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GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
CENI ~R DC t'-57- Di0 OBS0 DOSARROL.LC ECONO-ICC
I DC .N1VERS:DAD= DE LOS ANDES
c DE ..FACULTAD DE ECO-NOM*
BOGOTA D. E AP, O 7a13AER7EO 49* r; TELS. 43029* 1037"
WOMEN'S WORK IN RURAL COLOMBIA
Elssy Bonilla Castro Ph.D.
Eduardo Velez PH.D.
Paper prepared for the Conference GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING
SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION based on the final research
report La participaci6n femenina en la actividad productive
del sector rural colombiano.
Gainesville, Frebruary 26 March 1, 1986
The author owe special thanks to the following people and
institutions: to Martha Rodriguez, Research Assistant, and
German Gonzalez for their valuable help in the process of
analysis of the data;to Dra. Karen Mokate for editing the
manuscript; to Alicia de Tellez for typing the paper; to the
Ford Foundation for the financial support for the collection
of the data for the large survey "Educaci6n, migraci6n e
ingreso" in the Colombian rural areas and for the support
for the specific analysis of the women participation in the
labor force in the rural Colombian areas.
WOMEN'S WORK IN RURAL COLOMBIA
During the last twenty years, the Colombian population has
experimented very important transformations, giving rise to im-
pacts at the personal and family levels which are being documen-
ted by different studies (see for example Florez and Bonilla,
1985). These changes, which are closely linked to the female
population, included, among other aspects, a significant reduc-
tion of the fertility rate from seven children at the beginning
of the sixties to 3.5 at the end of the seventies, the incrment
of women participation in the labor force, and the increase of
the female population at all levels of the school system. The
magnitude of these and another changes, like the decrease of the
mortality rate, has been defined as a demographic transition
characterized, among other things, by its speediness in relation
to its time period.
In the rural sector these dynamics are also evident. Until
1968 rural fertility rate was 9.2, very close to the natural fer-
tility rate. In 1973, this number had descended to 6.7 and to.
5.1 in 1980 (Ochoa: 1982). Between 1969 and 1978 rural fertility
was reduced by nearly 4 children, while urban fertility rate was
reduced by 2.1 children. It has been estimated that in the forth-
coming years fertility reduction will be mostly concentrated in
the rural areas.
The incremented participation of rural woman in the labor
force has been higher than those corresponding to rural man and
to urban woman. According with the data presented by L6pez
and Campillo (1985), during the same period, rural men's parti-
cipation augmented from 80 in 1971 to 84.8 in 1980, while rural
women increased this number from 16.5 to 27.2 and the urban female
population from 28.6 to 34.4. For the same years, rural women
unemployment decreased from 26.0 to 9.8 which means that the rural
female increasing participation is being absorbed by the rural
This dynamic has been experienced in the context of a decline
of the agricultural share in the Colombia national product. This
sector, for example, diminished its participation in the GNP from
26.3% in 1970 to 22.7% in 1980 and its rates of growth fluctuated
in a very unstable manner from 1.8% in 1971 to 8.7 in 1972, 3.3%
in 1973, 6.2% in 1974, 5.9% in 1975, 2.1% in 1976, 2.5% in 1977,
8.9% in 1978, 3.9% in 1979, 2.5% in 1980 and 0.8% in 1982 (data
presented by Vivas, 1984).
After the seventies, rural woman's conditions have become
even more contradictory than in the previous decades. She has
experienced very important changes in the context of a weakening
rural economy. The main objective of this paper is to understand
the meaning of this contradiction for the rural female labor po-
pulation taking into account the socio-economic conditions of
the family and the female participation in the labor force.
Given the determining role played by the family to shape the so-
cial position of women, a careful analysis of the rural house-
holds will be initially presented. Since it is not possible to
understand woman's participation in the labor force without ta-
king into account her different responsibilities at home, the
second part of the paper will present a careful analysis of the
way in which productive and reproductive activities are combined
by males and comparatively, by females. Finally, some reflections
on the meaning of the main findings for the future of the female
labor force will be considered.
