing.

8.1.1 Land

The group noted that while generalisations were difficult, examples presented by the group's expertise indicated a negative trend on women's access to and control over land. Traditional laws and customs with regard to communal land had generally protected women's right of access - if not ownership of land but there is evidence that with a shift to new laws including that of private land ownership, women's traditional rights have sometimes been lost even when other laws extended property rights to women.

There are often contradictions within legal systems, e.g. between new laws and prevailing common law, affecting women adversely and on many occasions even when laws exist to protect the rights of women, they are not necessarily implemented.

The group noted with concern that the policy debate on this issue and the decisions made by governments in the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD) to remove all legal disabilities for women's ownership of land are not known to rural women. If women were made aware that their rights to land were a global issue, this very information could encourage them to mobilise despite centuries of conditioning to passivity and inferiority.

The group, however, recognised that the issue of access to and control over agricultural land in Africa and Asia has become increasingly complex with coexistence of different forms of ownership (communal, corporate - e.g. joint family ownership in Asian countries, corporate firms' ownership of plantations in both regions, individual and State), differing systems of rights - under uncoded customary (local, community, tribal), coded scriptural (Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, etc.) and statutory-secular laws (Land Acts, Tenancy Acts, Marriage and Inheritance Acts, Labour and Small Farmers' Protection Acts, etc.); and uneven relationships between rights of use, alienation and control.

Noting Chat variations in availability of land (from acute scarcity to non-utilisation of land) and competing policy goals (maximisation of agricultural productivity, better distribution of wealth) preclude any uniform policy prescription, the group made the following suggestions:

1. The Programme of Action ("The Peasants' Charter") of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD) should be implemented and women should be given equal rights to own land and control its products, not just rights to work on it.

2. Decisions regarding women's rights to land taken at international and national levels should be disseminated to rural women through women's organisations, the media, and national and regional institutions for rural development, including CIRDAFRICA and CIRDAP.

3. Communal land rights should be protected since privatisation exposes women to landlessness which entails vulnerability to exploitation and destitution.

4. Research should be undertaken to identify contradictions in laws relating to ownership of land, family laws (including customs that prevail in practice), constitutional guarantees of women's rights and laws for the protection of workers.

5. CIRDAFRICA should organise a study/seminar on the above theme drawing on available information to provide some documentation for the Nairobi World Conference on Women, 1985.

6. Women's wings should be created in CIRDAFRICA and CIRDAP and their national counterparts to promote two-way flow of information from governments to grass-roots.

8.1.2 Forests

Recognising that forest policy is far more than a technical issue to be left to experts and that poor rural women often depend heavily on forest product (fuel, fodder, food and other products for commercial purposes) for the survival of their families, the group noted with concern that poor rural women's capacity for survival and earning have been negatively affected by deforestation and by the substitution of plants which no longer provide for women's food, fuel and fodder needs but are required by major industries (papers, pharmaceutical, industrial construction, etc.).

Afforestation policies, including social forestry, have tended to ignore the needs and views of women and to encourage plantations which provide quick financial returns for commercial interests. Rural women have not been considered as having any role in forest policy either at the national or at local levels and have sometimes been driven to organise protests by physical action (eg. the Chipko Movement in India). However, some case studies of landless women's attempts to develop sericulture and fuel fodder plantations on unused land to provide employment for themselves indicate that they have also contributed to improving ecological balance and transforming non-productive land to productive assets. These developments should feature in forest policy discussions.

Considering that poor rural women have had to bear the brunt of adjustments to fuel, fodder and food scarcity, the group suggested the following strategies:

1. Women's roles in forest policy should be articulated through representation and studies.

2. Women's groups should be involved in social forestry projects and due consideration should be given to their preference in the choice of species for plantation.

3. Women should be trained at local and national level in technology relating to forestry (nursery techniques, seed selection, etc.) and they should be recruited in forestry departments.

4. Greater investment should be made in technical innovation in the area of alternative fuels and the dissemination of such information to rural women.

5. In regions of land scarcity, poor women's groups should be encouraged to use marginal or unused land for reafforestation.

