Cover Image
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


There were lively debates on a number of issues in the Arusha Workshop. This chapter attempts to highlight only the major ones. The remaining chapters describe in detail all the issues raised, conclusions drawn and strategies suggested.

Debates centred around several strategies that have been promoted in recent years to improve rural women's working and living conditions and give them, in general, a greater role in developmental decisions that affect their lives. These were strategies of (1) special projects/programmes for women; (2) special structures for women, including national machineries; (3) giving women access to and control over resources, and (4) organising and conscientising women for participation.

2.1 Women's Projects/Programmes

In the last decade special projects/programmes for women, particularly income-generating projects, have been promoted as a vehicle to improve their employment and working conditions. The Workshop debated the problems as well as the potentials of this particular strategy.

The problems of adopting a "project approach to development" in general and women's projects in particular, are many. The "project approach" is often reformist in character and does not plan for or contribute to structural changes. It is generally top heavy in administration and has limited multiplier effect. In many instances, women's projects and programmes marginalise women's concerns instead of integrating them in mainstream development. They are often designed as hobbies -part-time activities to give women supplementary income and ignore women's main economic activities and their critical need for full-time employment and income to sustain themselves and their families. They generally maintain and replicate the existing sexual division of labour and do not give women skills and knowledge to adapt, change and advance with changes in technology and labour markets.

In spite of the above limitations of the "project approach" and especially of women's projects as they are generally designed, a consensus (with certain qualifications) emerged at the Workshop to continue a strategy of special projects and programmes for women in the next few decades. It was argued that the "project approach" was necessary because most national development plans and programmes are broken down in the form of projects and projects are one way of demonstrating what can be done to field level bureaucrats and implementers who may otherwise either lack the initiative Co launch a programme or resist it. In addition, projects/programmes can provide poor women with opportunities to handle resources, manipulate power and make decisions - opportunities which many of them would not have in the absence of these projects. The importance of this experience in tackling the issues of underdevelopment and dependency was emphasised.

However, the orientation of women's income-generating projects should be changed from welfare to development. They should be based on women's main economic activities and should be economically viable and profitable.

The promotion of special projects and programmes for women does not imply a lack of commitment to an integrated approach of development. Indeed, the importance of well articulated national policies and specific objectives on women's participation in development and their reflection in national development plan documents was stressed. But it was felt that to redress the historical inequalities between men and women, preferential policies and policies of positive discrimination in favour of women are called for. The simultaneous pursuit of integrated and separate approaches to development has to be understood and appreciated in this context.

For more effective projects and programmes a number of strategies were suggested, most notably the following:

- 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,

- in the planning stages of all national projects, roles for women should be carved and target population and beneficiaries should be disaggregated by sex. Specific proportions of resources (finance, facilities, personnel) of mainstream development projects and their preferential allocation have to be made available to women's programmes and projects;

- safeguards should be built into all project plans to prevent women suffering negative effects;

- projects should be self-sustaining and economically viable and should give women income, upgraded skills and participation in project decisions.

2.2 National Machineries

The strategy of creating special structures for women, particularly national machineries, was another major topic of debate. Again, the problems, limitations and future role of national machineries were discussed.

Similar to special projects and programmes, national machineries too can be limiting. In many cases they have been marginalised in the power structures and in many others they have not effectively mobilised women's issues and interests, particularly at the grass-roots level. However, it was felt that in spite of these problems national machineries have made important contributions in creating awareness of women's issues and in the next few decades, instead of being dismantled these machineries should be strengthened and made more effective by the allocation of adequate resources, the establishment of a grass-roots base and the acquisition of a mandate to affect the programmes and plans of other ministries.

Several suggestions with regard to role, function and scope of national machineries were made, viz:

- national machineries should play a co-ordinating and catalytic role in influencing mainstream development policies and programmes;

- for effectiveness in influencing policy, national machineries should be located in the most powerful structure in the government, i.e. President's or Prime Minister's offices or Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning;

- special women's units or departments in the 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;

- 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 should undertake publication and dissemination of the information;

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

2.3 Access to and Control over Resources

Discussions on the strategy of giving women access to and control, over resources mostly focused on issues which are critical but have not yet received priority attention of policy makers.

Land was identified as a significant productive resource over which women have little control. This, in turn, limits women's access to other resources, viz. credit, seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, training in agricultural extension, etc. The role of law in determining access to land was emphasised. In many cases women do not have legal rights to own land and even in situtations where they have the legal right, customary law, family traditions, inheritance systems and their acceptance of subordination often prevent women from exercising that right. Often there are contradictions within the laws - between different forms of ownership (communal, corporate, individual, state) as well as between different systems of rights under uncoded customary, coded scriptural and statutory secular laws. In addition, land reforms and land settlement schemes have often neglected women.