THE SCOPE OF THE DATA
The data on which this analysis is based was collected in
August 1983 as part of a national survey oriented to study the
relationship between Education, Income and Migration in the ru-
ral Colombian areas. The sample for that survey was drawn, ta-
king the counties ("municipios") as the analytical units; these
were differentiated and categorized into regions according to
two different parameters: the predominant agrarian productive
structure and the socio-economic levels. Each region is inte-
grated by a set of counties, which share a minimum homogenity
among themselves in relation to the two indicated parameters
and which are no necessarily located in the same geographical
Taking into account the agrarian productive structure, defined
in terms of the technology utilized and the levels of productivity,
three different regions were defined: the modern region, the tran
sitional region and the traditional region, which is the larger
region including 70% of all the counties. The socio-economic in-
dex for each county was determined considering variables such as
education, literacy, income and the presence of public services.
The unit of analysis for the survey was the household and a very
detailed information was collected at the family and the indivi-
dual levels. In total, 2.353 households were interviewed in the
18 counties included in the sample.
Before entering the analysis of the data some limitations
of the survey should be pointed out.
1/ A detailed description of the sample is presented by Sanz
de Santamarla et. al. (1985) and Bonilla y V4lez (1985).
- 4 -
1. Absentee landowners are not included in the sample
which means that it is biased to the smaller land owners, since
it is well-known that absentees are usually owners of large pro-
perties. In this sense, the sample covers the population living
in the rural areas. This fact does not affect this analysis in
a significant way, as the target population is rural women in
the rural labor force.
2. Given the objectives of the original study of the rela-
tionship between education, income and migration, the data of
the survey emphasize the household productive activities and the
participation of every member of the house in these activities.
Explicit information on the domestic labor or on the female spe-
cific social conditions due to gender was not considered in the
interview. Nevertheless, some questions of the interview provi-
ded information that allowed for an adequate analysis of the dif-
ferences in the use of the labor force by sex. This means that
although the emphasis is given to the productive dimension, which
obviously affects the best possible understanding of the situation
of rural women, some questions allowed a comparative analysis of
the households according to the sex of the head and also a compa-
rative analysis of the use of the labor force at the individual
level by sex. In this way an special effort was made to overcome
some of the limitations of the conventional measurement to detect
in a more correct way women's work, discussed in different stu-
dies such as Bonilla: 1985; Anker: 1980; Beneria: 1983; Rey de
Marulanda: 1981; Sen..anfdSen: 1984; Nieves: 1979; Wainerman and
- 5 -
CHARACTERIZATION OF THE RURAL FAMILY
Taking into account the conditions of the families included in
the sample, they can be characterized as follows :
.1. Family Organization
The size of the rural family is around 5.48 members. A
large number of the families .are nuclear (41.99%) and only
28.68% are extended families. Of all the interviewed house
holds 83.4% were headed by a man and 16.6% by a woman, fi-
gure that is very large for the rural sector. It was ob-
served that couples living together usually reported the
man as the head of the household. In fact, in all fami-
lies headed by a woman there was no male partner. In most
of the female headed households, the mother was living by
herself with her children, though in nearly one fourth of
them other family members were part of the family unit.
(See Table 1). This means that in more than 60% of the
households headed by a woman without a male partner there
are children and a significant number of them are under
seven years of age.
The households headed by a man are younger in terms of the
head's age (x= 47.4 years for men and 53.9 for women) as
well as in terms of the age of the other household members.
Also the family size is larger than for the women headed
households. Nevertheless the members dependency for support
in the female headed household is very high because of the
absence of the male partner, the smaller number of members
between 26 to 55 years old and the significant number of
members older than 96 years of age (see Table 2).
According to these data, the family labor resources acces-
sible in the female-headed households are more limited than
- 6 -
Family Organization by Sex of the Household Head
Type of Family Male heads Female heads Households
% % %
Unipersonal 2.90* 12.82* 4.55*
Head and other member 3.97 11.79 5.27
Head, wife and children 49.72 3.08 41.99
Head, wife, children and others 14.47 2.56 12.49
Head and children 2.19 42.05 8.80
Head, children and others 1.02 24.10 4.84
Head and wife 18.75 2.05 15.98
Head, wife and others 6.98 1.54 6.08
TOTAL 83.43** 16.57**
* Within each group.