8.1.3 Food

Women are the major producers of food, particularly in Africa, yet most of them work under extremely harsh conditions with poor tools and low levels of inputs in terms of new knowledge of production techniques, seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, etc. The international development community is already concerned with the growing food crisis in many parts of Africa. Some of the issues Chat link this crisis to the neglect of women as primary producers of food have been identified in the recommendations of the Government Consultation on the Role of Women in Food Production and Food Security (Harare, 10-13 July 1984). The group recognised that pricing and wage policies have differential impacts on food production, women's status and nutrition of families. Where women are the main producers and sellers of food production, higher prices of food crops would undoubtedly help to increase production and the women's income, but where a large section of the rural poor are landless and thus purchasers of food, as in many parts of Asia, high food prices would lead to increased malnutrition among women and children in particular.

Recognising women's critical role in food production and noting inadequacies of data and statistics, the group suggested the following:

1. Women should be given access not only to land but also to better tools, seeds, fertilisers, agricultural extension services and newer appropriate technologies to improve their skills, knowledge, productivity and returns.

2. Careful field research should be undertaken in regions and sectors where there is a declining trend in food production. Women's role in cash crop production needs to be better understood with a view to making policies more relevant to their needs. Attention should also be paid to the implications of food aid for both food production and for women's status and the nutrition of their families.

3. Official statistics on food production, particularly on the subsistence sector should be improved with a sex breakdown of producers and wage workers.

4. Incentives for increased food production should be provided by price and wage policies; at the same time due attention should be paid to the food security needs of the poor.

8.1.4 Co-operatives

The group noted the emergence of co-operatives as important channels of access Co credit and other inputs to improve productivity and income. However, the picture of women's participation in such co-operatives is not very clear. In many instances women participate more readily in all women's co-operatives but are marginalised in integrated organisations. Although there has been a distinct increase in the formation of women's co-operatives during the last decade case studies presented at the Workshop and other studies reported two trends, viz: (i) concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a few leaders with the majority of members remaining ignorant of the most basic information On co-operative functioning, and (ii) failure of many co-operatives because of the members' lack of information, managerial and accounting skills that are necessary to meet the complex laws governing co-operatives.

In some cases, through co-operatives, poor rural women have successfully obtained access to land and credit, while in others they have been dominated and exploited by more articulate members (generally men).

Recognising the potential role of co-operatives in improving rural women's income earning opportunities, the group suggested the following strategies:

1. Laws governing co-operatives should be simplified to enable women who are illiterate or have low levels of education to participate more effectively.

2. Training in co-operative organisation should be given to rural women both at institutions (e.g. co-operative colleges) and through mobile training teams.

3. Community workers should organise rural women into informal groups to teach them the principles of co-operative functioning preliminary to their formal registration as co-operatives.

4. Federations of women's co-operatives should be organised to improve their access to credit and marketing information and resources and their linkages to larger development programmes and institutions.

8.1.3 Credit and Savings

Recognising that poor rural women do not have working capital or collateral to obtain loans, the group noted the emergence of two innovative methods of extending credit to rural women in the last decade. The first is providing credit through mobile credit officers, sensitive to women's needs, often without collateral and the second is by organising poor women to form their own financial institutions in which they participate both as beneficiaries and as decision-makers. Apart from providing credit, these institutions, being aware of women's handicaps (illiteracy, lack of time, lack of collateral, their need for consumption loans during crisis period, etc.) also provide supportive services (management training, marketing services, child care, health care, bulk purchase of raw materials, legal services, etc.). The success of these ventures has encouraged some of the states in India to establish Women's Development Corporations to provide credit and allied services for poor women's economic ventures.

There has been a trend in many countries Cowards mobilising women's savings through major banks and small savings societies. There is no study, however, to indicate whether these savings have been channelled to improve women's economic opportunities.

Noting that financial institutions, by and large, have neglected women's need for credit and do not have sensitive cadres or a system to provide the package of services to poor women, with the exception of the few specialised cases mentioned above, the group suggested the following:

1. Women's Development Banks with mobile credit officers could be established at the national and local level to provide credit, productivity training, marketing and other supportive services to women's groups.

2. Participatory credit institutions should be organised at local level to support and disseminate the services that may be developed by institutions like Women's Development Banks promoted by the government.

3. Information on Women's World Banking, an association of women bankers, which underwrites loans to women's groups through conventional banks, should be widely disseminated.

4. Studies should be undertaken on the extent of women's savings deposited in financing institutions and the extent to which they are invested in women's development ventures.

