|CERES No. 091 - January - February 1983 (FAO Ceres, 1983, 50 p.)|
Making women count
After years of complaints about inadequate statistics on female labour-force participation in developing areas and calls for more research, amid complaints about the skewed and biased base that labour-force statistics provide for development planning, finally a serious treatment has appeared. Wainerman and Lattes have not, of course, produced the missing data, but they have provided a careful critique of what is wrong and why. Despite its provocative title ("Women's labour in the dock"), this is a scholarly book, well documented and full of excerpts from census instructions, table and bibliography. The study is limited to Latin America and deals primarily with the 1970 round of censuses of population, their accuracy and their limitations, but the authors' conception is broad enough to provide a useful illumination of the more general problem.
The book is divided into four parts: a brief review of the literature, an examination of existing international recommendations on measurement of the labour force, how these were applied selectively in the 1970 series of censuses of population in 22 Latin American countries and, last, recommendations on how to obtain more reliable and valid census estimates of the female labour force. The review of the literature briefly surveys recent thinking on the new home economics, the U-curve of female labour-force participation with development, the Marxist perspective on domestic work, and time-use studies. The main section provides the first systematic, although limited, examination of the census of population in measuring the female work force, which in developing countries is, of course, largely active in agriculture.
The authors show how one census after another, through unsuitable design and instructions, consistently underestimates the size of the female labour force. Sources of data that have generally been considered acceptable reveal themselves to be not only inadequate but also biased against accurately recording the work of women. So, for instance, a household survey modelled on the well-known Atlantida model is found to lead to underenumeration through error in the reference period, a crucial element in measuring short-term or seasonal economic activities of women. Nevertheless, the survey represents a considerable improvement upon the census of population. While the labour-force participation for males is only slightly larger in the survey than in the census for each age group, the census underenumeration for women is 15-30 percent depending on age. When the results are examined separately for those working in agriculture and those working outside agriculture the results are even more dramatic: males in most age groups show minor discrepancies of one to two percent, but the survey returns between 2.4 and 4.8 times as many women active in agriculture as the census of population shows.
Similar exercises have been done elsewhere comparing the censuses of population and agriculture. In countries with a large proportion of the labour force occupied in agriculture, the entire labour force may be seriously underenumerated because the work of women has not been correctly assessed. While the censuses of agriculture can be shown to underestimate the work of women, they nevertheless generally improve upon the censuses of population.
Wainerman and Lattes examine other countries to bear out the same results, although not always with equal drama. In nearly all cases it is the work in agriculture, together with work in the informal sector or the unpaid family workers (many of whom again are in agriculture), that account for the underenumeration of women's work. Such results highlight the importance of a revision of census concepts, measures, enumeration practices and tabulations to take better account of agriculture on the one hand and women on the other.
The authors conclude by recommending greater attention to time worked in future measurements and propose the measure of work in the modern sector as a more reliable measure. Regrettably, they do not single out agriculture per se, although it is clear that greater attention to the agricultural sector and to the women employed therein would provide more valid and reliable data for the labour force as a whole, since a sizeable proportion is in agriculture and has been erroneously excluded in the past. Equally importantly, the adjustments necessary to capture the work of women in agriculture will ipso facto provide better measures of work for men and for women working outside agriculture. This is especially true of the temporary, sporadic, part-time, unpaid, paid-in-kind, self-generated, informal sector or family employment that characterizes many developing economies, not only for youth and the elderly, as Wainerman and Lattes point out from the start, but for all marginal workers.
After fifteen years of dependency studies, a book on "dependency reversal," or how to break out of a condition of dependency, is welcome. It would seem an opportune moment to discuss the alternatives to dependency now that the Brandt Report has popularized the issues surrounding the "new international economic order" (NIEO) debate. The Latin American dependency tradition has long been vague about alternatives other than socialism. The NIEO debate, on the other hand, has been concerned as much about the benefits the new managements would provide the "centre" or "metropolis" as about the Third World itself. This book seems to bridge the gap between tinkering with the system as it is and calling for its downfall.
The first two parts of the book discuss the scope and aims of dependency theory and such new themes in dependency analysis as the question of development styles and the environment. It is part three that is directed to the central theme of the strategies that have been or could be used to overcome dependency. Mahbub ul Haq (director of the Policy Planning and Program Review Department of the World Bank) makes a straightforward argument for a NIEO through negotiations between developed and underdeveloped countries. Johan Galtung's more radical version of the NIEO stresses the element of "self-reliance" with the development of human beings everywhere the goal. Gustavo Lagos argues that underdevelopment can only be remedied through a "revolution of being" as an antithesis to the historically dominant "revolution of having." Jan Tinberg suggests that in an increasingly interdependent world a "management scientific approach" is called for to resolve our problems rationally. From the more orthodox "dependencia" tradition there are contributions by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Stavenhagen presents three stark options for Latin America: first, the continuation of dependency (governing against the people); second, the pursuit of autonomous capitalist development (governing without the people); and third, revolutionary socialism. The articles on collective self-reliance in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and on Cuban development strategy from 1959 to 1979 are more concrete.
I would like to focus now on some of these contributions. Osvaldo Sunkel (coordinator of the Economic Commission for Latin America/UN Environmental Programme) provides a very useful summary of recent work on the effects of development styles on the environment. In Latin America the utilization of resources, waste, pollution and contamination has not been seen as an important issue until recently. Sunkel shows how the "transnational development style" cannot be sustained in the long run. He does not, however, argue for a halt to economic growth, as do the populist "small is beautiful" theories. Rather, as Cardoso too argues, he sees the need for growth to continue but as part of an alternative, more decentralized style of development. Cardoso's contribution elaborated on this alternative model of development emphasizing the need for "participatory democracy." He recognizes realistically that the search for an alternative "should focus, without disguise, on the question of power."
This leads us to the two more empirical studies, on CARICOM and Cuba respectively, that are among the most interesting. Kenneth Hall and Byron Blake provide an insider's account of "collective self-reliance" in the Caribbean context showing its strengths and very real weaknesses. They conclude that "CARICOM has demonstrated the wide gap between the declaration of goals of self-reliance and their transformation into concrete and successful policies." Cuba of course provides a concrete alternative to dependent capitalist development, but Joel Edelstein suggests in his thorough review that she may have to go through a period of "socialist" dependency before she achieves self-sustained autonomous development. There are no easy ways out of dependency.
This is an important and timely publication, but it is disappointing that all except a few chapters are reprinted from other sources. There are perhaps limits on this type of general discussion, which sometimes degenerates into futurology or simply wishful thinking. In a sense the abstract "dependency reversal" options posed will be resolved in the real world through hard social and political battles. These have their own logic, which quite often displaces the theoreticians - however well-intentioned - to the sidelines.