Women in the Urban Economy in Latin America
Working Paper No. 1 June 1982
Women in the Urban Economy in Latin America
I. Industrial Development and Women's Labor Force Patterns
II. Women's Role in the Domestic Economy
III. Women's Access to Urban Services: Overview
B. Child Care
IV. Women and Urban Transport: Case Study
A. Transport and the Urban Poor
B. Women and Transport in Belo Horizonte
C. Policy Implications
V. Women's Role in Integrated Service Programs: Epilogue
The author is co-manager of the project and serves as Executive Director
of the Amazon Research and Training Program, Center for Latin American
Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. This paper is the first
in a series of working papers that will be issued as part of a Population
Council project entitled, "Women, Low-Income Households and Urban Services in
Latin America and the Caribbean," supported by a cooperative agreement with
This paper draws on material contained in Schmink (1980), especially
chapters 3 and 4, on Schmink (1979), and on the papers and discussions from
two Latin American conferences: "Women in the Labor Force in Latin America,"
sponsored by IUPERJ, Rio de Janeiro, November 23-26, 1982; and "Life Condi-
tions of the Urban Popular Sectors," sponsored by CEDES, Buenos Aires,
December 4-7, 1979. A slightly different version was published in Spanish as
"La Mujer Pobre en la Economia Urbana de America Latin," in Magdalena Leal
(ed.), Debate sobre la Mujer en America Latina y el Caribe, Discusion acerca
de la Unidad Produccion Reproduccion, vol. III, Sociedad, Subordinacion y
Feminismo (Bogota: ACEP, 1982). The author is grateful to Judith Bruce for
helpful suggestions throughout the development of this paper.
POOR WOMEN IN THE URBAN ECONOMY OF LATIN AMERICA1
It is difficult and often misleading to generalize about Latin America,
given the great cultural, political and economic diversity of the region.
Abstract discussions of women's roles and conditions are similarly over-
simplistic because of the crucial differences determined by socioeconomic
position, family status, age and cohort differences. Despite this diversity,
it is nevertheless both useful and possible to seek general patterns in the
situation of women in the region.
This paper will present a synthesis of existing information on the posi-
tion of low-income women in the economy of Latin America's large urban
centers. The task is complicated by incomplete and inadequate sources of data
on women in the region. Nevertheless, available studies suggest that there
are strong similarities in poor women's productive activities and their access
to urban resources. The commonalities found among this specific sub-group are
largely due to the form of urban industrial development which has taken place
in the last three decades, and which has shaped the urban environment in most
Latin American countries. The paper thus begins with a summary of those
aspects of urban-industrial development which have been most important in
determining women's economic roles. The second section outlines how women's
work patterns are mediated by the conditions of the domestic groups of which
they are members. Low-income women exercise multiple productive activities
which include both direct income generation as well as unpaid labor inputs.
The use of collective urban services is one important component of house-
hold "full income" whose significance for household and community welfare has
not been adequately explored and documented. The paper's third section
reviews available information regarding women's access to, and utilization of,
selected types of urban services. Section IV focuses in more detail on the
urban transport sector. Findings from a pilot study carried out by the author
in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and from other available data sources, are analyzed
to generate a series of hypotheses regarding the impact of transportation dif-
ficulties on the productive activities of low-income women. The concluding
section suggests the importance of women's potential contribution to inte-
grated urban services delivery programs which recognize their needs and activ-
ities within domestic groups and local communities.
I. Industrial Development and Women's Labor Force Patterns
Two general phases of industrial development may be distinguished in the
Latin American region. Through the beginning of this century, most Latin
American countries supplied their internal markets with manufactured goods
through imports which were exchanged for raw materials or semi-processed goods
on the world market. With the Great Depression and the second World War,
supplies of these goods from abroad were greatly reduced, and Latin America
entered a phase of relative isolation from the international market. At this
time, national governments, in conformity with new ECLA perspectives, began to
formulate conscious economic policies to promote Import-Substitution-Industri-
alization (ISI) to supply national markets with manufactured goods. Industri-
al establishments during this first phase of development tended to be small-
scale, labor-intensive and nationally controlled. Workers were recruited from
the ranks of migrants from rural to urban/metropolitan areas. These economic
policies and the resulting importance of the creation of an internal market
for manufactured goods were consistent with populist political policies, which
permitted a wider margin for labor union activity to achieve more adequate
wage levels, as well as an expanded state role in the provision of collective
Beginning in the post-War period and mainly in the 1950s, the role of
Latin American economies in the world economic system entered a new phase. In
the developed countries, particularly the U.S., investors facing a situation
of falling rates of profit began to seek opportunities for investments over-
seas. This second phase marked the appearance of an important economic agent,
the multinational corporation, on the Latin American industrial scene. Facing
the need to expand operations and the increasing costs of labor in developed
economies, foreign investors were attracted primarily by the lower wages in
overseas economies. Labor policies in Latin America began to shift with these
changes in industrial development patterns. Labor's bargaining position was
increasingly restricted, in some cases through overt repression of union
activities, but also through more institutionalized means of controlling wage
increases to provide a "programmed decline" of salaries. As a result, in many
Latin American countries, high rates of growth in industry have been asso-
ciated with a tendency toward increased concentration of income.
The penetration of international investment into the Latin American in-
dustrial sector began to change the dominant form of industrial enterprise in
the region. New firms were more likely to be large-scale, using more produc-
tive technologies and were often controlled by multinational corporations.
Because of their more capital-intensive nature, these new establishments were
less labor-absorptive. At the same time, their higher productivity made it
difficult for smaller firms to compete, so that less productive national firms
were increasingly driven off the industrial market. Only those industries
with competitive productive bases and a relatively large scale of operation,
particularly those controlled by the state, could effectively compete.
At the same time, rural-urban migration streams were beginning to far
surpass the capacity of the industrial sector to absorb new workers. The new
form of industry, often based on intermediate and capital goods production,
selected its workers from among the "prime" skilled young male laborers.
These more fortunate urban workers were paid relatively higher wages in com- t
prison with those in other urban employment where the capacity to pay was
much lower. Thus, while multinational corporations sought investment sites in M'A
Latin America because of the lower prevailing wage rates, their impact within
the region was to create a kind of worker's "elite" based on salaries rela-
tively higher than those paid in other urban sectors.
With the increasing selectivity of workers absorbed into the industrial
sector, the majority of urban workers have swelled the services and commerce
sectors, particularly those characterized as the "informal sector." These
workers, many of them women, have more erratic earnings and less stable em-
ployment patterns. They also lack access to the indirect benefits assured by
formal sector employment. Health services, vocational training, workmen's
compensation and retirement pensions all provide an important "social wage"
which, for those in formal sector jobs, functions as a safety net to underpin
family financial security.
Given the diversity of national and regional conditions in Latin America,
the changes outlined here are not equally true for all contexts; they corre-
spond to the most consistent trends in the more industrialized metropolitan
areas of the region, linked to consistencies in the pattern of region, linked
labor force activity for women in response to these structural conditions.
First, urban industrial development signifies a shift of both male and ,4 .
female labor out of the agricultural sector. This movement is accomplished
principally through the mechanism of migration from rural areas and towns into '
metropolitan industrial centers. Such movement is a result of both "pull"
factors related to the growth of urban-industrial employment possibilities and I
"push" factors associated with complex changes in the country side. In Latin
America, in contrast to other developing regions, rural-urban immigration has
tended to be female-dominated (Boserup, 1970; ICRW, 1979). The degree of
sexually imbalanced immigration streams and the causes of these differential
patterns are variable, but in many parts of rural Latin America, female migra-
tion is associated with deteriorating opportunities for employment in rural
areas. It has been argued that traditionally women's role in agricultural
production in the region has been much less important than in the African and
Asian regions (Boserup, 1970). Several recent studies suggest that women's
agricultural inputs have been under-reported because of the inadequacies of
standard data collection procedures (Deere, 1977; Lewin, Pitanguy and Romani,
1977; Wainerman and Recchini de Lattes, 1981). While it still may be true
that agricultural employment for women in Latin America is relatively less
widespread than in other regions, the magnitude of rural-urban migration
streams suggests that women are migrating in response to fundamental changes
in agricultural production systems and not merely to the insufficiencies of
The large majority of women agriculturalists are employed in small family
farming systems, while the proportion employed as wage laborers is relatively
small. With the breakdown and subdivision of smallholdings and sharecropping
arrangements, and the expansion of agrarian capitalism in the region, women's
employment opportunities may actually decline. "Women's high rates of rural
outmigration are attributed to their displacement from subsistence agriculture
as land consolidation, agricultural mechanization and the growth of wage
employment reduce women's productive role and leave them increasingly depen-
dent on men's insecure income" (ICRW, 1979: 88). Population pressure often
contributes to the fragmentation of landholdings, so that the number of small-
holdings may actually increase although each productive unit is less capable
of supporting all its potential workers. Farm families typically respond by
allocating some members to wage labor, either as seasonal day laborers or
through temporary urban employment in order to maintain the family's diminish-
ing holdings while generating sufficient income to meet consumption needs
(Arizpe, 1978; Dinerman, 1978).
