O R r' b iA .-- '"- -''i-,,
0_ --. 'V `. 0 S '-
JOBS FOR WOMEN IN RURAL INDUSTRY AND SERVICES
RUTH B. DIXON
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS
PREPARED FOR THE OFFICE OF WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT
OF THE U.S. AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT,
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE CONFERENCE ON AGRARIAN
REFORM AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE FOOD AND
AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS,
OME, JULY 199.
OFFICE OF WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT
AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20523
The views and interpretations in this publication are those
of the author and should not be attributed to the Agency
for International Development or to any individual acting itj
E .- 1. u~
Increasing landlessness in combination with other economic and
demographic forces has created a compelling need in most developing
countries for the expansion of nonagricultural employment in rural areas.
Because women tend to be particularly vulnerable to displacement from
land and from traditional income-generating activities by the commerciali-
zation of agriculture for cash crops and by investment in capital-inten-
sive industries, policies of agrarian reform and rural development will
need to design support systems to:(1) raise the productivity of labor
in which rural women currently engage; (2) transform subsistence activities
into income-generating activities; and (3) create new employment oppor-
tunities for women, particularly outside of agriculture.
A review of international statistics on the representation of women
in the labor force, classified by employment status and by occupation,
reveals that women are underrepresented among the economically active
population -- and especially in the paid labor force (excluding unpaid
family workers) -- in all but a handful of countries. Women constitute
20 percent or less of the paid labor force in 20 of the 56 countries for
which recent data are available, ranging in some countries as low as 4 or
5 percent. Even though women's economic productivity is undoubtedly
underreported in census statistics, a convincing argument can be made
that the low rate of participation of women in many countries in the paid
labor force perpetuates their economic and social dependency and retards
the development process.
A number of strategies for expanding nonagricultural employment
for rural women are proposed in this paper. A two-pronged effort includes
both national measures to promote investment in rural areas, encourage the
diversification of rural economics, and correct other economic inbalances
undermining rural development, and grass-roots measures to organize employ-
ment schemes for rural women in nonagricultural production (particularly
small industries and rural construction), sales, service, and administra-
Planners might consider a six-step approach to creating employment
for women in the rural sector: (1) identifying groups of women who are
most in need of income-generating employment (particularly the landless,
stigmatized racial, religious, or ethnic groups, and households headed
by women); (2) defining the range of economic activities in which these
women are currently engaged, with a view to raising their output and
income-generating capacity or shifting them into more productive activities;
(3) locating indigenous social networks around which groups of women could
be mobilized to work together; (4) establishing sources of credit, techni-
cal assistance, and training to reach these traditionally ineligible
groups; (5) determining needs for technology to reduce domestic burdens;
and (6) identifying and overcoming other cultural or structural obstacles
that deny women control over the products of their labor. In combination
with agrarian reform policies to reduce major inequalities in access to
material and social sources within rural areas as well as between the
rural and urban sectors, such strategies can provide women with essential
support systems enabling them to become active agents and beneficiaries
of the development process.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. The Economically Active Female Population; .A.Statistical,
Portrait . . . . . . 3
II. Opportunities for Expanding Nonfarm Employment. . 11
Nonagricultural Production. .. . . .... 13
Sales Workers . . . . . 22
Service Workers . . . 25
Administrative, Clerical, and Professional Occupations 27
III. A Strategy for Mobilizing Rural Women for Employment. 29
Employment for Whom?. .. . . . 29
Building on Current Production. . . . .. 31
Mobilizing Groups of Women Workers. . . . 32
Credit and Technical Assistance . . . 34
Labor-Saving Technology . . . . 37
Control Over Earnings ..... . . . 38
IV. Conclusions . . . . .. . 40
Footnotes . . . . .. . 43
References. . . . . .. . 46
Conditions intensifying the need in almost every developing country
for greatly expanded nonagricultural employment in rural areas are, by
now, familiar: increasing landlessness due to loss of tenancy rights,
land foreclosures, and other factors; declines in average size of farm
holdings; ceilings on the extension of arable land and on its productivity;
low agricultural wages and displacement of labor by mechanization; high
rates of natural increase in rural populations; limits on the capacity of
already overcrowded cities to absorb landless migrants from the country-
side, and so on. Although the redistribution of land into smaller,
individually owned parcels or larger collective farms offers a partial
solution to rural unemployment in areas where land ownership remains
highly concentrated, diversification of the rural economy everywhere
requires expansion of the nonagricultural sector to provide year-round
or seasonal employment for landless workers and small farmers or
Less familiar, however, are the arguments for expanding nonagricultural
employment for rural women. Yet the need is undoubtedly greater. Because
women are less likely than men to own land or to have legal rights to
its use, they are especially vulnerable to eviction at the time of
divorce, desertion, or widowhood. Female agricultural laborers earn less
than males and are more likely to be unemployed. As men gain control over
new technology and other agricultural inputs, the widening productivity
gap between the sexes frequently undermines women's earning capacity.
The declining size of holdings increases the pressure on women in farm
families to supplement agricultural incomes with nonfarm activities.
Higher survival rates of children intensify household demands for
investments in children (food, school fees, marriage exchanges) that
are of special concern to women. Opportunities for urban employment for
female migrants in many countries are even more limited than they are
for males; thus, many remain in the villages without regular remittances
from their absent menfolk. Even land redistribution schemes bypass them
when title is granted to the male household head. On collective farms,
women may not be allowed to perform certain agricultural tasks carrying
higher wages or workpoints. All of these arguments, and more, point to
the need for a policy of rural development and agrarian reform that pays
particular attention to expanding income-generating employment for rural
women not only within, but outside, the agricultural sector.
Rural women everywhere engage in economic production; the question
here is whether their labor generates income in cash, kind, or trade over
which they have some control. A growing body of literature attests to the
ingenuity and diversity of women's productive activities, particularly
in the informal sectors of ,the economy: making beancakes at home for
sale in the market, fattening cattle, husking a neighbor's paddy for a
share of the rice, weaving rugs or mats, lending out small quantities of
grain at interest. The central argument of this paper is that development
programs will succeed in reaching the poor more directly if ttrey design
support systems to (1) raise the productivity of labor in which rural
women currently engage; (2) transform subsistence activities into income-
generating activities; and (3) create new employment opportunities,
particularly outside of agriculture. A number of primarily grass-roots
strategies for doing so, viewed in the context of more sweeping macro-
economic policies to encourage rural diversification, are suggested in
the sections that follow.
I. The Economically Active Female Population:
A Statistical Portrait
A 55-year-old Tamang woman from the Nuwakot District of Nepal,
northwest of the Kathmandu Valley, tells her life story to an anthro-
pologist.1 Having been forced as a young woman into corvee labor for the
"Rana Prime Ministers" who required her to carry mangoes on her back from
their orchards near her house to the Rana palaces in Kathmandu (a week-
long round trip by foot), and having been married off by her parents to
a very poor man, she describes how she parlayed a few small coins into
enough money to buy land.
I've never gone trading salt as far as Kyirong [in Tibet],
but I've gone as far as Sertung [near the Nepal-Tibet border].
I bought thread for one anna [fraction of a rupee] a skein
and wove a man's turban. For that turban I got five mohars
[1/2 rupee each, or 2-1/2 rupees]. I left one mohar with
my mother, then I took the other two rupees to Sertung. On
the way to Sertung I found corn at three pathis [about one
gallon] for a mohar. So I bought 12 pathis and came back home
within nine days. I loaned out the nine pathis of corn in
bidiya [a type of loan on which the interest is paid in grain
each year]. Thellater I collected on those loans and took
the grain to Kathmandu where I sold it for 20 rupees. Then
with that money and a little more I accumulated, I bought the
[unirrigated] land my middle son is now living on for 25 rupees.
...From the thread I bought for an anna a skein I made a
turban which I sold for 2-1/2 rupees. Then I turned those
2-1/2 rupees into 20 with my corn dealings. From that I bought
25 rupees of land. But what a struggle it was for me to put
together those 25 rupees.
The difficulty of measuring and classifying economic activity,
obvious enough in industrialized economies, is clearly compounded in the
rural sectors of developing countries. Even the counting of persons as
employed or unemployed, yet alone estimating the degree of their under-
employment, is problematic (Brannon and Jesse 1977; Bruton 1979). When
we consider that women are more likely than men to work without pay,
to engage in marginal and less viable types of activities in the informal
economy, and to shift seasonally or even daily between and among subsis-
tence and market activities, the problems become overwhelming.
