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close this bookRural Women and the Environment: Shared Concerns? (IRMA, 1994)
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View the documentWomen and Nature: Is there a Special Relationship?
View the documentGender and Environmental Change: Impact on Rural Households
View the documentGender division of labour
Open this folder and view contentsGendered Time
View the documentAccess to and Control of Resources
View the documentHealth and Nutrition
View the documentGendered Knowledge
View the documentSocial Support Networks

Gender division of labour

The sexual division of labour is the basis for understanding inequalities in the distribution and control of resources within a household. Familial rights and obligations imply an "...interdependence between family members in both the productive and reproductive spheres, creating the need for an exchange of goods and services. But there is no a priori reason to assume this exchange takes the form of sharing and is intrinsically harmonious," (Whitehead and Bloom 1992: 47) as conventional neo- classical economists suggest. Rather, the household is a domain of "cooperative conflict" (Sen 1990) where decision-making is the result of bargaining between individuals with different degrees of power.

The nature of interdependencies within the labour process is a crucial aspect in determining the extent to which environmental degradation affects men and women. Whitehead (1985) distinguishes between two types of labour processes in agricultural production, sex-sequential and sex-segregated. "The former requires labour inputs from each sex at different times to produce a single product [for example, the inter-related tasks in cattle rearing - male, and dairying - female] while the latter refers to processes in which one or other sex performs all (or most) of the operations necessary to produce a given product [for example, beer brewing is mainly women's work in most rural African societies, from fuelwood collection and germination of grain to sale]," (Kabeer 1991: 17 and Jackson 1993b for the examples).

Such an approach is analytically more useful than the classic distinction: women = subsistence food production and men = cash crops, because it focuses on the interplay between different roles and responsibilities (Leach 1992: 15). Differences in labour inputs, in turn, determine the degree to which women and men's daily time allocation is affected by environmental degradation, as well as, the nature of their incentive towards conservation. Where women have greater control over the returns to their labour, they may have greater scope towards individual or collective environmental protection.