International Center for Research onWomen
KEEPING WOMEN OUT:
A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT
IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
International Center for Research on Women
Prepared for the Office of Women in Development, Bureau of Program and
Policy Coordination, Agency for International Development under Contract
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Women's Changing Economic Roles and Responsibilities... 2
A. Women's Economic Need to Work..................... 2
B. Women's Economic Contribution to Family Well-being.. 5
II. Women's Contribution to National Development............ 8
A. Changes in the Level of Women's Labor Force Par-
ticipation Since the Early 1960's.................. 9
B. The Participation of Women in Agricultural and
Non-Agricultural Economic Activities................ 12
C. Sectoral Distribution of Women Workers Relative
to the Total Labor Force........................... 14
D. Sex Differences in Employment Status Among Econ-
omically Active Workers............................ 18
E. The Estimated Contribution of Women to GDP ......... 21
III. Constraints on Women's Employment...................... 25
A. Labor Supply: The Over-Rated Variable in the
Employment Equation .............. ... .................. 25
1. Women's Position in the Family and Female
Labor Supply ...................... .......... 26
2. Cultural Prescriptions and Job-Segregation:
Their Impact on the Supply of Female Labor....... 29
3. The Effect of Education and Training on the
Female Labor Supply.................. .......... 33
B. Levels of Demand for Women Workers: The Real
Source of Constraints.............. ........... ... 35
1. General Economic Theories of Labor Market
Discrimination.......................... .... 35
2.' The Surplus of Male Labor and its Impact
Upon the Demand for Women Workers.............. 38
3. Capital Intensive Development: How it Res-
tricts the Quantity and Quality of Women's
Employment Opportunities.............. ........ 40
4. Protective vs. Protectionist Legislation:
How Great a Factor in Restricting Labor
Demand for Women................. ..... .. 41
IV. Critical Issues Related to Women's Employment,......., 54
A. The Double Burden ................................. 55
B. Marginalization of Women's Work........ ............ 57
1. The Economic Consequences of Migration for
Women.............. .................... ,,,,,,, 57
2. Domestic Labor: Physical Labor in Return
for Room and Board.............................. 61
3. Unemployment and Underemployment.,.........,.,. 63
4, The Underrepresentation of Women in Paid
Labor ................................ ........... 65
5. Low Wages of Women Workers..,o................. 66
6. Women in the Informal Sector................... 68
C. Off-Farm Employment for Women................. 69
D. Women's Employment in Transnational Corporations ... 71
V. Summary and Conclusions ............ ................. 78
VI. Policy and Program Recommendations for Enhancing
Women's Employment................. ....... .......,. 84
A. Recommendations for Minimizing Constraints to
Women's Employment .............................. 85
B. Recommendations to Minimize the Adverse Effects
of Protective Legislation............ ...... .......... 85
C. Recommendations for Relieving the Double Burden
of Women..................................... ...... 87
D. Recommendations for Minimizing the Marginality
of Women Workers.................................... 88
E. Recommendations for Promoting Off-Farm Employment.., 89
F. Recommendations for Improving Employment
Conditions of Women Workers in Trans-
national Corporations .. .. .. ....... ... ... .. 90
The purpose of this background report is to disclose a series of
issues which have been identified as critical to women's employment,
underemployment and unemployment in the Third World, particularly among
the poor. These issues will be discussed in the following order:
a) women's unrecognized need to work as a result of their
changing economic responsibilities;
b) the importance of women's productive contribution to
c) the importance of structural forces in restricting the level
of demand for women workers in the labor market, in contrast to
the overemphasized constraints on the supply factors;
d) factors critical to the employment of low income women such as the
influences of multi-national corporations' worldwide search
for cheap labor.
A series of recommendations for policy intervention is presented
for most of the critical issues identified.
I. WOMEN'S CHANGING ECONOMIC ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
From a development perspective, arguments are advanced for promoting
efforts to increase the economic contribution of women as a means of
making fuller use of all human resources for economic development.