The stery of the Tamang woman is typical of the ingenuity and
complexity of economic roles that are so central to women's survival yet
so defiant of formal measurement. Weaving a single turban for sale, she
would not be defined as economically active; weaving many, she is an "own-
account" worker in manufacturing. When she buys corn, lends it out at
interest, then sells the grain, she is a sales worker. When she buys land
and works it, she is an own-account worker in agriculture or an unpaid
family laborer. Perhaps she is not even classified in the labor force if
the farm produce is consumed rather than sold, since census takers dis-
tinguish between subsistence and market work in defining persons as econ-
omically active (Boulding et al., 1976: 295-335). Not only do official
definitions of economic activity exclude much of women's production from
consideration (their value-added contribution to crop processing or food
production, for example), but census takers, male household heads, and
women alike tend to underreport and undervalue their productive roles
Censuses, with all their faults, nevertheless remain our primary
sources of comparative statistics on labor force participation. Table 1
includes data from 56 developing countries on the percentages of all persons
classified as "economically active" who are female, both by employment
status and by occupation. In calculating the percentages of workers within
different employment and occupational categories who are women (an "index
of femaleness") we hope to avoid some of the problems of noncomparability
Table 1. Percentage of the Economically Active Population that is Female,
by Employment Status and Occupation (where known), 56 Countries.
Employment status Occupation (excl. family workers)
(8 V oC 5 3 -o 0 O-
Region/ 4 &. 0 4. P4 AS 0 0 P4 X co H X e oo
Scountryyear o H $ 4 )
country/year E B 3 wSZ < 0 c < o -,4-
Sub-Saharan Africa (10)
Botswana 64 50
Tanzania 67 48
Ghana 70 44
Sierra Leone 63 36
Liberia 62 36
South Africa 70 33
Zambia 69 30
Mozambique 70 26
Nigeria 63 24
Mauritius 72 20
34 9 43 63
52 9 19 57 14 39
52 6 10 18 9 24
36 30 88 23 14 24
10 6 42 6 14 27
16 3 33a 1a 12 27
29a a 27a 67a 42a 46a
12 a 4 14 10 19a 21
10 23 60a 26a 9 15
23 6 13 52 19 37
32 23 6 27 23 14 27
North Africa/Middle East (10)
10 4 73
13 20 55c
14 6c 21
13 0 1
13 4 62
11 7 17
6 1 60
6 4 16
8 3 11
5 2 9
5 9 1 7 13 21
6b 24a a 28 19 22a
11 15 4 38a 23 15'
b 0 1 20 10 34
2b 22a a 15a 10 26a
2 1 1 10 4 19
5a 4a a a 51a 30
5 4 1 11 5 30
3 3 6 14 9 24
1- 4 1 13 11 21
10 10 4 37
South/Southeast Asia (11)
Thailand 76 38
Rep. Korea 76 38
Hong Kong 76 35
Indonesia 71 33
Malaysia 70 32
32 24 66
29 27 69
37 16 63
39 22 45
28 24 52
24c 635 63c
8 4 4 1 14 10 22
27 20 30 31 46 27 44
28 21 29 33 56 21 24
34 20 37 20 33 36 41
31 10 32 59a 67 42 59
27 32b 27a 44 43 10a 32
32 20 16 18a 32 22a 34
Table 1 (continued)
Employment status Occupation (excl. family workers)
Ho -H 0
0 P -o O4 H H
> 0 1 0 -H H 0 0 s:
c-H 5 4OV 0 c
Region/ -4-H o HC 0 a a t =
country/year E C J : P | C
4~ m bfO~ c 0 m ,
South/Southeast Asia (continued)
Sri Lanka 71
33 14 55
11 30 49
26 9 47
11 10 21
5 5 35
12 26 20 45 44 38
30 9 12 16 4 8
26 15 6 23 30 41
20 8 6 17 4 18
5 6 2 15 1 10
32 28 22 52
28 20 26 20 33 22 34
Central/South America (25)
Haiti 71 47
Jamaica 61 40
Barbados 70 39
Puerto Rico 77 33
Venezuela 75 28
Uruguay 75 28
Guyana 65 27
Dominican Rep.70 26
Panama 70 26
Argentina 70 25
Chile 70 23
El Salvador 71
Costa Rica 73
43 34 64
39 32 42
35 12 70
27 25 36
30 21 38
26e 22e 15e
23 27 40
25 15 24
34 10 26
28 16 27
24 20 15
24 21 -
22 16 10
23 18 24
25 19 9
26 11 23
28 18 15
23 15 32
25 13 135
24 6 4
20 1 3
21 12 13
22 12 5
19 10 6
15 28 65 86 40 64
37 17a 58 65a 52a 40
3 22 25 49 43 51
25 11 44 50 48 43
4 14 25 58 41 50
4 20a 29 60a 33 58
16 9a 43 58a 25a 41
17 27 20 62 30 47
4 11 31 65 50 51
6 11 24 60 40 55
3 14 29 69 29 50
12 15 55 59 35 40
4 19 55 82 35 42
6 15 33 50 40 38
3 16 50 78 32 43
10 11 14a 72 26a 59
6 27 41 61 25 55
7 14 30 58 34 26
3 18 24 74 20 41
2 12 -21 65 30 46
4 16 27 66 31 43
1 24 57 73 28 47
2 14 35 60 30 40
Median 23 25 16 23 23 4 15 29 62 33 47
23 25 16 23
23 4 15 29 62 33 47
Table 1 (continued)
Sources: Yearbook of Labour Statisticst 1970, 1974, and 1977, Tables
2A and 2B (Geneva: International Labour Office).
Includes unpaid family workers.
Estimates, excluding unpaid family workers.
Employment status data are from 1960.
Includes Bangladesh. Although recent data do not show employment status
and occupation, women were 25 percent of the total economically active
population in Bangladesh in 1974 and 7 percent in Pakistan in 1976.
SEmployment status data are from 1963.
across countries in the ways in which workers are distributed across
employment or occupational categories (the "distribution index") and in
methods of deciding whether or not they are economically active
(Boulding et al 1976: 7).
Women constitute the highest percentages of the overall labor force
including unpaid family workers (column 1) in the 10 sub-Saharan and 11
South and Southeast Asian countries for which recent data are available,
with medians of 34 and 32 percent, respectively. The 25 Central and South
American countries show a lower median -- 23 percent -- with the 12 North
African and Middle Eastern countries showing the lowest at 10 percent.
There is considerable overlap across regions, however, except that the
lowest percentages of women among the economically active population
(10 percent or fewer) are all in North Africa or the Middle East (Iran,
Libya, Jordan, Egypt, and Algeria), whereas the highest (40 to 50 percent)
are in sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean (Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana,
Haiti, and Jamaica).
Employment status refers to the classification of workers as
employees, self-employed, or unpaid family workers, regardless of their
occupation. When we compare the extent to which women are represented
within these three categories of workers relative to the labor force as
a whole, distinct regional patterns emerge.
The status of employee reveals the most about women's direct access
to incomes. It includes persons working for private or public employers
who are paid in kind or in wages, commissions, or tips. Among these
are agricultural laborers, women doing piece-work at home for employers,
and domestic servants. Women constitute the highest percentage of employees
on average in Asia and Central/South America with medians of 28 and 25
percent, respectively, and the lowest in North Africa/Middle East and
sub-Saharan Africa with medians of 10 and 9 percent. Although women in
the first three regions are generally not significantly underrepresented
among wage earners relative to their numbers in the total labor force,
in sub-Saharan Africa (Tanzania and Ghana in particular) where women
concentrate in agriculture or marketing as self-employed or unpaid workers,
they are remarkably so.
Self-employed workers are the large and small enterpreneurs --
employers who own their own businesses or run a trade that employs at least
one paid worker -- and workers on their own account, including persons
working at home for profit (women who take in laundry or sewing, say, or
make handicrafts for sale) and farm owners or renters without paid employees
(owner-holders and tenant-holders). Regional differences in the percentage
of women among the self-employed are marked. Sub-Saharan Africa shows the
highest median at 43 percent; South/Southeast Asia and Central/South America
considerably lower at 22 and 16 percent; and North Africa/Middle East
the lowest at 4 percent. The extremely low figures are not all in North
Africa or the Middle East, however, for 10 percent or fewer of the self-
employed are female in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Panama, Costa Rica, and Cuba.
The highest figures for women entrepreneurs (40 to 63 percent) are in
Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana, and Malaysia.