** Between aroups..
those available in the male headed households.
2. Family Resources
Access to land is a very important indicator of the rural fa-
mily living conditions. Of the families living in the rural
areas (absent land owner were not included in the sample)
46.87% do not have access to land under any arrangement (see
Table 3). Land access is principally achieved through owner-
Family Members' Age by the Sex of the Household Head*
Age .House-head House-head Total
Less than 7 years old 1.206 0.846** 1.146
From 7 to 14 1.155 0.812** 1.099
From 15 to 25 1.208 1.087 1.188
From 26 to 35 0.599 0.489** 0.589
From 36 to 45 0.557 0.384** 0.528
From 46 to 55 0.430 0.310** 0.410
From 56 to 98 0.506 0.587** 0.519
* Average's family size : 5.48 members
** Significantly different to .001.
Land Tenancy by Sex of the Household Head
Non-Access 868 44.21 235 60.25 1103 46.87
In property 827 42.13 137 35.13 964 40.96
Rented 78 3.97 2 0.51 80 3.40
'Aparceria' 180 9.17 14 3.59 194 8.24
Other 10 0.51 2 0.51 12 0.51
TOTAL 1963 100.0 390 100.0 2353 100.0
- 8 -
ship. Tenant family agreements, "aparceria", which were very
important in the past, are only observed in less than ten per
cent of the households.
The size of the rural plots is very small, as can be observed
in Table 4. This observation is also valid in relation to the
size of the family-owned plots. As can be observed in Table
5, nearly 60 percent of the households do not own land. Among
the families with land, one fourth have less than 3 hectares
and only 6% own plots with more than 10 hectares. Without
taking into account the quality of land, but only size of
plots, nearly 25% of the plots owned by families do not allow
them to establish a profitable enterprise.
Women-headed households are even more negatively affected by
the very limited access to land. In fact, nearly sixty per-
cent do not have access to land in any form in comparison to
44.21% of the male headed households in the same situation.
Besides, while 64.87% of the female headed households do not
own land, the corresponding figure for male-headed households
is 57.87%. The size of the owned land is also much smaller,
since more of the household headed by a woman have less than
3 hectares. Furthermore, none of the female-headed households
own plots larger than 20 hectares.
The other aspect of family resources to indicate the condi-
tions of the rural women is the house setting itself. Most
of the households included in the sample owned the house in
which they were living. Nevertheless, the general condi -
tions of the house's endowments were very poor. In fact,
more than 70% of the houses had floors made of untreated dirt and
nearly fifty percent were incompleted constructions without bath-
rooms. Besides, access to basic public services such as water
Rural Plots Size
Less than 1
100 and more
Size of Family Owned Plots by Sex of Household Head
Hectares Male Household Female Household
Head Head TOTAL
Number % Number % %
None 1136 57.87 253 64.87 59.03
Less than 1 270 13.75 58 14.87 13.94
1 1.9 141 7.18 23 5.90 6.97
2 2.9 81 4.13 12 3.08 3.95
3 3.9 62 3.16 10 2.56 3.06
4 4.9 32 .1.63 6 1.54 1.61
5 9.9 116 5.91 13 3.33 5.48
10 19.9 68 3.46 9 2.31 3.27
20 49.9 34 1.73 6 1.54 1.70
50 99.9 16 0.82 0.68
100 and more 7 0.36 0.30
TOTAL 1963 83.43 390 16.57 100.0
- 9 -
- 10 -
(52.1%) and electrical supply (44.8%) is also limited.
Although no significant differences were found in the quality
of the houses between the male-headed households and the fe-
male-headed households, the precarious conditions of the
housing have a negative implication for the persons who are
responsible for the domestic duties which, as will be shown
in the following pages, are mostly the housewives.
THE CONSUMPTION OF LABOR BY SEX
In order to approach in the most adequate way the analysis
of the concrete conditions of rural woman after the very dyna-
mic previous decade, it is necessary to examine the patterns of
use of her labor. This is most important because, on the one
hand, it is assumed that the lowering of the fertility rates have
open unique opportunities for women to participate in the labor
force. On the other hand, women's increased participation in the
labor force itself is considered as a central aspect of the Co-
lombian demographic transition. Some of the considerations gui-
ding this part of the analysis are related to the following ques-
- How has the labor market absorbed incremental female participa-
tion in the labor force ?
