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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


3.1 Panel Presentation

In Panel 1, Women's Projects and Programmes, case studies were presented by Filomina Steady (Sierra Leone) and Sarala Gopalan (India). Terry Kantai (Kenya) and Rounaq Jahan (Bangladesh) were discussants (many others "contributed" - these were the formal discussants).

Filomina Steady presented an account of two "successful" projects in Sierra Leone. The first, co-sponsored by the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of Sierra Leone, involved the introduction of a new fish-smoking technology using imported materials in the fishing village of Tombo as part of a community project to improve artisanal fishing. The project was planned for six years and has a budget of 12.11 million Deutschmarks and 900,000 leones.

The project has enabled village women, traditionally processors of fish for sale to professional market women, to increase their efficiency and to control the price at which they sell fish because of improved storage facilities. Some have become boat owners with control over their own fish supply (otherwise bought from men).

Although the project is successful by several criteria, it raises a number of problems: it demands scarce foreign exchange to maintain its imported technology, e.g. oven parts, petrol driven boats; it leads to indebtedness as people borrow to acquire the new technology; it is top heavy in its expensive (foreign) administration of experts and it is profit-seeking. In short, it creates the dependency that development ought to overcome. The benefits to the men and women of Tombo are no way near the benefits to the foreign executing agency, the foreign suppliers of vehicles and materials and the foreign staff.

The second is a self-help project. The Gloucester Development Association Project, founded in 1977, aims to foster development in the village through improved fanning methods and the provision of market stalls for sale of produce, supported by day care centres, bulk buying of food supplies, adult education, etc. Although it operates on a modest budget of 500 leones its achievements are significant, self-sustaining and replicable.

The major lessons drawn from the two projects are the following:

- The success of a project should not be measured by the size of its budget. High profile expensive projects that are dependent on imported technology and expatriate staff are generally not self-sustaining,

- utilisation of local resources in human as well as physical and fiscal terms better ensures replicability of projects; and

- access to resources and services are critical to the success of projects. Acceptance of a project is easier if it demonstrates a capacity to improve income earning opportunities and provides intervention in other areas such as provision of water and better public health and sanitation measures.

Rural women's economic problems are problems of underdevelopment and dependency. There is a danger that projects may deal with symptoms rather than causes. Since projects are usually reformist in character rather than promoting structural change, their contribution to improving women's status is normally self-limiting.

In her presentation of a case study of a successful programme of employment and income generation for women in Kerala, India, the Trivandrum Experiment, Sarala Gopalan highlighted the successful linkage between the government's policies for poverty eradication and the women's welfare organisations. The programme's catalyst was a female government official posted in Trivandrum as a district collector. She was faced by an imponderable demand from a large number of literate and educated unemployed women for jobs.

She offered them an alternative incentive of credit through nationalised banks to set themselves up in petty trades or production for the market. Negotiations initiated with the nationalised banks elicited a positive response; the banks who were not utilising the 1 per cent of their advances earmarked for the weaker sections of the community were given an opportunity to do so. Since the banks had no machinery for ensuring repayment and it seemed to be a bottle-neck, government functionaries and block development officers (who were normally concerned with nutrition or extension work) were given this responsibility. These officers supervised the repayment of loans on a regular weekly basis and the banks were satisfied with the repayment of the loans.

Loans were taken for a variety of schemes. Self-employment, however, proved difficult for many. So it was decided to involve the Mahila Sama jams (welfare oriented women's organisations started under the Community Development Programme of the 1950's) in the organisation of production and marketing. The establishment of women's industrial co-operatives earlier had failed because there had been a lack of links with the market, follow-up, sufficient inputs and detailed planning.

Project implementation became more effective as the Mahila Samajams were involved in production and marketing and a special post was created within the government in 1975 to supervise production, to monitor credit flow by liaising with banks and to assist the organisations in procurement of raw material, etc.

Although the district collector who initiated this project was transferred, she kept in touch and requested her successors to provide some support. Even with declining support from the Collector's Office, the scheme was sustained because the Mahila Samajams were able to build rapport with the banks to help procure loans. Linkages were also built with a number of other developmental organisations, such as the State Marketing Corporation, the Central Social Welfare Board, the Khadi Board, etc., to promote more employment programmes for women. Mahila Samajams were encouraged to form a District Level Federation to establish showrooms, organise training programmes and provide bridge finance.

Amongst the initial schemes, loans were successfully utilised for purchase of sewing machines, bicycles for fish vendors and for a dairy project (which proved to be most successful). Fish-net-making, food processing, garment-making and handicrafts were the major varieties of income generating activities.