Furthermore, increasing Third World women's opportunities for employ-
ment and wage earning are a critical means toward improving income
There are two dimensions to the issue being discussed here:
women's economic need and women's economic contribution to the well-
being of the household.
A. Women's Economic Need to Work
Work in the lives of the majority of women in the Third World is
not a matter of equity and/or self actualization. The changing economic
roles and responsibilities of women, particularly among the poor, make
working a matter of economic survival. Working women often come from
extremely poor households, and include single women with children,
women married to men in the lowest income brackets, and older divorced
and widowed women who are dependent upon their own resources.
Economic and demographic-changes accompanying the development process
have contributed to the worsening condition of the working classes,
initially for men and more recently for women. The emergence of a class
system of wage labor in the larger capitalist economy combined with a
growing surplus in the labor population and high rates of urbanization
have restricted economic opportunities, intensified unemployment and
increased the reserve pool of male migrant labor Insufficient employ-
ment opportunities, shortage of productive assets required for self
employment and limited availability of wage labor are the principal
reasons for male migration. Under such economic pressures, family
structures are no longer able to function as protective welfare systems
and extend economic support to their women as dictated by tradition.
Traditional support systems are collapsing, particularly as they pertain to
protective functions provided to widows and to divorced and single mothers.
The result has been the emergence of an increasing number of male-absent
households in which women have become the primary, if not the sole,
supporters. Male unemployment and/or low earnings have also meant an
increase in the number of married women workers. Low male wages often
impose a double responsibility on married women who need to subsidize
the family income through'additional home production and work outside the
Unfortunately, current data collection practices do not make visible
to policy makers the "real" economic need of women. When economic need
is indexed by female work participation rates or female unemployment
statistics, the picture is deceptive because of definitional and measure-
ment problems intrinsic to census taking.
Structural Factors Linked to the Poverty of Women .Heads of Household:
Program planning has often ignored the de facto woman head of household and
the single mother. Households headed by women have been estimated to
range between 23% and 30% of all households; the estimated variation
of such households in 80 developing societies ranges from 10% to 46%1,2
The proportion in Latin America is much higher in urban than in rural
areas, and much greater in rural areas in labor exporting societies,
such as in Africa.
The evidence linking female heads of household with poverty is strong.
The single mother syndrome in Latin America and the Caribbean is linked
to structural poverty. The phenomenon is associated with male seasonal
and marginal employment; births outside of formalized unions are due in
large part to the inability of men to meet the economic obligations of
stable marriage. The multiplicity of sexual unions and consequent child-
bearing is also perpetuated by the woman's inability to survive economically
on her own once a union is terminated. The presence of single mothers is
more clearly documented for most Latin American3 and some African
societies though it probably exists in other countries as well. In
the case of Latin America, the documentation is ample enough to identify
the majority of single mothers as low income, young, migrant, econo-
mically self-supporting women with little chance of employment other
than in domestic service.
Field inquiries in slum areas in Latin American countries indicate
twice as many households headed by women as compared to those headed by
men at extreme poverty levels. In part of Java, Indonesia, 65% of the
urban and 32% of the divorced and widowed rural women workers did not
earn enough to support a single person's need (Redmana et al.1977).
In rural Bangladesh (Cain 1979) and Botswana(Kossoudji and Mueller 1980)
women heads of household earn considerably less than male family heads;
and in parts of Kenya (Kenya Employment Mission n.d.), twice as many
women heads of household as compared to men are unemployed and unable
to generate income.
The economic needs of women heads of household are reflected in the
particularly high activity rates displayed by the divorced, widowed and
separated groups. In combined form these rates range in Latin America and
parts of Asia (Sri Lanka, Indonesia) between 46% to 78%; and in Nigeria
(age groups 20-38) between 61% to 85%. Many of the factors that contri-
bute to perpetuating the poverty among this group stem from constraints
under which women operate, in general, but which are attenuated by women's
double responsibility for child care and economic survival.
These constraints include: women's difficulty in finding work;5 the
low level of asset ownership among women;6 low earnings;7 and lack of
support from secondary earners.