While some women do find wage work in agriculture (Martinez-Alier, 1975),
their employment opportunities are much broader in urban areas; rural-urban
migration movements are female-dominated, especially in the youngest and
oldest age groups (adolescence to early 20's and over 50) (ICRW, 1979). Young
women respond to the pull of employment in domestic and informal sector jobs,
especially in the largest urban centers. Older women probably migrate when
left (through widowhood or separation) as heads of household or alone; in the
city they either join their children's household or look for their own employ-
ment. The economic necessity of heading a family may be in itself sufficient
to induce rural-urban migration for a woman, as may be the status of single
motherhood (ICRW, 1979: 73); in this sense, poor women without a male partner
find their way to urban areas and help to make female headship a phenomenon
associated with cities rather than the countryside.
Once in the city, women's employment possibilities in the expanding in-
dustrial sectors are still limited. Female patterns of employment suggest
that the migratory pull is urban rather than industrial in nature (ICRW,
1979:89 -90) in nature. Some women workers are incorporated into factory
work, particularly in textile and food processing industries where female
labor has traditionally been employed. Many women in these industrial
sectors, however, work at home as pieceworkers or are self-employed
(Sara-Lafosse, Chira and Fort, 1981:96). With increasing emphasis on the
heavier industries associated with the second phase of industrial development
described above, women have been progressively excluded from industrial em-
ployment. In Brazil, for example, their proportion in manufacturing fell from
18.6% to only 11% during the two decades from 1950 to 1970 (Bruschini, 1978).
Industrial workers account for only 10% or 20% of the female urban labor force
in most Latin American countries. These patterns apply to both migrant and
native women, whose economic characteristics show few significant differences
once they are all in the urban setting.
Some women are incorporated into the modern sector, as secretaries,
receptionists, store clerks, teachers and nurses. Much has been made of this
pattern and its contrast with other developing regions (Boserup, 1970), but
over-drawn assumptions about the possibilities for upward mobility for women
should also be avoided. These traditionally "female" occupations are usually
reserved for younger white single women with the benefit of some education or
training (Gonzalez, 1981:8). In part, this selectivity is a result of protec-
tive labor legislation which prohibits women from some jobs considered danger-
ous and from the workshifts usually favored by large modern firms (overtime
and night work). Firms typically hire only single women and dismiss them when
they marry, arguing that maternity leave and daycare requirements make women
workers more expensive than men (although in many countries these costs are
borne by the state and not the firm) (Brazil, Ministerio do Trabalho, 1976;
Cardone, 1975). Even young single women with some education find that their
employment options are increasingly limited to the few occupational categories
described above; studies in Venezuela and Brazil have shown that after two
decades of rapid industrial growth, women were increasingly concentrated in
these traditionally female occupations (Bruschini, 1978; Schmink, 1977).
The majority of urban women, whether migrants or native urbanites, are
not absorbed directly into the capitalist or modern sector. Most are concen-
trated in the domestic sector (whether paid or unpaid), which is the female
domain par excellence (Saffioti, 1978). Domestic service is consistently the
largest category of female urban wage workers in Latin America; furthermore,
many women who describe themselves as housewives may in fact be disguised un-
employed. Domestic service is itself an occupation linked to skewed income
distribution patterns which create both the supply of poor women for employ-
ment--however demeaning and low-paying--as well as the demand for personal
servants on the part of higher-income groups. Aside from the domestic sector,
women also dominate many occupations in the so-called informal sector, where
they typically work as street vendors, seamstresses, beauty operators, laun-
dresses and other similar self-employed workers or unpaid family workers
This segregation of women into occupations distinct from those occupied
by male workers is linked to male/female earnings discrepancies. Even the
highest status female jobs, such as schoolteaching, are extremely low-paying
despite the relatively large investment in education they require. In fact,
women's earnings rise much less with education than do men's, so that salary
differences between the two sexes increase systematically with women's educa-
tional levels (Abreu, 1977; Barrera, 1978; Rato, 1978; Saffioti, 1969).
Because of the dual nature of male and female labor markets, salaries in
women's occupations do not reflect the higher prestige levels of related but
male-defined jobs; wages offered to women need not be competitive on the male
market, since men do not directly compete for the same jobs. In short, earn-
ings for women workers do not reflect their human capital investments and are
generally little affected by occupational differences. Lower-status female
occupations are particularly low-paying, even taking into account the bed-and-
board benefits often included in the domestic servant's indirect wage. Infor-
mal sector jobs, because they operate in a labor-surplus context in response
to financial necessity, are typically underpaid as well. '
II. Women's Role in the Domestic Economy.
At the broadest level, women's range of options is determined by the im-
pact of historical changes, such as those outlined above. However, these
structural conditions define distinct options and constraints for women in
different settings and social contexts. Changing economic conditions at a
variety of levels interact to determine the specific set of factors which in-
fluence an individual woman's participation in productive activities. Women's
work behavior is most directly mediated by the conditions of the domestic
groups of which they are members, whose form is in turn largely determined by
their overall social position (Garcia, Munoz and Oliveira, 1979a; 1979b;
Given the focus here on economic activities, it is useful to analyze
women's roles in relation to the needs of the household, the unit of consump-
tion of most basic needs, especially food and housing. The household, or
domestic unit, is the most consistent locus of decision-making for the alloca-
tion of labor and resources to meet consumption needs; as such, the unit car-
ries out an evolving strategy for the generation of income, serving as a re-
distributive unit which mediates between individual income-earners and final
consumption. Household "full income" or overall standard of living will be
comprised of some combination of collective services (provided by the state
and other agencies), monetary income and non-monetary inputs from home produc-
tion and exchange. This unit may or may not correspond to a kin-based
Whereas adult men tend to specialize in the generation of monetary in-
come, women's roles are typically multiple in both household and community
units. Most women balance three roles over their lifetime: childbearing and
child-rearing responsibilities; income-generating work; and household manage-
ment and provisioning. This means that alongside their important role in bio-
logical reproduction, women also play an active role in negotiating access to
all three components of household full income mentioned above.
The quality of women's economic activities and their relative importance
in the overall household strategy are highly variable. They will be deter-
mined by the household's relative position in the social structure, and by the
history and evolution of the household itself. The interaction of these
factors defines the household's absolute and relative standards of living,
which serve as the reference for their economic strategies. In urban set-
tings, dependence on the monetary wage means that the relative success of
household strategies, as reflected in their standard of living, will depend on
the fit between household composition (available labor and consumption demand)
and existing labor market opportunities. Since both household and labor
market structures are continually evolving, the fit is necessarily a changing
one. Some households may have low incomes based on their internal composition
and the ratio of producers to consumers in the household. Households with
small children, for example, are generally more subject to financial pressures
since the younger generation is as yet unable to contribute to household in-
come, and at the same time adult female labor time must be invested in caring
for these dependent household members. Other kinds of households may be vul-
nerable for structural reasons unrelated to what are generally thought of as
phases in the typical family life cycle. Thus, households headed by women
tend to be poor nco matter what their other characteristics. At a more struc-
tural level of analysis, the insertion of a given household in the social
hierarchy will to a large extent define that unit's limits for success in
generating income. Finally, historical changes may also shape both material
conditions and perceptions which together define a population's standard of
living. For example, a decline in access to state-provided collective ser-
vices, combined with rising inflation, may induce households to change their
economic strategies in response to a deterioration in living standards.