The category of unpaid family worker remains the most elusive.
Technically it includes persons who work without pay for a specified
minimum time (for women, usually one-third of the "normal" work period)
in an "economic enterprise" (again, the market economy, not subsistence)
operated by any member of the household. In some countries it also
includes other unpaid workers such as apprentices, or family members who
are paid in cash or kind. The classification is most problematic (and
most frequent) in agriculture. The United Nations recommends that the
following types of farm work be considered as economic activity:
"planting, cultivation, harvesting, preparation of products for sale, care
of livestock and repair of farm equipment;" excluded are "household duties
such as the preparation of food and the care of chickens and livestock
which are used for consumption instead of exchange (Boulding et al
1976: 318). Clearly these definitions are difficult to apply in the face
of the multiplicity of tasks in which rural women commonly engage, and
especially in their frequent mix of exchange and consumption.
Relative to their labor force participation as a whole, women are
overrepresented in this category of worker in about two-thirds of the
countries for which we have information. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia
once again show the highest percentages of women among all unpaid family
workers with medians of 63 and 52 percent; North Africa/Middle East 37
percent; Central/South America 23 percent. In a few countries, however,
they constitute 10 percent or fewer of unpaid family workers -- Kuwait,
Algeria, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Considerable reporting bias may account for their scarcity in the Latin
Given these variations in the percentages of woman among unpaid
family workers and the ambiguity of the category, we would expect the
exclusion of unpaid workers from the economically active population to
alter considerably the picture of women's participation. Surprisingly,
however, column 5 shows dramatic changes in only six countries.
Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana, and Jamaica retain their position at the top
of the scale with women making up almost half of the paid labor force,
while Libya, Jordan, Algeria, and Pakistan cluster at the bottom with a
paid labor force that is only 5 percent female.
These figures conceal important differences between rural and urban
conditions in each country, across geographical areas, and among major
subgroups of the population (class, ethnicity, age, marital status, etc.).
Nevertheless, they do point in a general way to the underrepresentation of
women in the paid labor force in almost all countries and to the particular
"ecological niche" that economically active women occupy.
Better measures of women's productive roles would undoubtedly change
the picture considerably, but less so in the paid than the unpaid categories.3
From a policy viewpoint, the data are helpful in pointing out where programs
are most needed to draw women into the economically active population and,
where necessary, to permit women to shift out of unpaid family work,
marginal self-employment, or exploitative agricultural wage labor into
employment bearing higher direct returns.
II. Opportunities for Expanding Nonfarm Employment
Although this paper emphasizes grass-roots designs for expanding
female employment, such an approach is doomed to failure if it must
struggle against larger currents that consistently undermine the capacity
of the rural sector to employ its workers. Any employment generation
scheme for women, therefore, must be framed in the context of overall
development policies emphasizing the diversification of rural economics
and the elimination of the urban bias of past development efforts
Increasing agricultural production is central to employment-oriented
development because of its direct effects in increasing farm employment
(under appropriate capital-labor ratios) and its indirect effects in
stimulating related industries and services and the demand for consumer
goods (Mellor 1976). Massive investments are required not only in
yield-increasing technology but also "in the physical infrastructure of
rural communication and irrigation systems as well as the institutional
infrastructure for servicing agriculture with research, education, credit,
input supply, and marketing systems" (Ibid.: 16).
Most agrarian reforms intended to expand overall agricultural
employment should increase the demand for female as well as male labor,
such as the redistribution of underutilized large landholdings into
privately owned plots or collective farms, the intensification of farm
production through irrigation and other inputs, crop diversification, the
imposition of heavy taxation and import duties on labor-displacing farm
machinery where appropriate, the abolition of food price controls as an
incentive for agricultural production, and the provision of low-interest
loans for small farmers. Investments in physical and institutional
infrastructure and in decentralized rural industry should have similar
We cannot assume that such development efforts will inevitably
benefit women, however, for experience has revealed a history of negative
consequences under a variety of socioeconomic conditions.4 Development
plans will need to devise special measures to ensure that women have
equal access with men to resources such as land, credit, and training;
that women are not displaced from traditional income-generating economic
roles by social or technological changes; and that new employment oppor-
tunities for rural women are created in both agricultural and nonagricultural
sectors. In this section we suggest policies for expanding female employment
in nonagricultural production, sales, service, and clerical/managerial/
This broad category includes persons engaged in small and large-scale
manufacturing, transport workers, construction workers, artisans and crafts
workers, miners, and unskilled laborers outside of agriculture. The
percentages of nonagricultural producers (wage-earners or self-employed)
who are female range from zero in Kuwait to 37 in Hong Kong (column 7 of
Table 1). The South and Southeast Asian region has the highest median
(26 percent) and Central and South American the second highest (15 percent).
In both regions, the percentages of women among nonagricultural producers --
particularly in the urban-based textile, garment-making, and electronics
industries of some Southeast Asian and Latin American countries -- typically
exceed by a considerable margin their representation among agricultural
workers. SubSaharan Africa, in contrast, shows a median of only 6 percent
of women among nonagricultural producers, far lower than in agriculture,
while North Africa and the Middle East is the lowest at only 4 percent.
Rural women classified as nonagricultural producers -- aside from
those in construction work -- typically specialize in small-scale, home-
based manufacture of handicrafts or foodstuffs. The activities are
usually labor-intensive, poorly remunerated, undercapitalized, individualized,
based on traditional skills rather than formal training, and dependent on
primitive technology and child labor (see Simmons 1976 for a good example
from Northern Nigeria). For these reasons and more, women in most types
of rural nonagricultural production are particularly liable to displacement
by modernization, including those very infrastructure improvements such
as electrification and roads that are generally recommended for rural
African women who brew beer in their village, for example, looking
forward to the day when a new road will carry their products to the regional
center, find to their dismay that the road brings them imported beer instead.
Women who smoke and sell fish discover that new refrigerated warehouses
and freezer plants undermine their business (Cloud 1978: 72; Robertson
1975-76: 162). Other locally produced foods and condiments give way to
factory made products (Milone 1978: 159; Simmons 1975: 159-60). Machine
textiles replace handwoven goods; metal and plastic utensils replace earth-
ware; synthetics replace cotton. The process is intensified by the spread
of capital-intensive urban-based industrial technology that threatens a
wide range of cottage industries and artisanal activities that have long
provided income to women -- handweaving, rice pounding, oil pressing,
tobacco, foods (Boserup 1970: 106-18; Chinchilla 1977; Committe on the
Status of Women in India 1974: 169-71).
Although the processes outlined above affect all workers in small-
scale handicraft and related industries, additional forces work specifi-
cally against women. The new heavy industries typically demand male
labor, while even in light industries -- except where women are thought
to be uniquely suited to certain skills -- men often replace women as
techniques are upgraded. While Moroccan women make pottery by hand at
home, men use the wheel in shops (Davis 1978: 424); while Indonesian
women make batiks by hand, men operate the screen printers and machine
rollers (Milone 1978: 160). The policy issue here, as in agriculture, is
not to resist the encroachment of new labor-saving techniques simply for
the sake of preserving traditional sources of marginal income for women,
for these activities are often burdensome and relatively unproductive.
Rather, women should be trained to operate the machines in the new rural
industries that replace their old techniques, thereby maintaining control
over the returns from their labor.
The question of relative efficiency of rural-based, labor-intensive
small and medium-sized industries has stimulated considerable debate.
Clearly there is little point in recommending the expansion of a sector
that cannot compete with large-scale, capital-intensive centralized produc-
tion. But there is mounting evidence that decentralized firms offer a
number of advantages: they are usually "substantially more 'efficient'
in terms of the intensive use of scarce capital and the extensive use of
abundant labor, as reflected in lower capital-output and capital-labor
ratios" (Ranis 1979: 5); require less foreign exchange; improve income
distribution between the landless and landed classes in rural areas and
between the countryside and the cities; offer greater opportunities for an
uneducated labor force; sometimes occupy a particularly advantageous posi-
tion in the export market; and create important linkages with agriculture
(Meyer and Larson 1978).6 In China, for example, rural industries specialize
in "serving agriculture" by manufacturing farm equipment and fertilizers
and by processing non-food crops and fruits and vegetables (American Rural
Small-Scale Industry Delegation 1977).7 By taking advantage of local
resources, labor supplies, and markets, they cut down on transportation
costs and on the complications of poor roads, scarce vehicles, and
National measures to promote new rural industries include a strong
commitment to the decentralization of industry; trade and taxation policies
encouraging labor-intensive production by removing the distortions that
artificially lower the cost of capital relative to labor (resulting,
among other things, in the import of inappropriate technologies); and the
abolition of incentives that currently favor large firms over small in
their access to credit, technical assistance, and other supports.8 Types
of industries especially suited to rural decentralizations include those
having few economies of scale (ready-made garments), processing a dispersed
raw material (such as agricultural products), servicing agriculture
(manufacture and repair of farm equipment), producing consumer goods for
local markets (wood products, soft drinks), or specializing in simple mdnu-
facturing operations such as assembly, mixing, or finishing (Staley and
Morse 1965: 112-127).
