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STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
AGNES R. QUISUMBING AND RUTH S. MEINZEN-DICK
Focus 6 POLICY BRIEF I OF 12 AUGUST 2001
W omen play important roles as producers of food, man-
agers of natural resources, income earners, and caretak-
ers of household food and nutrition security. Giving women the
same access to physical and human resources as men could
increase agricultural productivity, just as increases in women's
education and improvements in women's status over the past
quarter century have contributed to more than half of the reduc-
tion in the rate of child malnutrition. In many countries, increas-
ing assets that women control also has a positive impact on the
next generation, particularly on education and health.
Despite improvements in building women's capabilities,
gender gaps in entitlements-the resources that women can com-
mand through available legal means-continue to persist.
Improvements have been greatest in increasing opportunities to
invest in and make use of human capital, but smallest in assuring
women's rights to natural and physical capital. These disparities
have serious consequences for wellbeing, not only for women
themselves, but also for their families and for society.
Empowering women is key to achieving food security.
These briefs consider different strategies for empowering
women by strengthening their asset base-natural and physical
capital, human capital, social and financial capital-and by pro-
viding the legal and institutional framework to guarantee their
command over resources.
NATURAL AND PHYSICAL CAPITAL
Natural capital (land, water, trees, livestock, and other natural
resources) and physical capital (buildings, houses, infrastructure
such as roads and electricity, transportation, and various tech-
nologies) are the most tangible forms of assets. They play a
major role not only in economic production, but also in provid-
ing security against difficult times. Rights to land and houses, in
particular, also convey status and power within a community.
Yet these assets are unequally distributed between men and
women. Even where women are primarily responsible for food
production (as in many African societies), land is owned or con-
trolled by men. Women acquire use rights through relationships to
a man-usually a husband or father; maintaining those rights
depends on continuing the relationship. As a result, women's pro-
ductivity is often constrained because they do not have rights to
make decisions, and often cannot get credit without land rights.
Just as significantly, women's dependence on men for use rights
reduces their security because they can lose the right to use land
if they are widowed or divorced. Thus, measures to increase
women's control over land are important strategies to empower
Women often have primary responsibility for domestic water
uses like drinking, cooking, and washing. Lack of access to clean
convenient water sources costs women millions of dollars and
hours in time and labor to fetch water, and adds the burden of car-
ing for those ill from polluted supplies. Responsibilities to collect
water or care for the sick can also limit girls' school attendance.
Domestic water supply programs often overlook women's pro-
ductive uses of water for irrigation, household gardens, livestock,
or other enterprises. Irrigation and other water supply programs
need to make stronger efforts to include women and to ensure that
they have decisionmaking rights over water.
Limited in their control over land, women may try to accu-
mulate other assets, such as livestock, that are culturally and
economically valuable, and provide needed micronutrients.
Expanding women's control over livestock contributes to their
empowerment and their family's welfare by increasing their
incomes and access to nutritious food, as well as by increasing
their skill base, confidence, and social networks. Roads, trans-
portation, and communications infrastructure may also empower
women by offering greater mobility for marketing, seeking
health care, attending school, and networking. This is especially
important to women who are often tied to their homes.
Infrastructure that supplies energy can reduce the time or drudg-
ery for food processing, cooking, and cleaning, freeing women's
time for other productive activities, caring for their families, or
even much-needed recreation. Technology designed specifically
to address their needs can empower women by increasing their
productivity or reducing their workloads.
In contrast to natural and physical capital, there have been dra-
matic improvements in women's human capital capabilities in
the last few decades. In the last twenty-five years, life
expectancy has increased 20 percent faster for females than for
males, fertility rates have declined, and gaps in educational
attainment have begun to close. Such investment*in women's
human capital is important, since women are both agents of and
beneficiaries of development. Investment in their human capi-
tal, more than any other form of investment, increases women's
capabilities, expands opportunities available to them, and
empowers them to exercise their choices. And there is evidence
that women, their families, and their countries-and the world,
by extension-will benefit in terms of improved food and
Improving women's education is probably the single most
important policy instrument to increase agricultural productivity
and reduce poverty. Women's education also leads to lower fer-
tility and child mortality, as well as better health, nutrition, and
educational outcomes for children. Despite this, in many poor
countries, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa, women's educational
I FPR.I IFPRI. a Future Harvnest center, is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
levels are still low, and in other regions, such as South Asia, gen-
der gaps in schooling are still large. Policymakers have thus
attempted to experiment with subsidies and service delivery
schemes in order to increase women's education.
For many poor women, working as agricultural wage labor-
ers may be their only contribution to family income. Often,
women face barriers to working outside the home, resulting from
cultural preferences for female seclusion, or domestic responsi-
bilities such as childcare and providing fuel and water. Returns
to female labor increase with female education, so higher rates of
female labor force participation are typically observed in coun-
tries and regions with higher levels of female education. The
Latin American experience suggests that progress is possible for
women in the labor market, although barriers to female employ-
ment-lack of child care and racial and ethnic discrimination, for
Women's health and nutrition demonstrate most vividly the
intergenerational payoffs to investing in women's human capital.
Unlike disease, nutritional status is cumulative over time, and
influences the nutritional status of the next generation.
Malnutrition that occurs during childhood, adolescence, and
pregnancy has an additive negative impact on the birth weight of
future babies. Social, economic, and cultural factors, as well as
the biological requirements of childbirth and lactation, have led
to women's higher vulnerability to malnutrition relative to men.
Women need to be empowered to look after their own nutrition
as well as those of their families.
SOCIAL AND FINANCIAL CAPITAL
Working through groups is one major mechanism through which
outside programs and women themselves can improve the status
of women. In fact, the networks and collective action that groups
generate are being recognized as assets in themselves. Social
capital may be one asset in which gender inequalities are not as
pronounced, or in which women even hold an advantage.
Microfinance is perhaps the best-known type of program that
works through women's groups. Group savings, credit, and
insurance programs for women substitute collective action
through the groups for conventional assets (such as land) as col-
Although microfinance programs may include insurance
provisions, broader safety nets are required to reduce women's
vulnerability to unexpected changes in weather, prices, economy,
health, or relationships. Family and friendship networks have his-
torically provided some measure of social security, but they have
often been inadequate for the very poor, and pressures of migra-
tion and broader change are breaking down the institutions that
provided such security. Thus formal, externally assisted safety net
programs with explicit provisions for women are also required.
Finally, legal and institutional frameworks provide the basis for
women to legitimately lay claim to all the types of assets men-
tioned above. Legal rights and voice in the political system are
"political capital" that enables women to strengthen their rights
over other assets. In many countries, constitutions state equality
before the law as a foundation of the legal system. International
conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and the follow-up
Special Session of the General Assembly (Beijiing+5) have
also played an important role in promoting women's legal
rights and helping nongovernmental and advocacy groups in
countries to make their national governments accountable.
While many countries have promulgated statutory laws to
reform discriminatory customary practices, they have often had
unintended effects. If women are poor and uneducated, they
may not be aware of the provisions of the law. Egalitarian laws
and norms work best when both men and women have eco-
nomic opportunities. Reforming the legal system and increasing
women's asset base are thus complementary activities needed
for women's empowennent.
Empowering women by strengthening their control over a
range of assets is critical for enhancing their welfare as well as
improving the status of future generations. Three broad types
of action are required:
I. Change statutory laws to strengthen women's entitlements
and increase the enforceability of their claims over natural
and physical assets. Gender disparities in natural and physi-
cal capital persist partly because the legal framework sup-
ports property rights systems that are biased against women.
Social and cultural institutions also need to be changed to
create an environment where women can realize their full
2. Design and implement creative programs enabling women
to use and benefit from their own resources and capabilities.
Such programs could include groups that provide women
opportunities to build social capital or substitute for their
lack of physical and financial assets.
3. Increase women's ability to actively participate in the devel-
opment process by changing perceptions and increasing
awareness of both men and women themselves. Women
need to be empowered to make their own choices and to
respond to increasing opportunities. Investing in women's
human capital through education and training and removing
barriers to the productive use of women's time and energy
are key to sustainable and gender-sensitive food policy.
For further reading see Women: The Key to Food Security; Looking
Into the Household, Issues Brief I (IFPRI, June 2000); L. Smith and
L. Haddad, Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing
Countries: A Cross-Country Analysis, Research Report 111
(IFPRI, 2000); R. Meinzen-Dick, L. Brown, H. Feldstein, and A.
Quisumbing, "Gender, Properly Rights, and Natural Resources"
Agnes Quisumbing (a.quisumbing @cgiarorg) is a senior research fellow in the Food Consumption and Nutrition Division and Ruth Meinzen-Dick
(r.meinzen-dick @cgiar.org) is a senior research fJellow in the Environment and Production Technology Division, both at IFPRI.
Land assets, including soils, home sites, and crop, grazing,
and forestland, are important everywhere. But in countries
where agriculture dominates, ownership of land is politically
significant and directly associated with power. Command over
property is, arguably, the most severe form of inequality between
men and women today. Despite its prevalence, gender differ-
ences in rights to land are one of the most poorly documented
dimensions of gender inequality and figure in few statistical sys-
Poverty is inversely correlated with household land owner-
ship. The landless are more vulnerable, especially in famines, and
have higher infant mortality rates. Women and children suffer
disproportionately from shocks when their rights to household
resources, including land, are mediated through men. Direct
access to land minimizes women's risks of impoverishment and
improves the physical well-being and prospects for her children.
Even small plots provide access to natural resources that con-
tribute to survival, security, and economic status. Furthermore,
since many types of development specialists seek out only heads
of household with secure tenure status, direct access to land also
indirectly facilitates access to agricultural support services.
Land rights increase women's power in social, economic,
and political relationships. Rural women claim that secure land
rights increase their social and political status, and improve their
sense of self-esteem, confidence, security, and dignity. By dimin-
ishing the threat of eviction or economic destitution, direct and
secure rights to land can increase women's bargaining power in
their families and participation in public dialogue and local polit-
An important policy issue is whether customary tenure sys
teams that are locally enforceable and have adapted over time or
formal statutory systems that are legally or morally bound by
universal conventions can provide women with greater and more
secure access to land. Central to this debate is the question of
whether human rights, including rights to land, are seen as uni-
versal or as relative to cultural, religious, and national rights.
While no clear answer exists, a simplified comparison of the two
types of tenure systems reveals key challenges for policymakers
aiming to improve women's land rights.
CUSTOMARY OR FORMAL?
Land rights, in both statutory and customary tenure systems, fall
along a spectrum that roughly corresponds to degrees of power.
This spectrum accommodates diverse and fluctuating interests
and provides different people with different bundles of rights.
The entitlements a woman holds determine where she fits on the
spectrum, from full ownership with all entitlements at one end to
landlessness without entitlements at the other. In both systems,
most women are located somewhere between these two extremes.
Both customary and formal tenure systems evolve and can
accommodate short- term changes and opportunities. Customary
systems usually regulate access to resources according to mem-
bership in a lineage, community, or household. These systems
operate most effectively when land is relatively abundant and most
land users know one another and have regular and direct contact.
Formal systems are most effective where land values are high and
land transactions among strangers are frequent, requiring trans-
parency and public records to reduce information asymmetries.
Even in formal tenure systems, unwritten rights often coex-
ist with the limited number of rights that are actually recorded in
registries or titles. In practice, however, the codification of cus-
tomary rights has often strengthened and concentrated land
rights of individual, senior, male household heads over multiple
other interests, resulting in only a small percentage of the popu-
lation, and strikingly few women, holding land certificates or
titles in developing countries. Joint titling appears promising, but
its application is, as yet, too limited in time and scope to judge.
There are essentially two ways to enhance women's land rights.
One is to protect or increase the security of existing rights. The
other is to create new rights or increase the range of rights over
which women have control. The comparative advantage of cus-
tomary tenure systems is an institutional capacity to support
existing land rights, while for formal systems it is the capacity to
create new rights.
A woman's rights are secure when she can use or manage
land in a predictable fashion for a defined length of time.
Security of tenure consists of three dimensions: definition, inde-
pendent control, and enforcement.
The first component is clarity in duration and content of
rights. Very limited rights, such as fuel wood collection, can be
secure if they endure over time. The content of customary rights
can be ambiguous, however, since they are established through
oral contracts that are frequently modified and reinterpreted. A
promising area for policy development is the clarification and
registration of women's customary use rights. Tenure security for
women could be improved by establishing contracts protecting
widows and children from eviction or by developing leasehold
contracts documenting the duration and scope of women's land
rights to permit planning and managing of land and income use.
A second component of security is independent control-a
Ir PRJ IF PRI. a tfulurr lHarn'et center is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultati've Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
Fox:us 6 Pol.CY BRiuF 2 OF 12 AuiGr si 2001
factor greatly diminis ed because of the derivative character of
women s rights to and. For most women, an rights are denved
from their relationships to men: fathers, husbands, or brothers.
