''...a sense of their own effectiveness''
An interview with Peggy Antrobus
WAND (Women and Development Unit) is a regional organization
created in Barbados in 1978 as a part of the Action Plan of the United Nations
Decade for Women. Based at the University of the West Indies, WAND's objective
is to support the implementation of the regional plan of action for integrating
Caribbean women in development. To this end, WAND furnishes technical assistance
in several fields: the preparation of feasibility studies, planning, analyzing,
and evaluating projects, the establishment of women 's bureaus or similar
organisations in member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), training
of development workers, and so forth. WAND works in collaboration with the
Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), with a number of specialized
agencies of the United Nations system, with national, regional, and
interregional non-governmental organizations, as well as with financial
institutions Peggy Antrobus of the University of the West Indies' Extramural
Department is coordinator of WAND. She was interviewed for Ceres by Armelle
Braun during the World Conference for Evaluating the Results of the United
Nations Decade for Women held last July in Nairobi -The Editors.
Ceres: What is your personal assessment of the efforts made over
the last ten years to integrate women in development?
Antrobus: I think we all started assuming that development is a
benign process and that we were simply trying to get women into that process.
But we discovered that they were already involved, as a matter of fact, in
development. The reason why people did not recognize this was, first of all,
because women's labour was largely thought unimportant, and this particularly in
the agricultural sector. Even when they were remunerated, it was at a lower
level than men. Thus we all had the notion that somehow whatever women were
doing needed to be improved. Here was also the assumption that what women did
was related to the social sector and not to the economic one. Again, if you
focus on rural development, it is the sector in which you can really see why
talking about integrating them in development is meaningless. You have to
remember that women are not merely housewives; they are farmers in their own
right. Those two roles-women's reproductive role and women's productive role-are
linked, but conventional approaches to rural development and agriculture do not
take that link into account. Typically, in rural development and in agricultural
extension programmes, there is a split between home economics, which recognizes
women's reproductive role, and agricultural extension, which recognizes the
productive role of farmers. In the Caribbean, we are now aware that many women
who work at agricultural tasks, sometimes for as many as six hours a day, will
describe themselves as housewives. The state looks at women as housewives. So do
the ministries of agriculture that design their programmes on that assumption.
We surveyed one country in the Caribbean, and although the respondents said that
one-third of the women were involved in agriculture, when we checked it with the
women themselves and asked them to describe what they actually did, we found
that over 80 per cent of the tasks were performed by women. What I am saying is
that in 1975 we did not recognize the complexity of the issue; we talked about
integrating women in development as if they were not there.
In the course of the last ten years, research and programming
have shown clearly that the point is not integration, but rather that there is a
need to recognize that women are indeed in development, but in a severely
disadvantaged position. So, in 1985, we recognize that we have to challenge the
whole concept of development. We have to recognize that development is not
merely a set of economic processes. What is interesting to note is that the
rhetoric has always been there. I mean, the United Nations, for years now, since
the Second Development Decade, has been talking about "integrated development",
"holistic development" and claiming that development has to include the social
and the political as well as the economic. And yet, when you look at the
policies and at the allocation of resources, it is clear that they are still
stuck with the economic model. The crisis that is facing the world today shows
very clearly the limitations of that growth-oriented model, and it shows also
the way the economic processes are linked with the political and the social.
Now they are talking about agriculture and rural development,
the food crisis in Africa, but many of us who have been involved with African
women particularly, are finding that one of the reasons for the crisis in food
security is the failure of planners to recognize the critical role of women as
food producers. We do insist on the fact that you have to take into account the
social elements and be concerned about the technologies women use. When you are
developing training programmes aimed at women you have to take into account
their time, their responsibilities for other tasks within the household, that it
may not be possible for them to travel long distances or for a long time, that
they do not have access to land, to credit, to technology, etc., etc. So, in
some ways, the crisis is the result of a failure to look specifically at women's
role, at the implication of that role for food production.
Q: What do you think about appropriate technology for women? Is
there not a great lack of it?
A: Well, there is a lack of technology in two areas. I would
like first to look at technologies women need to perform their domestic work.
You also have to consider the technology they use to perform their productive
role, the kind of implements they have to use, and technologies also in terms of
communication, because communication is also a tool.
Q: It seems that some groups of women have been very successful
communicators and have performed rather well in networking.