The small industries described below illustrate a range of activities
that could be expanded to employ more rural women, depending on the avail-
ability of resources, labor, markets, and so on.9 Although many activities
could be performed by women at home as own-account workers or wage-paid
employees in a putting-out system, the emphasis here is on drawing women
out of their homes into a centralized workplace to take advantage of
improved technologies, opportunities for literacy and skills training,
regulation of wages and working conditions, and the potential for social
interaction and collective decision-making.
Food processing. Although women everywhere process food for household
consumption, in some regions home-based food processing has also become
a major source of income.10 Potential food industries include dairy products
such as yoghurt, cheese, butter, and ghee; bottling fruit drinks and
carbonated beverages; brewing beer; sun-drying fruit and vegetables;
baking bread and snack foods; canning poultry, meat, fruit, and vegetables;
smoking and drying fish; preparing confections; grinding spices and mixing
herbs; pressing cooking oils; mixing condiments; making noodles or tortillas;
and so on. In the vicinity of Bombay, for example, village women's coopera-
tives totalling about 3,000 members make papads for local consumption and
export, a snack food mixed from locally grown pulses, oil and spices
(Dixon 1978: 63-9). Rural food processing industries frequently stimulate
demand for local agricultural products, encourage diversification of crops,
and improve the variety of foods available at local markets throughout
Processing other agricultural products. Much of the processing of
crops for export to urban or foreign markets could be performed at the
rural site, with the added advantage that byproducts are usually well
suited to local use. Women-run centers for milling or drying grains,
pressing oils, or grinding spices would enable women to maintain control
over this traditional method of earning money; other possibilities include
the production of animal feeds, fertilizers, and fuel from a variety of
crop byproducts (corn husks, coconut shells, sugar cane stalks, bran, etc.)
A women's cooperative in Tonga fires split coconut logs for charcoal
from trees cleared for an airport approach from 200 acres, which they
leased to plant bananas, pineapps, papaya, and other low-growing cash
crops (International Women's Tribune Centre, January 1978: 14). Because
women are typically responsible for processing crops in the home as well
as for gathering fuel and fodder, these commercial activities serve the
important dual purpose of providing employment while simultaneously
manufacturing products that reduce domestic drudgery.
Manufacturing. A number of industries produce items for local consump-
tion based on indigenous resources (clay, coir, bamboo, wood, cotton,
jute, etc.) such as simple household and agricultural implements, fishnets,
ropes, baskets, mats, building materials, pottery, furniture, jute sacks,
soap, cotton thread and cloth, cigarettes and cigars. Where transportation
systems are good and a steady supply of raw materials from outside the
village can be assured, other industries can be established for manufacturing
items with a wider market such as bottles, cans, other storage containers
or packaging materials, paper, small consumer items such as umbrellas or
dry-cell batteries, plastic and metal products, heavier agricultural
equipment, wool and silk cloth, ready-made garments, carpets, and other
items. Some of these serve the local market, others are exported to urban
or foreign markets.
Most income-generating programs for women have drawn on traditional
crafts such as sewing or embroidery (although tailoring and weaving are
men's work in many countries), often to the detriment of workers who find
themselves unable to make a satisfactory living because of poor quality
controls, lack of marketing outlets, unreliable sources of raw materials,
and exploitation by employers or agents (Dhamija 1975; ILO 1975; Major
1975; Opondo n.d.). Yet certain handicrafts do offer potential for expan-
sion, even in the face of industrialization, if production can be up-
graded through improved techniques and marketing; these include
artistic metalworking, basketry, jewelry making, and specialized hand-
weaving (Staley and Morse 1965: 56). In some areas the carpet weaving
industry is undergoing a renaissance; in Syria, for example, the government
has set up a network of rural carpet-weaving centers throughout the country
where young women learn vocational and literary skills while contributing
to the family budget on a regular basis (ILO 1973: 21).
Some critics argue that programs building on traditional skills are
likely to have only limited appeal to rural women; more attractive would
be industries that are "least rural and least womanish" -- that is, that
offer genuine opportunities for social and economic transformation
(Ahmed 1975: 29):
These opportunities are to be found in the decentralized
manufacture of processed primary products, consumer goods
and light engineering goods -- commodities that are labour
intensive, resource based, and require simple technology,
small investment, cheap or little fuel.
A rural network of medium industry or agro-industry, producing
both for export and home consumption, should teach the wearers
of galabias, saris and sarongs to get into workmen's overalls
and tinker with small machines. They should be absorbed not
merely as unskilled or semiskilled operators, but taught
repair, maintenance, supervision, management, accountancy,
storekeeping, salesmanship and all other accoutrements
of industrial enterprise.
One example of this approach is found in Kerala State, India, where
the Government's crash program to develop 10,000 units in the small-scale
industrial sector includes a number of cooperatively owned enterprises
reserved for women only (Menon 1976). Shareholders are drawn mainly from
the "economically and socially backward groups." Along with more tradi-
tional industries for garment-making, surgical cotton and bandages, fruit
preservation, cloth dyeing and printing, the program has trained young
women for work in a foundry; an electroplating, galvanising and anodising
unit; a transformer unit; and an ancilliary to a battery factory. Heavier
rural industries also offer important opportunities for women, either
in separate teams or working side by side with men.
Rural construction. In addition to opportunities in industry, the
development of rural infrastructure means new jobs in irrigation and
drainage projects; land clearance, soil conservation, and reforestation;
road, bridge, dam, and levee construction; and village works such as
housing, schools, clinics, community centers, wells, and water catchment
systems. In some countries these rural works form a prime ingredient of
government policies to alleviate rural unemployment and poverty, e.g.
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Brazil,
Mexico and Peru (FAO 1979: 60).
Not only have women traditionally participated in the heavy labor
of many volunteer community work teams such as the communas in Latin
America, Harambee in Kenya, and the Shramadana in Sri Lanka, but the
decline of agricultural wage labor in many areas has driven landless women
increasingly into road building and construction. In Java, from 15 to 30
percent of workers on certain construction sites are women (Milone 1978:
161). In India, too, women commonly carry earth and bricks on construction
projects, while the skilled labor is done exclusively by men (Committee
Large internationally funded projects such as the Food-for-Work
schemes have attracted women to build dams, lay water supplies, terrace
hills and plant trees, build village roads, and clear land. In Africa
and Latin America, in particular, women commonly work alongside men in
many of these schemes. Sometimes they do all the work, as in one road-
building project in Lesotho and in the forestry development scheme of
Maharashtra, India, where tribal women (Adivasis) plant and maintain
reforested areas (World Food Programme 1976: 31). Elsewhere they work
in special women's teams on large projects. In Bangladesh an average of
20,000 women per day worked on Food-for-Work schemes between January and
March of 1978, almost all on women's teams or projects.
Because the work is extremely arduous and generally considered status-
degrading, rural works tend to attract only the poorest and most stigmatized
groups -- the scheduled tribes and castes of South Asia, for example, or
destitute wives or widows of higher castes (Chen and Ghuznavi 1978; Sinha
1975). Employers often prefer women because they are cheaper than male
workers, "more docile by nature and better disciplined," and will work at
jobs that men are "reluctant to accept" (Sinha 1975: 24). Conditions are
usually highly exploitative with little or not monitoring of wages, hours
of work, housing and sanitation facilities, accident compensation, or
child care. Portions of workers wages are typically withheld to ensure
that they do not leave the site before the work is completed; payment is
irregular. The work is generally seasonal and often requires workers to
migrate considerable distances from their villages.
