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Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Women's work in rural Bangladesh
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081703/00001
 Material Information
Title: Women's work in rural Bangladesh
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Wallace, Ben J.
Ashan, Rosie M.
Hussain, Shahnaz H.
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
 Subjects
Subject: Farming   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Asia -- Bangladesh
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Bibliographic ID: UF00081703
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front cover
    Main
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Reference
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
    Tables
        Page 19
        Page 20
Full Text













.7at. the Utniversi yorf adaJ -
Conference on
GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION















WOMEN'S WORK IN RURAL BANGLADESH1


Ben J. Wallace
Southern Methodist University
Rosie M. Ahsan
Dhaka University
Shahnaz H. Hussain
Dhaka University





From the time of my childhood, I can

remember performing efficiently all household

duties. As my husband is unable to take proper

care of the family, the responsibilities of

working hard have fallen on my shoulders. I am

growing potatoes and seasonal vegetables and I

grow seasonal fruits in the yard. Some of the

family expenses are met out of the sale of the

fruits. I also earn money by repairing people's

torn clothes, by making hand fans and brooms,

and by helping people with handicrafts. I also

have some ducks, cows, and goats.



Hamela Begum

May, 1985









These words by a village woman are reflective of the views

and activities of the women living and working in rural Bangladesh. In

this predominantly rural Islamic nation, eighty-seven percent of the

people live in the countryside. Women constitute approximately

forty-eight percent of the total population, ninety-two percent of whom

live in country villages. Our primary aim here is to demonstrate that

these rural women, married and divorced, old and young, rich and poor,

are just as much an integral part of the rural economy as are men. Rural

Bangladeshi women are not just housewives who look after a few cows, tend

to the goats, feed the chickens, and organize many of the post harvest

activities --they are major contributors to the economy of the

countryside. Regrettably, however, Bangladeshi women share with women in

many other countries the trait of economic invisibility (cf.

Safilios-Rothchild 1985, Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974, Islam 1985).

In Bangladesh, as in other markedly gender stratified societies, the

economic activities of women are hidden, go unnoticed, are disregarded,

or are invisible primarily because the society perceives of their

economic activities as wifely duty rather than as work. Consider, for

example, the threshing of rice, an activity which is primarily the

responsibility of women (Harder 1975). This is a time consuming

activity, whether by bullock, barrel, or feet, and although a part of a

woman's household responsibility, it is also economic behavior.

Bangladeshi women have developed considerable expertise in all phases of

post harvest rice processing. Women assume primary responsibility for

parboiling paddy, know the proper way to dry the grain, and can husk for

maximum recovery of the grain. When a man plows a field, it is a part of

his household activity, but it is also economic behavior. If a woman

devotes some of her time to feeding chickens and her husband later takes










a chicken to the market and sells it, they have cooperated to create a

economically productive situation. The chicken feeder and the chicken

seller are equally important in preparing the animal to be sold. Both

men and women in rural Bangladesh work in a farming economy, and farming

is a cooperative economic activity, usually between a man and wife (see

Ahmed 1981, Alamgir 1977, Cain et al. 1979, Harder 1978, S. Islam 1977, M

Islam 1975, Lindenbaum 1981, Sobhan 1978, and Westergaarde 1983 on status

and role and Abdullah 1980, Begum 1978, Chen 1983, Chowdhury and Afroz

1977, Germain 1977, Halim and Hossain 1981, M. Islam 1975, R. Islam 1981,

Khan 1977, Papanek 1973 and Laumark 1982 on economic behavior).

In this paper, we examine the time rural women in the Bangladeshi

villages of Choto Kalampur and Jalsha Borohissa spend working2. we

describe these women's work relative to their interaction with the other

constituents in the farming system (TAC 1978, IADS 1980, Norman, Gilbert

and Winch 1979, DeWalt 1985, Jones and Wallace 1986). Our perspective is

one that holds that despite the sophistication and impact of farming

systems research, as a model, it is significantly weakened because of its

male orientation. The whole-farm is not "his farm" and a farming system

is not "his system". The whole-farm is composed of a natural and

cultural environment, the latter expressed daily in the behavior of both

men and women.