B. Women's Economic Contribution to Family Well-being
The extent of women's economic need may also be assessed by consider-
ing the degree to which women contribute economically to the well-being of
family or household members. There is some evidence from Latin America, and
considerable evidence from Africa, South and Southeast Asia which demon-
strates that women's contributions to household income provide the means to
meet basic survival needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Ultimately,
women's contributions make possible improvements in the health and nutri-
tional status of young household members.
In census counts "married" women often are automatically classified as
"housewives", veiling the important economic contribution they make or
attempt to make to the household. The actual number of economically active
married women is much larger than aggregate level data would indicate.
In many traditional societies, most notable those of sub-Saharan
Africa and certain matrilineal regions of Southeast Asia, women are
exclusively responsible for their children's survival and well-being
(PAG-UN 1977; Tinker 1979; Safilios-Rothschild 1980). Women are in charge
of family garden plots on which they grow produce for family consumption.
Sometimes they also earn cash income by selling surplus crops to buy such
goods as clothing and school supplies for their dependents. Generally,
women's ability to meet the subsistence needs of their families is
inextricably tied to the extent of control they exert over the intra-
household allocation of money. It has been reported that where women
remain in control of their individual income, as in sub-Saharan Africa
and parts of Thailand, increased income tends to improve both the quantity
and quality of the food available to their families. Increased income of
men, who are often not required to help meet family subsistence needs,
goes into the purchase of consumer goods and entertainment, and only in
case of emergencies into buying food items (Thailand National Council of
Women, 1977; Safilios-Rothschild 1980).
Yet even in societies that do not traditionally give women the
economic responsibility of supporting a family, women in impoverished
households must take on the responsibility in order to supplement the
family's earnings. Traditional sex roles and sexual distinctions in the
division of labor break down and women are, as one researcher put it,
"relegated to the problematic responsibility for family subsistence"
in spite of the fact that cultural expectations require that men be the
sole or primary providers for their families (ibid:9).10
There is increasing evidence that the earnings of working mothers
have a positive influence on the nutritional and health status of their
children.11 However, there appears to be a trade-off between the increased
nutrient availability resulting from women's wages and the reduction in
childcare time and quality that a mother's absence from the home tends
to produce (Popkin 1978). Moreover, women who seek employment which is
compatible with childcare tend to settle for jobs which, although closer
to home or offering flexible schedules, are poorly remunerated. In these
cases "the additional food preparation and other home production time
that women with compatible market work have available appear to be in-
adequate to compensate for the food they cannot afford to buy at their
lower income levels" (ibid:24).
It is clear, then, that program and policy measures must be taken
to ensure adequate childcare alternatives for working women and allow
for increased purchasing power and improved child health.
Lastly, there is another dimension to women's economic contribution
to family wellbeing, one that does not depend exclusively on women's
wage earning capacity. Women contribute economically to the household
by producing goods for exchange value in the marketplace; they can obtain
credit from informal neighborhood associations and cooperatives in times
of extreme need; and they can exchange goods and services such as food
and childcare with other women in neighboring households (Hammam 1979;
II. WOMEN'S CONTRIBUTION TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Given the limitations of existing data, assessing women's contribution
to national development is a difficult task. As spelled out in an earlier
paper (ICRW 1980), existing employment measures tend to under represent
women's economic participation and contribution to the overall economy
for several reasons. Primary among these is that much of women's work
takes place outside of the formal labor market in produce activities
within the household and family enterprises (as unpaid workers). Women
are also more active in the informal sector and as secondary part-time
or seasonal workers, which in general pose measurement problems. Employ-
ment data from developing countries is often based on definitions in-
appropriate to local labor market conditions, and as such, fails to
capture much of women's economic contribution. Because of the many problems
in assessing output per worker in developing countries, attempts to
measure the contribution of any one group within the labor force prove
to be extremely difficult. In recognizing these problems, great caution
in the interpretation of existing data is needed.
Within the limitations of definitional and measurement problems
related to data collection, regional data which do exist (mostly from
the I.L.O. Yearbook of Labor Statistics) may still be useful in pointing
to some very general trends and regional variations in the patterning
of female employment.
