|Resources, 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.)|
6.1 Panel Presentation
In Panel 4, organisation, conscientisation and participation, case studies were presented by Edel Guiza (Philippines) and Aster B. Selassie (Ethiopia). Ayesha Imam (Nigeria) was a discussant.
In her presentation on PROCESS, an NGO in the Philippines, Edel Guiza observed that PROCESS used consciousness-raising as a strategy to stimulate changes in structures and relationships between the rural poor and the local elites and it aimed at overcoming previous negative experiences of the rural poor with development agents. The participatory approach was used to enable the rural poor to be conversant with issues affecting them and to develop strategies for dealing with these. Field community organisers were selected from among the local people, conscientised and then sent to organise others.
Through PROCESS the rural poor were made to realise their individual powerlessness and the value of collective strength. Their organisation helped them gain visibility, access to land, social forestry and credit and savings for collective schemes and to push for laws restricting commercial fishing boats from coastal waters. They explored and achieved success in securing organic fertilisers to reduce dependency on imported fertilisers. Skills were imparted in problem solving, management and accounting to increase people's capacity to deal with problems that faced them.
PROCESS developed a number of strategies for influence and action. It:
- drew upon sympathetic allies within the government bureaucracy;
- managed to develop a critical collaboration with the government on the basis of the organisation's needs without jeopardising its interests;
- developed a collective leadership;
- provided a system of financial accountability;
- mobilised students, particularly law students to disseminate information on legal rights and legal protection;
- promoted alternative technology and alternative resources to counter the oppression and exploitation of existing technologies, laws and resource structures;
- built networks with other groups which shared a focus on common issues and policies to evolve a common strategy; and
- used participatory evaluation methods.
Evaluations were previously made by planners but now the people rather than external evaluators and planners do the job.
It collaborated with other groups, e.g. human rights groups, arranging for intensive sharing and exchange visits for purpose of cross-fertilisation.
As a result of working with poor people, PROCESS has drawn a number of lessons. They are:
- the need for continuous conscientisation to counter the growing strength of the power elite;
- access to timely information and basic knowledge of issues which are necessary elements of participatory involvement;
- the importance of establishing national and international links to create the political space necessary for organisations to survive;
- effective use of law as a resource for poor people, organising for legal reforms and imparting legal education which are necessary strategies for empowering people; and
- clear reasons for the existence of the organisation and public accountability of governments has to be established.
Aster B. Selassie presented the case of the Revolutionary Ethiopian Women's Association (REWA) which has now over 5 million members, 21,000 basic associations, 541 district associations, 110 provincial associations and 15 regional and one national association.
REWA aims to create the necessary conditions to enable women to become producers, mothers and citizens on an equal footing with men. To make this goal a reality, REWA has a general assembly which meets every two years during which elections from base associations to all other levels take place and during which time the national plan for REWA is approved.
All women above 15 years of age are automatically members of REWA. To enable its members to develop, REWA encourages women to take advantage of literacy campaigns for the illiterate, to attend political education classes and to be involved in productive activities. There is no discrimination against women in the allotment of land. The base associations have a meeting once every two months when women discuss and decide on development activities and family life, and are given political education.
REWA believes that projects for women should be a training ground for new skills. They should be labour-intensive and employment-creating, use locally-available raw materials and enable women to earn income. They should be interesting to the women, beneficial to society, and integrated into national development plans.
A successful water project by REWA which is serving about 50,000 people was cited; women are managing, maintaining and keeping accounts of the project.
Ayesha Imam (discussant) felt that the need for participation was now generally accepted. Most of the successful cases presented at the Workshop resulted from the women themselves identifying their needs and objectives.
Conscientisation requires critical analysis. Participation, to be real, must be at all stages. Even if initiated by leaders, a collective organisation must move towards increasing group effort and group responsibility. The role of the external agent must be one of a facilitator only and not that of a leader; but if people take a wrong direction the facilitator must guide them by means of explanation. Facilitators should also help create awareness of national and international links, of problems and of people's struggles against them.
In the general discussion following the panel presentation a number of issues were raised. It was pointed out Chat in most countries rural women are increasingly compelled to produce for the market, whether as commodity producers or as seasonal or full-time labourers. Families, whole communities and the entire people of many nations are being pauperised and marginalised as expendable people. At the same time, international and other financial institutions have a growing influence on the development strategies of many governments.
The need to examine the impact of these developments on rural women was stressed. It was pointed out that sometimes grass-roots organisations were manipulated by local, national and even international elites to enhance their control over poor rural women and men.
There is also the need to distinguish among different forms of exploitative and oppressive relations. There is a difference between the large transnational corporations which net big profits from women workers and the small business women selling handicrafts door to door in exchange for second-hand cloth. Small business women and men are being squeezed out of the market and represent potential allies for the rural poor. In most countries the majority of women represent a labour reserve. Links between the urban and rural poor women need to be built up.
The strategy of working with existing structures in the villages was also questioned since in many cases they are oppressive of women. Formal leaders can not be ignored but they are not necessarily those in whom the people trust or for whom they have respect.
The role of catalysts or cadres in organising people and promoting a process of conscientisation was highlighted. It was pointed out that though local catalysts could provide the most effective leadership, in certain situations, external catalysts might be necessary but whether local or external, catalysts must identify other potential cadres. Leadership is not only spontaneous, it can also be developed through training and consciousness-raising.
The training and conscientisation of cadres requires priority attention as a necessary element of development strategy. In this context, the risks a cadre takes while organising poor people was mentioned. In many countries, the environment is not conducive for organising poor women. Careful strategies of organisation and cadre development should be worked out to combat such situations.
The form of organising women - in integrated or separate structures - was debated. It was argued that integration was the ultimate objective. In many countries and situations women can be organised in integrated structures but in many others women can best be organised and conscientised only in separate women's structures.
Mediating organisations and institutions, e.g. NGO's, universities, etc. can play a critical role in conscientising and organising women. Links and networks amongst these intermediary institutions should be built and strengthened.
Finally, it was emphasised that the right of rural women to decide their own priorities, to make their own mistakes and to learn from them must be honoured. Outsiders can give support and point out alternatives but the final decision rests with the rural women themselves. Organisation and conscientisation would help develop critical awareness and enable rural poor women to identify their needs and rights and find a solution to their own problems.