In short, a complex of factors interacts to determine the precise form
taken by the economic strategies of household units. Whatever the cause of
material and/or perceptual declines in living standards, households facing
deprivation generally follow strategies distinct from those with a better fit
to the labor market. In essence, financial pressures lead households to in-
tensify strategies for generating income, using available labor and resources
as fully as possible. Women's multiple economic activities are thus particul-
arly important in resource-poor households where the monetary wage is insuffi-
cient. At the same time, poor women face serious constraints in their ability
to carry out necessary activities.
In order to illustrate the dilemna faced by poor women, it is useful to
contrast what are often termed "survival" strategies from what might be called
"mobility strategies." The former are associated with marginal populations in
extreme poverty, whose day-to-day needs may force all family members of work-
ing age to seek paid employment despite losses in future opportunities (educa-
tion for children) or status (women in low-status jobs), and despite the
"double burden" of domestic and paid work poor women face (Duque and Pastrana,
1973; Fausto Neto, 1978; Lomnitz, 1977). More affluent households have the
luxury of placing their strategic priorities on long-term mobility through a
continuous and complete education for their children, with the wife choosing
to work only if she has the skills or training for an acceptable occupation
(Bilac, 1978). In such cases, her domestic labor tasks can be allocated to a
paid domestic servant.
Strategies in the two types of households differ in the way their compo-
nents (unpaid labor, extra domestic exchanges, collective services and mone-
tary earnings) are combined and in the relative importance to each type.
Goods and services consumed on a collective basis include the nonwage benefits
associated with formal labor market employment and the infrastructural advan-
tages available in more affluent neighborhoods. Wealthier households have
better access to these collective goods, and also to an adequate wage for the
primary breadwinner. Low-income households, on the other hand, must intensify
their strategies using the options open to them in order to stretch and sup-
plement the insufficient principal wage (Deere, Humphries and Leal, 1978).
Women play an essential role in this intensification effort.
While both poor and higher-income households use unpaid labor inputs and
inputs from exchange networks, the content and relative importance of these
activities in overall strategy are different. Poor households seek to reduce
their consumption of purchased goods of all kinds, and unpaid labor, the bulk
of it women's, provides day-to-day material needs which can substitute for
scarce monetary resources. It is in this sense that these activities serve to
stretch the insufficient wage. Such domestic activities as child care, home
maintenance, clothing manufacture, cultivation of garden crops and care for
small animals comprise a large proportion of household labor time even in
cities. In contrast, middle-class women may spend more time on domestic tasks
such as planning and management of a child's education, which have less imme-
diate returns (Vaneck, 1974). Similarly, extradomestic exchange and coopera-
tion principally among women help to substitute for purchased goods and ser-
vices in poor populations (Fausto Neto, 1978; GETEC, 1978; Lomnitz, 1977;
Oliveira, 1975; Singer, 1977). Extradomestic networks among middle-class
households in Latin America contrast with those of poor populations in func-
tioning not to serve immediate material purposes, but primarily to manipulate
public and private administrative structures to insure the long-term success
of class and kin interests (Leeds, 1964; Lomnitz, 1971; Miller, 1976).
Higher-income households are able to choose when and how household mem-
bers will enter the labor force and typically maximize the completion of chil-
dren's education (Bilac, 1978). Furthermore, women in these groups are more
likely to have completed secondary or higher education, giving them access to
relatively higher-status jobs, enabling them at the same time to hire domestic
servants to take over some of their home responsibilities should they enter
the labor force. Still, women in moderate-to-higher income groups tend to
have a relatively short working career, consisting of the period between the
termination of schooling and marriage or their first child. As a result, in i ,
the aggregate female labor force, participation rates rise with income and
education and are highly responsive to marital status and childbearing pat-
terns. Most Latin American countries lack the "second peak" of participation \
typical of many developed countries, wherein women reenter the labor market
after their children have grown up.
Poor women, on the other hand, particularly in the older cohorts, have
lower educational levels than men; most are either illiterate or have incom-
plete primary education. Despite the fact that they are often forced to work
in order to supplement family income, their labor force opportunities are both
limited and low-paying. In households facing the greatest financial pres-
sures, girls are often pulled out of school at an early age while their /
brothers continue their education; they either enter the labor force or take
over the domestic chores which permit other household members (their mothers)
to work outside the home (Franco, Leona and Arriaga, 1978; Fausto Neto, 1978; V
Machado Neto, 1978; Madeira, 1979, Rodrigues, 1978; Sara-Lafosse, Chira and
Fort, 1981). A study of female-headed households in Brazil found that girls
missed school 30% more than boys, and that 80% of their absences were due to
responsibility for domestic chores (Machada Neto, 1978). Similarly, studies
of time use in Brazilian, Mexican and Venezuelan households found that wives'
labor force participation was in part determined by the age of their eldest
daughter (Cebotarev, 1978). In the absence of other family members or of a
hired domestic servant, women needing work must assume the "double burden" of
housework and income-generation.
Because of the importance of their supplementary income (however meager),
poor women in general have a much more permanent link to the labor market than'
do higher-income women, despite their greater disadvantages. It is for this
reason that some studies of poor populations find their participation rates to
be higher than the average, showing a reversal of the aggregate trend for
rates to increase with income (Barros, 1979; Bittencourt, 1979; Garcia et al, '
1979a, 1979b; Schm~ink, 1980). If official data collection techniques were
better suited to capturing women's irregular work activities, this trend would
undoubtedly be more commonly found (Wainerman and Recchini de Lattes, 1981).
Yet in addition to being extremely limited poor women's employment options do
not provide long-term mobility, security, training, advancement, immediate
nonwage benefits or social security rights.
Furthermore, if women's domestic work were considered productive activ-
ity, there is no question that poor women's work participation rates would be
higher than those of more affluent households (Madeira, 1979). These domestic
tasks take up more total work time in low-income households than do income-
generating activities. The nonmonetary inputs provided by poor women are
essential in underwriting low wages. In their role as household managers
women strive to reduce financial stress by limiting consumption of purchased
goods, substituting unpaid labor when possible, manipulating extra-domestic
networks and patron-client relationships, and negotiating access to collective
services for themselves, their families and their community.
Alongside differences in patterns of economic activities of low and
higher-income households, contrasts in household composition also emerge.
Studies in Belo Horizonte have shown that the poor have both higher fertility
rates and greater tendencies to aggregate additional household members to the
nuclear core, resulting in higher dependency ratios throughout the life cycle
(Sant'Anna, Merrick and Mazumbar, 1976). These patterns may themselves re-
flect the relatively higher mortality rates among the poor and the need for
additional potential earners, even in urban areas. Furthermore, these depen-
dency ratios in poor households come an average of ten years earlier than in
more affluent groups, at a time in the life cycle when earnings are likely to
be lower. The study concluded that poverty is to a large extent the result of
a domestic unit's inability to effectively utilize its stock of potential
adult workers. Many poor children are therefore forced into an active econom-
ic role from an early age. Finally, a disproportionate number of poor house-
holds are female-headed and are especially vulnerable due to their structure
(Barroso, 1978; Buvinic and Youssef, 1978; Merrick and Schmink, forthcoming).
Not only are the heads of these households disadvantaged in the labor market;
other members are less likely to be prime-age male workers. Because of their
family responsibilities, women may be more likely to take on displaced rela-
tives (especially other females) even when their finances are inadequate,
whereas young adult males may find it easier to escape the poverty trap of
such households (Merrick and Schmink, forthcoming).
In summary, poor women are much more likely than women in higher-income
households to be important income-generators over their lifetime, they also
contribute significantly to household well-being through their substantial
nonmonetary inputs. At the same time, their work participation from an early
age often restricts their economic possibilities by limiting education which
would improve the returns on their work and their job mobility training.
Their protection in times of disability or old age is not guaranteed.
Deprivations of the mother carry forward to affect the future generation, and
in many cases conditions are worse for females than for males. Girls in poor
families often have lower rates of school attendance than boys, and much lower
rates than girls in higher-income families (Franco et al, 1978: 353).
III. Women's Access to Urban Services: Overview
Women balance a multiplicity of roles in household welfare; their econom-
ic behavior is to a great extent determined by the requirements of the
domestic unit. Their reproductive activities are particularly intense and
essential in the poorest households. Whereas a number of recent studies have
focused on patterns of women's employment in the region, relatively little is
understood about the role played by poor women in a variety of other activi-
ties which contribute to full household income. These include unpaid labor
inputs, the manipulation of extra-domestic networks, the general day-to-day
management of household strategies and the utilization of collective urban
services. Almost nothing is known about women's access to essential urban
services in particular and the effect these may have on facilitating income
generation and improving household welfare, both short and long term.