8.1.6 Marketing

Successful marketing rests on adequate information and infrastructure for co-ordinating demand and supply. Intervention by experts with knowledge of distant markets or by governments with expectations of high demand for women's products, such as handicrafts, have sometimes resulted in over production and falling prices. Rural women producers have little holding power and cannot afford delayed payments for their products. Dependence on government structures like Marketing Boards or other intermediaries for selling their products at distant markets have sometimes reduced them to penury. Inadequate communication and lack of transport services from rural to urban areas provide a tremendous obstacle to extending markets.

Noting that the absence of markets and dependence on outside traders lead to exploitation of poor women producers, the following strategies were suggested by the group:

1. Organisations should be formed by local producers to protect their interests.

2. Infrastructural services, i.e. road, transport, storage facilities, marketing information and training, should be developed.

3. Government marketing organisations should introduce procedures for prompt payment to small producers.


The discussions of the working group centred around two major issues:

- The roles of organisations in promoting people's participation and conscientisation and in bringing about political, economic and social transformation.

- The roles of catalysts, governments, trade unions and donors in relation to organisation, conscientisation and participation.

8.2.1 Organisation

The group stressed that organisation with grass-roots initiative and control is crucial for people's participation and conscientisation. It is important for women's organisations to develop an awareness of existing exploitative and oppressive structures and relations to be able to devise strategies for long term structural changes.

A basic issue is the right of freedom of association. The forms of effective/feasible organisation depend upon the situation. These might be: non-governmental organisations, local community groups, trade unions, co-operatives and so on.

Organisations' strategies should ensure that rural women share equitably in the fruits of their labour and in national resources, as well as demanding that governments give substance to the rural development rhetoric contained in official plans and policies. Organisations must also ensure participation by all members at all levels. For accountability, continuity, and to avoid instituting new forms of elitism, leadership should be collective. It must reach and articulate the needs of rural people and must include an effective and systematic development of critical awareness.

The crucial point, however, is the definition of "participation". Very often "participatory" projects are means whereby the state shifts its responsibility for the provision of social services or infrastructure on to the people (particularly women) so that, for instance, it is not state resources but people's unpaid labour that maintains schools or provides water. On the other hand, projects may enable people to reduce the expropriation of surplus (e.g. by controlling labour conditions or marketing directly) and, thus, retain direct control over resources and their use.

Organisations must enable people to identify their own needs and priorities and the solutions to them. People should be allowed to make their own mistakes and learn from their own experiences. At the same time there is the problem that not all demands are of equal significance; thus there is a need for conscientisation.

Participatory organisations are developed through a continuous process of conscientisation or consciousness-raising. The purpose of conscientisation is the development of the critical social awareness that power is ultimately with the people themselves. Furthermore, a careful analysis of the situation is required to establish the socio-economic realities and feasible strategies for change (such as in which contexts women's issues may be subordinated to other interests). By "conscientisation" is meant a process whereby people from their own reflection achieve a deepening awareness both of the social reality which shapes their lives and of their capacity to transform that reality.

To promote the growth of participatory organisations, the group suggested the following strategies:

1. The ILO should call upon member countries and governments to ensure that rural women are able to exercise their right of freedom of association to improve their employment and living conditions. Member governments who have not yet ratified the Rural Workers' Organisations Convention, 1975 (No. 141), should be strongly urged to do so.

2. Concrete and local issues should be points of entry for conscientisation and organisation. Often this could be a means through which rural women (and men) could come to a realisation of the wider national and international structures which condition their lives.

3. Existing organisations supportive of rural women's struggles for equal rights should be used and strengthened.

4. Links and networks between and among people's organisations should be established through various forms of communication to broaden the impact on society.

8.2.2 The Role of Catalysts, Governments, Trade Unions and Donors in Relation to Organisation, Conscientisation and Participation


The group agreed that local cadres/catalysts, i.e. those who are indigenous to and resident in the community, could provide the most effective leadership. None the less, the perspectives of local catalysts may be broadened by exposure to training and interaction with outside groups. In cases where people are submerged in the difficulties of their local situation, external catalysts may be required to stimulate the process of conscientisation. The focus of the external catalyst must be on identifying and developing local leadership and organisation.