The difficulty in distinguishing rights of different household
members also contributes to the, sometimes false, assumption
that women in landed households share these rights and that
women's specific land rights need only be defined when they
head households. But in most cases, unlike men, women cannot
liquidate, trade, or retain derived land rights when the male link
is lost. Continued access to land depends on a woman's fulfilling
or negotiating a constantly changing set of obligations and
expectations defined by the men who hold the rights.
A third dimension of security of tenure concerns women's
ability to defend and enforce their land rights. Tenure security
depends upon women's capacity to lobby for and promote their
interests and upon whether the formal and customary authorities
vested with the power to protect women's land rights share these
interests and have a strong imperative to uphold them.
For improvements in tenure security to become operational,
they need to be socially acceptable to formal and informal gov-
erning bodies with different norms and values. Policymakers
need to identify partners capable of influencing the attitudes, pri-
orities, and incentives that govern political and group decisions.
Proposals for improved tenure security also need to be
administratively viable. Customary land institutions are familiar
and convenient to rural women, reducing the transaction costs
that prohibit recourse to formal land administration services. But
this social and physical proximity can also be repressive.
Government offices and land registries can introduce new prin-
ciples, maintain public land records, and offer a neutral forum in
which women can effectively press their claims, but require
transparent and consistent procedures and affordable transaction
costs. In many countries, these institutions are inefficient, cor-
rupt, time consuming, and complex. Few women have the polit-
ical connections, know-how, money, or physical proximity need-
ed to secure land rights within them. A challenge for government
planners is to build a land administration capacity capable of
more efficient land transfers than customary inheritance systems.
Another challenge is to develop a robust, affordable and accessi-
ble dispute resolution procedure. Such a procedure needs to have
a quasi-judicial footing, consistency in its operation, impartial
and informed officials, a court-based appeal process, and the
support of both men and women.
Where there is political will, formal tenure systems can be bet-
ter suited than customary ones to rapidly creating new land
rights for women. However, two major formal mechanisms-
land reform and land markets-have not resulted in positive
change. A brief examination of these experiences highlights
areas for future policy attention.
Land reforms associated with new political regimes and gov-
emment- or project- based land redistribution have induced sig-
nificant changes in landholding patterns, poverty, and inequality
while adversely affecting women almost universally. Only an
estimated 4 to 25 percent of the beneficiaries of Latin American
Eve Crowley (eve.crowley- @ao.org) is senior rural poverty alleviation
Organization of the United Nations.
land reforms in the 1960s and 1970s were women. Similarly low
percentages continue to characterize donor-driven resettlement
and irrigation projects. Clearly, to improve women's property
rights, land reform policy must focus political will on favoring
women in redistribution through stable, capable institutions.
Changing policies that regulate land markets is a second
formal mechanism for creating new rights. However, where
women can legally purchase land, in practice only wealthier
women and women's groups have the income to compete in the
market. Nepotism, preferential treatment, and complex, expen-
sive procedural requirements restrict entry to land markets.
Policy should focus on reducing the administrative transaction
costs and barriers faced by poorer buyers and women.
Women do not form a single group or always act in solidar-
ity. Coalition building and negotiated reform can help to induce
positive change. Cross-sectoral alliances, unions, and lobby
groups can build a shared awareness of common positions
among women, encouraging joint action. Women and like-mind-
ed citizens who have formed viable civil society groups or coop-
eratives have, on a small scale, not only succeeded in purchasing
land, but have also increased their capacity to leverage relation-
ships of power and manipulate public opinion and legal contexts.
These shifts in public attitudes are critical for creating the con-
vergence of values that support changes in tenure systems.
Enhancing women's land rights requires that they become a
political priority and a legal possibility; it also requires adminis-
trative viability, social acceptability, and moral legitimacy.
Complementary policies must address women's limitations in
exercising and enjoying their land rights. Even with assured land
rights, investments in property require access to financial mar-
kets and information, extension, and other services.
Policymakers should be aware of the complexity of tenure sys-
tems and how legal principles associated with land rights can be
subverted when put into practice. To bring about substantial
progress, integrated joint action is required of each category of
stakeholder noted below, in keeping with their distinct objec-
Women must know what rights to land they can claim and
how to claim those rights;
Formal and customary land administration officials and
services must develop the administrative capacity and disci-
pline to process records and claims in support of women.
National governments/parliaments must approve regula-
tions that create the fertile ground on which positive change
can take root.
The general public must recognize and accept that women's
rights to land are ultimately in the interests of a broader popu-
lace, and create the popular support needed for political change.
For further reading see B. Agarwal, A Field of One's Own: Gender
and Land Rights in South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 1994);
L. Gray and M. Kevane, "Diminished Access, Diverted Exclusion:
Women and Land Tenure in Sub-Saharan Africa," African Studies
officer, Rural Institutions and Participation Service, Food and Agriculture
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BARBARA VAN KOPPEN
Fx;us 6 Poucy BRIEF 3 or 12 AUCGUS 2001
E mpowering poor rural women with adequate water rights
means strengthening their access to water for both domes-
tic and income-generating uses. Better access to water
improves women's health and incomes and liberates them from
the daily drudgery of fetching water. Income-generation
through gardening and farming, livestock, aquaculture,
forestry, and other water-based enterprises constitutes the
mainstay of rural livelihoods, but women's opportunities for
water-based income generation are still too limited.
Women's improved access to water can be negotiated rel-
atively easily when new water resources are developed.
Women need to obtain an appropriate portion of larger supplies
of water. However, when the available water sources remain
the same, competition for water risks is harsh. Worldwide,
growing populations with higher living standards are making
ever greater claims on finite fresh water resources for agricul-
tural, domestic, industrial, and other uses. In an increasing
number of river basins, the physical limits of available water
resources are being reached. And pollution deteriorates water
quality. Marginalized water users, especially poor women, risk
losing even the limited access to water that they now have.
Growing absolute water scarcity and pollution hit poor women
WATER USED FOR HOUSEHOLD CONSUMPTION
Water used for drinking, cooking, washing, and cleaning con-
tributes to the welfare of all household members. Like other
responsibilities for household welfare, the responsibility to pro-
vide water for consumption is gendered. In rural communities
men may be responsible for the construction and maintenance
of domestic water infrastructure, while women ensure that
water is permanently available in the home, although other pat-
terns have been reported as well. When the government or pri-
vate vendors sell domestic water for cash, either men or women
or both may be responsible for that household expenditure.
The gender issue at stake is the intrahousehold division of
responsibilities for household welfare. A common long-term
vision is that spouses should equally share these unpaid domes-
tic chores. In the short run, however, in poor urban and rural
areas, the main issue is that poor men, but especially poor
women, need to be liberated from the often exorbitantly high
cash or labor costs for mediocre water service and low-quality
sanitation. What is widely recognized as a basic human right,
namely access to safe drinking water and sanitation, needs to be
concretized. Whether the private sector or public sector is most
effective in realizing this right is an open issue, but public
financial support remains necessary. In any case, water supply
projects become considerably more effective if men's and
women's complementary intrahousehold roles and perspectives
are incorporated in project design and implementation, up to
WATER USED FOR INCOME-GENERATION
Water as input in farming and other productive activities gen-
erates an income that is mainly controlled by the manager of
the enterprise. The manager is usually also the one who makes
investments in infrastructure construction and operation to har-
ness water for her or his enterprise. In order to increase
women's incomes from water-based enterprises, access to
water and water infrastructure are important factors, but access
to land, markets, skills, credits, and so on also critically deter-
mine the ultimate profitability of women's enterprises. But
even more fundamentally, in areas where most women are
excluded from own economic opportunities, water alone as one
input cannot contribute much. A comprehensive perspective is
indispensable. Take, for example, the issue of water for crop-
Depending upon the gender of the majority of the farm
decisionmakers in a specific site-for example in an irrigation
scheme-male-managed, dual-managed, or female-managed
farming systems can be distinguished. In sites with dual-man-
aged or female-managed farming systems, where women are
about half or the majority of farm decisionmakers, water for
irrigation directly contributes to women's farming enterprises.
Therefore, irrigation agencies that supply water, and in some
cases also reallocate the land that is newly brought under irri-
gation, need to target both men and women farmers on the
same footing. However, ample evidence has shown that irriga-
tion agencies, whether state or nongovernmental organizations,
have ignored the gendered organization of agriculture and
interacted exclusively with male farmers, mostly with the local
administrative and political elite. Women farmers (and poor
male farmers) were typically excluded from these negotiations
in which the rights to newly developed water and irrigated land
were set. This resulted in the erosion of women's pre-project
status and resource rights. Conversely, agencies that took the
gendered organization of local farming as their starting point
and included both women and men in irrigation institutions and
land and water rights, empowered both women and men farm-
ers, tapping the productivity of both groups. Men, women, and
the project all gained.
The need for gender-balanced allocation of rights to water
IEPRI I'PRI. a Future Han'est center. is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Arricultural Research (CGIAR)
and irrigated land is most obvious where female- and dual-
farming systems already prevail. Examples can be seep in
southern and eastern Africa, West African wetlands, and, often,
on homesteads. Recent interventions that have attended to gen-
der have proved to be smooth and effective. Not only in
African countries, but also in India, small schemes that irrigate
women-cultivated homestead lands have been successfully
constructed for and managed by women's groups. A major
challenge today is to develop and widely disseminate afford-
able, small-scale land- and water-management technologies,
such as treadle pumps, bucket drips, and water harvesting tech-
niques. With these technologies more poor rural women and
men can obtain access to larger quantities of water. Synergy
with marketing, input provision, and other rural development
efforts should foster more productive use of the water.
At the other end of the spectrum are the male farming sys-
tems, such as the large-scale canal irrigation schemes in
Pakistan and India. In these systems, women are primarily
unpaid family laborers who perform transplanting, weeding,
and harvesting. At best, when husbands are absent, wives can
help to irrigate the land or fulfill canal maintenance obligations.
Thus, the local farming system excludes the majority of women
from decisionmaking positions in the household enterprise.
Women's categorical exclusion from community-level, male-
dominated irrigation institutions is virtually uncontested.
Even where male farming systems dominate, a minority of
women farm in their own right. They belong not only to de jure
and de facto female-headed households, but also to male-head-
ed households, especially if land is in married women's names
and farm sizes are small. These women often have no formal
water rights and may face strong taboos against farming, irri-
gating, and interacting with "strange men" for input purchase
and marketing and in the water user associations. Either male
relatives or neighbors take tasks over, or the women do the
work themselves, contesting social norms. This dispersed
minority of women farm managers and irrigators in male farm-
ing systems needs support for achieving stronger water rights
and gaining membership and leadership positions in water user
associations. The economic empowerment of the majority of
women through water-based farming is only feasible if the
range of conditions for profitable, women-controlled enterpris-
es is addressed in a holistic way. Women's access to land and
forward and backward linkages are as important as women's
access to water.
WATER RIGHTS UNDER GROWING WATER SCARCITY
In rural areas in developing countries, a single water source is
typically used for multiple purposes, such as irrigation, live-
stock, fisheries, washing, and, often, for drinking as well.
Communal rules for water access are set and implemented
through highly complex interactions among the various user
groups and local authorities. Technical, institutional, and legal
interventions by outsiders may strongly impinge upon local
arrangements. Upstream water takers and polluters who share
the same river basin further affect local water availability, use,
and regulation. From local to basin level, large-scale water
users and administrative, political, or economic elite tend to
dominate these interactions, excluding the weaker segments of
society. Poor women's multiple water needs for their own wel-
fare and that of their families often and blatantly get over-
New opportunities have emerged to redress this neglect.
The last decade has seen substantive efforts worldwide toward
integrated water governance in order to address growing com-
petition for adequate, clean water. This has been accompanied
by new, formal, legal frameworks and new water management
institutions at basin level that call for genuine representation of
all water users' interests. Community-based integrated water
management institutions and local water tenure arrangements
in rural areas are to be linked with these new basin-level insti-
tutions. Poor women's water needs should get utmost priority
from local to basin level.
In sum, the agenda for gender-inclusive and pro-poor
water governance in rural areas entails
Abolishing the excessive labor and cash costs incurred by
poor women and men in meeting basic domestic water
needs, while fostering equitable sharing of costs between
men and women;
Developing and disseminating affordable technologies to
more poor rural women and men so that they have access
to more water collectively and individually;
Collaborating with other gender and rural-development ini-
tiatives to foster women's independent entrepreneurship
and make the range of water-based, income-generating
activities more profitable;
Informing poor women and men about new water-gover-
nance initiatives from local to basin level and including
them effectively in the design of new institutions; and
Ensuring, under competition for water, that water is reallo-
cated from large-scale users to small-scale users, to meet
both women's and men's water-related basic needs for
health and income.
For further reading see Douglas Merrey and Shirish Baviskar, eds.,
Gender Analysis and Reform of Irrigation Management: Concepts,
Cases and Gaps in Knowledge, workshop proceedings (Colombo, Sri
Lanka: International Water Management Institute, 1998); Barbara
van Koppen, More Jobs per Drop: Targeting Irrigation to Poor
Women and Men, (Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, 1998): and
R. Pradhan et al., eds., Water, and, and Law: Changing Rights to
Land and Water in Nepal, workshop proceedings (Kathmandu,
Barbara van Koppen (b.vankoppen @cgiar.org) is poverty, gender, and water specialist at the International Water Management Institute's Africa
Regional Office, Pretoria, South Africa.