A: Indeed. You see what is very exciting and very significant is
that in the last year a group of Third World women-including researchers,
activists, and policy makers from every region-has been meeting on the
initiative of an Indian woman, Devaki Jain. We have been meeting to do three
things. First, to analyze our experience of the decade. We have analyzed
development strategies and criticized them from a woman's point of view. Second,
we analyzed the food security crisis, the debt crisis, the environmental crisis,
the military-nuclear crisis, and the way in which they interlock. The third part
of our project is to propose alternatives.
We call this the DAWN project", DAWN meaning Development
Alternatives with Women for a New Era. It is focussing essentially on poor
women's experience of development, the impact of the crisis on poor women, and
how, by focusing on them, we may find a way out of this crisis, specifically by
giving out more resources to these women.
Q: What kind of strategies do you have in mind in order to get
more resources allocated to the women who need them?
A: Instead of giving priorities to export-oriented agriculture,
more priority should be given to food production for local use and which is
cultivated by women so you have to give them more resources. Second, we are
calling for more attention to be paid to women in decision making in this
Q: That may not be easy to do.
A: We have had some experience with this in the Caribbean. We
developed a pilot project in a small country, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,
where we tried to do two things: first, to test the methodology, the strategy
for involving women in decision-making; and, second, we wanted to show what
happens when women are empowered in that way. We implemented this "how to"
project by using participatory methods instead of a more formal approach. That
means paying more attention to what they have to say, helping them, and giving
them the skills and the confidence to state their own priorities, to plan their
own programmes in order to meet their needs and have access to resources, both
within their own community and within their country and internationally.
Finally, it means helping women to be aware of the causes of their situation and
of why they are poor, to look at their own experience within the broader
framework of the socioeconomic process.
Q: How can the link be established between strategies at the
community level and broader strategies?
A: It's very tempting to negate or to minimize the micro
projects, and indeed lots of these do not have an impact on the macro level.
What is happening at the macro level is going to affect what's happening at the
micro. For example, if you look at the assessment of the Decade, you see that
there is a big difference between the global statistics and the micro level. If
you look at global figures, you see that women are worse off in every sphere in
1985 than they were in 1975. At the micro level' certainly at the level of your
own experience, you see tremendous achievements. So how do you have an impact?
We claim that for women the way to do it is, first of all, to help them get a
sense of their own effectiveness, of their own power, of their own influence at
the micro level. That is why any micro level project, whether it is a small
income generating project, a project for digging wells, a self-help project, a
project for building houses or for health or a literacy project, any microlevel
project can help to make a difference at the macro level to the extent to which
it helps building the consciousness about the macro processes that affect women.
We are also talking in terms of how women can link with each other to organize.
As they do so, they begin to move to the national level; they begin to have an
impact on policies at the national level because our governments have to
respond. Even the most repressive regimes have to take notice of a mass
movement. The DAWN project is exciting because it represents linking of women of
different regions. Behind those regional groupings you have national linkages
which is what we have in the Caribbean. I am the representative of DAWN in the
Caribbean region, but I represent a rural movement within the region and behind
that there is a rural movement at national level and behind that, again, a rural
movement at the community level. The point is that without that empowerment of
poor women at the grassroots level, the people who, like myself, are operating
at international and regional levels have no force behind them. They have no
credibility. They are speaking only about their own experience, and if they are
not in touch with the grass roots movements, they don't really have much power
or influence. So if I you ask me to sum up the major I achievement of the
Decade, I would say: the emergence of a better consciousness of, and a greater
commitment to, an extended network.
Q: Do you plan to link as well with women in the industrialized
A: Yes, the DAWN project does link with women in the North and
the South. But women in the North have to understand and come to terms with
their own experience of powerlessness, alienation, and inequality. The feminists
in the North have the ingredients for assisting in promoting development in
Third World countries. Women of the First World who are conscious of their own
alienation will understand that there are pockets of underdevelopment in their
own countries. So right away they break away from that attitude of superiority
they have, which says, in effect, because we live in developed countries, we are
all right. We have all those resources. It's just you poor Third World women who
are illiterate and ignorant and stupid and don't know what you are doing. We are
all right; you are the ones we have to help. Now that kind of attitude is not
acceptable to Third World women. That kind of superiority, that kind of
arrogance has no place in a programme for assisting Third World women. If women
of the North begin to see that, then they have a role to play, not only in
changing their own situation, but also in generating resources for what is
needed in their own