There is potential for expanding women's opportunities for employment,
however, if rural works projects could be redesigned to emphasize female
employment on sites in or near their villages that require year-round
work such as road repair, local small-scale construction, reforestation,
planting animal fodder on banks and cleared areas, terracing, fisheries
development, and so on (Chen and Ghuznavi 1978: 25). A cooperative
housing society in Guyana is training women as well as men in carpentry,
masonry, steel bending, plumbing, and other skills to enable them to build
and maintain their own housing and other community facilities (Interna-
tional Women's Tribune Centre January 1978: 13). Continuous all-women
projects, in conjunction with separate activities (such as seeding or
sodding) for women's teams on large mixed projects, would permit separate
work norms for women if they are necessary to bring wages up to the level
required for reasonable subsistence.11 In addition, basing work nearer
the village permits more effective monitoring of wages and working condi-
tions by official agents and local committees.
The differences across countries in the percentages of sales workers
who are female are remarkable, ranging from only 1 percent in seven countries
of North Africa and the Middle East to 59 percent in the Philippines,
60 percent in Nigeria, 65 percent in Jamaica, and 88 percent in Ghana
(Table 1, column 8).
Rural women in sales are overwhelmingly concentrated in the informal
sector of local exchange systems. Forming an important link between the
subsistence sector and the commercial economy, they frequently operate
with sufficient capital for only one day's trading, buying goods in the
morning (perhaps on credit), sometimes processing them in a typical mix
of economic activities (grinding corn, for example), and selling in
the afternoon. The sexual division of market labor is clear. Typically,
women sell goods from their homes or in daily or weekly local markets
while men engage in long-distance trade;12 women carry goods on their
backs or heads while men used wheeled transport; women work in small
family-owned retail shops while men control the large retailing and
wholesaling enterprises; women trade in foodstuffs and small household
items while men sell equipment, appliances, cash crops, and other major
items in local or urban markets and in the export trade.
Once again, modernizing forces displace women from their traditional
role in the marketplace as the distance between producer and consumer
lengthens, transport becomes a major difficulty and expense, factory
production and imported goods undermine local production, and capital
requirements increase (Mintz 1971; Mullings 1976; Robertson 1975-76;
Stoler 1977; Sudarkasa 1973). The expansion of men's commercial activities,
particularly in the import/export business, poses an additional threat
to female trading (Mintz 1971: 264-5).
On a national level, measures are needed to protect smaller markets
from the encroachment of large wholesalers and retailers, such as the
reversal of taxation and pricing policies or access to government services
that discriminate against small shops and marketplaces in favor of larger
ones. Extension services providing technical assistance to small farmers
and industries need to include small businesses and independent traders.
Credit is also crucial. One of the major problems facing the majority
of own-account women traders is lack of sufficient capital to invest in
greater quantities of merchandise, improved transport, or sales and
storage facilities. As a consequence, women cannot expand into larger
operations or the lucrative import/export market. Their small profits
often go for daily subsistence, children's school fees, or other kinship
obligations (marriage exchanges, gifts) rather than for business expansion
(Mintz 1971: 253; Stoler 1977: 83-4).
In Indonesia, although wealthy women traders can borrow money at
relatively low interest rates from formal lending institutions such as
the Bank Pasar (Market Bank) or from one of the women's cooperative unions
sponsored by the Indonesian Women's Congress, poor rural women with
insufficient collateral rely instead on suppliers, relatives, or money-
lenders who charge high rates of interest (Milone 1978: 107-15). Resource-
ful Haitian market women will sometimes get their trading capital by
"buying wholesale on credit, selling retail at reduced prices, lending
their earnings in even smaller amounts at higher rates of interest --
5 percent for three days' use is not unusual -- and then repaying their
suppliers, showing a profit at the end of such a maneuver" (Mintz 1971:
259). Rural development banks specifically serving low-income women
borrowers, as individuals or groups could increase their productivity
Direct access to transport and markets is also crucial if women are
to maintain control over the products of their labor. Where women are not
permitted in the marketplace, male family members who sell their goods
receive the cash or else agents skim off the profit. In a cattle-fattening
project in Dosso, Niger, women pay men to sell their cattle because by
custom they cannot engage in animal trading.13 In the silk-weaving industry
in Banares, India, cloth produced at home and sold by the husband to inter-
mediaries leaves the women with "no control nor a separate share of the
earnings" (Committee 1974: 181).
Women in some areas have adapted to the requirements of female
seclusion by trading out of their homes with children as intermediaries
(Simmons 1975) or by organizing their own markets. In the north-eastern
hill areas of India, for example, women sell various items of dress,
furnishings, and food products as well as their own weaving from purchased
stalls in the urban women's market and in smaller rural women's markets
throughout Manipur district (Committee 1974: 181). The creation of
additional women's markets in culturally conservative areas is an
effective means of extending more control to women who are currently
excluded from the public sphere both as producers and consumers. Markets
in which virtually all of the sellers and buyers are women are, of course,
common in African and Caribbean countries as well as in others where men
and women mingle freely in public. But even under these conditions, the
officials responsible for renting or selling stalls and for setting regu-
lations are almost always men (Ibid.; Sudarkasa 1973: 60). Policies for
expanding women's employment in the sales sector should not only support
women's access to markets, but also facilitate their entry into the wage-
paid labor force of larger sales enterprises -- in part to reduce the
competition among self-employed women in the informal sector.
If there is a group of occupations that women can claim as their own
in most parts of the world, it is personal service -- house-keepers, cooks,
maids, waiters, hairdressers, dishwashers, laundry workers, seamstresses,
child minders. Only a few service jobs, such as police:work, fire-
fighting, men's tailoring, or barbering, are all but closed to women.
Although countries of subSaharan Africa typically show somewhat
lower proportions of women among service workers compared with their
numbers in the labor force (a median of 23 percent, ranging from 6 percent
in Sierra Leone to 67 percent in South Africa), in the other three regions
women are significantly overrepresented in service occupations. In North
Africa and the Middle East, even though such work usually exposes girls
and women to potentially dishonoring contact with men (Youssef 1974:
26-30), females comprise a median of 14 percent of all service workers,
ranging from 7 percent in Turkey to 38 percent in Morocco. South and
Southeast Asia, with a median of 33 percent of service workers female,
ranges from 15 percent in Pakistan to 67 percent in the Philippines.
It is in Latin America that women's role in service becomes most
vivid. Comprising 23 percent of the paid labor force in the region,
females hold 62 percent of all paid service jobs. At least half of all
service workers are female in every one of the 23 countries listed in
Table 1. If there is a typical woman worker in Latin America, she is the
domestic servant who -- poor and uneducated -- leaves her village as a
young girl in search for work in town or city (Chaney 1977; Jellin 1977;
Although live-in domestic work is a major source of employment for
women in rural areas throughout the developing world where class distinc-
tions divide wealthy landowner and commercial households from landless
workers and marginal subsistence farmers, other service arrangements are
also common. Rural women walk from house to house in daily or weekly
rounds to clean, do laundry, or wash dishes, or they go to private homes
when summoned as seamstresses or hairdressers, or take in washing or other
work in their own homes. Municipalities may hire them to sweep roads and
public places or clean drains and latrines, work typical of outcast
"sweeper" women in India, for example (Committee 1974: 178). They also
work as wage-earners in a variety of public and private service establishments.
The availability of cheap female labor enables more prosperous house-
holds to achieve an artificially high standard of living; in their absence,
"personal services would have to be purchased from established enterprises
(restaurants, laundry and drycleaning services, etc.) at considerably
higher prices" (Jellin 1977: 140). This situation suggests three
approaches. First, the expansion of women's employment in small industries
could draw a significant number out of personal service occupations, resulting
in upward pressure on the wages of those who remain and in the substitution
of labor-saving devices (simultaneously creating a demand for small indus-
trial output). Second, policies should encourage the organization of service
workers into associations to improve their bargaining power over wages and
working conditions that are almost invarably oppressive, although house-
hold servants are particularly difficult to organize because of their
isolation and personal dependency on their employers. A third tactic
would be to provide women currently working in the homes of their employers,
or taking in work in their own homes, with the means to start group
enterprises such as child care centers, laundries, restaurants, catering
businesses, or hostels where they could learn business skills, set regular
hours, and earn better wages charging reasonable prices for their services.