THE JOBS THAT WOMEN DO

Rural Bangladeshi women (and men) work long hours. Often, this work

is physically demanding, e.g., carrying loads, getting water from the

nearby well, harrowing the fields, and husking paddy. Some of women's

work is what Farouk and Ali (1977) call monotonous (e.g., taking care of

children), mentally troublesome (e.g., searching for firewood or other










forms of fuel during the rainy season), and dirty (e.g., cleaning the cow

shed). These activities,however, are only an indication of the scope and

types of work women actually perform.

For purposes here, the activities of women are divided into five

major categories: 1) Domestic/Personal Work, 2) Household Work, 3

Agricultural Work, 4) Non-Agricultural Work, and 5) Socio-Cultural/

Personal Work. Within each of these categories, women make either

"Direct Economic" or "Indirect Economic" contributions, measured in time,

to the household. A Direct Economic contribution is made when a woman

actually brings to the household either money or goods which she has

received for services performed or goods produced and sold. An Indirect

Economic contribution is made when she performs a work activity that she

or her husband theoretically would have to pay (in cash or kind) another

person to complete,i.e. time working at home is an indirect economic

activity because it is a saved expenditure. Women, of course, also

perform many activities that are "Non-Economic," e.g., they do not

receive either direct or indirect compensation in cash or kind for

bathing, visiting a friend, etc.

Domestic/Personal Activity

The Domestic/Personal Activities of women, generally quasi-economic

or non-economic, are: making the cooking fire; lighting the room:

carrying tobacco to husband in the field; bringing betel leaf to husband;

carrying things into the house; carrying goods for husband when they go

to market; serving rice to field laborers; preparing betel nut for

drying; painting containers; killing ants round the house; folding

clothes; maintaining lantern; drying mosquito nets; making beds; feeding

her family; killing bedbugs; making bread and cutting fish, meat and

vegetables; cooking; washing pots and pans and dishes; washing clothes;









and guarding the house.

Some of the personal (e.g., things she does for herself) and

non-economic activities of women are: making her own bed; eating;

chewing betel leaf; preparing food for herself; washing face and hands;

bathing; oiling face and hands; resting; dressing hair; visiting friends;

picking lice from hair; visiting friends and neighbors; and going to the

doctor.

Household Activity

Women contribute to the direct economy of the household by: working

in other households for cash or goods; bringing work into their own home

where they are compensated for their labor in cash or kind; caring for

other people's livestock; or working in other people's kitchen gardens.

Women contribute to the indirect economy of the household by: digging

soil for the house; maintaining dry firewood; cleaning ashes from the

oven; gathering firewood; leveling earth around the house; drying cow

dung; picking up cow dung; getting cow dung from the fields; house

maintenance (e.g., making jute door); digging out old mud floors; making

rope; carrying bricks from the road to the house; setting up paddy

thresher; repairing household fences; planting grass around the house;

laying bricks around courtyard; sweeping and cleaning house and

courtyard; helping husband construct house or shed; preparing wheat grass

roof; closing rat holes around the house; carrying grass from the fields;

and cutting banana plant to construct raft.

Some of the indirect economic activities of women in the arena of

livestock are: cleaning the cow shed; taking the cow out of the shed;

keeping straw around for the cows; fetching water for the cows; cutting

grass in the fields for the animals; caring for and feeding the goats;

taking the animals to the fields for grazing; fencing the cow shed;





-6-


milking goats and cows; preparing chicken and duck food; feeding the

chicken and ducks; washing the cows; taking ducks to the pond; making

chicken house; collecting snails for the ducks; and making rope to tie

goats and cows.

Women make indirect economic contributions to the household in their

kitchen gardens by: fencing the garden with cut bamboo; hoeing the

garden; planting the garden; putting stakes in the garden for climbing

plants; weeding; cultivating; watering the plants; and harvesting the

edible cultigens.