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
RIGHTS TO LIVESTOCK
BETH A. MILLER
Foc(s 6 POLiicy BRIt 4 or 12 AIIGlIST 2001
More than 70 percent of rural people own livestock. It
provides a higher share of household income among
poorer and landless families, especially for women, than
among wealthier ones. Demand for livestock products is
expected to double in developing countries in the next twenty
years, making it the fastest growing agricultural sector. To
maintain and expand the benefits this growing sector can bring
to resource-poor women, new policies and practices must pro-
tect women's ownership and use rights, favor small-scale oper-
ations, and provide strong training programs in group develop-
ment and the production, processing, and marketing of animals
Women's livestock projects in developing countries are
increasing. When rural women have access to cash or micro-
credit, they usually choose to invest in livestock, which provide
food, cash, draft power, and fertilizer, and gain value through
reproduction. With increasing male outmigration and the femi-
nization of rural poverty, women have a greater need and desire
for livestock to improve their food security and income levels.
Livestock may be distributed to alleviate malnutrition,
because foods of animal origin, including milk, eggs, and meat,
contain high-quality protein and needed calories, vitamins, and
minerals. Livestock have important cultural meanings, and
their exchange through gifts builds social capital. It is increas-
ingly recognized that animals under women's control are more
likely to improve family nutrition and education than similar
assets held by men. Heifer Project International (HPI), an inter-
national nongovernmental organization with nearly sixty years
of experience with grassroots-based livestock development,
has found that with careful planning women's livestock proj-
ects can lead to both economic success and empowerment.
Women benefit most when they have decisionmaking authority
about the animals they manage, even without legal ownership
rights. Women's rights vary by culture, class, and type of animal.
Asserting claims to smaller species such as goats, sheep, poultry,
and pigs, rather than cattle, camels, or buffalo, is usually easier
for women. Micro-livestock (guinea pigs, silkworms, snails,
honeybees, and rabbits) are especially important. It is easier to
operate a productive enterprise with smaller animals, since the
initial costs are lower. Profits may be low, but so are the risks,
and men are less likely to interfere. When possible, women pre-
fer to own larger animals such as dairy cattle, because they are
more profitable and bring greater personal status.
Women often have access to livestock through family ties. A
man may own a donkey but permit his wife to use it to carry water
or vegetables, increasing her productivity by saving time and
labor. A man with a dairy cow may sell the morning milk but per-
mit the women to use the evening milk for household consump-
However, livestock projects that distribute animals to fam-
ilies do not necessarily benefit the women in the household.
Women usually provide most of the labor for stall-fed dairy cat-
tle and other animals kept near the home, but may not realize
benefits commensurate with their contribution, limiting their
incentive to increase production. Traditional usufruct rights and
ownership are in transition due to privatization and commer-
cialization, so project planning must intentionally include labor
and benefit analysis for all family members.
With privatization, women often lose traditional rights to
both household animals and land, since ownership and deci-
sionmaking become concentrated in a single, usually male,
individual. This is a real risk when women's traditional activi-
ties such as dairying or poultry production are commercialized,
and there is no replacement of their income. Policies encourag-
ing privatization should consider gendered impacts, so that
poor women are not further disadvantaged,
Joint ownership is a strategy to protect a woman's right to
household livestock after a husband's death. Heifer Project
requires the wife as well as the husband to sign its livestock
contract, to prevent "property grabbing" by the man's relatives
when he dies. Local authorities are asked to enforce the con-
tract. Projects with polygamous families decide on the most
equitable contracts to protect women's future livelihoods.
Some livestock schemes allocate animals only to women,
assuming they make decisions independently and will improve
their bargaining position by bringing wealth into the household.
These projects arc most successful when men are included in
discussions of workload and benefits, so that the project does
not increase women's workload but her husband takes the
income. As with any form of microcredit, appropriation or
domestic violence may occur when men's interests are not
addressed. In Kenya, some women's groups maintain legal
ownership of animals and may remove them from homes where
a husband treats his wife badly.
WORKING WITH GROUPS
Women's empowerment is strengthened through group action
and support. Group discussions help communities explore
women's decisionmaking power, especially over large and
valuable animals, so that men do not feel threatened.
Facilitation by a respected leader or professional helps clarify
the benefits of livestock to all family members.
Heifer Project requires a written contract with all project
IPRI IFPRI. a Future Harvest center, is part of a global agricultural research network,. the Consultative Group on International Arricrulturral Resnrrh itGIARI
recipients to "repay the loan" through "passing on the gift." This
involves giving the first female offspring (or cash equivalent)
from a cow, goat, or other animal to anot er needy family in the
same group. The payback is essential for active participation in
group training and other activities. Projects that hand out animals
without requiring repayment usually fail. Projects have better
success where animals are managed by individual families rather
than by groups, unless there is a strong tradition of group herding.
Managing their own small-scale livestock enterprises provides
rural women with more benefits than paid employment as
unskilled workers on large-scale commercial operations typical-
ly managed by men. Also, serious environmental and animal
welfare problems associated with large-scale confinement oper-
ations can usually be avoided on small-scale farms.
Women are the majority among the increasing number of
peri-urban livestock producers providing milk and meat to infor-
mal urban markets. Many governments try to regulate their activ-
ities due to legitimate public health concerns. Including women
when planning sanitation or marketing improvements is critical
so they do not lose their livelihood to industrial-scale producers.
Women's livestock activities have the potential for great
financial success, but they need strong financial training to avoid
losing control to men when expanding their enterprises.
Cooperatives have also helped many small-scale male farmers
market their products, but may disadvantage women. If meetings
are held when women are busy with other tasks, they cannot
effectively participate in decisionmaking. Sometimes women
form their own cooperatives. Other solutions include electing
women to the co-op managing committee, or changing the rules
regarding membership, payment, and meeting times. In Uganda
and India, women opened group bank accounts that only they
could access to receive their dairy payments.
Commercialization of livestock production can affect fami-
ly nutrition and women's status if all of the milk, rabbits, or
chickens are sold rather than used for home consumption. This
risks increasing women's financial dependence on men by hav-
ing to ask for money to purchase food they once produced.
Some livestock programs include human nutritional educa-
tion and should address both men and women. Men can deter-
mine food distribution patterns, while women often only control
food preparation. Out of respect, a woman in Tanzania or
Bangladesh would not limit the high-quality food of animal ori-
gin she offers to her husband in order to improve her own or her
children's diets. Often, husbands, when well fed themselves, are
not aware that other household members receive less. In times of
nutritional stress, women typically reduce their own food intake
the most. Thus, although nutritional education is traditionally a
women's program, targeting men can benefit the entire house-
Animal distribution or credit schemes without technical training
have limited success. Technical training helps women ensure that
their rights to livestock lead to increased fiod, income, and deci-
sionmaking power. Training programs that are held in the local
language and provide child-care and meals increase the chances
of meaningful participation by women. One day of village-
based, hands-on, and participatory training is best for illiterate
women with restricted mobility. Follow-up, refresher courses
and farm visits arc also important. Single-sex groups often help
women improve their confidence with unfamiliar tasks, such as
working with large animals, without interference from men.
Training in animal health and management, and access to
veterinary care can control animal diseases that reduce produc-
tivity, especially with exotic or crossbred animals. In developing
countries, most veterinarians and livestock extension specialists
are men and target their expertise to other men. One solution is
to recruit and train more women as professionals, another is to
train and reward all professional staff for providing outreach to
women. Existing women extension agents-now mostly home
economists-can be trained in animal husbandry, which is
important to all rural women.
In remote areas, community animal health workers may pro-
vide the best type of animal health care. When women are select-
ed and trained, they perform as well as men and increase other
women's use of animal health services. Unfortunately, the num-
bers so far are small. Successful recruitment strategies target
older women with fewer domestic responsibilities or husband
and wife teams, when contact with the opposite sex is severely
restricted. Having women work in pairs is also helpful.
Most women owning livestock report that the animals provide
food security, income, and status in the community. They are
more portable than land and crops and are a "living savings
bank" that may be used throughout the year. Women with limit-
ed resources who receive animals through group distribution
schemes also note that the group itself provides numerous bene-
fits, such as increased confidence and leadership skills. In gener-
al, women prefer to work with all-women groups until they feel
confident enough to speak in the presence of men. Membership
in mixed groups offers access to additional valuable assets. By
joining community-level committees, women begin to influence
more of the decisions that affect their lives.
Livestock projects can be the entry point for other types of
group-based interventions on health and sanitation, education,
and land rights. Training in animal reproduction increases groups"
ability to discuss human reproduction and health. Group savings
can increase women's potential to invest in other enterprises. The
social contact builds trust and mutual support for crisis times. In
HPI's experience, the attraction of livestock and their tangible
benefits create the economic opportunity, while the social impacts
provide the most significant and long-lasting results. E
For further reading see J. Curry, "Gender and Livestock in African
Production Systems: An Introduction," Human Ecology 24 (No. 2,
1996); M. Niamir-Fuller, Women livestock Managers in the Third
World: A Focus on Technical Issues Related to Gender Roles in
Livestock Production, IFAD Staff Working Paper 18 (1994); M.
Richter, Who Milks the Cow? Gender and Development in livestock
Farming, Schrilenreihe der GTZ No. 261 (German Agency for
Beth A- Miller (email@example.com) is the director of the Gender Equity Programl at Heifer Project International, U.S.A.
t -e uv troun, tll
More than twenty years of experience with research and
development has shown that technology is not neutral.
Women are vital to food security and family well-being and their
need for labor-saving and income-generating technologies is
acute. However, most research and development programs from
the 1970s through the mid-1990s only partly recognized women's
contributions to the development process and the effect of the
process on them. As a result, new technologies often had detri-
mental consequences not only to the economic security and social
status of women and their families but also to these programs' and
projects' ability to meet national and regional development objec-
Women's work, particularly in rural areas, is arduous and
time consuming. Women and children carrying heavy loads of
wood and water, and women pounding grain, are familiar
images. Increasingly, though, girls are also headed to school,
studying science, and contributing to technology development.
Three areas of technology research and adaptation can make sub-
stantial contributions to rural women's well-being and empow-
erment: agricultural production and postharvest processing,
information technology, and energy.
AGRICULTURAL AND POSTHARVEST TECHNOLOGIES
During the 1980s and 1990s, agricultural research of the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) brought new visibility to women's roles on the farm.
For sixteen years, researchers allied with the Women in Rice
Farming Systems network based at the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI) carried out sustained research with
women farmers throughout Southeast Asia. They developed
both the technologies that addressed women's specific interests
and knowledge and the means for conducting gender-sensitive
participatory research. Technologies-improved germplasm,
crop management and cropping systems, and machinery-were
tested and evaluated in specific rice-farming environments using
gender analysis, participatory methods, and a systems perspec-
tive by a multidisciplinary team of researchers (see box).
In West Africa, scientists at the West Africa Rice
Development Association (WARDA) used biotechnology to
develop a rice variety with the high yields and shatter-resistance
of Asian rice and the drought resistance and broad leaves of
African rice. The new variety substantially reduces weeding
requirements, lightening a task usually performed by women and
children. Despite such initiatives, national-level progress has
been slow and more attention to women's needs is required. As
more men migrate to urban areas, family labor becomes scarce,
soil fertility declines, and more poor rural women become farm
Positive benefits for
Technologies women farmers
SModem glutinous rice Increases land productivity
variety Provides independent income from
sale of glutinous rice cakes
Postharvesl machinery Reduces drudgery of hand pounding
for processing rice: rice
huller; rice micro mill; Increases volume of rice processed
rice flour mill Saves time and provides flexibility
in time use
Provides additional income
Empowers women individually and
as a group
Rice husk stove Reduces use of purchased energy
SUses available biomass
Integrated pest Increases savings on pesticides
management Reduces/eliminates harmful effects
of pesticides on human health and
food in the natural habitat
Upgrading of poultry Provides women independent
Use of local crop Increases profitability of backyard
byproducts as ingredient swine production
for swine ration
managers, women need labor-saving and knowledge-based tech-
nologies to improve the productivity of both land and labor.
Information technology (IT) has a strategic link with poverty
reduction. The Internet, email, and wireless mobile phones top
the list of new tools. IT can directly empower the poor by offer-
ing access to services historically unavailable to them because of
high cost or lack of infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.
Buying, selling, or renting IT equipment to others is a
source of income. In Bangladesh, Grameen Telecom makes
loans to those who wish to buy wireless phones and rent them to
neighbors. "Phone ladies" benefit from rents and timely access
I FPRI I a Future LHa nest enter. is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Acricultural Research CGIAR).
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
THELMA R. PARIS, HILARY SIMS FELDSTEIN, AND GUADALUPE DURON
Focus 6 PoucY BRIEF 5 OF 12 AU(UST 2001
to market prices for agricultural products or handicrafts. This
new income source allows women to invest i their small blsi-
household improvements, or their chdren s education.