Although the issue of women's rights to land had been discussed in many international forums, including the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), the deliberations of these bodies and the decisions taken have not been adequately disseminated or implemented. Noting the complexities and contradictions of the existing laws, it was suggested that a priority area of action is research to identify contradictions in laws relating to ownership of land, family laws (including customs), constitutional guarantees of women's rights and laws for the protection of workers. CIRDAFRICA was urged to organise a study and a seminar on the above theme to provide some documentation for the World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985.

The access of poor women to forest (on which they depend heavily for fuel, fodder and food) is eroding fast in many places and this is another critical area of concern. 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. Since it is the poor rural women who have to bear the brunt of adjustments to fuel, fodder and food scarcity, a number of strategies were suggested to give women access to forest, including the following:

- 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; and

- women should be trained at local and national levels in technology relating to forestry and they should be recruited in forestry departments.

Credit is yet another significant resource to which women have little access. Poor rural women suffer from a number of handicaps, i.e. illiteracy, lack of time, lack of collateral, need for consumption loans, etc., which few credit schemes address. Although their rate of repayment is generally high and in many countries their savings are mobilised by major banks and small savings societies, women are still suspect in terms of their credit worthiness and they face discrimination.

However, in recent years two innovative methods of extending credit to rural women have been introduced in several countries. The first is providing credit through mobile credit officers, sensitive to women's needs, often without collateral; and the second is organising poor women to form their own financial institutions in which they participate both as beneficiaries and as decision makers. The importance of strengthening and expanding such schemes was emphasised. Two specific actions were suggested:

- women's development banks with mobile credit officers should be established at the national and local levels to provide credit, skill training in productive activities, marketing and other supportive services to women's groups; and

- participatory credit institutions should be organised at local levels to support and disseminate the services that may be developed by institutions like the women's development banks.

Marketing is another major problem of women producers. More and more women need to produce for the market, yet they lack knowledge of input market, pricing, accounting, quality control, product markets, etc. They have little holding power and cannot afford delayed payments for their products. Dependence on intermediaries for selling their products has made many rural women producers easy victims of exploitation.

The formation of local producers' organisations to protect their interests was suggested as a strategy. Another strategy is development of infrastructural services, i.e. roads, transport, storage facilities, raw materials banks, production units to improve techniques and quality of production, marketing information and training, etc.

2.4 Organisation, Conscientisation and Participation

Organisation based on grass-roots initiatives and control was identified as the most effective strategy to give women access to and control over resources and to promote their participation in development. It is important for women workers' organisations to develop an awareness of existing exploitative and oppressive structures and relations in order to be able to devise strategies for long-term structural changes. The role of catalysts in sustaining organisations and conscientisation was highlighted and the importance of training catalysts/cadres was noted.

A number of strategies were suggested to promote the role of participatory organisations and training of cadres/catalysts, most notably the following:

- organisations should ensure Chat rural women share equitably in the fruits of their labour and in national resources, and should demand that governments give substance to the rural development rhetoric contained in official plans and policies;

- organisations must enable people to identify their own needs and priorities as well as their own solutions to problems. They must ensure participation by all members and leadership should be collective;

- there should be a continuous process of conscientisation - its purpose is the development of the critical social awareness that power is ultimately with the people themselves; it is a process in which 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;

- 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;

- for more effective organisations, cadres/catalysts should be carefully and systematically mobilised and trained. Although the best form of training is through involvement in concrete action, 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; and

- funds should be provided not only for training but also for the institutional support of cadres.

The role and responsibility of trade unions in supporting rural women's organisations was stressed. Trade unions were urged to demonstrate their commitment to women's issues by facilitating the formation of strong women's committees in trade unions or strong women's trade unions. The role of some employers' organisations and companies in rural development, including their work with catalysts, NGO's and universities was noted.

The extensive debates in the Workshop on the roles of national policies, structures, programmes, projects, laws, resource distribution, skill development and organisation did not imply the workshop's insensitivity to the role of ideology, values and culture, of patriarchy and socialisation processes, in determining women's employment and working conditions. The ideological and cultural forces that limit the implementation of laws and of well-intentioned, well-designed policies and programmes were stressed. Patriarchy creates resistance to change and constrains the vision of the future. Women's organisations have a critical role to play in raising the consciousness of women with regard to the persistent burden of patriarchy.