Administrative, Clerical, and Professional Occupations
Although grouped together here for convenience, administrative/
managerial/clerical occupations in developing countries typically have
lower proportions of women workers than do the professional/technical
occupations that include teachers and health workers. In the former
category, 18 countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia show fewer
than 15 percent female while only two in Central America (Barbados and
Panama) show half or more female. Among professional/technical occupa-
tions, however, only six countries show fewer than 15 percent female
(Nigeria, Morocco, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, India) while ten show half or
more female (Philippines, Jamaica, eight Latin American countries). The
relatively high participation of women in the professions in North Africa
and the Middle East in comparison with their representation in the labor
force as a whole is due, paradoxically, to "the restrictions of the
purdah system [that] creates new opportunities in the 'contact services,'
such as medicine and education, for educated women serving a female
clientele" (Papanek 1971: 522; see also Youssef 1974: 34-6).
Higher rates of illiteracy as well as higher dropout rates after the
first few years of school form the major obstacles to the integration of
village women into professional occupations at the local or district level.
Yet the expansion of institutional infrastructures in rural areas creates
new jobs in education, health services, agricultural extension, legal
services, cooperative management, and other fields for which women need
advanced training. Clearly a rural development policy needs to deal with
First, incentives are needed to promote girls' attendance at
elementary school and their continuation to secondary and post-secondary
vocational training. Second, trained women from urban areas could be
induced to serve rural people through incentives such as higher pay for
rural postings, the provision of housing, and more rapid advancement to
positions of responsibility through rural rather than urban career ladders.
These women would simultaneously motivate their rural counterparts to take
advanced training. Third, persons with little or no formal schooling
can be employed in many technical and managerial capacities. Rural
development planners emphasizing the expansion of primary education and
health care are increasingly turning to the Chinese model of training
"barefoot doctors" or veterinarians and even "barefoot managers" to
provide a wide range of basic services to rural people. The Bangladesh
Rural Advancement Committee, for example, trains villagers with very
few years of schooling as paramedics who can diagnose and treat the most
prevalent forms of illness, referring more serious cases to higher level
medical personnel.14 Reducing the sometimes unnecessarily high educa-
tional qualifications for certain government jobs in rural areas could
facilitate women's access to this source of employment.
III. A Strategy for Mobilizing Rural Women for Employment
In Section II we discussed policies for expanding employment for
rural women specific to the nonagricultural sectors of production, sales,
service, and clerical/technical/professional occupations. In this section
we will outline a general strategy for mobilizing rural women for employ-
ment both within and outside agriculture. At least six tasks are involved:
(1) identifying groups of women who are most in need of income-generating
employment; (2) defining the range of economic activities in which these
women are currently engaged; with a view to raising their output and in-
come-generating capacity or to shifting them into more productive activities;
(3) locating indigenous social networks around which groups of women could
be mobilized; (4) establishing sources of credit, technical assistance
and training for group enterprises; (5) determining needs for technology
to reduce domestic burdens; and (6) identifying and overcoming other
cultural or structural obstacles that deny women control over the
products of their labor.
Employment for Whom?
The first task is to locate, through analysis of national or district
socioeconomic surveys and through local interviews, groups of women who
are most in need of income-generating employment. The purpose here is to
concentrate benefits among the poorest sectors of the population in areas
selected for intensive investment, particularly among the landless and
small subsistence farmers. These include households in a diversity of
circumstances -- laborers, cultivators, pastoralists -- who differ in their
access to productive resources and in the security of their livelihoods,
but share their poverty (Esman 1978: 56-61). Within these landless and
near-landless classes, the most destitute are likely to be those who belong
to stigmatized racial, religious, or ethnic groups as well as households
headed by women (Birdsall and McGreevey 1978; Buvinic and Youssef 1978).
For women in subsistence farm families as well as for the landless,
the creation of off-farm employment is crucial in offsetting seasonal
fluctuations and limitations on agricultural incomes. Considering that
in most countries the average size of farm holdings is declining, the
increase in agricultural output slowing, and the real wages of agricultural
workers dropping, it is not surprising to find that farm incomes are
frequently insufficient to meet household expenses even among land-owning
families (FAO 1979: 1-6). In one village of central Java, for example,
over three-quarters of all households depended primarily or totally
on income-producing activities outside of the ownership and cultivation
of rice land -- that is, on "agricultural wage labor, various forms of
market trade, handicraft production, and mixed garden cultivation for sale
and consumption" (Stoler 1977: 79). In the northern Peruvian Sierra,
only 16 percent of the total net income of minifundio households in one
survey came from agricultural or animal production; males took additional
wage labor as harvesters or construction workers while females engaged
in petty commodity production (handicrafts or food processing) or in small
scale marketing and commerce (Deere 1977b: 62).
Land tenure systems with highly concentrated ownership appear to
offer minimal agricultural employment opportunities for both men and
women. In Chile, for example, women have been gradually displaced from
directly remunerated agricultural jobs; on the large estates, they (and
their children) "...represent a reserve labor force available during times
of peak demand, but the landowner need employ only one person Ethe male
household heacf on a permanent basis..." (Garrett 1976: 33). Women on
the estates could benefit from additional employment, either in home.based
production such as poultry raising or handicrafts that could not be
appropriated by the landowner, or in village-based industries producing
consumer goods for which there is a steady demand.
Building on Current Production
The second task is to identify economic activities in which the
"target groups" of women are currently engaged: the time spent on each
activity, its output, the level of skill required, source of raw materials,
the type of technology, whether the goods or services are performed for
household consumption or are sold or exchanged, whether the level and
type of activity fluctuate seasonally, and so on. Good quality data are
extremely important. Time-use studies of village women's activities
usually point to a remarkable range of skills and'local resources upon
which to upgrade productivity, transform currently unpaid work into in-
come-generating employment, and, if necessary, introduce entirely new
economic activities such as small industries where raw materials and
markets can be assured.
A survey of the skills and resources of rural women in several
districts of Sri Lanka, hoping to identify opportunities for employment
both within and outside agriculture, provides a good example of the type
of base-line data that are needed for employment planning (Wijayaratre
et al 1978). The survey was designed:
() To examine the division of labor in the farm households;
2 To ascertain the present skills and experiences of rural
women which could be utilized in possible income generating
(3) To examine the opportunities for more intensive employment
of rural women in agriculture;
(4) To identify the infra-structure existing (or) needed for
the development of employment opportunities outside
agriculture for rural women;
(5) To ascertain the scope of activities of voluntary and
non-voluntary organizations assisting rural women in
(6) To identify specific income generating activities on or
off the farm for rural women for further development by
the Farm Women Extension Service of the Department of
Agriculture (Ibid.: 1-2).
Mobilizing Groups of Women Workers
Although some development programs offer direct assistance to
individuals or households for home-based production, organized groups working
outside the home have a number of advantages: economies of scale, reduced
competition, easier access to credit and technical assistance, experience
in collective decision-making, and the creation of a base of social
solidarity and political action. The central workplace provides an effec-
tive setting for the delivery of services such as functional literacy
classes, training in accounting and simple management, health care,
family planning, and the communal care of infants and children. In
addition, moving employment out of the home permits easier enforcement
of minimum wages and working conditions. Although the history of govern-
ment enforcement of labor laws in most countries is woefully inadequate
for public settings such as factories, plantations, or rural work projects,
the condition of women employed at home is usually worse, often
exploiting child labor as well (Committee 1974: 70-71).15
Employment-generating schemes in some areas have evolved quite
naturally out of indigeneous social networks such as rotating credit
and savings associations ("money clubs") or the tradition of voluntary
contributions of labor for community building projects or religious
activities, while others have been introduced as new organizational
structures, sometimes taking root, often not. Appropriate strategies
for mobilizing women for employment depends on the social characteristics
of the workers themselves (whether they share a history of mutual trust
or prior collective work experience, for example), the type of work to
be organized, and the nature of other social, economic and political
institutions in the community, among other considerations (Nash et al
1976; Worsley 1971).
Work teams on Chinese collective farms, for example, evolved from
traditional peasant customs of exchanging help at harvest time, later
formalized in the first liberated areas into permanent mutual-aid or
work-exchange teams, many of them exclusively female (Davin 1975: 264).
The Korean Mothers' Clubs -- some of whom have undertaken income-generating
activities such as fruit and vegetable gardens, small livestock projects,
mullberry production for silk worms, ropemaking and noodle factories,
and garment making -- were frequently based on indigenous rotating credit
associations (Park et al 1976: 278). In Kenya, women in Nakuru and its
surrounding hinterlands formed a Farmers Cooperative Society which purchased
a large commercial farm growing wheat, barley, pyrethrum, and sheep; a
"Machete and Hoe Self-Help Group" to buy a farm from proceeds of group
hoeing and weeding; and a "Hoe and Carrying Basket" association recruited
from a traditional dance group to earn money for property by hoeing or
brewing beer (Wachtel 1975-76: 71-5; see also Stamp 1975-76: 33).