In highlighting the success of this experiment it was noted that:

- the role of the catalyst was important in helping women to understand the market and in providing the necessary linkage for women's need for skills, markets and capital;

- women's organisations with proper motivation could change their orientation from welfare to development and become an important instrument for employment generation;

- even general government programmes such as a directive to banks with regard to DRI (differential rate of interest) and special attention to disadvantaged sections, could be interpreted to suit the specific needs of schemes for women's development;

- initial problems and temporary setbacks are necessary parts of a programme's development, and successful strategies can be built on the basis of lessons learned from failures; and

- the success of an enterprise depends very much on the quality of leadership which could provide a proper direction. The democratisation of organisation of work at a very early stage could affect the enterprise negatively.

Rounaq Jahan (discussant) observed that the two case studies identified three common factors as necessary elements of a successful project/programme.

- The role of dynamic individual leadership and field staff in initiating and sustaining projects/programmes. This raises the issue of mobilisation and training of development cadres who must be committed but need not necessarily be highly educated;

- the need for a flexibility of approach which enables a project/programme to learn from actual experience, to recognise participants' needs and Co adapt project/programme goals and direction to the changing needs of beneficiaries; and

- the judicious use of existing structures and networks such as the government machineries and women's formal (e.g. India) and informal (e.g. Sierra Leone) organisations and, when necessary, change in traditional orientation to suit the development strategy of a specific project/programme.

The issue of long-term continuity of projects and programmes was raised, particularly in cases started by outside intervention.

The problems inherent in the "project approach" to development are evident in the dependency syndrome it tends to create. Concentration of resources in a single project is limiting in its financial and multiplier effect. Often "showpiece" projects and programmes are developed to the detriment of other projects and programmes. Moreover, unless a project or a programme is linked to a major government or national policy there is no spill over effect.

Macro policies and special projects/programmes for women often work at cross purposes - the various development policies pursued by a state may result in loss of employment and income earning opportunities for a far greater number of women than would women's special projects and programmes.

Do women's projects and special structures marginalise women? It was suggested that the promotion of women's projects and special structures had been adopted as a short term strategy to better integrate women's needs, interests and rights into development policies more effectively, but, to bring this about, the role and function of these projects and structures should be carefully delineated. Women's projects and special structures should not be substituted for a comprehensive development approach which could be incorporated into national policies and national structures. Projects should provide an indication of the possibility of work on a wider scale and special structures should act as catalysts and monitor the effect of development policies and programmes on women in all areas.

To be successful, projects and programmes must take account of women's present roles and status, but caution should be exercised in order that the existing sexual division of labour is not perpetuated. Projects should build on the skills and knowledge women already possess, but forward planning is necessary to anticipate future changes in the labour market and to prevent the now familiar trend towards the replacement of women's work or its relegation to low returns with every technological innovation and change.

A project/programme has to recognise the needs of the individual as well as the family and should plan for areas of both family co-operation and conflict.

Self-reliance at the grass-roots level is a necessary and welcome strategy but it should not be used as a substitute for rural development projects undertaken by governments. At the local level, people can be most effectively organised around local issues that are relevant for their day-to-day existence but the linkage between local, national and international issues must be made. The effect of national policies and international interests on the grassroots should not be ignored.

Terry Kantai (discussant) argued that the problem lies not with the concept of project but with the planning approach. Should one design projects specifically for women or for the total life of the community? Women's projects which had failed had mostly adopted a top-down approach without paying due regard to people's situations, priorities and motivation. Access to information had often been a critical factor in stimulating grass-roots action.

Women work within an ideological/political structure which must be understood if women are to share power. They must take into account existing power structures, such as the governments, banks, etc., and establish relationships with other significant groups and organisations. Women must understand the process of commercialisation that is changing their lives.

At present, rural women are dependent on a few unstable channels to establish linkages with resources and power structures. These channels need to be strengthened and stabilised - for information, encouragement, the making of contacts, training in new skills. In short, responsive, committed and intelligent support, which could help rural women to use and manage the power machineries and the monetised society, must be given. Rural women already contribute to and manage family resources - although their legal status needs critical examination - but they must now enter the process of planning and they must learn the necessary techniques.

3.2 Discussion

The general discussion following the panel presentation focused on the issues involving women's projects/programmes and special structures as well as the broader concerns of women's participation in development.

There was a lively debate on the "project approach" to development. It was suggested by many that the "project approach" to development should continue to be used as a major strategy. It was made clear that the term "project approach" refers not merely to separate women's projects but also to other development projects. All development plans and programmes are broken down and undertaken in the form of projects. The reasons given in support of adopting a strategy of promoting women's projects were the following:

- women are invisible in mainstream development plans and this is one way to break the barriers;

- the projects provide examples of what can be undertaken to field level bureaucrats and implementers who often lack the initiative and creativity for launching programmes on their own;

- the projects serve as a way of breaking resistance at lower decision making and implementation levels and of changing attitudes in order to bring about a realisation that women have as much right to development assistance as others; and

- projects can provide productive employment opportunities for women.