- How are women redefining their household tasks in light of their
present participation as members of the labor force ?
Before approaching the answers for these questions, it is
necessary to recall that in the survey used for this analysis
emphasis was given to the productive sphere and that the informa-
tion related to the way in which women undertake domestic respon-
sibility is very limited. The concept of work used in that survey
- 11 -
is biased toward productive activities.
This approach implies some limits for the analysis of the
rural female population's use of its labor force. In fact, an
adequate conception of woman's social participation involves
defining her as a unit which integrates productive and reproduc-
tive responsibilities; that unit is overall socially determined
by her responsibility in the process of reproduction. This means
that woman's participation in the labor force cannot be adequate-
ly understood without taking into account her socially defined
primary responsibilities in the domestic context. Although a
wider discussion of the theoretical debate on this problem is
beyond the scope of this paper, it is necessary to define the
meaning of the productive and reproductive concepts that were
central to categorize woman's different labor activities.
Nevertheless, some parts of the applied questionnaire allowed
to collect some information to undertake this analysis in spite of
the indicated limitations. Given the fact that an open question
was applied to detect all the different activities of every one
of the members of the household, it was possible to record some
adequate data on the nature of the use of the labor force by
Besides, a set of closed questions allowed to detect :
the household members' participation in reproductive activities:
study and domestic labor
the combination of productive and reproductive activities
the time consumed in some of the activities
the income related to every kind of remunerative productive
1/ The open question formulated for every member of the family was the follow-
ing: What activities or work did such and such do or to what did he or she
dedicated his or her time ? Every person could refer to more than one ac-
tivity. A complete description of the categorization of the multiple answers
obtained is presented in Alejandro Sanz de Santamaria, et.al (1985).
- 12 -
The data will be presented for all the studied population
by sex, according to different labor activities undertaken for
the different persons included in the sample, taking into ac-
count the occupational structure, the main and secondary labor
activities, the productive and reproductive labor and the way
in which different labor activities are combined. The consump-
tion intensity of the labor time and the income size by sex will
also be considered.
1. Occupational Activities:
A conventional analysis of the data shows that the principal
occupation is concentrated in agricultural activities and domes-
tic labor and that there is a relatively low participation in ac-
tivities traditionally associated with the rural areas such as
the handicrafts. The presence of merchants, sellers and services
employees is also very low, as can be observed in Table 6.
Principal Activity, By Sex
Activity Men Women
Farmers 31.98 1.95
A. Owners (17.48) (0.75)
B. Hired workers (14.50) (1.20)
Craftsman 0.15 0.14
Merchants and sellers 1.12 0.53
Services 1.48 1.24
Houselabor 3.09 30.49
Students 14.35 13.25
- 13 -
A careful analysis of the answers to the open question in
relation to the different activities undertaken by the popula-
tion provides a more comprehensive idea of the use of the labor
force of the population under study. Taking both, productive
and reproductive, principal and secondary activities, it is pos-
sible to observe more clearly how the rural workers are combin-
ing different responsibilities.
2. Articulation of Different Activities :
A joint analysis of the activities reported as principal
and secondary for each member of the -family older than 7 years,
makes possible the identification of some very important dif-
ferences in the labor consumption by sex. In fact, more women
(32.82%) than men (27.40%) are combining their principal activity
with a secondary one. It is evident that those who do not com-
bine two labor activities could have a better delimitation of
their labor day and also less demanding labor efforts than those
who have to assume two different activities during the same
period of time.
Table 7 shows how the workers with a productive principal
activity combine it either with another productive activity and
with a reproductive one. In Table 8, the same analysis is pre-
sented for those whose main activity is linked with a reproduc-
tive responsibility. According to these data, the following
labor combining strategies may be pointed out :
a. Principal productive activity combined with second-
ary productive activity.- Only 13.27% of the 35.36%
of the male workers with a principal productive labor activity
combine it with another one; for those who do, the secondary ac-
tivity is almost always a productive one. Less than 0.5% of the
- 14 -
Combination of Principal Productive Activity with a Secundary
Principal Activity Secundary Activity Man Woman
Percentage within the sex groups
Working in his own plot.