WifeIT could increase women's access to new information in
areas where road networks are relatively less developed, access
to IT in rural areas is still rare. Where IT is provided in village
cyber cafes, access to them may be hampered by women's lack
of mobility, the limited hours of service, and safety conditions.
Most uses of IT require literacy and education, suggesting that
girls' schooling is an essential precondition to their equal access.
However, the Honey Bee Network in India transmits information
to illiterate women farmers with pictures and voice.
In rural areas, energy from biomass is used for cooking and heat-
ing; and energy from human and animal labor performs other
tasks. At the household level, the major use of biomass is cook-
ing, but food processing, especially milling and hulling, is the
most arduous work. Biomass is now declining as a resource and
electrification is limited. To reduce dependency on carbon
sources, increase power, and reduce women's labor burden,
reliance on wind power, micro-hydropower, and solar photo-
voltaics is growing. These small, flexible energy sources also
offer entrepreneurship potential, for example, in supplying lamp
parts in Bangladesh. Energy for lighting, from photovoltaics and
batteries, contributes to public safety-a particular concern for
women and girls.
In the 1980s, fuel-efficient stoves were introduced in devel-
oping countries to reduce women's labor, conserve fuel, and
decrease pollutants causing poor health. Acceptance was slow:
engineers' designs did not meet women's needs, and women
often lacked independent funds with which to buy them. Now, as
engineers work more closely with women and local artisans,
modified stoves fitting women's criteria are becoming acceptable.
CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN
Technology has tremendous potential for enhancing women's
welfare and their empowerment. Low-cost, reliable sources of
energy for processing, cooking, and lighting can provide a great
leap forward for meeting rural women's practical needs for less
burdensome work, improved health, and more time. Selling or
renting technology or using it for better market access con-
tributes to women's empowerment as her income gives her a
stronger bargaining position in household and community dcci-
sionmaking. However, experience has shown that when the use
of a new technology starts to produce income, whether it is a
newly profitable crop or new processing equipment, it is often
taken over by men. Care in developing the technology in ways
that empower women so they control it is essential.
Most technologies are bound up in hardware and their products
are goods to be sold or used. Questions of access and control are
central in determining actual benefits to women. Twenty years
of research on appropriate technologies for women and agricul-
ture provide well-tested guidance on how to develop technolo-
gies to assure their acceptability to, likelihood of success for,
and ability to empower women users. Such efforts require com-
mitment and attention. They have the following elements:
Checking assumptions at the door. Women's invisibility
in research and technology development results from several
erroneous assumptions. The most salient is that the household
head is male and that he is the knowledgeable source of infor-
mation. Second, it is assumed that his decisions represent the
views of the whole household. A third is that scientists, engi-
neers, and planners can develop, without talking to customers,
new germplasm and other technologies that would be readily
accepted by poor rural women farmers.
Delineating target groups carefully. Women are not a
homogenous group and often have different interests. Ethnicity,
race, and class arc interwoven with gender. There are different
categories of women: women from poor landowning house-
holds; women from landless households; and female heads of
households. Landowners will benefit from technologies that are
labor saving and drudgery reducing. Landless women will ben-
efit from mechanical technologies such as a rice mill, but they
might be displaced by some labor-saving technologies such as
direct seeding and herbicide use if alternative employment and
income opportunities are absent.
Forming multidisciplinary teams. Increasingly agricultur-
al research includes social scientists and gender specialists. This
is rare in information technology and energy programs where
measures of hardware rather than social impact arc common.
Gender specialists should pair with scientists and focus on the
technology questions as well as the gender issues.
Using a gender-sensitive participatory approach. When
working with women farmers and entrepreneurs, include partic-
ipants in each stage of hypothesis testing, planning, design, and
evaluation. Women's knowledge, preferences, and feedback are
necessary for a proposed technology to fit its niche, or to iden-
tify the niche for which technology is needed. This applies
equally to information technology and energy.
Working with, or helping toform, women's social- or eco-
nomic-based associations. Often women are more empowered
in a group than they are as individuals. In groups, they can
develop their own arrangements in managing and sustaining
new technologies. Working in a group, women build their
capacity for bargaining as individuals and finding ways to retain
the ownership and control of new technologies. I
For further reading see Thelma Paris, "Bringing Women from the
Margin to the Mainstream of Rice Research and Technology
Development: Strategies and Lessons Learned" (PhD thesis, School
Thelnma Paris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a gender specialist in tle Social Sciences Division of the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines; Hilary
Sims Feldstein (email@example.com) is a social scientist at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in Washington, D.C; and
Guadalupe Durmn (gdurtn @icrw.org) is a research assistant at ICRW
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
ELIZABETH M. KING AND HAROLD ALDERMAN
Foxus 6 PouiC BRIf 6 oF 12 A rcrasr 2001
Increasing women's education is a key ingredient for
women's empowerment. While many studies worldwide
have documented the importance of women's education for its
impact on child schooling and nutrition, education is also
important for women themselves. Basic education is the foun-
dation for developing the flexible skills needed to participate in
knowledge-intensive economic activity. Those who lack access
to basic education are likely to be excluded from new opportu-
nities, and where long-standing gender gaps in education per-
sist. women will be at increasing risk of falling behind men in
their ability to participate in development.
Female primary and secondary enrollment rates and aver-
age years of female schooling have generally risen over time.
In East Asia and the Pacific. Latin America and the
Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia, girls' gross primary
enrollment rates have reached 100 percent. Girls' primary
enrollment rates have leveled off in Sub-Saharan Africa at
around 54 percent. Absolute levels of female enrollment and
schooling remain lower in Sub-Saharan Africa than in other
developing regions, with female secondary enrollment rates
of 14 percent in 1995.
Gender equality in schooling has also improved since the
1970s, although gains have been slow and uneven for the
poorest regions. East Asia, Latin America, and Europe and
Central Asia have the highest gender equality in education.
The other regions, starting from higher initial levels of gender
inequality, have also registered noteworthy declines in gender
disparities in primary and secondary enrollments between
1970 and 1995. Nonetheless, South Asia continues to have
the lowest gender equality in education. Women in South
Asia have only half as many years of education as men, and
female enrollment rates at the secondary level are only two-
thirds of male rates. Closing gender gaps in education-and
closing them at a quicker pace-are thus important develop-
ment challenges to policymakers, especially in South Asia,
Sub-Saharan Africa, and some countries in the Middle East
and North Africa.
This brief focuses on three policy instruments that show
the most promise for promoting gender equality in education,
given the tools policymakers have at their disposal:
Reducing prices and increasing physical access to services;
Improving the design of service delivery; and,
Investing in time-saving infrastructure.
PRICES AND PHYSICAL ACCESS TO SERVICES
Parents' decisions to invest in girls' education is more sensi-
tive to the price of education than their decision to invest in
boys' education. A study using data from nearly ninety coun-
tries over three decades finds that price elasticities of demand
for primary and secondary enrolment as well as total years of
schooling are between 12 and 21 percent higher for girls than
for boys. This greater sensitivity results from parents' per-
ception that investment in girls yields lower returns to the
household than investment in boys. Studies on private returns
to schooling do not confirm this perception: in fact, the pro-
portional increase in wages from an additional year in school
is greater for girls than for boys. Even where the private
returns to education do not differ systematically by gender,
demand for girls' education could be affected by gender dif-
ferences in effective returns realized by parents. In societies
where women move to their husbands' household and thus
have limited ability to transfer resources to their parents,
investments in daughters appear less desirable.
In addition, the costs of investing in girls' and boys'
human capital may differ. Even with equal tuition, costs for
uniforms and travel may be higher for girls. In Ghana, India,
Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines, for example,
distance to school is a greater deterrent to girls' schooling than
that of boys. Parents may have to pay higher transportation
costs if they do not want their daughters to walk long distances
or walk alone to school. Clothing or uniform costs may be
higher where parents are reluctant to send girls to school with-
out proper attire. In Tanzania, for example, households spend
as much as 14 percent more to send a girl than a boy to school.
The opportunity cost of children's time in school-related
activities may also be higher for girls than for boys, especially
in poor and rural areas, where there are strong gender norms for
household tasks and where girls tend to work longer hours than
boys when both market and nonmarket work are concerned. In
Kenya, where girls often care for younger siblings, lowering the
price and increasing the availability of preschools freed up girls'
lime from childcare and increased their school attendance.
Since girls' schooling is more sensitive to actual and
opportunity costs, reducing the cost of schooling offers some
of the most promising policy interventions to promote female
education. For example, a school stipend program operating in
Bangladesh since 1982 subsidizes various school expenses for
girls in secondary school. According to the first program eval-
uation, over the lirst five years girls' enrollment rates in the
pilot areas rose from 27 to 44 percent, a level more than twice
IFPRJI ,-IFPRI, a Future Hnarest center, is part of a giloba ag ricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International AIricultural Researnh (CGIAR)
the national average. After girls' tuition was eliminated
nationwide in 1992 and the stipend program was expanded to
all rural areas, girls' enrollment climbed nationally to 48 per-
cent. More girls appeared for exams and enrolled in interme-
diate colleges. Boys' enrollment rates also rose, but not as
quickly as girls' rates did.
Two recent programs in Balochistan, Pakistan, and one in
Colombia provide further support for the potential impacts of
prices and better physical access. The fellowship program in
Quetta, Balochistan's capital, helped community-based
organizations establish schools in poor urban neighborhoods,
using subsidies that were based upon the number of girls
enrolled. While these schools could admit boys so long as
they made up less than half the enrollment, the subsidy to the
school did not depend on boys' enrollment. In rural
Balochistan another program increased the number of local
girls' schools. It did so by involving parents in establishing
the schools and by subsidizing the recruitment of female
teachers from the local community. Girls' enrollment rose 33
percent in Quetta and 22 percent in the rural areas. Both pro-
grams appear to have expanded boys' enrollment as well, sug-
gesting that increasing girls' educational opportunities may
have spillover benefits for boys. Finally, as a result of
Colombia's national education voucher program in 1992,
designed to increase continuation from primary to secondary
school, low-income students who received vouchers through
a lottery completed a tenth of a year more schooling than their
counterparts without vouchers, a statistically significant
effect that is larger for girls than for boys.
DESIGN OF SERVICE DELIVERY
Both school system design and community involvement can
improve girls' educational outcomes. In some settings parents
are more willing to send their daughters to a single-sex
school. In some, it is very important that teachers are female.
In Balochistan, staffing coed schools with female teachers,
most of whom were recruited locally with the involvement of
parents, has been key to breaking down cultural barriers to
sending girls to primary school. And physical facilities that
ensure some privacy for girls have helped. In Bangladesh's
coed schools, the availability of separate toilet facilities has
helped raise girls' school enrolment and attainment.
Parents' demand for girls' education appears to be more
sensitive than their demand for boys' education with regard to
the quality of schooling, the extent of learning, and teacher
attitudes. In the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan. girls
promoted to the next grade based on academic achievement
are 70 to 90 percent more likely to continue in school than
those held back or promoted without learning. But merit-based
promotions appear to matter less for boys-those who are
promoted for achievement are only 50 percent more likely to
continue than those held back or promoted for other reasons.
Similarly, in Bangladesh and Kenya, studies based on house-
hold survey data show that the quality of teachers affects the
demand for girls' schooling more than that for boys.
Attitudes are also important. A recent study in Kenya
found that girls in primary school are particularly affected by
negative attitudes and discrimination. For example, whether
teachers think math is important for girls and whether boys
and girls receive (and perceive) equal treatment in the class-
rooms significantly affect girls' (but not boys') propensity to
stay in school. Parental attitudes have a similar effect. In
households where parents think schooling is more important
for boys than for girls, holding other factors constant, sons
attain higher exam scores than those in households with no
such attitude. Changing attitudes among parents, teachers,
and principals will require long-term efforts. To this end,
training staff, reviewing and revising school curricula, and
educating parents can all play important roles in ensuring that
gender stereotypes are not perpetuated in the classroom and in
the community. Bangladesh's successful stipend program for
girls has included a public awareness campaign that stresses
the value of schooling in a manner that shifts the stigma away
from having an adolescent child in school toward not having
one in school.
INVESTMENTS IN TIME-SAVING INFRASTRUCTURE
Investments that reduce distance to school can help female
enrollment rates in part by reducing the opportunity cost of
schooling for girls. Similarly, increasing access to local health
care facilities reduces the time women and girls need to spend
on in-home care for sick family members. Equally important
are investments in basic water and energy infrastructure. In
most settings, collecting water and fuclwood is largely the
responsibility of women and girls. In Ghana, Tanzania, and
Zambia, women account for two-thirds, and children-mostly
girls-spend between 5 and 28 percent, of household time
devoted to water and fuel collection. Investments in time-sav-
ing infrastructure benefit all household members, and girls in
particular. For example, in rural Morocco having wells or
piped water increases the probability that both girls and boys
will enroll in school. But the impact is considerably larger for
girls, who are responsible for collecting water. These invest-
ments mean fewer interruptions to women's paid work and to
girls' schooling. E
For further reading see Jooseop Kim, Harold Alderman, and Peter
F. Orazem, "Can Private School Subsidies Increase Enrollment for
the Poor? The Urban Fellowship Program," World Bank Economic
Review 13 (No. 3, 1999): 443-65; Elizabeth M. King and M. Anne
Hill, eds., Women's Education in Developing Countries (Baltimore,
Md., USA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); and World
Bank, Engendering Development Through Gender Equality in
Rights, Resources, and Voice (Washington DC and Oxford: World
Bank and Oxford University Press, 2000).