Projects can also play a critical role in bringing about fundamental changes in attitudes and in providing women with opportunities for exercising power and making decisions. The importance of this experience of manipulating power in tackling the issues of underdevelopment and dependency was stressed. It was pointed out that projects should be regarded as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.

It was also argued that some projects do address themselves to questions of underdevelopment and dependency, they can be rooted in women's lives and contribute to structural change.

It was stressed that women's income generating projects, when designed as additional activities to rural women's existing farming and household responsibilities, put additional demands on the women's time and efforts. To overcome this, projects should be designed on the basis of women's main economic activities, e.g. coffee, cotton projects, etc. The advantage of this approach in increasing the return to women's labour from their main economic activity was emphasised.

It is also important to change the orientation of women's economic projects from welfare to development. The present tendency to look at projects as ways of "assisting women" perpetuate dependency. It was suggested that projects be designed and implemented with a view to fostering self-reliance and growth through economically viable and profitable projects. Careful analysis of marketing opportunities, effective organisation, management development and skills training is needed.

It was noted that the proliferation of different organisations and agencies working separately to "assist women" and getting recognition had resulted in wasted energy. It was therefore suggested that all activities should be co-ordinated and that organisations and agencies should work together for optimum use of existing resources.

Finally, the importance of women's projects as vehicles of development was stressed. The following were cited as necessary conditions to promote women's equal participation:

- the need for change in traditional attitudes including women's perception of themselves;

- change in the socialisation process; and

- need for change in legal and educational structures for the effective involvement of women in development.

It was pointed out that it is difficult to achieve the above when women are discriminated against in mainstream development activities. Women's projects can provide opportunities for women to take the first steps in learning the tools, techniques and skills of politics, administration and management, in developing their self-confidence, incitating a power base and in earning much needed income.

In the discussions, several points were raised regarding the main theme of the Workshop, i.e. improving the employment conditions of rural women and regarding women's effective participation in development.

Reservations were expressed over the use of the term "integration of women in development", which makes it appear as if women are not participating. It was pointed out that the major problem is that the contributions women make to the economy are not quantified or given a monetary value. Suggestions were made on how to measure the value of women's work, create different opportunities for women and avoid projects which exploit women.

The real issue is not that women are not participating but the fact that they do so under difficult conditions. It was suggested that policies and programmes be made to:

- alleviate women's burdens and increase returns for their labour; and

- benefit women through preferential and positive discriminatory policies, as is being done in some countries for selected disadvantaged groups.

It was argued that improving the employment conditions of women is key to raising their status. Use of appropriate and better technology at home and in work can alleviate the burden of women and relieve them from long, arduous hours spent in fetching water and fuel, cooking and storing food and in various farming activities. Training in productive and appropriate skills and knowledge, e.g. land utilisation, land conservation, food storage, food preservation, agricultural extension, management, etc., will improve returns to women's labour. Rural women's productivity and income can also be improved by literacy programmes, since illiteracy contributes to their receiving low returns for their labour.

The importance and advantage of government policies which recognise the disadvantaged position of women was highlighted through the example of the Tanzanian Government's policy of positive discrimination for women. A special quota of seats is reserved for women in Parliament on the argument that without correcting the imbalances created by historical and traditional factors, effective and equal participation of women cannot take place.

The importance of using the existing power structures to improve women's working conditions was also pointed out.

The policy implications of looking at women as factors of development rather than as isolated entities was stressed. A case in point is the problem of food shortages and women's role as main food producers in Africa. There, a strategy of improving women's productivity would result in improved food production.

A different view which was expressed was that the central issue was development, and not special privileges for either men or women. To achieve a classless society, there should be integrated development for society as a whole.

Summing up the discussions, the Chairperson felt that the following issues needed careful consideration:

- Women come together in projects because they need more income to support their families. Projects should be more multipurpose and responsive to the different needs and possibilities of rural women. While taking adequate account of the historical background of the group, projects should help women get gain new knowledge and skills and improve their productivity and income. Unfortunately, however, most women's projects promote hobbies and part-time activities instead of focusing on women's major economic activities. Women are the main producers of food. Why are they not thought of when governments plan for increased food production? Why are not projects for cotton or coffee thought of as women's projects?

- Are all the problems of rural women to be solved through a project approach? What are the additional methods necessary to improve the balance between resources, infrastructure and marketing? How should the low returns of most projects be improved? How can projects be sustained and replicated?

- The issue of women's legal status needs examination, particularly in relation to property rights. How can women's legal rights be guaranteed both in theory and in practice?

- How can the linkage between national economic policies, programmes and plans and rural women's projects be developed and strengthened? How can projects be made integral parts of long-term processes of development?

- It is the labour of rural women that supports most African societies. One should not talk of helping them - but how can their rightful role in determining the direction of development be ensured? What should be the role of national machineries in this process?

- Dynamic leadership plays a critical role - how can such leadership be generated?