- 15 -
Combination of Principal Reproductive Activity with a Secundary
Farmer 1.90 0.66
Live Stock 1.03 0.92
Agricultural Worker 0.91 0.30
Merchant 0.32 0.22
Services 0.01 0.22
17.44 7.67 6.69 43.74
* Percentage within the sex group
** Working in his own plot
- 16 -
female labor population in the sample combine their labor res-
ponsibilities in this way, which means that undertaking two pro-
ductive tasks as principal and secondary activities is a prerro-
gative of a male worker. In Table 7 it is also possible to ob-
serve that cattle raising activity is not very frequent among
the population under study and that it is mostly combined with
farming in the case of the male workers and with domestic labor
in the case of the female workers. The data also show that a
significant number of farmers need to combine the activity in
the plot with a salaried job, suggesting that for them the pro-
duction from their land is no sufficient to satisfy the family
needs. (This seems reasonable, given the small size of the owned
Nearly 15% of all the population studied are agricultural
workers depending only on their salary. With the exception of
1.24%, all of them are men which means that rural women are very
Conventional analyses of the labor force limit the data
collection and interpretation to the principal productive activi-
ty, which means that information on principal-secondary activi-
ties and productive-reproductive activities, presented in this
paper, is usually ignored. In the next sections, the dimension
and implications of this omission for an adequate understanding
of the way in which the labor force uses its labor will become
b.' Principal productive activity combined with a se-
condary reproductive activity.- Almost none of the
productive workers practice this kind of combination, which
means that the workers with .a principal productive activity
(mostly men), do not participate in domestic activities.
- 17 -
c. Principal reproductive activity combined with a
secondary productive activity.- The female popu-
lation in the sample which is combining the principal activity
of households tasks with secondary productive activity is very
high. It represent 25.42% of all the labor force in the sample.
Domestic labor is combined mostly with farming, livestock and
merchant activities. Men very seldom assume this kind of com-
Most students undertaking a secondary productive activity
are men, and as can be observed in Table 8, female students are
very seldom in this kind of arrangement.
While, as was shown in Table 7, men working only on their
own plots represented 7.24% of the male workers, among the
women 3.26% work in their own plots and combine this activity with
domestic labor. In the sample, then, there are more men than
women working their own land as farmers.
It is necessary to call again attention to two factos: first,
no special effort was taken in the data collection to capture
women's productive activities. Nevertheless, the open question
made possible the observation that one fourth of the members of
the sample were housewives with productive secondary activities.
Conventional surveys do not necessarily allow for the detec-
tion of this female population.which is frequently defined as
non active workers. Whatsmore, taking into account the rankings
given by the interviewed women to the activities they combine, it
was found that women put more priority on household duties than
on any other kind of responsibilities. Future research on the
subject should double check this ranking to better the quality
- 18 -
d. Principal reproductive activity combined with a
secondary reproductive activity. Less than one fourth
of women included in the sample indicated that they were only
assuming household responsibilities.
Most students do not combine this activity with any other res
ponsibility and when they do, male students participate in produc-
tive tasks and female students collaborate at home. This combina-
tion of activities among students would mean that in the daily du-
ties the sexual division of labor is reinforced from different
perspectives. The meaning of this organization by sex, of the
different activities undertaken by the members-.of the household
could be better understood considering the lenght of the labor
day by sex and the income level also by sex.
3. The Labor Day :
Some inferences about the lenght of the labor day by sex will
be presented in order to better understand the labor use among
the population under analysis. These reflections refer to the
productive activity, since in the survey there is no information
on the domestic labor day.
Specific data on the productive day, excluding the time of
reproductive activities, show how the studied women with produc-
tive responsibilities dedicate more time to these activities than
men in similar situations (see Table 9). This difference is sta-
tistically significant taking into account the number of months
worked during the year, the number of days per week and the num-
ber of hours labored by day.