Cadres, both internal and external, require two basic qualities: a correct political awareness (an understanding of the socio-economic system, a recognition of the need for change and of feasible strategies for doing so, a commitment to women's equality), and skill in interpersonal relationships (a love of people, approachability, willingness to listen, non-patronising attitude, etc.).

Depending on local situations, cadres could be voluntary or paid (albeit at very low rates). They could be individual or members of organisations. Institutions may also act as catalysts.

The group recognised the need to identify and conscientise potential cadres. Experience has shown that leadership is not only spontaneous but that it is possible to develop it through training and conscientisation.

Again, from experience, it was pointed out that the development of cadres, of local leadership, must be careful not to lead into a new form of elitism. Cadres must be accountable to the people and to their organisations. They must be able both to pressurise governments and to know when certain government policies should be resisted. The task of a cadre is not to run projects but to enable an organisation to be self-sustaining and to bring about structural change where necessary.

The group identified the following strategies for effective catalystic action:

1. Catalysts or cadres must first carefully study the situation, the socio-economic structure, the needs, and the surrounding environment, as far as possible with members of the community.

2. They must make contacts in the community, establishing a relationship by living and working with the people and speaking their language.

3. They should work at identifying potential catalysts who can provide good leadership. Formal leaders cannot be ignored but they are not necessarily those in whom the community trust or for whom they have respect.

4. When beginning a process of consciousness-raising and education, the cadres must always be careful to validate it with the community. They must stimulate the process of organisation within the community but should not create a dependence on themselves.

5. Cadres should be carefully and systematically trained. Although the best form of training is through involvement in people's struggles, cadres can also benefit from formal and informal courses, more particularly from cross-fertilisation of experiences. The ILO was urged to organise national but preferably regional or inter-regional courses for potential cadres.

6. Funds should be provided not only for training but also for the institutional support of cadres.


The roles played by governments vary from state to state. From the case studies presented at the Workshop, it was evident that the most successful projects were those run by non-governmental organisations. Government bureaucracies are inherently hierarchical which this militates against both participation by the local communities and flexibility of response. However, it was reported that in some countries the government not only calls for, but implements policies and actions to improve women's and rural communities' development.

Noting the actual and potential role of governments, the group suggested:

1. Sympathetic individuals in governments should be identified for support.

2. Grass-roots organisation and national machinery for women should be promoted as a two pronged approach. The national machinery should not block women's initiatives for self-organisation; instead they should provide conditions conducive to the promotion of grass-roots organisations and it should be accountable to them.

Trade Unions

Recognising the role of trade unions in providing support for women's organisations, and in giving professional status Co women's work and greater bargaining power for their demands, the group urged the trade unions to demonstrate their commitment to women's issues by encouraging the formation of strong women's committees in trade unions or strong women's trade unions.


The group expressed the caution that too often aid has been used for ideological purposes (to provide showpieces), and has been tied to conditions such that most of it, in fact, never leaves the donor (in equipment payments, consultancy fees, salaries).

It was also pointed out that the aid process has its own biases as between small and large groups as well as between small and large projects. There is, thus, a need to organise the beneficiary groups in such a manner and for such programmes that the support of donors can be attracted.

Agreeing that aid needs to be more flexible and more responsive to small groups which are locally initiated as well as supportive of larger programmes, ways were discussed in which this may be effected. One suggestion was that donor agencies should make much more use of local researchers and/or activists in finding out what projects/organisations/resources already exist so that they can evaluate where direct support of local projects and initiatives would be most significant.


The working group focused its deliberations on the following issues:

- Nature of projects and programmes to meet the needs of women and ways of planning and implementation of effective projects for women consistent with national, regional and local priorities and other emerging women's needs and priorities; and

- national machineries which should be set up and/or strengthened to ensure the effective integration of women's needs and interests in the national planning and implementation of government programmes and policies.

8.3.1 Projects and Programmes

Recognising the importance of well articulated national policies and specific objectives for women's participation in development and noting that women should form an integral part of all mainstream development programmes and projects, the group stressed that special and specific projects and programmes for women in social and economic spheres should be made part of the national priority. Additionally, women's projects have to be framed in the national and international context rather than in isolation.

Highlighting the bottlenecks in the areas of data, dissemination, project planning and implementation, the group suggested the following strategies:

1. Since data and statistics on women are weak, all data should be disaggregated by sex and more complete data should be collected. In particular, for project and programme planning, monitoring and evaluation, the target population and beneficiaries should be distinguished by sex.