Elizabeth M. King (eking@_worldbank.org) is lead economist, Development Research Group, rnd Harold Alerman (haldermanCOwworldbank.org) is
fi)od and nutrition policy advisor, both at the World Bank.
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
LABOR MARKETS AND EMPLOYMENT
RUTHANNE DEUTSCH, SUZANNE DURYEA, AND CLAUDIA PIRAS
Focus 6 Poucy BRIFf 7 or 12 AucuIt 2001
Employment opportunities for women are critical for
empowerment and food security. Extensive empirical evi-
dence demonstrates that increasing the share of women's
income in the household considerably improves family and
social welfare, given women's likelihood to invest more than
men would in children's human capital. Increasing women's
earnings and share of family income has also been shown to
empower women by strengthening their bargaining power in the
household. H higher levels of employment and earnings for
women thus contribute not only to current economic growth, but
also to future progress. Women's earnings are especially impor-
tanl for the growing number of female-headed households.
Experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)
provide critical information about the extent and nature of
women's employment in a developing region, the need to
remove persistent barriers to improved employment opportuni-
ties, and the recommendations required on the policy front.
Female labor force participation rates (the percentage of
women in the labor force) are high in LAC, and have increased
substantially over time. I household surveys documenting this
trend include both formal and informal sector work for pay, but
exclude women's unpaid labor in the home. In the Caribbean,
women's labor force participation increased 20 percent
between 1980 and 1997. In Central America it increased 26
percent, and in South America a staggering 56 percent. Female
labor force participation rates in LAC are, on average, higher
than those in the Middle East and North Africa, on a par with
trends in Asia and the Pacific, and lower than those in Sub-
Saharan Africa, the transition economics of Eastern Europe.
and the industrialized nations. Distinguishing features of the
region include relatively high rates of urbanization and female
education, and low rates of participation of women in agricul-
tural production. An estimated one-quarter of households in the
region are headed by females.
Women's involvement in the LAC labor market is by no
means homogeneous. When we consider labor force partici-
pation rates for a broad spectrum of women (age 15-64 in
both urban and rural areas) we see a wide variance, ranging
from under 40 percent in Nicaragua and the Dominican
Republic to over 60 percent in El Salvador and Uruguay
(Figure 1). Furthermore, within countries there are important
divisions between women who are rich and poor, black and
white, indigenous and non-indigenous. LAC has the dubious
distinction of being the region with the highest level of
inequality in the world, and this defining feature is reflected
in the labor market.
F R .1 R z FS I RS
Moving beyond macro level analysis, women's employ-
ment also plays an important role at the household level.
Analysis of household survey data for 18 countries reveals
that women are contributing, on average, one-third of total
household income in LAC. In the Colombian case, the figure
rises to as high as 50 percent.
Education is one of the most important factors account-
ing for increased female labor force participation in the region
(Figure 2). With some important exceptions women in LAC
have closed the gender gap in schooling. Other factors that
have driven increased participation of women in the work
force include a decline in their spouses' earnings, a drop in
fertility rates, an increase in the productivity of housework,
and an increase in opportunities for women within the labor
Notwithstanding the progress that many working women
in LAC have made, challenges remain. A recent International
Labour Organization (ILO) report found that "women need
much higher education levels than men to compete for the
same employment opportunities: four years more to earn the
same income, and two years more on average to have similar
opportunities for formal-sector employment." In 1998, unem-
IFPRI IFPRI. a Future Harve- center. is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
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ployment rates among women were almost 50 percent higher
than among men, particularly in low-income groups.
While wage gaps between men and women have nar-
rowed over time, they persist in many countries. Compared to
other developing regions in the late 1990s, women in LAC
countries earned wages roughly comparable to those of men.
In 13 of the 15 countries with available data, the wage ratio is
above 80 percent, and a third of the countries have wage ratios
exceeding 90 percent.
On the other hand, occupational segregation-the cluster-
ing of women in traditionally "female" occupations such as
teaching, domestic service, and office assistance-has proven
to be firmly entrenched in LAC. The region has the highest
rates of occupational segregation by gender in the world.
Conlining women to a limited number of occupations has high
equity and efficiency costs, and it contributes to less than opti-
mal investments in female education, given the accurate per-
ception that women lack access to the full range of occupations.
Labor market challenges such as unemployment, wage
gaps, and occupational segregation are greater for poor
women, as well as for women of indigenous or African
descent. In the world of work, as in other spheres, poor and
socially excluded women face more constraints. Hence, poli-
cies to promote women's labor force participation need to
actively target the poor and explicitly attend to issues of ethnic
and racial discrimination.
.... :.' :, .. -.K,, ..,, :..; :,, "2 : .i" A : '.' ..., .:*;'. ,.:... ,
Ruthanne Deutsch (Rutllanneda iadb.org) is a social development specialist in the Social Development Division of the Inter-American Development
Bank (IDH), Washington, D.C.; Siuzanne Duryea (Suzanned@iadb.org) i.s a research economist in the Resean.h Department ofl DB; and Claudia Piras
(Claudiapi@iadb.org) is a social development specialist in the Women in Development Unit of IDB.
Such policies should work on three fronts: improving
women's human capital; reducing barriers to female employ-
ment; and raising social awareness through campaigns to
challenge the assumptions and behaviors of educators and
employers that limit women's choices and opportunities. In
the first area, education (see Brief 6 in this set) is key, with a
special emphasis on improving education levels for indige-
nous girls. In contrast to the regional average, the gender gap
in education has actually been worsening among the indige-
nous population. Job-related training, both pre- and in-serv-
ice, can also empower women to participate more effectively
in the labor market.
Lack of adequate childcare provides one of the principal
barriers to female employment. Much of the occupational
segregation that is seemingly "voluntary" actually occurs
because a lack of childcare services impels women to choose
sectors that permit combining work and childcare. Women
pay for this increased flexibility by being consigned to the
informal sector or to jobs with lower wages. Various studies
have demonstrated that access to affordable childcare increas-
es female labor force participation and earnings.
Reproductive health services and programs to prevent domes-
tic violence also have positive repercussions on women's
employment and earnings.
Finally, policies need to change the way employers and
educators think about women's employment. llard numbers
must be used to dispel myths about the expense of employing
women. For example, recent ILO research provides evidence
from four LAC countries that the "extra costs" of employing
women, such as maternity leave or childcare, turn out to be
quite insignificant. Indeed, bearing these costs in the short run
reduces the long-run cost of absenteeism and job turnover, and
permits firms to retain more experienced women workers.
Social marketing campaigns can be designed to convince
employers that "pigeonholing" or underpaying female
employees is not only a loss for the employees involved, but
also makes the firm less productive and competitive.
Educators at all levels need to encourage LAC girls, particu-
larly girls of indigenous or African descent, to pursue studies
in nontraditional areas.
LAC experience clearly demonstrates that progress is
possible for women in the labor market. however, gains have
been substantially more significant for richer, more educated
women who are not members of groups facing racial or eth-
nic discrimination. The challenge of the next millennium will
be to extend these same opportunities to all women. U
For further reading see Inter-American Development Bank (IDB),
Women at Work: A Challenge for Development (forthcoming); and
IDB, Economic and Social Progress in LaIin America, 1998-1999
Report: Facing up to Inequality in Iatsi America (1998). For evidence
on the private costs of maternity leave and childcare see International
Labour Organization. Panorama i.boral 2000 (HlO, 2000).
e~ linv i runrr(l ,
The health and nutritional status of women is important for
both the quality of their lives and the survival and healthy
development of their children. Adequate nutrition is a human
right for all, and the two-way link between nutritional well-
being and women's social and economic capabilities needs to
be better reflected in policy and programming.
Nutrition policy and most nutrition interventions in devel-
oping countries are mainly aimed at reducing young children's
malnutrition. To this end, a woman, as a pregnant and lactating
mother, may be the target but not the intended beneficiary.
While both the child and the mother may benefit, such a narrow
approach is likely to limit the overall effectiveness of nutrition
interventions and the sustainability of their impacts. This brief
therefore argues for greater focus on female health and nutrition
through the life cycle, as opposed to the traditional concerns
with maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
WHY A LIFE-CYCLE APPROACH?
Adopting a life-cycle approach to both the analysis of nutrition
problems and the choice of interventions emphasizes that nutri-
tional status, unlike disease, is cumulative over time and not an
isolated incident. It also highlights the centrality of nutrition in
maintaining women's health.
Poor nutrition often starts in utero and extends, particular-
ly for girls and women, throughout the life cycle. It also spans
generations. Malnutrition that occurs during childhood, adoles-
cence, and pregnancy has an additive negative impact on the
birthweight of future babies.
In 2000, an estimated 25 million babies in developing
countries were born malnourished. This is a major global
human-development problem with profound consequences at
many levels in society. A low birthweight baby who suffered
intrauterine growth retardation as a fetus is not only born mal-
nourished but also continues with a far higher risk of dying in
infancy. If she survives, she is unlikely to significantly catch up
this lost growth later and will be more likely to experience
developmental deficits. Furthermore, nutritional deprivation in
utero may "program" a newborn for a life of scarcity, predis-
posing the individual to later cardiovascular and endocrine dis-
eases when the child's system is later confronted by a world of
plenty. It has also been hypothesized that the "nutrition transi-
tion" (that is, the shifts in dietary patterns and lifestyle that
have resulted from urbanization and rapid economic develop-
ment) accelerates the emergence of such outcomes.
Malnutrition has major consequences for women, affecting
their health, productivity, and overall quality of life. It may also
affect their chances of survival. Of the four main causes of
maternal death in childbirth, three (hemorrhage, infection, and
obstructed labor) are related directly or indirectly to nutrition.
Pre-pregnancy weight, pregnancy weight gain, and iron
status are critical indicators of pregnancy outcomes for both the
mother and the newborn. Anemia is pervasive among women
in the developing world, and its effects are devastating. They
include debilitating fatigue that limits capacity for economic
productivity and childcare, compromised immune function,
widespread maternal death in childbirth, and damage to the
Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to the effects
of malnutrition. Underweight adolescent girls may not finish
growing before their first pregnancy. Still-growing adolescents
are likely to give birth to a smaller baby than mature women of
the same nutritional status, due to poorer placental function and
competition for nutrients between the growing adolescent and
the growing fetus.
Adolescent pregnancies also confer a higher risk of mater-
nal and infant mortality and pre-term delivery. Maternal mor-
tality ratios for 15-19 year olds have been found in Bangladesh
to be twice as high as those for 20-24 year olds. These grave
risks are further heightened by the fact that pregnant adolescent
girls are less likely to use antenatal and obstetric services.
MAGNITUDE AND CAUSES OF WOMEN'S
Insufficient attention has been given to the extent, causes, and
consequences of women's undernutrition. Even among preg-
nant women, it remains largely uncounted and unreported. Few
nationally representative studies have been done.
In the mid-1990s, the World Bank estimated that 450 mil-
lion adult women in developing countries were stunted due to
undernutrition during childhood. It has been conservatively esti-
mated that about 250 million women are at risk of iodine defi-
ciency disorders, and almost two million were blind due to vita-
min A deficiency. Around half of all adult women in developing
countries (745 million) are anemic. Deficiencies of iodine and
iron are known to affect females throughout infancy and child-
hood disproportionately, as well as before and during pregnancy.
A major current issue for women's health and survival, and
for development in general, is HIV/AIDS, which affects men
and women but is not gender-neutral: women are more at risk
of HIV infection than men. Biologically, the risk of becoming
infected with HIV during unprotected vaginal intercourse is
between two and four times higher for women than for men.
Socioculturally, women are more susceptible to HIV/AIDS and
other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because the norm of
I FPRI IFPRI, a Future Harvnest center is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Researrh (CGIAR).
S EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
HEALTH AND NUTRITION
F(xus 6 PoucY BRIF 8 OF 12 AUGUST 2001
virginity restricts adolescent girls' access to information about
sex, and increases risk of sexual coercion. Male power is often
manifested in sexual violence. Women's economic vulnerabili-
ty increases pressures for them to exchange sex for food or
money. Women are also less likely to seek treatment because
the predominant culture of silence regarding sex stigmatizes
women who try to access STD treatment services. HIV/AIDS
also exacerbates social, economic, and cultural inequalities that
define women's status in society (for example, inheritance
practices). And it is a life-cycle phenomenon as mother-to-child
transmission of HIV dramatically demonstrates.