- 19 -
Length of the productive Work
Day, by sex
1. Number of labored months per year
2 Number of labored days per week
Man 5.64 0.05
Women 6.19 0.05
3. Number of labored hours per day
Man 5.78 3.01
Women 6.56 4.02
Based on T statistics which detect
differences among the
According to these data and to some of the data of the prin-
cipal and secondary activities carried on by the population under
study it is possible to deduce the following considerations about
the labor day of these women.
1. Since the group of women assuming productive and repro-
ductive labor is larger than the group of man in the same
situation, it implies not only a longer work day for the studied
women but also, the expenditure of more physical energy to meet
the different demands of the two responsibilities. 1/
1/ Bina Agarwal (1984) has presented some very interesting ideas
on the length of the rural indian work-day in some poor re-
gions of that country. She has also presented some sex dif-
ferences of the labor day in relation to food intake.
- 20 -
2. For some groups of the studied population the length of
the labor day is greater. This is the case of the 25.42%
of the women with productive and reproductive responsibilities.
The domestic labor takes some specific hours before and after the
productive activity, which could be implying that nearly one
fourth of the women are getting up earlier in the morning and
going later to bed than their husbands. Besides, during weekend
days when man takes some "time out" women have to realize house-
hold chores such as cooking for the family and taking care of
children. By all means it is possible to detect that one fourth
of the population under study could be seriously affected by the
length of the labor day. Among these, there are the women with
productive work days longer than those of men, who take on,
besides, the responsibility of domestic labor.
3. Since domestic labor is a permanent demand in a household,
women with productive responsibitilies could be very possibly af-
fected by the so-called double labor day. Though men also under-
take double responsibilities, the number of them is smaller than
that for women and since they usually combine two productive acti-
vities, the constraint is also different because domestic labor is
a daily demand for all periods of the year, while the productive
labor is seasonal. Besides, a double productive task could mean
for man a better income, while this is not the case for women be-
cause domestic labor is not remunerated.
4. Income by sex.- Measuring income is one of the more dif
ficult tasks. A discussion of the debate on the subject
is much beyond the scope of this paper. In the survey being
analyzed, income was determined for the household, taking into ac-
count the total amount received by everyone of the household mem-
bers, considering monetary income from different sources: rent,
salaries, business, agricultural production and so on.
- 21 -
The data on the income of the analyzed household demonstrated
the following :
1) The mean of the salary income perceived by the head of
the household ($6.271), is lower than the official basic rural
income at the time of the survey ($7.020). The salary income of
other members of the household ($5.307) is lower than the head
of the household income salary. / This means that the incomes
of salaried household heads, which according to the data previous-
ly presented are mostly men, are significantly larger than the
salary of another members of the household.
2) Income from other sources is generally very low. Mean
income by rent was $170 monthly, nevertheless rent income varies
largely. A few families declared rent income larger than $80.000.
Income due to transfers sent by migrant family members has a mean
level near $338 monthly.
3) In general, family income level of the households under
study is very low. Nevertheless, the income of the female-headed
households is much lower that those of the male-headed households.
As indicated in Table 10, this difference is statistically signi-
ficant for all different sources of income in the family, with
the exception of transfers. This difference in income due to
transfers.is no surprising, if one considers that the women house-
hold family composition (family size, older household heads,
less members in the productive age group, none members older than
55) and its access to the means of production restricts very se-
riously the potential family income, making them heavily dependent
on the money sent by migrant relatives.
1/ In 1983 when data were collected one dollar was equivalent
to $90 Colombian pesos.
Household head by sex by income size and income, sources
Head's Household Other Rent Transferences
Salary Total sala sources
Women -.081* -.076* -.OZT '.016 .156**
* Statistical Difference at .005
** Statistical Difference at .001
RURAL WOMEN SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS: PHASING THE FUTURE
A more detailed analysis of these data (Bonilla and Velez,
1985) concluded that the rural family's conditions of reproduc-
tion are very limited. Most rural families living in the rural
areas are poor. Nevertheless, rural poverty does not affect all
persons in the same way. Different studies (Agarwal: 1984;
Le6nq Deere: 1982; Banarjee: 1984; Beneria and Sen: 1982) have
shown that among the poor population, women are poorer than men.