Agricultural Activity

In Agricultural Activity women make a direct contribution to the

economy of the household when they work for another household performing

such field activities as harrowing or planting. For this work, they are

paid in cash or in goods. This type of direct economic contribution is

made by women during the pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest periods.

Pre-harvest indirect economic contributions made by women are: sowing

seed; spreading cow dung; weeding; harrowing the field; picking seedlings

from seed beds; preparing seed beds; furrowing rows in the field;

carrying seeds to the fields; and irrigating the field with a bucket and

pond water.

Women make indirect economic contributions to the household during

harvest by helping in the harvesting of the crops and helping to carry

the harvest to the house.

Indirect post-harvest field activities are actually done by women

around the house. Some of these activities are: drying, stirring,

cleaning, threshing, parboiling, winnowing, and storing paddy; cleaning

and preparing wheat, mustard, and pulses for storing; cleaning and

storing potatoes; preparing spices for storage; and drying and extracting









fiber and seeds from jute.

Non-Agricultural Activity

In Non-Agricultural Activities, women make a direct economic

contribution to their families by: sewing cloth, quilts, etc. for other

people; making and selling toys; embroidering quilts for other

households; and making and selling straw mats and fans.

Women's indirect economic activities derived from cottage industry

but for use in the home are: making mats, fans, toys, and baskets; sewing

cloths and quilting; mending fishnets; and making brooms and other

household implements.

In the business and service arena, women make direct economic

contributions to their family when they work as servants in other

households or work as day laborers breaking bricks and digging and moving

dirt along the roads and highways.

Women's indirect economic activities in business and service

primarily involved preparing foodstuffs which are sold in the bazar e.g.,

vegetables, fruits, and milk.

Socio-Cultural/Personal Activity

The number of direct and indirect economic contributions that a woman

can make to the household in the area of social organization and cultural

beliefs is limited to her specialized skills. The specialized skills of

a few of the women in this study are: midwifery; practicing of folk

medicine; practicing folk veterinary medicine; and the bathing of the

dead. In most cases, women with these skills perform their complex and

varied activities for pay, and their economic contribution is direct. In

cases where they perform their skills on members of their own household

without compensation, their economic contributions are indirect.

Women, of course, do not work every minute of the day and often find









which are basically non-economic in nature. Some of the personal

activities which are reflective of their cultural beliefs are: praying;

reading the Holy Quran: listening to songs; enjoying and caring for a

grandchild; caring for children and husband when they are ill by pouring

water over them; gossiping with neighbors; giving food to the poor during

certain times of the year; bathing their mothers-in-law; helping friends

prepare for a wedding; and preparing food for the participation of the

family in religious events.



HOW MANY HOURS DOES A WOMAN WORK?

In the village of Choto Kalampur men work approximately 3487 hours a

year (Wallace 1984). In a study on work hours in six Bangladesh

communities, Farouk and Ali (1977) estimate that men work between 3138

and 3700 hours a year. In a community near Chittagong, Tahera (1978)

estimate that women devote 2048 hours a year to paddy work, livestock,

and kitchen gardening. Barkat-E-Khuda demonstrates that females work

fifty-two to sixty hours a week and men work thirty-seven to forty-six

hours a week (1980). Data from Kalampur and Jalsha suggest considerable

variability in the productive time of women. The key variables are

season of the year, size of the farm, and type of work. The average

amount of time devoted by women in Jalsha and Kalampur to

Domestic/Personal, Household, Socio-Cultural/ Personal, Agricultural, and

Non-Agricultural Activities, by farm size and season of the year, is

presented in Tables 1 and 2.

The most important classes of economic activity performed by women in

Kalampur and Jalsha are Household Work, Agricultural Work, and

Non-Agricultural Work. The category of Household Activity includes the

all important time demanding work associated with caring for livestock









all important time demanding work associated with caring for livestock

and poultry, working in the kitchen garden, and gathering and preparing

cooking fuel. This category also includes most of the chores necessary to

maintain the household. The category of Agricultural Activity includes

the work carried out by women during pre-harvest, harvest and

post-harvest periods. Finally, Non-Agricultural Activity includes all

the business, service, and craft work performed by women. The categories

of Domestic/Personal Work and Socio-Cultural/Personal Work are not

economically significant but they nonetheless consume a considerable

amount of a woman's time. This is especially the case with

Domestic/Personal Work because it includes the time women spend cooking

and generally caring for their families.