The principal responsibility for household management and provisioning
typically falls not only to women headed households, but also to those who are
de facto heads during the time when the head is working and/or traveling to
and from work. In urban communities located in peripheral areas far from the
workplace, women often function as day-time managers of households whose male
members leave their homes before daybreak and return after dark (Checa, Guzman
and Vargas, 1981). As a household's monetary income declines, the relative
importance of activities generating other sources of full income increases.
It has already been pointed out that the unpaid domestic labor performed by
women can be crucial in stretching available household income and helping to
insure the welfare of the domestic group. But urban women's socioeconomic
roles an far from limited to these housewife functions. They also help to in-
sure household welfare through the activation of social networks which provide
an important source of emergency loans and other types of exchanges of goods
and services. Furthermore, women in their management function battle to
secure for themselves and their families access to urban services such as
education, health facilities, child care, housing and infrastructural bene-
fits. In many cases this effort involves the cooperative action of community
members in mothers' clubs, housewives' groups and neighborhood associations.
It also leads women to activate patron-client relationships with individuals
and institutions and to negotiate with government agencies and local financial
institutions (Scott, 1979). These activities can provide an essential inte-
grative element within an often unstable and hostile urban environment. Urban
women therefore potentially have an important social role not only at the
level of household welfare, but in broader concerns of the urban community as
Because of this multiplicity of women's roles, analysis of their access
to urban resources must focus not only on productive employment but also on
access to more broadly defined urban services. Just as urban labor markets
are sex-segregrated, it is also likely that access to other urban resources is
differentiated by sex. It is therefore essential to direct research to the
analysis of women's utilization of urban services and their potential role in
facilitating income generation, improving household and community welfare and
furthering the long-term urban integration of poor populations.
Statistics examining sex-differentiated patterns of service use are
extremely scarce, making diagnosis difficult at this stage of research. It is
essential to know how use patterns differ, what the implications of these dif-
ferences are for women and their families, what factors lead to differential
use patterns and what kinds of policies might best serve to correct problems
of essential service delivery. All of the tasks must precede any direct
policy intervention aimed at increasing women's access to urban resources.
Based on the scattered evidence which does exist from various studies of women
in Latin America, the remainder of this paper will present an overview of the
state of information on women's access to selected types of urban services.
This review is not intended to be definitive or complete but to indicate where
further research might be directed.
Public education is the exceptional sector for which statistics comparing
men and women do exist, and studies in a number of Latin American countries
have shown that, in general, female enrollment rates have become similar to
males' during the last two decades of educational expansion in the region.2
Women's illiteracy has fallen to levels which are not significantly higher,
and in some cases are actually lower, than men's in urban areas. The implica-
tions of this apparent equality of access are less clear, however. The bene-
fits of educational expansion have gone primarily to the "middle sectors" in
Latin America and not to the poor (Urrutia, 1975:1-2). In Colombia, for ex-
ample, women are actually a smaller proportion of illiterates than men, but
most still lack a completed primary education, while only 9% had completed
middle or higher levels (Nunez, 1977: 88; 109).
Even at higher educational levels, women are uniformly concentrated in a
few female categories, notably normal schools. Furthermore, it is doubtful
that increased education necessarily pays off in better employment opportuni-
ties except at the higher levels of the occupational hierachy, and here women
are limited to those few "female" fields described earlier. They are unlikely
to find adequate wage return on their investment in education, and mobility
may in general be lacking for women in Latin America. In Peru and Colombia,
parents exhibited higher mobility aspirations for their sons than for their
daughters (Nunez, 1977: 117; Urrutia, 1975:1-11). Yet some studies show that
young women are less likely than young men to be kept out of school in order
to work to contribute to household income (Schiefelbein, 1978: 697, 708;
Brazil, Ministerio do Trabalho, 1976:46). In families with an income suffi-
cient to maintain non-productive members, young women's schooling may be allo-
cated to poorly-paid productive labor in order to support the more realistic
mobility project centered on their brothers' educational attainment.
Households headed by women may have, along with lower-income levels,
less access to basic services. Survey data from Belo Horizonte, Brazil,
showed that households headed by women were much more concentrated in the
lowest income group (61%, as opposed to 35% of those headed by men). More-
over, female-headed households within the same low-income group had lower
access to urban services than did their male-headed counterparts. While these
differences were clearest with regard to health services (see section C), the
data also suggest differences in access to education. Households headed by
females in low-income groups were more likely to have no children registered
in school, and much more likely to cite financial problems as the reason for
their children's absence, than were male-headed households. They were also
less likely to have their children in desired schools (Schmink, 1980: Tables
3.1, 3.2 and 3.3). Thus, the need for multiple earners in female-headed
households appears to affect the extent to which future generations of workers
are able to take advantage of educational services in urban areas, and female
children may be particularly affected by these constraints.
The difficulties women face in transferring the benefits of education to
labor force opportunities and earnings are even clearer when focusing speci-
fically on vocational training. In the Latin American region, only Cuba and
Costa Rica have official policies related to the training of the female labor
force (Ducci, 1977: 54). As a result, statistics on female participation in
vocational training programs are extremely scarce. Recent studies show that
women's participation is generally under 25% but appears to be growing in the
post-1970 period (Ducci, 1977: 50-52). As in the general educational system,
women tend to be concentrated in "female" fields which parallel their limited
occupational options -- commerce and services represent more than half of
those enrolled. Within industrial training programs, 60-70% of women are in
food and drink, textiles and leather and shoe industries.
B. Child Care
One of the most important components of women's household management role
is their function as "primary dispenser of health and nutrition care of the
family" (Bittencourt, 1979:1). Women are responsible for virtually all tasks
related to the care of children, and financial pressures which force poor
women to work create the serious dilemna of requiring alternate arrangements
for the care of pre-school age children. For mothers, access to some form of
day care is probably the single most important factor determining participa-
tion in income-earning activities. One study in urban Brazil found that over
half of the women surveyed were unemployed; the presence of young children was
the most frequently cited reason for unemployment. "Although children may
create the need for a woman to enter the labor force, they may require her to
stay home and thus limit her alternatives for work" (Bittencourt, 1979:1).
Neither does home-based employment for women guarantee greater compatibility
between work and mother roles. A study of home-based piece workers in Peru
found that most rely on help from their children either in their own produc-
tive activities or in domestic tasks, leaving less time for children to devote
to their schoolwork (Sara-Lafosse, Chira and Fort, 1981: 139-141).
Adequate day care facilities are woefully few in Latin American metropol-
itan centers, and virtually nonexistent in smaller cities. In Chile, for
example, despite a national commitment to the provision of services to chil-
dren under the age of six, existing programs reached less than 5% of that
population in 1972, rising to 12.3% by 1976 (Aragoneses, Fischer, Alarcon and
Navarro, 1978). At the level of the national government, Brazil lacks a pre-
school educational priority to attend to the approximately 35 million children
in this category in 1980 (Egger-Moellwald and Raucci, 1979; Bittencourt,
1979). The only legislation dealing with this population is the Labor Law of
1943, which requires that firms employing at least 30 women provide a day nur-
sery where female employees may keep their children during the nursing period.
However, the law permits the contracting of services to facilities distant
from the workplace, creating a serious problem of transportation for working
mothers. Furthermore, the law provides for child care only during the first
six months of the.child's life. Finally, the law is not enforced, and the
fine for transgression is so miniscule as to be insignificant (Campos, 17;
Egger-Moellwald and Raucci, 1979). As a result, demand for day care far
exceeds supply. In Sao Paulo, for example, out of approximately 150,000 busi-
nesses there are only 33 nurseries, while there is an immediate need for
330,000 vacancies for children under six years old (Bittencourt, 1979: 31).