2. Alternative methods of collecting information through qualitative and in-depth research should be developed to facilitate awareness and understanding, and problems should be tackled in a pragmatic manner. Universities and research institutions could be involved for this purpose.

3. Such data and information should be disseminated widely both inside and outside the government.

4. In determining national priorities, it is essential to involve grass-roots organisations of women and to decentralise the planning process. The involvement of conscientised women and men in the planning machinery is an imperative.

5. The two-pronged approach of promoting women's participation in integrated projects and having separate projects for women should be used as a major strategy.

6. In the planning stages of all national projects from the grass-roots level to the regional and national levels, roles for women should be carved. Areas for consideration and action should be identified to ensure the effective participation of women.

7. Specific minimum proportions of resources (finance, facilities, personnel) of mainstream development projects and their preferential allocation have to be made to women's programmes and projects.

8. In all projects, safeguards should be built in the project plans to prevent women suffering from negative effects.

9. Implementation of projects requires conscientisation, creating awareness and developing skills, including:

a) creating the awareness of the needs of women within the project target area;

b) conscientisation of government and non-government agents to women's issues so that they do not exert negative influences;

c) minimising the negative impact of certain cultural and religious influences through developing awareness, the dissemination of information through mass media and the dissemination of other innovative items such as songs, audio-visual material and special publications; and

d) development of appropriate skills by organising training programmes in project management, finance, credit, marketing, etc. for the project team, beneficiaries, governmental and non-governmental officials and other concerned persons. The use of innovative training methods was emphasised.

10. Mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation with the full participation of beneficiaries and the participation of other intermediaries should be built into all projects.

11. Collaboration and coordination of agencies (intermediaries) including NGO's, women's organisations and government agencies should be promoted which can be supportive of the project at all levels for improved effectiveness.

8.3.2 The Role of National Machineries

The working group recognised the existence of national machineries in the different countries with varying compositions, functions and targets. Noting that they have made important contributions and exerted considerable influences in creating awareness of women's issues, it was stressed that national machineries could be greatly strengthened and made more effective by the allocation of adequate resources, the establishment of a grass-roots base to which they should be accountable and a mandate to affect the programmes and plans of other ministries.

The following strategies were suggested:

1. The role of national machineries for women should be made clear; the group identified it as primarily that of co-ordination and promotion and of acting as a catalyst in influencing mainstream development policy and programmes.

2. Considering the implications of power relations and status, the national machinery should have very high status and be located in the most powerful structure in the government for effectiveness in influencing policy. Since women's issues cut across many ministries, the national machinery in a powerful central location is in a better position to influence other ministries. For example, Presidents' offices, Prime Ministers' offices, Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning were identified as powerful structures.

Where a national machinery is composed of representatives of various agencies, the composition of members should include high level government officials, influential representatives of organisations such as NGOs, committed women and academics, trade unions, etc.

3. The national machineries should have adequate resources - finance, personnel, facilities - to meet their mandate effectively. The officers of the national machineries should be both men and women who have demonstrated a commitment to women's issues and who have an understanding of the workings of the governmental and non-governmental structures as well as the professional competence Co do their work effectively.

4. For effective co-ordination and influence, special women's units or departments in sectoral ministries should be created where they do not exist, and strengthened where they already exist, to enable effective integration of women in the ministries' plans and programmes. These units should also make periodic (at least annual) reviews on the progress of implementation of the plans and programmes for women under the ministries.

5. The national machineries should call for annual reports from central government ministries and agencies and state/regional governments for review of achievements concerning women and undertake publication and dissemination of the information.

6. In order to co-ordinate projects and programmes for women under different departments and ministries there should be co-ordination cells at the local, district, regional and national levels comprising representatives of the different departments and ministries. Information on coordination activities has to be fed to the national machinery for incorporation into the national reviews.

7. National machineries should be active in mobilising the contributions and capacities of women's organisations, especially at the grass-roots level, as well as Chose of other structures and individuals such as NGOs, trade unions, donor agencies, universities and national and local development structures.

8. National machineries should use the media and other communication techniques for disseminating information on women's issues and mobilising support and pressure for influencing government policy and public opinion.

9. Advantage should also be taken of the potential in regional and other international networks for solidarity and for increasing the power of national machineries.