The number of hours a woman spends in direct economic activity is

affected by farm size class, the season of the year, and to a lesser

extent by village. In Jalsha Borohissa, for example, only women from

Landless Households spend much time in direct economic activity. Almost

all of this time is spent working for other people in pre-harvest,

harvest and post-harvest activity or performing various household chores

for other people. These women work in direct economic activity 96 hours

during the Jan-Apr season, 116 hours during the May-Aug season, and 248

hours during the Sept-Dec season. In total, Landless Household women in

Jalsha work approximately 461 hours a year or one hour and thirty minutes

a day in direct economic activity.

All women in Choto Kalampur, regardless of farm size class, work in

direct economic activity. Landless Household and Small Farm Household

women make economic contributions to their families by doing agricultural

work during the pre-harvest, harvest and post harvest seasons. Women

from Medium and Large Farm Households do not do agricultural work for






-10-


other people. Their agricultural work is done within the family farm and

is an indirect economic contribution. Their direct economic

contributions to the households come from work in non- agricultural

activities. Landless Household women work about 532 hours a year or one

hour and forty-five minutes a day in direct economic activity. Small

Farm Household women devote 250 hours a year or a little less than an

hour a day to direct economic work. Women from Medium Farm Households

work only 142 hours a year or less than thirty minutes a day in direct

economic activity. Finally, women from Large Farm Households work 304

hours a year or around three quarters of an hour a day in direct economic

activity.

The differences between Kalampur and Jalsha in the amount of time

spent by farm size class in direct economic activity can be attributed to

the availability of work opportunities in Kalampur. Temporary jobs in

agricultural work are readily available in both villages. The higher

status non-agricultural jobs and the opportunity to sell craft products

are more readily available in the market center of Kalampur. Women

simply have more opportunity to participate in direct economic activity

in Kalampur than they do in Jalsha.

When the amount of time women spend taking care of their personal

activities is subtracted from total indirect economic time, there is not

a great deal of variation in the amount of time spent by the various farm

size classes in indirect economic activity. Landless Household women in

Kalampur work 3743 hours a year or around ten and one-half hours a day

making indirect economic contributions to the family. Landless Household

women in Jalsha devote 3677 hours a year or ten hours a days to indirect

economic activity. Small Farm Household women in Kalampur devote 3662

hours a year and Small Farm Household women in Jalsha devote 3797 hours a





-11-


year to indirect economic work. Medium Farm Households in Kalampur and

Jalsha work 3630 hours a year and 3784 hours a year respectively in

indirect economic activity. The women from Large Farm Households in

Kalampur spend 3576 hours a year in indirect economic pursuits while the

Large Farm Household women in Jalsha work 3844 hours a year in indirect

economic activity.

If the direct and indirect economic time is added together and the

time devoted to personal activity is deleted from the total, then women

from Landless Households work more hours each year than any other farm

size class of women. In Kalampur these women work 4275 hours a year and

in Jalsha, the women work 4138 hours a year. This is not surprising

because the poorest of the rural women are married to the poorest of the

rural men and it takes both of them to earn even a subsistence living.

The women who devote the second highest number of hours to economic

activity are from Large Farm Households. In Kalampur these women work

3880 hours a year, and in Jalsha they work 3844 hours a year. The

assumption that the wives of large land owners do much less work than the

women from the smaller farms is not supported by the data in this study.