One study found that in Sao Paulo day care centers existed for only one out of
every 28 children of working mothers.3 A 1975 study in Rio Grande do Sul
revealed that only 27% of the state's firms with more than 30 women employees
were fulfilling their legal obligations for child care provisions. A survey
by the press in 1969 counted "no more than 200 creches in all of Brazil, con-
centrated in the three principal cities (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Belo
Horizonte)" (Campos, 1977:5). Thus, despite the paucity of comprehensive data
on child care services, there seems little doubt that their provision is defi-
Furthermore, since many day care centers are private institutions which
may be expensive, they are accessible only to middle and upper-income fami-
lies, while the majority of working mothers must fight for access to a state-
supported center or find individual solutions to their work-home responsibili-
ties. Recent studies of child care arrangements have found that social net-
works composed of female kin and neighbors provide working women their main
assistance in child care and other domestic responsibilities (Bittencourt,
1979; Mota, 1979). A 1970 survey in the state of S'o Paulo found that only 1%
of working mothers left their children in day care institutions; nearly half
(46.6%) left them with relatives, while 21.6% left them unattended in the home
(Sao Paulo, Secretaria do Trabalho e Administracao, 1970). None of the work-
ing women surveyed in poor urban neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic and
Brazil in 1979 used day care institutions; by far the most common solution was
to leave children with relatives in their own home or in that of the caretaker
(Bittencourt, 1979; Mota, 1979). The second most common alternative was to
leave young children at home in the care of older siblings, an option which
potentially interferes with young women's school or work participation. How-
ever, a large proportion (one-third in Brazil; nearly two-thirds in the
Dominican Republic) of women surveyed stated that they would prefer to leave
their children in a day care center if one acceptable to them were available.
Institutional facilities for day care might also be a means of improving
children's nutritional level. The Brazilian study found children of working
mothers more likely to be malnourished, apparently not because of the time
spent away from the child, but because of the low economic level of the
family which forced the mother to work in the first place (Bittencourt,
1979:44). In the majority of households whose incomes are insufficient to
purchase necessary foods, low-income mothers reserve larger rations for work-
ing household members, thus depriving growing children of necessary nutrition
(Escola Paulista de Medicina, 1975, cited in Bittencourt, 1979; see also Gross
and Underwood, 1971).
Because of the severity of the problem of day care availability and the
stimulus provided by the International Year of the Child, several institutions
have directed their efforts to outlining the elements needed for appropriate
and effective day care programs.4 Appropriate child care may be defined as
"an integrated system of services for preschool age children including health,
nutrition and education and custodial care, which is responsive to the child's
social, economic and cultural context" and which is usually provided in the
absence of the mother, who is involved in income-generating activities (for
cash or kind, inside or outside the home) (Bittencourt, 1979:ii). Perhaps the
highest priority target group for the provision of these services is the urban
poor with children under the age of seven.
.One of the most important characteristics of a successful child care pro-
gram is its community basis, both in terms of location and participation. In
the Dominican Republic, the overwhelming majority (90%) of women preferred
neighborhood locations for day care centers in order to avoid transportation
problems. The location of day care centers in low-income urban neighborhoods
permits their integration into multisectoral efforts of combined services
(such as training, education, health and nutrition) which can have a far
greater impact on the community's basic necessities. Furthermore, they permit
a higher degree of local participation and authority, an essential element for
the continuing success of the endeavor. Day care centers may be based on
already-existing reciprocity networks, such as the "spontaneous" creche:
women who take children of working neighbors in to their own homes for mone-
tary or other forms of reciprocal payment. In particular, community-oriented
day care and other services can provide needed involvement of women at the
community level in positions of authority, and furnish sources of training and
direct employment close to home.
While data on women's demand for, and use of, health services is fragmen-
tary, women incontestably predominate over men as clients due to their role in
biological reproduction along with caring for the health of other family mem-
bers. A study in Colombia, for example, found women's demand for outpatient
services to be twice that of men's, a proportion which was even higher in
urban areas. In addition, women in childbearing ages (15-44) were three times
more common in hospitals than were men (Tellez, 1977). At the same time,
women's direct access to government-subsidized health services is much less
than that of men because of the link between social security health programs
and employment in the formal sector. In Lima, 87.8% of manual workers eligi-
ble for social security benefits are men, and 61.8% of eligible white collar
workers are men (Urrutia, 1975: 111-112). Similarly, 80% of Colombian women
are not directly affiliated with social security benefits, compared with 61%
of men (Tellez, 1977: 176). While many women have access to health benefits
indirectly through their working husbands, this lack of direct access is
critical for the many women whose husbands are also ineligible, or for women
who temporarily or permanently find themselves without the protection of a
Analysis of Belo Horizonte survey data comparing households headed by
males and females showed striking differences in access to health services.
Households headed by women in all income groups were much less likely to have
access to the main government-sponsored social security program (INPS); in the
lowest category, male-headed households were more than four times as likely to
have access. This striking difference is clearly a reflection of employment
patterns which relegate poor women to informal sector jobs. As a consequence,
male-headed households were about twice as likely to use INPS medical, labora-
tory and hospitalization services, whereas those headed by women were twice as
likely to use services provided by religious and charitable organizations or
government health posts (Schmink, 1980: Tables 3.4, 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7).
Furthermore, aside from institutional access, households headed by women
showed distinct patterns of use of other types of health services: they were
less likely to turn to a pharmacist and more likely to resort to a friend or
relative, or ritual curer (Schmink, 1980: Table 3.8). This pattern probably
reflects the differential cost of services for poor households. It may also
suggest a preference for community-based health specialists. Studies in
Brazil and Peru suggest that low-income women feel alienated from doctors and
hospitals. Instead, they prefer to visit the neighborhood pharmacist or com-
munity healer, who offer credit, are familiar with the medical history of
family members and are more integrated into the local community (Checa, Guzman
and Vargas, 1981: 328; Harrison, 1979).
Evidence therefore suggests that health services, like day care, can more
effectively reach those who need them if offered on a community basis. The
decentralization of some health services could provide many of the advantages
of local control and participation described above, including the potential
recruitment of local women as non-professional and para-professional person-
nel. These measures could improve both the cost and the appropriateness of
health services used by poor women and their families.
Assessment of women's access to basic infrastructural services in urban
areas is particularly difficult on two counts. First, whereas women's special
needs with regard to services such as health and child care are readily per-
ceptible, women's issues in housing and transport are much less obvious.
Secondly, almost no studies exist which have focused on sex differences in
demand for, and use of, such services. For many services sectors, exploratory
research is needed before the relevance of specific service provisions to
women as a subgroup can be evaluated.
Urban housing is a crucial element in the welfare of poor families, and
one which is provided directly to families or households within target commun-
ities. Studies of how women fare in housing programs in comparison to men are
scarce, but a few sources exist which can suggest some important considera-
tions for planners seeking to reach poor populations.5 Both the need for,
and access to, sites and services projects may be differentiated by sex. In
general, in evaluating socioeconomic characteristics of poor target popula-
tions, attention should also be directed to the extent of female domination in
migrant streams, the proportion of female-headed households and the existing
sex differentiation of access to service and employment in the local or
national context. Particularly with regard to housing, life cycle character-
istics can be an important variable affecting demand, determining both the
motivation for moving within the urban system and the capacity to pay for
housing and infrastructural services (Schmink, 1979: Chapter 6). Whereas
more mature families are likelier to have income sufficient to afford their
own housing, adequate facilities for families with young children may be
beyond their means; these families might therefore receive special attention
in housing projects. Similarly, households headed by women may require
special consideration in making accessible sites and services programs, such
as more flexible construction scheduling in self-help programs, and equitable
credit arrangements. The latter would be based on an analysis of the require-
ments imposed by official institutions in relation to collateral, the need for
a marital guarantor and the impact of marital status on property rights and
access to credit, as well as the possibility of reinforcing alternate sources
of credit such as informal savings associations.
There are, moreover, good reasons for considering women's special roles
and needs at the design stage of sites and services programs. The location of
such projects should take into consideration residents' access to employment
sources (for women. as well as men), to marketing and to such necessities as
water and domestic fuels. In designing the layout of planned communities,
women's patterns of utilizating household and community space should be
crucial considerations. These may dictate, for example, the need for locally-
based cottage industries, for culturally-appropriate public gathering places
for women, for sufficient privacy from neighbors and within the household it-
self and particularly for attention to the needs of women's domestic activi-
ties which might be facilitated by modifying the design of housing layouts.
Women as household managers should be consulted about how housing designs can
improve the ease of supervision and care of children, the amount of upkeep
which differently-designed houses require, the size and placement of kitchens,
the placement of water and bathing facilities and the space available for
kitchen gardens and care of small domestic animals.