Previous data have demonstrated that women have less access to
land than man, that their income level is lower and that their
labor conditions are more demanding and extenuating. Besides,
women's literacy level is lower. All these means that future
opportunities for female rural population are very narrow.
In order to identify more clearly rural women socio-economic
position, a further analysis will be considered. This analysis
will be based on a socio-economic stratification developed by
Sanz de Santamaria (1985), taking into account the different stra-
tegies of reproduction of the households included in the same
- 23 -
sample analyzed for this article. Three different criteria were
central to develop the stratification :
1.- Households producing economic surpluses to be appropria-
ted by another household.
2.- Households appropriating economic surplus produced by
3.- Households self-consuming their production.
According to this, "socio economic conditions refer to a set
of characteristics depending mainly on the access of every house-
hold (defined as a productive unit) to the different means of pro-
duction,and the way in which they were able to maintain control on
those means". (Sanz de Santamaria, 1985: 9) Taking into account
these definitions, and after different steps of aggregation, three
different categories were established, according to the living
conditions:poorest households; medium households and household
with better conditions.
Two analyses are presented with these categories in order to
refine the understanding of the living conditions of the rural
women. Considering the households' conditions of living in rela-
tion to the sex of the head of the household, it is possible to
observe (Table 11), that most households classify in the "poorer"
category, which means that, in general, poverty is a determinant
characteristic of the rural households. Nevertheless, the number
of households headed by females among the "better" category is
significantly lower than those headed by a man. Considering the
women's rate per household, it is evidenced that those households
in the "better" category are those with less women in relation
- 24 -
Households' General Conditions of Living
Poor Middle Better Total
Man 88.6 74.3 91.6 84.7
Women 11.4 25.7 8.4 15.3
X2 = 71.24
Prob = .0001
Women's increased participation in the labor force has open-
ed to them new responsibilities, longer labor days, more exte-
nuating labor loads, but has not led to evidence of a bettering
in their living conditions. Women have increased the use of
their labor but other aspects have remained constant with nega-
tive implications for them. The process of social reproduction
of the rural socio-economic relations appears to depend more
heavily on women's productive and reproductive labor, as the
rural population loses control of the means of production.
If women have played a very dynamic role in the reduction of
the fertility rate, it does not mean that they have necessarily
redefined their responsibilities with the domestic labor. Ac-
cording to the data analyzed, domestic duties determine in a
very important way other duties: the rural woman is a housewife
first of all. This finding is better understood if it is remember-
ed that the data on the use of the labor force by sex show that
men have not redefined their participation in the domestic labor
within the household, while women, in significant numbers, are
assuming two jobs: one domestic and one productive.
Although the analyzed data do not allow for a characteriza-
tion of the different farming systems in Colombia, it is possible
to present some inferences on the subject, and on the way in which
rural women, given her socio-economic conditions,are related to
different farm systems.
1. Given the size of the plots, most of the families can
use the land only for self-subsistence of the family and its mem-
bers, intensifying the use of the labor force. There are very
limited opportunities to "modernize" the productive process. This
situation affects women more negatively, not only because they
have a more limited access to land, but also to other means of
2. For those households in which the women is the head of
the household, the socio-economic conditions do not only affect
the family organization itself but also the conditions of the
farm system itself. The apparently increasing number of female
head of households could lead to a profound transformation in the
household as a productive unit.
3. Farming systems and rural families are very strongly re-
lated. In the Colombian study, the family unit is shown to be
very closely integrated to the productive unit. Farming systems
then should not only be studied from the economic perspective.
It is necessary to understand the network of family relations
underlying any farming system. Only in this way, it will be pos-
sible to better understand the rural women's rol in different farm-
4. Farmina system extension demands a redefinition of con-
ventional conceptions about women's place in society. In spite
of the women's central role in the productive sphere, they are
still not being defined "as producers" but as household-wifes.
It is urgent to take consciousness on this concept in the light
of new research. This is very important because only as pro-
ducer a person is entitled to receive financial support, or
any other support to undertake the organization of a rational
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