Throughout the life cycle, female nutrition is affected by
complex interactions among the following types of factors:
Social, economic, and cultural factors that include social
status, female discrimination, and fertility patterns that
influence both exposure to and consequences of disease;
Individual behavior and psychological factors, including
dietary practices, reproductive patterns, health-seeking
behavior, and use of health and nutrition services;
Biological factors (age of menarche, menstruation, preg-
nancy, and increased risk of infections); and
Access to, quality of, and quantity (coverage) of health and
To summarize, there are several important reasons why
women's health and nutrition should be considered part of an
First, the consequences of women's underutrition for
child survival and development are at least as important as the
direct biological effect of undernutrition on the fetus during
pregnancy and infant during lactation. Second, even if the goal
was only to increase birthweight, a focus only on pregnant
women would be inadequate for two reasons: (I) it would fail
to take into account pre-pregnancy weight, which is one of the
most important determinants of birthweight, and (2) reaching
and targeting women during pregnancy is difficult. Third, the
traditional lack of emphasis on women's nutrition has probably
limited the impact of high profile initiatives such as "child sur-
vival" and "safe motherhood." Fourth, emerging evidence on
the fetal origins of disease further strengthens the case for
smoothing imbalances throughout the life cycle and taking a
long-term perspective. Fifth, women will be more likely to be
motivated to participate in program activities with clear bene-
fits for themselves as well as for their children.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
Both the magnitude of female undernutrition and its enormous
social, economic, health, and development consequences
demand stronger action. Interventions exist to break this inter-
generational cycle, or to make it positively reinforcing, by
attending both to female malnutrition from adolescence through
pregnancy and lactation and to the promotion of growth of the
newborn, preschool, school-age, and adolescent child.
Programs need to be inclusive but focused, aimed both at rais-
ing the floor of female nutritional status throughout their lives,
thus smoothing life-cycle nutritional imbalances, and at maxi-
Direct nutrition action needs to focus on both macro- and
micronutrients, on energy intake and energy expenditure, on
disease prevention, and, above all, on strengthening the capac-
ity for and practice of caring for women and adolescent girls.
Efforts are needed to space births, avoiding now widespread
maternal nutritional depletion. Mothers need a recuperative
interval of at least six months following cessation of breast-
feeding. Accessible, good-quality pre- and postnatal services
run by supportive workers are essential for enabling early reg-
istration of pregnant women, providing counseling about nutri-
tion and reproductive health, and providing access to contra-
ception. Adolescent pregnancies need priority attention.
One particular issue deserves highlighting here. The exis-
tence of widespread female anemia is scandalous. In a world in
which iron supplements have long been known to prevent and
control anemia, this condition still directly or indirectly causes
at least 120,000 women to die each year in childbirth. The con-
straints to large-scale programmatic effectiveness are known;
the technologies and systems for treatment exist. But the com-
mitment has just not been there to give the issue priority status
and make the programs work.
Another priority for advocacy is to mainstream the use of
birthweight as a fundamental indicator of human development.
Birthweight is a critical indicator of the life cycle of malnutri-
tion, a marker not only of maternal nutritional status but also a
leading indicator of the nutritional and health status of the child,
and even her/his chronic disease risk in adulthood. Advocates
must get this message across so that better birthweight data are
collected and used. Finally, there is a need for vigorous advo-
cacy and communication aimed at delaying first pregnancies
until adolescent girls have become young women in their twen-
Such direct actions complement the struggle for achieving
long-term goals of gender equity and women's empowerment.
Where social and cultural factors prevent women and girls from
realizing their full potential, vigorous and sustained advocacy
for a life-cycle approach to health and nutrition is crucial.
In sum, investing in female nutrition through long-term,
comprehensive, life-cycle based programs holds major poten-
tial for breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition,
with multiple benefits for women, children, their households,
and, cumulatively, for nations. U
For further reading see J.O. Morn and PS. Nestel, "Improving pre-
natal nutrition in developing countries: strategies, prospects and
challenges, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71 (5): 1353S-
1363S (2000); S.P. Walker, "Nutritional issues for women in devel-
oping countries." Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 56, 345-356
(1997); S. R. Gillespie, Improving Adolescent and Maternal
Nutrition: An Overview of Benefits and Options, UNICEF Staff
Working Paper Number 97-002 (New York: UNICEF, 1997).
Stuart Gillespie (s.gillespie@@cgiar.org) is a research fellow in IFPRI' Food Consumption and Nutrition Division.
Many development programs for women often work
through or involve existing women's groups. Whether
providing women with microfinance or extension services;
increasing women's access to and control over land, water,
livestock, and livestock products; or improving women's
employment opportunities, these programs aim to go beyond
the direct benefits that they deliver and become an instrument
for empowering women through social capital.
Social capital refers to networks, social relationships, or
connections among individuals in a community, such as civic
associations, social organizations, or family and kinship ties. It
is a concept that has come to take center stage in development,
especially in grassroots participation and empowerment efforts
and in reaching the poor. International organizations, govern-
ments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have enthu-
siastically embraced the concept as an alternative to government
or market-based approaches, with the World Bank hailing it as
"the missing link" in development. Working through groups
also reduces the cost of delivering services to many individuals,
making the outreach of programs more cost-effective.
Social networks, developed through formal organizations,
kinship, neighborhoods, work groups, or informal interactions,
are a critical component of social capital. Networks facilitate
communication, coordination, and the provision of information
on the trustworthiness of individuals. They create obligations
and expectations of reciprocity among their members. They are
assumed to generate social capital such as generalized trust and
norms, or common understanding. Social networks therefore
facilitate collective action and institutional effectiveness.
Women draw upon a range of social networks for person-
al and family livelihood. Building upon this, many develop-
ment interventions work through various forms of women's
groups or kinship ties. Research in Honduras illustrates that
women's groups can be vehicles for both individual and col-
lective women's empowerment in decisionmaking. In
Zimbabwe, women in areas with dense networks of women's
associations played a more effective role in decisions relating
to location of water points, management of finances for the
repair of their water pumps, making of water-use rules, and
other aspects of water management. Such women were likely
to occupy important positions on water committees and be
involved in collective decisionmaking meetings. They were
trusted and listened to by others because of their record of good
conduct in the other associations in which they participated.
This suggests that networks indeed do generate social capital
for individuals, leading to more participation and trust, and cre-
ating a "virtuous circle" of participation.
But to what extent do social networks really empower
women in decisionmaking? Are they a public good benefiting
all in the community, or only those individuals participating in
strong networks? This brief draws particularly on evidence
from Zimbabwe to answer these questions.
ROLE OF INDIVIDUALS
Although networks may indeed empower women and help
build and maintain social capital, there is evidence to suggest
that the characteristics of individuals also play a role. Research
from Zimbabwe, suggests that it is women participating in mul-
tiple networks who are likely to be empowered and thereby to
seek greater decisionmaking roles. Such women volunteer for
positions in water committees because they have learned habits
of trust, such as reliability and communication. They are also
likely to perform well in their leadership positions and actively
participate in collective decisionmaking meetings. Other indi-
vidual characteristics of these women were a good reputation in
their communities and competence in their work.
FAMILY AND KINSHIP TIES
Family and kinship ties can generate social capital and empow-
erment. Marital status is an important factor in shaping partici-
pation. Evidence from Zimbabwe shows that married women
are likely to be elected into positions of decisionmaking and
take an active role in collective decisionmaking meetings
because they are better trusted and respected. They can indi-
rectly influence higher-level decisions through their husbands
and their own kinship networks. Their married status allows
them access to more networks and thus enables them to gener-
ate more social capital. Among married women, however, class
and individual characteristics are also important factors.
Married women from wealthier households are more likely to
achieve decisionmaking positions.
At the same time, the role of the family in empowering
women should not be romanticized, since kinship institutions
are also sites for the reproduction and transmission of patriar-
chal relations within society. Evidence suggests that they may
be the site of mistrust, conflict, and deception, and may stifle
women's freedom of speech and ability to exercise individual
choice. In some societies, husbands can refuse their wives per-
mission to occupy decisionmaking positions or attend deci-
sionmaking meetings. In these situations, family and kinship
ties are not necessarily empowering to women, but may actual-
ly constrain women's ability to develop their own networks and
to construct and benefit from social capital.
This complex relationship between kinship ties and
IFPRI IrRL. a Future alnn'es. center is pat of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Groun on Internationnl A rirulturnl R,,,nnh iTl.n
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
MERCY S. DIKITO-WACHTMEISTER
Fo:us 6 Pouicy BRIEF 9 OF 12 AIIGIST 2001
women's empowerment raises questions of how social capital
is linked to family and kinship ties and to individuals.
EXCLUSIONARY ASPECTS OF SOCIAL NETWORKS
Although social networks promote cooperative action, institu-
tional effectiveness, women's empowerment, and social capi-
tal, they may also have a dark side. They can be grounds for
intolerance and lack of openness, for example, the mafia. They
may also operate in ways that exclude others as the trust and
norms that they generate are empowering only to the "insid-
ers." Richer women, for instance, are likely to form their own
networks, while other women's networks tend to be formed
along the lines of marital status, religious affiliation, ethnicity,
interest, and age. Research from Zimbabwe illustrates how dis-
advantaged women, especially those who are poor or not
densely networked, are generally excluded from decisionmak-
ing processes. They often lack information even about sched-
ules for community meetings. At the same time, networks oper-
ate in complex ways, and do not always strictly follow these
social differentials. For example, two women, whether both
rich or both poor, may develop different types of networks that
vary according to their individual circumstances.
Although the literature often presents horizontal networks
as the determinant of participation and women's empowerment,
research illustrates that vertical relationships of power are the
context within which groups form and operate. For example,
research in Zimbabwe shows that effective women leaders often
are those already linked to networks of power by marriage,
birth, and wider networks. Their linkage with power structures
legitimizes their credibility, indicating that networks tend to
reproduce and reinforce locally specific power relations.
Social networks often operate along gender lines, although
literature tends to treat them as gender-ncutral institutions.
While they may indeed empower women, there are also indica-
tions that networks reflect the gendered nature of power rela-
tions between men and women. Women and men frequently
belong to different networks, and many women's projects are
set up or operate through women-only groups. While these
groups can be important for ensuring women's participation
and building their self-confidence, such networks often cannot
command and exercise as much authority as men's networks.
Under these circumstances, strategies of empowering women
through social networks may further isolate them from main-
stream decisionmaking processes.
These exclusionary aspects of networks raise some ques-
tions. How can we ensure the inclusion of the socially disad-
vantaged as well as the building of democratic principles in
community decisionmaking? To what extent can we rely on
social networks as instruments for empowering women as both
a social category and as individuals, given the differences
LESSONS FOR GROUP-BASED PROGRAMS
Networking requires time, especially when formal group meet-
ings are required. Women in poor households face particularly
serious time constraints because of their various livelihood
activities and childcare responsibilities. Membership fees may
create a further barrier to participation by poor women, who
have limited control over cash resources. Furthermore, women
with little education may feel they will be perceived as "igno-
rant" or having nothing to contribute, or they may feel they will
not be listened to and that it is therefore not worth their time
and effort to participate.
To include poor women, programs that work through
membership groups need to choose convenient times and loca-
tions for meetings. Contributions of time, cash, and other
resources should be kept affordable. The organizations need to
deliver benefits that the women and their families value. The
benefits could be tangible, such as credit, livestock assets, or
education, or intangible, such as increased confidence in mem-
bers' ability to interact with outsiders. For example, a women's
group in Bangladesh reported that a major benefit of working
with an NGO group for vegetable production was that they
could negotiate with traders more confidently. Finally, it mat-
ters how meetings arc run. The use of explicit contractual obli-
gations, rules, and sanctions may not only reduce cheating and
corruption, but may also generate and reinforce common
understanding and trust among individuals. Social capital thus
interacts with formal measures in empowering women, sug-
gesting that formal and informal institutions complement each
Social capital has complex and contradictory effects on
women's empowerment in decisionmaking. We need policy
interventions that deal with these contradictions and complexi-
ties, also taking into account the following factors:
the importance of both formal and informal institutions,
the social structure, which encompasses historical and cul-
diversity of human livelihoods, specifically among house-
holds of different economic and social status, and
heterogeneity among women, especially in marital status,
social capital, personality, social skills, and on-the-job
Finally, while development programs can build upon
social capital as a means of empowering women, this approach
neither comes without costs nor brings automatic results. Only
long-term investment that takes relevant factors into account
can ensure success. U
For further reading see J. Coleman, "Social Capital in the Creation
of Human Capital," American Journal ofSociology 94 (Supplement,
1988): S95-S120; M.S. Dikito-Wachtmeister, "Women's
Participation in Decision Making Processes in Rural Water Projects
in Zimbabwe," PhD thesis, University of Bradford, 2000; R.
Putnam, "The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public
Life," The American Prospect (No. 13, 1993): 35-42; and J.
M.S. Dikido-Wachlimeister (Msdw@bhinternet.com) recently completed her PhD at the University of Bradford, United Kingdom. She currently works
as a social development consultant.