IV. Women and Urban Transport: Case Study
Despite the importance of transport services from the point of view of
both planners and low-income populations, this sector is relatively unexplored
with respect to women's special needs. Indeed, research on women and trans-
port is extremely rare, and limited to developed countries (Coutras and
Fagnani, 1978; Lopata, 1980; Skinner, 1974; Skinner and Borlaug, 1978).
Distinct spatial and socioeconomic patterns create unique settings for urban
transport in the large cities of developing countries, and it is here that the
potential impact of transport improvement on welfare is greatest. In many
large cities of the world, data on transport behavior is routinely collected
in "origin-destination" surveys carried out at the user residence. In most
cases, information on urban movements by household members is differentiated
by the sex of the traveler, but rarely tabulated separately for men and women.
Special tabulations from such a study in Belo Horizonte, Brazil were obtained
by the author, and together with original survey data were used to carry out a
pilot study of urban transport for low-income women and their families. The
results were reported in Schmink (1980, Chapter 4) and Schmink (1981a), and
are summarized below.
A. Transport and the Urban Poor
It is beyond the purposes of this analysis to present a detailed descrip-
tion of urban transport planning in Latin America. Only the principal charac-
teristics relevant to understanding the situation of low-income women will be
mentioned here. The most prominent feature of Latin American urban transport
planning, especially after 1950, is the reliance on gasoline-powered vehicles.
The decision to stimulate bus transport as the principal public mode and the
automobile as the private mode, supplanting streetcar and commuter train
systems, has virtually eliminated these cheaper transportation alternatives
for low-income users. Furthermore, the added congestion of private vehicles
owned by the affluent tends to slow bus service to poorer populations (Barat,
1978:308; Thompson, 1979:64). The priority placed on motorized vehicles has
consequently been criticized for its potentially negative impact on the dis-
tribution of income within urban areas.
The problem is compounded by the spatial distribution of Latin American
cities, where the poor are typically relegated to distant peripheral areas
(Barat, 1978:314; Thompson, 1979:64-75). Studies in 1970 of the average in-
come of the economically-active population found a 30% to 50% difference be-
tween the nuclei and peripheral zones of four major Brazilian cities--Rio de
Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo. Access to urban infra-
structural services was also less in peripheral areas (Tolosa, 1978:146, cited
in BRAP, 1981a:50). Urban transport systems in Brazil generally have a radial
layout in which the urban center holds a polarized position; there is a rela-
tive lack of articulation of outlying neighborhoods with main thoroughfares
and with one another (BRAP, 1981a:73).
In most cities, bus tariffs based on distance travelled mean higher
prices for the poor who live in distant areas (and often have to transfer
buses to reach their destination). Some Brazilian poor families pay 20-25% of
their income for urban transport (BRAP, 1981b:42; Thompson, 1979:84-5).
Similarly, studies of time expenditures in urban transport show that these
tend to be higher for lower-income populations. In S'o Paulo, one study found
that average travelling time increased more than 30% from 1970 to 1976, and
workers commonly spent three to four hours per day travelling to and from work
(Archdiocese of Sa'o Paulo, 1978:35-6). Another study found that about half
the workers in the poor neighborhoods of Sao Paulo and Recife spent over two
hours daily travelling between home and the workplace.6
Despite the fact that transport costs are heavier for poor populations in
both absolute and relative terms, low-income urban residents are not able to
adjust their transport expenditures by moving elsewhere in the urban system.
The primary consideration for such groups in choosing a place of residence is
the cost, not of transport, but of housing, a much more significant factor in
the family budget. For low-income workers, employment decisions are often
taken only after the decision to move, so that access to collective services
is traded off for access to affordable housing. Thus, as urban neighborhoods
become more well-served and developed, residential stability is sacrificed by
those inhabitants whose income levels have not risen along with urban land
values (BRAP, 1981b: 120; see also Schmink, 1979).
Unlike other public policy sectors in Brazil, transport planning did not
adopt a redistributive character in response to the persistent urban poverty
which became evident in the decade of the 1970's. While legally a public ser-
vice, urban transport has been virtually run by the private sector, with mini-
mal interference by the state, except in S'Yo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where
it is in the hands of state firms (BRAP, 1981a: 127). Transport policy has
concentrated on improvements to trunk lines; in moving equipment, little at-
tention has been given to user access to the main lines or to the operation,
maintenance and administration of existing services. Relatively few sources
have been allocated to the local institutions responsible for these aspects of
transport policy, which are most relevant to the needs of low-income users
(BRAP, 1981b: 230). Private transport firms are naturally guided by profit
goals, and the rising costs of public transport have been passed on to the
user. Despite government investments in supportive infrastructure, the
general costs of transport have therefore gradually increased for low-income
populations (which can least afford them), while the level of service avail-
able has not increased significantly (BRAP, 1981a: 127).
B. Women and Transport in Belo Horizonte
Urban transport in Belo Horizonte, the site of the study presented here,
has undergone a similar evolution to that outlined above, moving from street-
car and commuter train service to a reliance on motor-driven vehicles. By
1975, 70% of all movements within the metropolitan area were by motorized bus.
In the commercial center, while only 17% of movements were by private car,
planning documents noted the disproportional problems they caused in traffic,
the distancing of downtown bus stops, parking availability, noise, pollution
and danger to pedestrians (Minas Gerais, 1975). Since 1975, one of the
thrusts of transport planning has been to encourage the promotion of industri-
al and residential expansion in sub-centers to the west of the city's commer-
cial center and closer to the industrial district. This approach aims to
reduce the saturation of the metropolitan center, and relies on the develop-
ment of an efficient transport system linking the new growth poles with the
A pilot study of transport used by low-income women and their families,
supported by the Population Council, was carried out by the author in 1979 in
three neighborhoods located along the corridors identified for expansion in
the city's planning document.7 The communities are residential centers for
working populations attracted by the possibility of industrial employment and
the availability of relatively inexpensive lots and housing, compared to more
central locations. The analysis presented here is based on information from
this survey as well as on special tabulations for the city as a whole from the
Origin-Destination Study carried out in 1972 by PLAMBEL, the metropolitan
Travel to work accounts for the largest proportion of trips carried out
by both men and women in low-income households. Transport planning has
focused almost exclusively on the home-work trajectory which accounts for the
bulk of urban travel during compressed periods of the day. Because of women's
lower employment rates, their trips to work account for only one-third of
total work-related travel. For the same reason, findings in Belo Horizonte
and other cities consistently show women to be less frequent travelers overall
than are men. In the Belo Horizonte neighborhoods surveyed, 37% of 195 women
Distribution of Trips Taken by Low-Incomel
Male and Female Travellers on Previous Weekday,
Belo Horizonte, 1972
Work in Industry
Work in Commerce
Sub-total (Trips to Work)
% Female of
1--Includes those travellers in households with incomes of up to
Cr$299, or slightly more than one minimum salary in 1972.
SOURCE: PLAMBEL 1972 Origin-Destination Survey, Belo Horizonte.
respondents (wives or heads of household) had not left their neighborhood
during the previous week and an additional 43% had traveled only one or two
days during the previous seven.
While their lower probability of outside employment means that low-income
women overall travel less than do men, they are nevertheless responsible for
about half the trips carried out for non-work purposes, as shown in Table 1.
Due to their multiple functions in low-income families, women take a fairly
equal share in carrying out errands which are essential to the household.
Women in the 1979 survey were asked to recall the reason for their last trip
out of the neighborhood, whether during the past week or not. The results of
this more detailed probing (Table 2) indicate that women travel most for
health-related errands (41%) and for provisioning and leisure (19%). Despite
its potential importance for both immediate and long range welfare of low-
Purpose of Woman's Last Trip Out of Neighborhood,
Low-Income Belo Horizonte Neighborhoods, 1979
Household provisioning 18.8
Bureaucratic errands 7.6
Help relatives 1.8
1--Includes multiple answers.