Most formal cooperatives have been organized along Western
universalistic principles rather than on the particularistic norms of
nonWestern societies. Although many women's associations suffer from
problems that have plagued the cooperative movement in general --
political interference, mismanagement, membership apathy, domination by
the elite -- in some areas women's producer cooperatives show consider-
able promise (International Cooperative Alliance 1974, 1975). The
Bangladesh Integrated Rural Development program, for example, is initiating
small-scale market gardening, poultry, and fish raising associations to
improve women's earnings; throughout Bangladesh, village women's coopera-
tives produce jute handicrafts for export (Ahmad 1976; Dixon 1978: 42-74;
Along less formal lines, the Colombian Institute of Agrarian
Reform has organized women in "the most marginal of rural populations;
the migrants, rural labour and small peasant families" into dairy and
horticulture projects and a variety of small industries (Cebotarev 1976).
Given the opportunity, women appear eager to undertake income-earning
projects if they can work together and have access to supports such as
credit, training, and production and marketing advice. Agrarian reform
programs that create new linkages between households through land
redistribution or collective farming provide valuable institutional bases
facilitating the organization of agricultural and nonagricultural
work teams of women.
Credit and Technical Assistance
The fourth task is to establish sources of credit and technical
assistance that will funnel benefits directly to the women who need them
most (Buvinic et al 1979). Because these women lack bargaining power,
their access to resources will have to be mediated (at least initially)
by a strong advocate -- an individual or sponsoring institution -- who
links them with service agencies and represents their interests.
A United Nations study of rural cooperatives concluded that the more
effective groups had strong ties with outside agencies such as central
associations that provided training, credit, accounting, and other
services.(UNIRSD 1975: 17).
National policies to expand the network of district training centers
for rural research and administration, to tailor curricula to local needs,
and to direct rural extension services to small-scale nonfarm as well as
farm enterprises will benefit sectors employing women, but special
measures will be needed to ensure that women receive training and technical
assistance in all fields at every level.16
Similarly, national policies to extend credit or loans to low-income
rural populations through government or cooperative banks will require
flexible and innovative procedures to reach low-income women; without these,
women's productivity as farmers, traders, and small enterpreneurs will be
depressed. The People's Bank of Indonesia, for example, with branches
throughout the country, makes loans against collateral such as land or
cash crops (rice, maize, soybeans, sugar, cotton) but not for fruits,
vegetables, or household equipment which are typically women's assets
(Milone 1978: 107-112). Although the loans are at low rates of interest,
most rural women -- especially landless labourers -- are ineligible.
Programs that attempt to deliver credit and technical assistance
to small-scale enterprises and marginal workers differ considerably in
their strategies. Some extend services directly to individuals or
households, as in a Bangladesh scheme offering loans to nuclear families
with annual incomes below 800 taka per capital (about $56) enabling women
to start handicrafts or rice-husking businesses (Amachar 1979: 24). Others
extend benefits to individuals through groups. Some of these have a
history of collective action, such as the traditional funeral society in
Shinualu, Western Kenya that makes commercial loans to dozens of small
businesses (restaurants, bars, maize mills, etc.), many operated by women
(Ramey 1976). Some have no such history. The Self-Employed Women's
Association (SEWA) of Ahmedabad, India, included by mid-1975 about 6,000
previously unorganized street vendors, cart pullers, junk-smiths, garment
makers, and other independent workers (Bhatt 1976; Jain n.d.). An out-
growth of the Textile Labour Association of Ahmedabad (a large labor
union), SEWA operates a savings bank which makes low-cost loans to
members, many of whom are in debt to moneylenders charging up to 10
percent per day for operating capital.
A third type of program extends credit, training, and services to
organized groups, making the group as a whole responsible for repayment.
Ideally, group loans have the advantage of reaching the poorest workers who
are otherwise individually ineligible, reducing borrowers' and lenders'
costs, cutting loan default through joint liability, and facilitating
technical assistance (Adams and Matienzo 1978). These range from informally
constituted groups in Upper Volta requesting assistance for small projects
with income-earning potential (poultry raising, milling machines, cash
crops) (US Aid 1976) to large, formal producers' cooperatives. State
governments in India, for example, offer a number of advantages to
registered cooperatives such as low interest or interest-free loans, tax
concessions, subsidies of some staff salaries, government purchase of
cooperative shares, technical assistance of various kinds through govern-
ment agencies such as the All-India Handicraft Board and All-India Hand-
loom Board, and access to cooperative wholesalers and the government it-
self as buyers of cooperatively made products (Beriwal 1976: 34).17
The fifth consideration is to identify the most arduous and time-
consuming domestic tasks in order to release women for more productive work.
In a village in Pakistan, for instance, women spend an average of almost
four hours every day collecting, carrying, and preparing fodder for their
animals; almost two hours in animal care; and another hour milking and
churning (Anwar and Bilquees 1976: 51). In the Sahel region of Africa,
women of sedentary farm families spend two to three hours every day
threshing grain and pounding it into flour (Cloud 1978: 68). Similar
stories are told by women who walk long distances to carry goods to the
market, carry farm produce home from the fields, collect water from
distant wells or rivers, and search for increasingly scarce firewood
A policy to reduce domestic drudgery would focus both on the social
organization of work and on its technology. Collective work groups could
undoubtedly organize some tasks more efficiently as well as creating a
more congenial working environment. Some activities normally pezDormed
at home (e.g., husking, milling, oil pressing, spice grinding) could form
the basis for culturally organized small industries. In China, a policy
of reducing domestic drudgery in order to free women for renumerative work
has resulted in the creation in many communes of small industries such as
shoemaking and "sewing stations." Replacing time-consuming home production,
the work acquires public value and enters the income-generating workpoint
system (Davin 1975: 256). Similarly, nurseries and day-care centers,
while freeing women for more productive work outside the home, offer new
employment for child minders, permit daughters who might otherwise be
forced to take care of younger siblings at home to stay in school, and
allow women to continue breastfeeding infants at their worksite, with
important birth-spacing and nutritional consequences.
The literature on "appropriate" or "intermediate" technology points
to a variety of innovative labor-saving solutions uniquely suited to rural
women's needs and local resources: alternative fuel sources, water supply
systems, crop processing and storage techniques, household and farm imple-
ments, building construction, transport, and small industries.18 United
Nations agencies in Africa offer excellent examples of research and program
possibilities. The Women's Centre of the Economic Commission for Africa,
for example, held a series of workshops in 1977 on village technologies
for extension workers (Carr 1978: 72). Approximately 30 village projects
for testing improved technology were generated. Other African projects
include special training programs in village technology, the creation of
small research units within universities and government departments, inter-
national study tours, demonstration and testing units, and regional research
projects to identify technologies that will simultaneously free women from
less productive activities and create new possibilities for income-
generating employment ibidd. passim ).
Control Over Earnings
Whereas women who work for wages or on their own account generally
receive payment in cash or kind directly, unpaid family laborers are often
forced into a state of economic dependency on their male kin even when
their own labors contribute a substantial proportion of household earnings.
Efforts at land reform or "green revolutions" often leave women's basic
state of dependency untouched: "They remain enclosed within the work cell
of the family as unpaid laborers, unrelated to larger systems of inter-
dependence" (Ahmed 1975: 30). Even large-scale reforms such as the
ujamaa villages of Tanzania fail to integrate women into cooperative
forms of production on an equal basis with men. Women tend to grow food
on the small private plots that are registered in their husbands' names,
while men earn valued collective work points growing cash crops on
communally held lands (Storgaard 1975-6; Brain 1976). The traditional
sexual division of labor between food and cash crops, as well as between
unpaid and paid family labor, remains intact.
Other examples of women's economic dependency despite their produc-
tivity can be cited from a variety of settings: women and children in
India who weave saris at home commissioned by contractors who deal with
the husband; women and children who labor on estates or plantations along-
side the male household head who is paid for the whole family's work;
women who make handicrafts or foodstuffs at home but depend on their
husbands to market the goods. In these situations "the husband is also
the employer, and terms of employment are unchangeable" (Ahmed 1975: 30).