Focus 6 Poix BRIuF 10 OF 12 AIu(sri 2001
PROMISES AND AMBIGUITIES
Among financial institutions serving poor households around
the world, microfinance programs have emerged as important
players. These programs typically make small loans-some-
times as small as $50 to $100, and sometimes as large as sev-
eral thousand dollars-to households lacking access to formal-
sector banks. One important achievement of the microfinance
movement has been its relative success in deliberately reaching
out to poor women living in diverse socioeconomic environ-
ments. Of the nearly 90 thousand village bank members world-
wide that have received loans from the Foundation for
International Community Assistance (FINCA), 95 percent are
women. The Association for Social Advancement (ASA), one
of the most prominent microfinance institutions in Bangladesh,
has provided US$200 million exclusively to women borrowers.
In Malawi, 95 percent of loans provided by the Malawi Muzdi
Fund go to women borrowers. Since 1979, Women's World
Banking has made more than 200,000 loans to low-income
women around the world. Literally hundreds of similar exam-
ples can be found in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The premises behind such targeting are twofold: (I) that
microfinance is an effective tool in improving women's status,
and (2) that overall household welfare is likely to be higher
when microfinance is provided to women rather than men.
Women's status, household welfare, and microfinance interact
in the following ways:
A woman's status in a household is linked to how well she
can enforce command over available resources. Increased
ability to tap financial resources independently enhances
her control, and, therefore, her influence in household dcci-
Newly financed microenterprises open up an important
social platform for women to interact with markets and
other social institutions outside the household, enabling
them to gain useful knowledge and social capital. Many
microfinance programs organize women into groups, not
just to reduce transactions costs in credit delivery, but also
to assist women in building and making effective use of
Women's preferences regarding household business man-
agement and household consumption goals differ from
men's, particularly in societies with severe gender bias. In
such situations, placing additional resources in the hands of
women is not a mere equalizer: it also materially affects
both the quality of investments financed by the microfi-
nance programs and how extra income is spent. IFPRI
studies have underlined the importance of women's control
of resources in achieving better welfare outcomes in food,
nutrition, education, and other health statuses of children
and their families.
Women are thought to make better borrowers than men:
timely repayment of loans is more likely to take place when
women borrow. An IFPRI study in 1997, for example,
shows that Bangladeshi groups with a higher proportion of
women had significantly better repayment rates.
Loans are not simple handouts. If microfinance programs
are designed to cover all costs, a potential win-win situa-
tion emerges. Development goals related to women's
empowerment and improved household welfare are self-
financing and no subsidies are required.
Unfortunately, positive empowerment effects cannot be
unconditionally guaranteed. In some male-dominated societies,
men may use the agency of the woman to gain access to micro-
finance funds, diminishing women's role to being mere con-
duits of cash. Even if women can maintain autonomy in how
they access and use microfinance services, their management
of newly financed enterprises and shouldering of all attendant
risks may alter interhousehold dynamics. Since loans have to
be repaid even if the project fails, new activities may increase
exposure to financial risks and may impose additional pres-
sures on the already overburdened woman. Finally, in societies
following the practice of female seclusion, the new pressures to
interact in the marketplace may initially involve a difficult
learning period and trigger negative responses. Project failures
may lead to serious reprimand and additional negative sanc-
tions against the woman, especially if household resources
have to be diverted to repay outstanding debt.
If the arguments presented thus far about the impact of micro-
finance on women's empowerment are ambiguous, then does
empirical evidence resolve the ambiguities? While the record
on outreach has been quite impressive, evidence on impact is
not yet conclusive. Part of the problem is methodological. First,
"empowerment" is not readily observable, necessitating the use
of proxy indicators. Empowerment is most strongly manifested
in the decisionmaking process; but when outcome variables-
such as changes in income and education levels-are used as
proxies, not much light is shed on either the decisionmaking
dynamics or the mechanism of impact. Second, "empower-
ment" is a cultural and personal concept; the informant and the
researcher may frequently have differing notions of what
empowerment means and how it is expressed. Third, there is
the perennial problem of bias arising out of self-selection in
IF PRIl- IRRI, a Future Harvestr center, is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
programs. If microfinance programs tend to attract already-
empowered women, ignoring this fact will overestimate the
empowerment effect. Similarly, an underestimate of the
empowerment effect will result if programs attract or seek out
relatively more oppressed women.
Despite these shortcomings, what does the empirical evi-
dence on impact show? Much of the completed research on
empowerment effects of microfinance comes from Bangladesh,
where the campaign to use microfinance as a vehicle for
women's empowerment has been most aggressively pursued.
However, policymakers must be careful not to generalize find-
ings from Bangladesh to other sociocultural settings.
The most widely cited series of studies on gender-differen-
tiated impacts of microfinance, and one that takes special care to
control for selection bias, was recently completed by the World
Bank based on data collected during 1991-92 from 87 villages in
Bangladesh. The study found that welfare impacts on the house-
hold were significantly better when borrowers were women. For
every Bangladeshi taka lent to women, the increase in household
consumption was 0.18 taka, compared to 0.11 taka when bor-
rowers were men. Only when women borrowed was there a large
and important effect on the nutritional status of both sons and
daughters. Assets other than land also increased substantially
when women borrowed-but not when men borrowed.
Similarly, it was only when women borrowed that education of
girls (rather than just boys) increased. Men, on the other hand,
tended to take more leisure as a result of borrowing.
Other studies have more directly attempted to assess
impact on empowerment. One widely cited study that made
special efforts to construct measures of empowerment incorpo-
rating client perspectives is based on a 1996 survey of 1,300
married Bangladeshi women members of the leading microfi-
nance institutions, Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh Rural
Advancement Committee (BRAC). The study found that mar-
ried women participating in these credit programs scored high-
er than nonparticipating women on a number of empowerment
indicators such as involvement in major family decisionmak-
ing, participation in public action, physical mobility, political
and legal awareness, and the ability to make small and large
purchases. An IFPRI study in Bangladesh similarly indicated
significant positive impacts on physical mobility of women and
increased social interactions in the community.
However, empirical studies point out that positive gender
effects cannot always be taken for granted. Many women, lack-
ing skills and confidence, lean on their husbands to make use
of their loans. A 1995 study in Bangladesh indicated that while
94 percent of Grameen Bank's borrowers are female, only 37
percent of them are able to exercise control over loan use.
Another survey in Bangladesh in 1998 indicated that only 3
percent of the 150 women borrowers surveyed used the money
on their own. The others gave it to their husbands or other male
relatives. In fact, some conclude that women's lack of empow-
erment is what makes it easier for program managers to enforce
loan conditions, therefore making women preferred borrowers.
Microfinance institutions tend to downplay this plausible but
not yet widely accepted conclusion.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
This short review calls for a positive but cautionary assessment.
Microfinance programs targeting women obviously have a
strong potential to empower women whose daily lives are con-
strained by a pitiful lack of command over household and socie-
tal resources. Targeting does not mean simply requiring women
to sign off on loan papers, since there is no automatic guarantee
that this will allow women to retain control over the use of the
loan. For the empowerment effect to be significant and lasting,
financial products and institutional packages need to be tailored
to the specific local preference and skill-base of women.
Hard-nosed market research is required to identify microen-
terprises in which women have a strong niche and stand to gain
good financial returns. This will considerably reduce incentives
for powerful male relatives to commandeer the newly available
resource to their own benefit. Saving services should provide
women the freedom to manage cash flow productively and safe-
ly. Women's property rights on the newly financed assets should
be clearly established and enforced. The Gramecn Bank in
Bangladesh, for example, requires homes financed through their
loans to be legally registered in the borrower's name.
Finally, the institutions used to draw women into microfi-
nance programs have to respond to pre-existing social and cul-
tural constraints. In Bangladesh, women's credit groups have
been particularly successful in strengthening social capital and
providing traditionally secluded women a non-intimidating and
socially acceptable platform from which to learn and conduct
business outside the house. They have also provided a critical
launching pad for women to increase and exchange knowledge
and assert themselves as visible and important partners in the
community. Success in other sociocultural settings will require
making equivalent adaptations. Innovations must also focus on
reducing costs of service delivery to maintain the popular sup-
port that microfinance has so far received.
Ultimately, women's empowerment requires fundamental
changes in society that call for more direct policy instruments.
New policies should renegotiate property rights, replace rules
sustaining gender inequality, and improve access to and quality
of education. Fundamental change of this scale can hardly be
worked out easily or quickly, especially in countries where gen-
der bias has been a norm for centuries. Over the short run,
microfinance programs provide a handy, potentially cost-effec-
tive, and politically feasible tool for moving toward gender
equality. Group-based activities by women have served as
important catalysts of change in Asia and Africa. The scale of
change they ultimately catalyze will depend, however, on how
seriously other social reforms bearing on women's empower-
ment are pursued. E
For further reading see Naila Kabeer, 'Money can't buy me love'?
Re-evaluating gender, credit and empowerment in rural Bangladesh,
Institute of Development Studies Discussion Paper 363 (Sussex,
U.K.: IDS, 1998); and S. Hashemi, S. Schuler, and A. Riley, "Rural
credit programs and women's empowerment in Bangladesh," World
Development 24 (1996): 635-653.
Manohar Sharma (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow in IFPRI's Food Consumption and Nutrition Division.
Impoverishment is characterized by social differences-gen-
der, generational, and ethnic, among others-that structure
people's access to economic and social asseLs. Gender inequal-
ities are embedded within households and among kin, in the
labor market and informal economic relations, and across com-
munity and wider networks. Recent investments to strengthen
women's position within these social units and empower
women as decisionmakers have reduced inequality and
improved wellbeing. They are addressing women's needs for
education, health care and nutrition training, credit, and
employment. Even with increasing returns to these invest-
ments, some women require "safety nets"'-private and public
forms of social insurance-in response to shocks including
drought, sudden illness or death of a family wage earner, job
loss, political conflict, or dramatic currency devaluation.
Buffers are also needed to reduce vulnerability during persist-
ent crises in agricultural production, declines in landholding,
pervasive or seasonal unemployment, or old age. Women find
it harder than men to weather these changes since they have
less access to employment in alternative labor markets or to
credit and support networks outside the family and community.
Where formal employment and private safety nets such as
pension funds and disability and life insurance are scarce, poor
people rely on monetary or in-kind support from relatives or
other informal social networks. Family members or neighbors
may provide food or labor to households with an ill breadwin-
ner, or migrant workers may support elderly parents or widowed
mothers. Private safety nets are particularly important for
women, who bear a greater burden of economic shocks or have
limited access to assistance from employers, trade unions, or the
state. Ruptures in once-established patterns of family and com-
munity solidarity, created or exacerbated by mobility, migration,
and destitution, have reduced women's access to private sources
of security. Urban women who are employed informally and
lack social insurance often have fewer and more fragile social
ties than rural women, and thus face special difficulties.
SAFETY NET PROGRAMS
Safety net programs help individuals, families, and communi-
ties respond to shocks, and assist people suffering from chron-
ic incapacities to secure livelihoods. Supported by govern-
ments, donor agencies, and nongovernmental and community-
based organizations, these programs provide either short-term
relief and crisis mitigation or ongoing assistance to achieve a
redistributive goal. Programs can be broadly categorized as
cash transfers, in-kind transfers, commodity subsidies, and
credit-based livelihood schemes. Cash transfer programs
include pension schemes, child maintenance grants, family
allowances, disability grants, and public works programs. In-
kind transfers include school feeding programs, community
kitchens, and food-for-work programs, while subsidies reduce
the price of commodities disproportionately consumed by or
only available to the poor. Microcredit provides cash for con-
sumption or investment.
Most safety net programs are designed to support poor
families; some take account of intrahousehold differences. The
latter is important because strong evidence shows that enhanc-
ing women's control of resources directly contributes to
improvements in household and child welfare. This finding led
to the design of transfer programs that directly or indirectly tar-
get women. Mexico (Box 1), South Africa (Box 2), and India
(Box 3) provide examples of safety net programs with design
features to put more resources under women's control.
Safety net programs use several mechanisms to target the
poor and screen out those who are better off. Targeting has
important efficiency and equity advantages by directing
resources toward the poorest households, often headed by
Mexico's Programa de Educacion, Salud y Alimentacion
(PROGRESA) reaches over 2.6 million rural households
and links cash benefits and nutritional supplements to
mandatory participation in health and education pro-
grams. Several design features directly target women:
mothers are designated as the official beneficiary and
receive the cash transfers. The entire family-but prima-
rily pregnant and lactating mothers and children under
five years--is required to follow a schedule of clinic visits,
and women attend monthly health education lectures.
Children must achieve an 80 percent rate of school atten-
dance, with program financial incentives slightly higher
for girls' attendance. PROGRESA demonstrates a posi-
tive impact on child and adult health, and has increased
household food expenditure. It also has a small but signif-
icant impact on intrahousehold decisionmaking, increas-
ing women's control over their additional income. While
concerns are sometimes raised that public safety net pro-
grams could reduce pre-existing private transfers among
families, research on PROGRESA shows that participa-
tion results in no change in the levels of private transfers.
IF EPR IFPRI, a Future Hian'est center is part of a global agricultural research network, ithe Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIARI.
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
MICHELLE ADATO AND SHELLEY FELDMAN
Focus 6 Poucy Bruff 11 OF 12 AUic rsr 2001
above the poverty line can mean that women within these
Households have inadequate access to income and food. These
risks point to the importance of careful attention to gender dif-
ference in designing safety net programs.