SOURCE: Original survey data.
income families, travel for non-work purposes is not taken into account in the
planning process. After the rush hour, transport firms typically withdraw
many vehicles from circulation, so that time investments by travelers in non-
work trips are increased. If more attention were given to essential non-work
travel such as medical errands and household provisioning, improvements in
transport systems might significantly improve access to a range of other urban
The impact of transport conditions on low-income populations is most
directly felt in travel to the workplace: transport accessibility serves to
spatially delimit the available labor market, and operational conditions of
transport influence the work schedule as well. When buses are delayed,
workers late for work typically suffer deductions in their salaries or are
dismissed; some firms refuse to hire workers whose homes are distant from the
workplace (BRAP 1981b:107-111). These risks combined with the relatively long
time spent waiting for buses force low-income workers to leave early for work,
allowing "contingency time" for transport delays. An already excessive allo-
cation of time is thus added to work and travel (BRAP 1981b:101). Difficulty
of access to transport lines for workers in peripheral neighborhoods is not
limited to extended travel time on the buses themselves; it includes walking
to the bus stop, which accounted for about 25% of total travel time for low-
income populations studied in Recife and Sao Paulo (BRAP 1981b:98).
These general factors affect both male and female workers in poor neigh-
borhoods similarly; employed women's travel patterns are more similar to men's
than are those of non-working women.9 However, differences between men and
women in their types of employment, and consequently in their trips to work,
also emerged from the Belo Horizonte pilot study. Despite their residential
proximity to the industrial district of the Belo Horizonte metropolitan area
("dormitory communities"), women in the sample were half as likely as men to
be employed in industry. Low-income women in Belo Horizonte are predominantly
domestic servants, seamstresses, laundresses or sales clerks, or are involved
in informal activities. Compared to one-third of working men, nearly one-half
of working women have jobs at some distance from where they live. The remain-
der of women workers work either in their own home or within the neighborhood
(Table 3). Twice as many women as men work in their residential areas.
Location of Employment for Men and Women in Low-Income
Belo Horizonte Sample, 1979
Men Women Total
In home/on lot 2.0 18.7 5.3
In neighborhood 12.6 17.2 13.5
Industrial area 40.1 17.2 35.5
Other Belo Horizonte 35.4 46.9 37.7
Others 1.2 --- 0.9
No fixed location 8.7 --- 6.9
TOTAL 100.0 100.0 99.8
(N) (254) (64) (318)
SOURCE: Original Survey Data.
Linked to these locational differences were contrasting patterns in the
mode of transport used. Women traveled much less by private car than did men,
and were more likely to travel on foot or by bus, especially in their trips to
work (Table 4). Furthermore, those women traveling by bus to the workplace
Distribution of Trips1 by Sex and Selected Transport Modes, Belo Horizonte, 1972
Automobile Bus On Foot Others2 Total
M F M F M F M F M F
Industry 18.6% 5.0% 50.8% 61.3% 23.8% 25.8% 6.8% 7.9% 100.0% 100.0%
Commerce 25.2 2.7 53.3 72.6 15.2 16.8 6.3 7.9 100.0 100.0
Work 22.5 7.2 52.6 60.5 16.7 22.0 8.2 10.3 100.0 100.0
Work) 22.5 6.1 52.5 63.0 17.5 21.4 7.5 9.5 100.0 100.0
1--On previous working day
2--Includes train; taxi; bicycle; motorcycle; private bus; others
SOURCE: PLAMBEL 1972--Origin-Destination Survey, Belo Horizonte.
. I I
Characteristics of Trip to Work for Men and Women in
Low-Income Belo Horizonte Sub-Sample, 1979
Average Number of Public
Mean Number Stages2 in Trip
Mean Number Minutes Spent
on Public Buses
Average Cost in Cr$3
Mean Number Minutes Spent
Waiting for Bus
1--Varying sample sizes are due to non-applicabi
2--Stages include walking to and from bus stops,
lity of some
questions for some respondents.
buses, and riding buses.
SOURCE: Original survey data.
. I .
were subject to more prolonged, complex and costly trips than were men,
because of the location of their employment.10 All bus lines in the study
area passed first through the industrial district and then proceeded to the
city center, from which point workers bound for other parts of the city trans-
ferred to a second bus. Women on average took two buses to work, whereas men
averaged closer to one (Table 5). The total number of stages in their trip to
work (including walking, waiting and riding buses) was also higher than men's.
On average women traveled a full hour on buses during their work-related
travel, whereas men averaged closer to 45 minutes. Average monetary cost of
the trip and amount of time spent waiting for buses were also higher for women
than for men.11
C. Policy Implications
Given the extremely small sample used in the pilot study, these findings
should be interpreted as hypotheses, to be tested elsewhere. The study sug-
gests that the link between transport availability and access to urban ser-
vices deserves greater attention by planners. Women's travel for essential
non-work purposes such as medical errands and household provisioning can pro-
vide crucial inputs to full household income. Yet women in charge of house-
hold provisioning may be restricted to more expensive local shops because of
transport difficulties. Access to health care, either for themselves or
accompanying children, may also be impeded by inadequate transport facilities:
the most dramatic symbol of the transport problem faced by poor women is that
of the mother who gives birth inside the bus, a story common to many poor
urban neighborhoods in Brazil (CEAS, 1979). Furthermore, the overcrowding of
existing bus systems may make urban travel extremely difficult for women who
have few child-care alternatives and thus must take their young children with
them on their errands. These observations reinforce the importance of design-
ing service programs which are based within low-income communities.
Women who work outside the home are more likely than men to rely on
public buses to get to the workplace. Yet the findings reported here suggest
that urban transport systems are not designed with the two-earner or female-
headed household in mind, resulting in higher costs in time and money to these
households. Greater difficulty in getting to sites of employment may restrict
the range of possible job options for women to areas close to home. Women
may, in fact, travel less because the facilities for urban movement are not
appropriate to their multiple productive activities: household provisioning,
negotiation of urban services, management of household needs and family health
problems, in addition to income generation.
Women could also benefit from improvements in existing service for the
traveling population as a whole. The problem most frequently cited by respon-
dents in the Belo Horizonte survey was the insufficient number of vehicles
running, both during rush hours and other periods. This problem is manifested
in delays, crowding and long and undisciplined lines for the bus. The gravity
of the situation was demonstrated by the death in 1979 of a man at a Belo
Horizonte downtown bus stop. After stepping back to allow a pregnant woman to
board the bus out-of-turn, he was shot by another passenger behind him in
line. Numerous other violent incidents have occurred in Brazilian cities due
to breakdowns and delays in transport for urban workers (Moises and Martinez-
Alier, 1977). A stronger role by public agencies in regulating local opera-
tion, maintenance and administration could considerably improve the effective-
ness of bus services for low-income populations.
High fares were also a principal complaint of respondents. Fares rose
more than 100% in Belo Horizonte in 1979, and households sampled spent an
average of Cr$600 per month on transport, or about 20% of the prevailing mini-
mum wage. Transport expenditures were under 10% of the domestic budgets in
most low-income households studied in Recife and S'o Paulo; nevertheless, in
Sao Paulo nearly one in five families spent 20% or more of their monthly
budget on transport (BRAP 1981b: 41). The adjustment of differential tariffs
for distinct zones of the city could help shift higher costs away from lower-
income groups. Subsidized coupons or free transfers for qualifying citizens
could especially benefit working women.
Discontent with existing transport services was also reflected in the re-
sponses to questions about preferences for alternative transport modes, if
these were available. Nearly half of those surveyed predicted they would use
microbuses if they were available, despite the higher cost to the user. More
than three-quarters favored commuter trains as an alternative. These findings
and those of other studies (BRAP 1981b: 125) suggest a great potential for
diversification of alternative modes in poor neighborhoods.
V. Women's Role in Integrated Urban Service Programs: Epilogue
In recent years, programs of service provision have frequently stressed
the importance of community participation in the planning process in order to
insure the program's success. This trend is in part a reflection of the fre-
quent failure of even the best intentioned "top-down" approaches to develop-
mental problems. This failure in turn has led to increased concern over the
persistent and often increasing social and economic problems faced by poor
urban populations, and the social tensions to which these problems give rise.
Programs stressing community participation also seek to spread potential bene-
fits more widely by reducing the costs of individual programs through the in-
creased utilization of resources, infrastructure, labor, and skills available
within local communities.
In addition to these serious practical considerations, many community-
oriented programs are also motivated by more fundamental concerns with design-
ing projects which will serve both to provide basic necessities to poor popul-
ations, and to strengthen and build the self-help capacity of low-income com-
munities. Central to this perspective is the view of change as a social pro-
cess in which individuals and communities are mobilized and stimulated in ways
that guarantee the continuation of activities beyond the confines of the
initiating project. The community mobilization and self-help accentuation
thus also implictly highlights the need for an integrated, multisectoral
approach to service provision and problem-solving.