Access to moveable property probably permits greater freedom from
husbands' control than does working in family enterprises.\4here women
have rights to moveable property such as an inheritance of money or a
dowry of jewelry or small animals, they can show considerable ingenuity
in transforming a small portion into a larger one through a combination
of trade, production, and lending over the years. In Northern Nigeria,
for example, the women's "chickens, sheep, and goats serve as stores of
value, bearing interest in the form of offspring and available for liquida-
tion when cash is required' (Simmons 1975: 158). Earnings of this type
are generally considered the woman's own. Similarly women who earn
wages may have more autonomy in determining how their money is spent.
Of greater importance to development planners, however, is the evidence
that the loss of female control over earnings that were traditionally
theirs sometimes subverts the goals of an entire program.19
An organizational strategy that brings women together in collective
work groups can successfully circumvent male control over resources by
enabling women to sell goods and services directly. Where women work
with men, policies need to be developed to ensure that workers are paid
individually for their labors, whether in cash, in kind, or credit (e.g.,
workpoints). This issue of direct remuneration for work performed, which
is tied so closely to collective recognition of the value of the work,
was raised in China as early as 1948. Women on the collectives demanded
not only that they earn the same number of workpoints as men for the same
amount of work (although not necessarily the same work), but also that
"points of men and women in the same family should be recorded separately"
so that husbands could no longer control their wives' earnings (Davin
Although female employment patterns differ widely from country to
country, both in the proportions defined as economically active and in
their employment status and occupational distribution, some common themes
emerge. In spite of their heavy labors, rural women are far less likely
than men to be considered economically active, and, in most countries,
far more likely to be unpaid family workers rather than wage-earners or
self-employed. More so than for men, the meager economic returns are
highly disproportionate to their labor inputs, a situation defined in
one United Nations report as "an extreme case of unequal exchange" (UN
General Assembly 1978: 7).
Even in those countries where women have played vital and independent
roles in agriculture, cottage industries, or trade, a complex of inter-
national and national economic forces has been steadily undermining
their productivity and earnings. Rural women's traditional income-
generating activities are particularly vulnerable to displacement by
imported products, capital-intensive industrialization, the commerciali-
zation of agriculture and the expansion of large wholesaling and retailing
enterprises. As agricultural and non-agricultural production and sales
become more technologically advanced, men increasingly take over jobs
that women once performed. New industries (with some exceptions) and
agribusinesses frequently prefer male employees over females. For rural
women, the disparity between labor and earnings -- the pattern of unequal
exchange -- intensifies.
Given women's special vulnerability to loss of earnings as well as
the decline of traditional social and economic protections offered by
marriage and extended kinship, it is extremely important that policies
of agrarian reform and rural development incorporate specific measures
to ensure that women are fully integrated into the entire range of new
employment opportunities. These include not only agricultural and indus-
trial production but also the entire institutional and physical infra-
structure on which rural development depends:
...the creation of rural development agencies, agricultural
research centres, extension and training networks, the setting
up of cooperatives, credit systems, food storage facilities,
the expansion of food distribution networks, industries to
supply farm equipment and agricultural inputs such as ferti-
lizers, and pesticides, watershed management and irrigation
systems, rural road building and schools, health and family
planning facilities (FAO 1979: i).
Although the strategies outlined in this paper for generating female
employment in both the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors have
emphasized grass-roots programs for organizing women into work groups,
providing training and access to credit, setting up small industries or
agricultural enterprises, and so on, this approach makes sense only in
the context of broad national and international policies that eliminate
the net flow of capital from rural to urban areas and from developing
countries to industrialized ones. Otherwise, agriculture (especially
food crops for domestic consumption) and rural industries -- large poten-
tial employers of additional female labor -- will face worsening competi-
tion, lower wages, and intensified outmigration. On the national level,
policies that reverse past priorities favoring urban-industrial and export
sectors in investment, pricing, taxation, and terms of trade are bound to
have positive impact on rural women in domestic agriculture and small
industries. Similarly, the revision of international terms of trade and
private foreign investment to encourage domestic labor-intensive processing
of raw materials, manufacturing, and food production should also stimulate
greater demand for female labor in the countryside. In combination with
agrarian reform policies to reduce major inequalities in access to
material and social resources within rural areas as well, such grass-roots
strategies can provide women with essential support systems enabling them
to become active agents and beneficiaries of the development process.
11 am indebted to Kathryn March, Cornell University, for this
translation of her interview.
2The percentages of females among the economically active pop-ulation
in Sierra Leone and Liberia drop from 36 in both to 11 and 14 percent,
respectively; in Turkey from 38 to 6 percent; in Thailand and Korea
from 38 in both to 27 and 28 percent; and in Pakistan from 12 to 5 percent.
A United Nations report declares that "As long as money is involved,
the person is always classified as employed" (Boulding et al 1976: 297).
This statement does not apply to those who did not earn wages or profits
in the specified time period, however, so seasonal or sporadic income
generation characteristic of women's economic roles might not be included.
4The theme of negative impact of development on women is explored in
Boserup 1970, Chaney and Schmink 1976, Mullings 1976, Nash 1977, Tinker 1976,
For bibliographies see Buvinic 1976, Rihani 1978, Non-Formal Education
Information Center, 1978b. For policy recommendations see Boserup and
Liljencrantz 1975, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
1975, Germain 1976-77, Papanek 1977, United Nations Dept. of Economic and
Social Affairs 1973, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 1975,
United Nations General Assembly 1978.
5Many of these are "offshore industries" -- foreign investors taking
advantage of cheap female labor and prolonged tax holidays in the host
country (United Nations General Assembly 1978, pp. 40-41).
6For additional arguments and evidence see Anderson and Leiserson
1978; Kilby 1978; Liedholm and Chuta 1976; Staley and Morse 1965; White
7It should be noted that some of these so-called small industries
employ as many as 500 workers, however, and are quite highly mechanized.
8In Sierra Leone, for example, local small firms could not qualify
for tax exemptions designed to encourage foreign investment in the country
(similar tax incentives for large firms are found widely in Africa,
Asia, and Latin America) (Liedholm and Chuta, 1976: 111-114), and import
taxes were prohibitively high on some basic items essential to small-
scale industrial production. See also White 1978.
9A variety of income-earning projects both within and outside
agriculture are discussed in the following publications, among others:
American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service 1976; Interna-
tional Women's Tribune Newsletter 4 (March-April 1977) and 5 and 6
(January 1978); New Transcentury Foundation July 1978 and January 1979;
Misch and Margolin 1975; Rihani 1978, United Nations Development Programme
1978; United States Agency for International Development 1978.
10In Zaria Province of Northern Nigeria, for example, 90 percent
of the village women interviewed in one study were currently engaged in
at least one food-related activity for economic gain, usually processing
grain, legumes, or starchy roots into convenient ready-to-eat foods
(Simmons 1975: 156).
11In an attempt to equalize men's and women's daily wages on Food-
for-Work schemes in Bangladesh, separate women's projects uniformly pay
a higher piece rate to women for carrying earth. The differential rates
are designed to compensate for women's lesser physical capacity, particu-
larly among nontribal women, and to pay a daily wage that meets subsis-
tence requirements for a family of five. Not only does the differential
wage rate raise problems of equality, however, but it acts as an incentive
for contractors to hire men instead of women on the women's projects.
For this reason, some agencies have been reluctant to undertake women-
only construction projects (Judith Tendler, personal communication).
12With a few exceptions, such as the legendary long-distance woman
traders of West Africa.
13Marilyn Hoskins, personal communication.
14Based on the author's visit to BRAC projects in Sulla, Bangladesh,
15A 1948 International Labour Organization study of home industries
(garment making, spinning and weaving, and so forth) in Europe and North
America, in which workers were mostly women and children, concluded that
"...industrial homework is one of the least regulated, least supervised,
and most hazardous systems of industrial production" (quoted in Staley
and Morse 1965: 76).
16For a review of nonagricultural training programs, including
small industry development assistance, see American Council on Education
1977; American Council of Voluntary Agencies 1976, Coombs 1974, Nonformal
Education Information Center 1978a. Most train women in sewing, embroidery,
and other traditional female occupations rather than in carpentry, bicycle
repair, veterinary services, and so on.
17Registration requirements have proved far too complex for the
majority of small women's cooperatives, however, the members of whom are
mostly illiterate, and managerial and accounting regulations are beyond
the experience of most rural organizers (Dixon 1978: 151-4). To be
genuinely responsive to women's needs, the cooperative movement and govern-
ment agencies alike will need to relax registration requirements, hire
women registrars and cooperative extension workers, and organize women's
classes at cooperative training centers in order to extend benefits
directly to this group of workers.
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Children 36 (Oct.-Dec. 1976).
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