That women from Large Farm Households are able to hire servants and

helpers is true, but this does not imply that they do little work

themselves. These women may have the same type of responsibilities as

women from other types of household but they have much greater resources

to manage. They generally have more domestic animals and because the

household farms a larger amount of land, there is a greater amount of

agricultural work to be completed. Women from Medium Farm Households in

both Kalampur and Jalsha work almost as many hours a year as the women

from the large farms. In Kalampur they work 3772 hours a year and in

Jalsha they work 3784 hours a year. The data are inconsistent with






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regard to the number of hours women from Small Farm Households devote to

economic pursuits. The Small Farm Household women in Kalampur work

almost as many hours each year as the Landless Household women, 3912

hours. They, like the women from the Landless Households, are very poor

and have to make a major economic contribution to the household. The

women from the Small Farm Households in Jalsha, however, work 3797 hours

a year, 115 hours less than their Small Farm counterparts in Kalampur.

The answer to this inconsistency must await further analysis of the data.



CONCLUSIONS

Farming Systems Research is rapidly becoming the foundation on which

agricultural development policy is based in Bangladesh and many other

developing nations. It is imperative that when studying the "whole

farm", the work of women be given equal consideration to the work of men.

A farming system is a complex and interwoven network which consists of

numerous interrelated natural and socio-cultural factors. It is not just

the work that men do in the fields. A farm is more than its immediately

visible parts and a farmer is more than a man. In Bangladesh, a farmer

is a man but a farmer is also a woman. In some cases, a farmer may be a

child. Men, women, and children are all constituents in the complex and

interrelated natural and social environment called the farming system. A

failure to understand the significance of gender in Farming System

Research is to fail the Bangladeshi farmer.

Bangladeshi farming men and women may be poor, but they are hard

working and have demonstrated an ability to rebound from both natural and

political catastrophes. But, the future of the country's farmers is only

as good as the actions of the people responsible for planning, directing

and implementing programs in directed social and economic change.







-13-



Changing a people's culture and economy, however, is fraught with

difficulties, and the consequences of a change in economy or society

cannot always be predicted. Success is usually dependent upon a well

reasoned and goal oriented national strategy. To plan a strategy of

rural economic development without acknowledging women as a highly

visible economic resource is to doom the plan to failure. The rural

women of Bangladesh are not invisible to those who choose to .pen their

eyes and see the future.





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NOTES

1. The research on which this report is based is part of a long term

Farming Systems Research project being conducted in collaboration with

the office of the Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences program of

the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council. For generously giving his

time as well as logistical and intellectual support, we want to express

our sincere appreciation to Ekramul Ahsan, Member-Director and

Acting Chairman, BARC.

The research was supported by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research

Council and Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development

(formerly International Agricultural Development Service). We are

particularly grateful to the Winrock International staff in the U.S., the

BARC staff in Dhaka, and David Daugherty of Winrock International, Dhaka

and his staff, especially Brook Greene.

Many people have worked on this project and we owe a debt of

gratitude to each of them. M. Khalilur Rahman and Habibur Rahman served

as general field supervisors. A.T.M. Rezaul Ahsan, T.I.M. Tugril

Hossain, Sajadur Rahman, Monwar Hossain Akhand. Md. Abdus Salam, Momotaz

Begum, Nilufar Khan, Mahbuba Begum, Samsunnahar, Samsunnahar Begum,

Naznin Akhtar, Shahan Ara, and Bashirunnesa worked as field

investigators. Coding and tabulation was done by A.T.M. Rezaul Ahsan,

Shahida Shamim, Bilkis Akhtar, Malmuda Zohra, Razia Sultana, and Rokeya

Akhtar. The cartographic work was done by Khalilur Rahman and T.I.M.

Tugril Hossain. Robert V. Kemper served as consultant on data analysis,

Michael Harris served as consultant on statistics and Ann

Schuessler Wallace did most of the photographic work on the project.

Finally, our sincere appreciation goes to the women and men of Choto

Kalampur and Jalsha Borohissa for opening their homes to us, for without






-15-


their help and cooperation, this research could not have been completed.

2. In this study, thirty-four households were selected from each

village, representing a 10% sample for Choto Kalampur and a 16% sample

from Jalsha Borohissa. The households were selected on a random basis

from the farm class categories of Landless Households (owning no land but

farming on a sharecropping basis), Small Farm Households !owning and

farming between 0.01 and 2.49 acres of land), Medium Farm Households

(owning and farming 2.50 to 5.00 acres of land), and Large Farm

Households (owning and farming more than 5.00 acres of land). Kalampur

is a more urban oriented community than Jalsha.