An example of this approach is found in the programs supported by the
Inter-American Foundation (IAF), which stresses "enablement" ("habilitar" in
Spanish; "capacitar" in Portuguese) -- giving persons the necessary elements
in order to be able to negotiate for themselves (Inter-American Federation,
1977). The community capacity-building approach emphasizes projects as entry
points into a longer-term process of changing how a community conceives of it-
self and behaves. The focus is on joint accomplishment of commonly-defined
goals, rather than on the material results of a concrete project. The under-
lying premise is that given a minimum of support and skill development, poor
populations can organize, strive for appropriate goals and help themselves and
one another, (Hollensteiner, 1978: 25).
The IAF funded eighteen small community projects in S'o Paulo which were
evaluated in 1977,12 Evaluators described a complex of problems faced by
the poor women who comprised the principal clientele of the projects. The
rising cost of living combined with a high rate of abandonment by their
spouses caused these women to assume increasingly important income-generating
responsibility even while isolated from employment opportunities, lacking
appropriate skills and in need of day care facilities. Women also lacked
access to educational and health services, including necessary information.
This profile parallels the findings of the present report. In addition, the
Inter-American Foundation reports point to few recreational opportunities, a
negative self-image, few organized group activities and a lack of community
leadership exposure. Women not only faced serious material needs but lacked
the information, confidence and experience which might enable them to more
effectively help themselves overcome these deficiencies. The evaluating team
found that the most important feature of successful projects was the stimula-
tion of spontaneous "change energy" in the community. This energy was not the
result of fulfillment of specific material needs but of a status-fulfillment
distinct from individualistic self-images (which are frustrated by the poor's
life experiences) and from the status assigned to poor populations by the
society as a whole.
There are compelling arguments to suggest that women are the ideal target
group for programs which seek to build this "change energy." They face prob-
lems and disadvantages which defy easy solution. They play an important role
in the immediate and long-range welfare of their families; but, in doing so,
are unable to optimally utilize their own skills and resources. Preceding
sections of this paper have demonstrated how poor women's activities are often
virtually restricted to the geographic limits of their community due to of
their primary responsibilities there and impediments to their access to
employment and services outside this restricted arena.
Women's sphere of action is the community. Here they have shown them-
selves to be adept at building informal reciprocal networks of support and ex-
change, although more formal community organizations are often male-dominated,
with women lending support to, but not a participating in leadership
(Bittencourt, 1979). More recently, women in Brazil's metropolitan periphery
have also begun to strengthen their own formal organizations, such as house-
wives' associations and mothers' clubs, which tackle a wide variety of prob-
lems (Centro de Estudos e Acgo Social [CEAS], 1978; Schmink, 1981a). One out-
standing example is the Cost of Living Movement, which began as a mother's
club and grew to a national movement demanding a series of economic measures
to curb cost of living increases.
Because of the importance of women's roles in household and community
management and in the negotiation of service provision with urban agencies, it
seems logical that programs seeking to foster community participation should
focus on strengthening this demonstrated capacity for both formal and informal
organization. Community programs might also seek to involve women directly as
project practitioners, providing them with local sources of employment and
skill development. However, few programs explicit emphasize women's partici-
pation, even when the beneficiaries are themselves mainly women. Women are
included the sense that projects are open to participation by the whole com-
munity. In the immediate future, however, it may be necessary to develop pro-
grams specifically geared to women or which include components to directly
assess women's strengths, economic roles, potential contributions and specific
needs (AID, 1977:4).
While multi-sectorial, community-oriented and women-oriented service pro-
grams should not be regarded as a panacea for the complex problems plaguing
poor urban women in Latin America, they provide a convenient entry point in
addressing the difficulties outlined in this paper. Rather than being based
on unrealistic conceptions of women's economic roles, such programs depart
from an analysis of women's essential and multiple roles in household and com-
munity. They can seek to alleviate, if only partially, the great obstacles
women face in the search for acceptable employment opportunities, and work
towards improving access to a variety of urban services which can potentially
enhance the prospects of poor women and their families. Service programs
thereby respond indirectly to the problem of transport inadequacies by reduc-
ing women's need to leave the community while at the same time building their
capacity and confidence to operate outside the restricted domestic sphere, en-
hancing the potential for activities outside the community. Finally, they can
help to build a more adequate base of information about poor women's needs and
capabilities and enhance the overall understanding of appropriate policy
directions which treat women as contributing members of a developing society.
1. One study counted as disguised unemployed all those housewives of
appropriate age and educational categories in households where other persons
were available to take over domestic chores. Those who fell into this cate-
gory made up 7% of all women, and their addition to the total unemployment
rate for women made it higher than that for men (Madeira, 1979).
2. This discussion is based on the following sources: Bonet, 1972;
Brazil, Ministerio do Trabalho, 1976; Campiglia, 1975; Ducci, 1977; Nunez,
1977; Schiefelbein, 1978; Silva, 1977; Urrutia, 1975.
3. Study by the S-o Paulo Social Welfare Secretariat, cited in NAs
Mulheres 2: 10, 1976.
4. This discussion is based on the following sources: Bittencourt,
1979; Egger-Moellwald and Raucci, 1979; Hollensteiner, 1978; Massel, 19; Mota,
1979; "The urban child in IYC," The Urban Edge 3: 9 (November 1979); 1-5.
5. The following discussion is based on Furst, 1979, and Conger, 1979.
6. (BRAP 1981b: 97). The author worked as a consultant on the design
phase of this project which included field work in Recife and Sao Paulo. A
user-oriented survey approach, similar to that used in the author's Belo
Horizonte pilot study, was used. However, the analysis of transport behavior
did not differentiate by gender.
7. The three neighborhoods have similar socioeconomic conditions and
locations but different histories of access to urban transport data from the
three sites are analyzed together in this paper. A multi-stage cluster sam-
pling approach was used to select 70-75 cases from each neighborhood for a
total of 218 sample households (about 10% of the survey universe). Findings
of the study are described in more detail in Schmink (1980, Chapter 4). The
survey methodology is described in Appendix II of the same source.
8. Detailed special tabulations were obtained from the PLAMBEL study,
which included three types of questionnaires applied to a random sample of 5%
of the city's households. One collected data on housing and vehicle ownership
for the household, a second on socioeconomic characteristics of household mem-
bers, and a third on travel by individuals on the last normal weekday before
the survey. Data on individual travel are analyzed in this paper.
9. Data from the Bogota Urban Development Study Phase II household sur-
vey (1972) analyzed in Schmink (1980) demonstrate that travel frequency for
housewives is significantly lower than for employed men and women. Housewives
similarly stood out from other groups in response to questions regarding how
much travelers were willing to pay for travel (lowest for housewives) and how
long travelers were willing to wait for transport (longest for housewives).
These findings are consistent with the economic role of nonworking housewives
in low-income families, who commonly substitute their own time for monetary
expenditures as one method of stretching household income.
10. The pilot study included a detailed analysis of trips between home
and workplace in order to disaggregate the various components of these trips.
Interviews were carried out with up to three employed household members pre-
sent during the interview, regarding their travel during the last working day
(most interviews were carried out on week-ends or in the evening). Respon-
dents were asked to report on their trip to and from work taking each stage of
the journey separately and indicating mode of transport, waiting periods, and
time and monetary expenditures. Coding these data revealed that some inter-
viewers failed to question respondents about waiting periods or stages which
entailed walking from one point to another. The more detailed analysis of
travel to and from work was therefore restricted to questionnaires applied by
the remaining interviewers, or about 57% of the total. This further re-
stricted an already small sample and introduced an unknown degree of bias in
the sub-sample. However, each interviewer carried out equal numbers of inter-
views in each of the three neighborhoods, so that inter-neighborhood bias
should not be a factor.
11. Differences between men and women in monetary costs and time spent
waiting were not significant at the .05 level. However, given the clear find4-
ings about numbers of buses taken by each sex, it logically follows that costs
in money and time are also higher for women. Lower levels of significance in
the two variables in question can in all likelihood be attributed to the ex-
tremely low sample sizes, a factor which makes the strength of the findings
all the more impressive.
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