South Africa has a non-contributory, means-tested pen- These programs, if designed well, contribute to long-term
sion system for the elderly. Because poorer elderly people development processes. One approach is to design transfer pro-
often live in large, three-generation households and pen- grams with incentives to invest in health and education.
sion income is shared, the funds reach more people than Another approach offers income generation programs with
the elderly alone: in 1995 nearly one-third of the poorest work requirements: labor-intensive public works that build pro-
SSouth Africans lived in households receiving pensions,. ductive infrastructure (such as roads, markets, and irrigation)
g The pension scheme performs well in targeting the poor
.The pension scheme performs well in targeting the poor and provide skills to increase access to the labor market, and
and reaching remote rural areas. It also favors women
since they draw pensions at an earlier age, and live longer credit-based self-employment programs. However, work
than men. Elderly people say that pensions contribute to requirements can unintentionally increase women's time bur-
household security: they are reliable, help cope with sea- den or exclude women where family status and patriarchal
sonality pressures, and facilitate investment in productive norms limit their participation in public activities or certain
activities. Pensions received by women have been shown jobs. In Bangladesh and South Africa, women initially faced
to improve the health and nutrition of children, especial- | barriers to working on road-building and construction projects,
ly girls, though pensions received by men do not show the but their persistence eventually led to increased participation.
same results. The explosion of women engaged in informal work also has
Sposed the need for innovative forms of social insurance. In
India over 90 percent of women workers are in the informal
sector, and the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
developed a members' insurance scheme offering hospitaliza-
tion, maternity, and life and asset insurance components. It is
financed through contributions from members, government,
and interest on a donor grant.
One of India's best-known public works programs is the Other program obligations provide additional benefits for
Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (MEGS). women. Attending meetings and organizing collectively
In the 1980s MEGS created an average of 160 million per- enables women to increase their social networks, and to gain
son-days of work per year for men and women and is skills to access new resources and improve their position in the
unusual in its offer of guaranteed year round employment labor market. Some require going to health and nutrition lec-
opportunities. It builds roads, irrigation infrastructure, tures that increase women's knowledge base and improve a
and wells and promotes soil conservation and afforesta- family's health. Programs that require keeping girls in school
ion. MEGS has produced significant income gains at a have short- and long-term consequences for women's and fam-
low cost and reduced vulnerability associated with the ily welfare. Evidence from Egypt and Mozambique reveals that
seasonality of agricultural work. Concentrating large
Numbers of workers in one place under similar conditions increases in the educational level of mothers lead to overall
numbers of workers in ovt place under similar conditions
S has contributed to breaking down social differences reductions in poverty.
among castes, and the participation of large numbers of Greater sensitivity to the gendered effects of poverty and
women workers has increased their confidence and eco- the needs of both women and men can reduce gender differ-
Snomic power. MEGS facilitates the participation of ences in access to and control over resources, and ultimately
women by locating within five kilometers of a village and iij: increase the welfare of women and children. If designed with a
by requiring the provision of day-care. In rural I view toward improving women's education, skills and health,
Maharashtra it is known as a "women's program" and in safety net programs can combine short-term poverty reduction
Sthe 1980s estimates of the proportion of women in MEGS o with the longer-term development of women's capabilities. U
varied from approximately 51 to 64 percent A study of
two villages shows that women were less likely to partici- For further reading see Michcl Adato et al.'The Impact of PRO-
Spate than men, hut among women the program was effec- GRESA on Women's Status and Intrahousehold Relations" (IFPRI,
(ively targeted to young, less-educated household heads. 2000); L. Ardinglon and F. Lund, "Pensions and Development:
... Social Security as Complementary to Programmes of
Reconstruction and Development," Development Southern Africa 12
(No. 4, 1995); S. M. Dev, "India's (Maharashtra) Employment
Guarantee Scheme: Lessons from Long Experience," in J. von
women. However, targeting households can underestimate the Braun, ed., Employment for Poverty Reduction and Food Security
importance of intrahousehold inequality. For example, (IFPRI, 1995); and K. Suhbarao, el al., Safety Net Programs and
resources given to a household may fall under the control of Poverty Reduction: Lessons from Cross-Country Erperience (World
male family members, and excluding households that fall just Bank, 1997).
Michelle Adato (email@example.com) i.s a research fellow in the Food Consumption and Nutrition Division at IF'RI, (mid ShelleyFeldman (rfl2@cor-
nell.edu) is an associate professor of rural sociology at Cornell University, USA.
EMPOWERING WOMEN TO ACHIEVE
LAWAND LEGAL REFORM
Fcx:us 6 PoiucY BRlEF 12 OF 12 AuGust 2001
As long as women do not have the same
rights in law as men, as long as the birth of a
girl does not receive the same welcome as that
of a boy, so long we should know that India is
suffering from partial paralysis. Suppression
of women is inconsistent with principles of
Mahatma Gandhi, Harijan, August 18, 1940
T he legal system is an important tool for social change and
reform. It is capable of establishing an equitable and trans-
parent framework for the functioning of a civilized society and
for protecting the rights of vulnerable groups including women.
Many constitutions of the world recognize equality before the
law and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Statutory
laws aim to reform discriminatory customary practices, and an
active judiciary can further protect women's social, economic,
and political rights. India and Ethiopia provide two examples
where the legal framework has sought to protect the interests of
women. In both countries, the constitutions prohibit discrimi-
nation on the basis of sex, although they uphold the application
of customary laws to personal matters. Women have obtained
equal access to property and are able to participate freely in
economic activities. These laws also give women inheritance
rights equal to those of men and in Ethiopia even give women
equal rights to matrimonial or common household property.
Such a potentially powerful instrument of change still only
weakly protects the rights of the most vulnerable groups. Equal
protection laws have not yet benefited the majority of women
who remain unaware of their rights or unable to seek protection
of the law. Working mostly in the unregulated informal labor
markets, these poor women experience the law as harassment,
not assistance. This brief asks why legal systems in these two
countries are unable to protect poor women, identities reasons
why previous legal reforms may not have worked, and high-
lights some principles that may be useful for undertaking future
LAWS PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF THE POWERFUL
In many countries, laws protect the interests of the state. In
India, laws inherited from the British period created a system
of centralized control and sanctions to protect the state's access
to rich forests and communal lands, limiting the rights of those
who had for centuries lived near them. The colonial forest laws
effectively destroyed communal systems of forest management
that gave no one entity or individual proprietary rights over
these resources, but expected both men and women to share
and protect them through community-approved rules. Modern
laws continue to vest ownership in the state and issue licenses
for commercial use without enforcing accountability to protect
the resources effectively.
The system of land ownership imposed by the colonial
regime and continued by postcolonial East African rulers pro-
vides another example. Prior to the introduction of English land
law, women often had customary rights to parcels of land for
cultivation. Any produce or revenue generated through their
labor belonged to them. However, the colonial regime intro-
duced individual titling to facilitate the free transfer of land.
Following the patriarchal practices of nineteenth century
English law that colonial powers imported into East Africa,
communal land holdings legally became the property of male
household heads while customary rules remained unchanged.
Women continued to work the land as part of the family labor,
but no longer controlled its products. Legal reform had reduced
the legitimacy of women's control over economic resources.
In both Ethiopia and India, women work mostly in the infor-
mal labor markets and in agriculture. These women bear great
economic risks and shocks, and yet, with few exceptions, have
no protection from the state or the legal framework. Where they
work for wages, they have no work security, little or no access to
social security or assistance, and no access to care services. Their
contact with the law is frequently negative. They are harassed by
officials for bribes when hawking petty goods without licenses or
collecting raw products from protected forests.
LAWS ARE BASED ON DIFFERENT VALUES
Laws are often more difficult and costly to implement when
based on values alien to those they are supposed to help. In
India, the reform of personal laws for the Hindu majority
imposed values different from those based on principles of
dharma or obligations. New laws adopted an individual-rights
approach and assumed a community of nuclear families. In
Ethiopia, imposing a rights-based Judeo-Christian value sys-
tem on people applying different customary rules to govern
personal relationships and property meant that the more egali-
tarian principles of the new Civil Code never took root.
Egalitarian laws and norms work best when both men and
women have economic opportunities. When poor, uneducated,
and often illiterate women have little chance of attaining eco-
nomic independence, they cannot take advantage of egalitarian
laws to assert their individual rights. Exiting out of inequitable
IFPRI ,IFPRI, a oFuture Harvet center is part of a global agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
contexts has high social and economic costs. They may instead
choose options offering less individual freedom but lower
social costs, lessening the impact of egalitarian legislation.
Despite good intentions, legal reforms may have unintend-
ed effects on women's property rights. The dowry system in
India, for example, shifted from a familial obligation to provide
a share of family property to daughters at marriage to a de facto
right of the bridegroom's family to demand compensation. In
response, the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), while not banning
dowries, prohibited gifts given or taken in consideration for
marriage. Unfortunately, it also reduced the willingness of fam-
ilies to provide property to their daughters at marriage, while
maintaining preferential rights of male members of joint fami-
lies over inherited properties. In the end, daughters' claims to
family property were weakened.
LEGAL REFORM NEEDS TO BE HOLISTIC
For effective legal reform, both substantive and procedural issues
must be addressed; piecemeal legal reform is ineffective.
Emperor Haile Selassie changed the substance of the law when he
abolished Ethiopian customary laws with one sweep of his royal
pen. The 1960 Civil Code gave women more rights than their
contemporaries in the United States or United Kingdom.
However, the civil code maintained the age-old tradition of dis-
pute settlement by personal arbitrators, normally older men with-
in the family or community selected by the disputants. The arbi-
trators, unfamiliar with or unsympathetic to the new laws, contin-
ued to apply old customary laws. The de jure system had nothing
to do with the de facto reality that existed for the next 30 years.
Legal institutions are also important. Women had been
familiar with and comfortable in their community-based legal
institutions. Judges were community members and personally
accountable for ensuring the peace. New legal systems trans-
ferred dispute settlement authority to institutions outside the
immediate community. Judges were impersonal officers of the
court and their concern was not the peace of the community but
upholding of laws prescribed by the state. With increasing
importance given to inflexible written laws and judicial prece-
dents, the illiterate and the poor became more disempowered.
Court and advocate fees and complex procedural rules ensured
that the process of seeking justice became expensive and diffi-
cult for the poor, let alone for women.
SOME POTENTIALLY PROMISING REFORMS
Gender-based legal reform that is sensitive to tradition is neces-
sary. Values are not static, but successful legal reform must build
on positive traditional values rather than impose different values.
New and creative solutions must be found. The Ethiopian
constitution found a striking way of addressing the conflict
between conservative customary laws and the progressive egali-
tarian provisions of the Civil Code. First, after prolonged debate,
the constitution revoked the abolition of personal laws (custom-
ary and religious). It then allowed the disputant to participate in
the determination of the laws applicable to the personal dispute.
If any party to a dispute does not wish to apply personal laws, she
or he may opt for the application of the Civil Code provisions.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that this has had unanticipated
results. Personal-law arbitrators and courts are rethinking the
application of outdated customary law provisions out of fear that
women disputants may prefer to transfer the decision to the civil
courts, thereby weakening the customary bodies.
Experience in other countries also suggests that strong
gender-aware local institutions make a difference. Affirmative
action programs are increasing the participation of women in
political and social activities. In India and Uganda, for exam-
ple, an affirmative action program requires 33 percent of seats
in the local government councils be reserved for women. In
India a percentage of these seats is reserved for lower-caste
women, recognizing that women are not a homogeneous group.
Observers report that in both countries women are gradual-
ly gaining greater social recognition and increasing their
involvement in development decisionmaking. A seat at the
table is helping to catalyze the process of social change at the
village levels. Examples from Uganda illustrate that women's
increased access to the newer institutions have resulted in
speedier and less costly legal decisions. But the process remains
constrained by issues of governance, an inadequate number of
gender-aware judges, and general lack of training of counselors.
Uganda has therefore initiated a gender-sensitive capacity-
building program for both men and women councilors.
If one message comes out of these promising reforms, it is
the importance of participation of both women and men in legal
reform. Legal reform has always been top-down, starting with
the assumption that the state knows best. The state should real-
ize that those who are to be governed know best about what
works and what does not. Legal reform needs to move away
from a focus on norms to a focus on ensuring a transparent
process to establish the norms-a process involving the
informed participation of both women and men. Although there
are attendant risks to such a process-based approach, the pres-
ent norm-based legal system has failed to protect the majority.
It is time to test another method, and the new approaches in
Ethiopia and India are examples of the first stumbling steps in
the right direction. U
For further reading see Gita Gopal and Maryam
Salim, eds., Gender and Law: Eastern Africa Speaks
(Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1998); and Women's
Affairs Office, Government of Ethiopia, and the World
Bank, Implementing the Ethiopian National Policy for
Women: Institutional and Regulatory Constraints
(Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1998).
Gita Gopal (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior evaduations officer in the Operations Evaluation Department at the World Bank. The views
presented in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect those of the World Bank.
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