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JALSBA BOROHISSA


Class Season Domest Hhold Agri Non-Agri :Social Total
_Tm Tin Tm Tm Tm Tm
Landless Jan-Apr 0 30.49 1.10 16.83 0 48.42
May-Aug 0 53.10 0 5.84 0 58.94
Sep-Dec 0 57.85 35.37 30.00 0 123.22
Small Jan-Apr 0 0 2.70 14.54 .14 17.38
May-Aug 0 0 2.24 5.81 0 8.04
Sep-Dec 0 0 4.82 7.59 0 12.41
Medium Jan-Apr 0 0 0 0 0 0
May-Aug 0 0 0 4.03 0 4.03
Sep-Dec 0 0 0 0 0 0
Large Jan-Apr 0 0 0 0 0 0
May-Aug 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sep-Dec 0 0 0 0 0 0
=I_
Landless Jan-Apr 90.61 361.44 120.93 8.48 94.24 657.7
May-Aug 112.39 370.12 99.25 9.96 73.10 664.81
Sep-Dec 142.94 262.59 88.08 14.68 92.29 600.58
Small Jan-Apr 77.70 351.40 192.60 5.36 91.21 718.27
May-Aug 56.16 435.22 151.93 8.74 60.12 712.17
Sep-Dec 150.12 297.25 145.85 28.88 87.68 709.78
Medium Jan-Apr 83.69 313.26 250.17 0 73.93 721.05
May-Aug 106.84 299.26 263.89 5.00 54.91 729.54
Sep-Dec 138.94 275.08 194.93 14.72 101.94 725.60
Large Jan-Apr 35.71 330.00 337.14 0 38.57 741.43
May-Aug 102.50 302.50 248.00 .0 85.50 738.50
Sep-Dec -119.06 246.88 203.75 65.63 96.25 731.56


Table 1


Female Activity: Minutes Spent Per Day














CHOTO KALAMPUR


Class Season Domest Hhold Agri Non-Agri :Social Total
Tm Tm Tm Tm Tm Tm
Landless Jan-Apr 0 53.72 8.26 28.72 0 90.70
May-Aug 0 49.86 12.89 5.70 0 68.45
Sep-Dec 0 9.29 42.48 48.36 4.62 104.74
Small Jan-Apr 0 36.35 2.88 10.72 0 49.95
May-Aug 0 16.35 5.08 18.70 0 40.12
Sep-Dec 0 2.52 13.84 18.56 0.03 34.95
Medium Jan-Apr 0 0 0.83 2.22 0 3.06
May-Aug 0 0 0 38.00 0 38.00
Sep-Dec 0 2.41 0.53 27.05 0 29.99
Large Jan-Apr 0 0 0 40.14 0 40.14
May-Aug 0 0 0 48.47 0 48.47
Sep-Dec 0 0 0 63.45 0 63.45

Landless Jan-Apr 115.47 325.60 80.49 6.98 101.23 629.77
May-Aug 68.01 400.54 87.24 15.99 80.27 652.04
Sep-Dec 121.90 291.02 109.20 13.46 82.39 617.97
Small Jan-Apr 115.37 287.66 129.75 9.71 127.71 670.20
May-Aug 76.77 312.91 141.76 15.26 133.52 680.21
Sep-Dec 110.39 289.83 160.52 27.66 96.83 685.22
Medium Jan-Apr 105.00 268.22 211.56 28.04 106.07 718.89
May-Aug .80.14 302.81 159.59 13.24 126.55 682.43
Sep-Dec 109.69 268.06 205.23 11.43 95.79 690.21
Large Jan-Apr 106.89 285.51 117.84 22.43 148.14 680.81
May-Aug 76.95 257.00 193.37 7.63 148.14 671.95
Sep-Dec 106.98 294.70 162.71 1.34 91.04 656.76


Table 2


Female Activity: Minutes Spent Per Day




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