Tables I through V indicate:
the current extent of women's labor force participation and
changes registered since the 1960's (showing, in sum, that women do indeed
work). Table I.
the agricultural and non-agricultural participation rates for
women (showing regional variations in women's economic involvement).
the sectoral distribution of women's employment relative to the
total labor force (showing that the structure of the labor market for
women is different from the overall labor market). Table III.
the sex distribution of economically active women according to
work status, specifically the proportion of males to females, "unpaid"
family workers, and of paid "employees" relative to men, to highlight
the differences in remuneration trends for women's and men's work.
and the estimated contribution of women's work to the overall
GDP adjusted for the sectoral distribution of their employment (to
identify in more concrete terms the role of women in the overall
economy). Table V.
A. Changes in the Level of Women's Labor Force Participation Since
the Early 1960's
Table I shows the total labor force participation rates for women
15 years and older- for c. 1975 (for 105 countries) and c. 1960 (for
58 countries). Regional means show that women's reported labor force
participation rates in the 1970s are highest in Africa (45.8) and Asia
(42.9) and lowest in the Middle East (11.4) with Latin America (26.8)
falling midway between. All regions have experienced a rise in the rates
of labor force participation since the 1960s with the largest proportion-
ate increase being reported for the Middle East (53%).
In looking at the individual countries in Table I, the highest
Economically Active Women 15+
*/ Women's labor force participation rate =Total Women 15+ x 100.
Total Women 15+
Table I: Labor Force Participation Rates for Women 15 Years and Over
c. 1960 and 1978.
c. 1960 a c. 1975 !
1960 to 1978
c. 1960 a c. 1975 1980 to 1975
Central African Rep -0-
Ivory Coast .739
Guinea Bissau -0-
Eauatorial Guinea -0-
Sierra Leone .449
Upper Volta -0-
Table I: (cont)
c. 1960 a c. 1975 b
Percent Change .
1960 to 1975
Percent change does not
a/ Figures calculated on the basis of data from:
International Labour Office, 1969. Yearbook of Labour Statistics
1969. Geneva. Table 1
1967. Yearbook of Labour Statistics
1967. Geneva. Table 1.
1965. Yearbook of Labour Statistics
1965. Geneva. Table 1.
b/ Figures calculated on the basis of data from:
International Labour Office, 1979. Yearbook of Labour Statistics
1979. Geneva. Table 1.
1978. Yearbook of Labour Statistics
1978. Geneva Special table pp. 16-47, Table 1.
economic activity rates (over 70) in the 1970s, are reported for Botswana,
the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, the. Gambia, Madagascar, Mali,
Rwanda, Swaziland, Laos, Thailand and Haiti. Those with the lowest rates
(less than 10) include Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait,
Libya, Saudi Arabia, and North and South Yemen. On the basis of I.L.O.
statistics available for 1960 and 1970, 48 countries have recorded in-
creases in female labor force participation rates while ten have recorded
declines. The greatest proportionate increases are reported by Chile,
Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and the Philippines; the largest
proportionate declines are in Bolivia, the Congo and the Sudan. It is
not clear, however, to what extent differences between the two periods may
be subject to changes in data collection practices, survey techniques,
or definitions of employment or economic activity.
The average female labor force participation rate in the 1970s
for the 105 developing countries is 36. This statistic confirms the
substantial participation of women in the economy. In fact, the previously
mentioned limitations of the data suggests that the figure as reported
represents a considerable underestimation of women's actual contribution
to the economy.
B. The Participation of Women in Agricultural and Non-agricultural
Table II includes recent data for 29 countries which delineates:
(i) the crude activity rates of women in agriculture (per thousand
population); (ii) the activity rates of women 15 years and older in the
non-agricultural sector; and (iii) the respective proportions of females
in the total agricultural and non-agricultural labor forces.
Broken down by region, the reported data shows women's crude
Table II: FEMALE PARTICIPATION RATES IN AGRICULTURAL AND NON-AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES
C. 1978 a/
Region/Country Female Labor Forcek/ Proportion Labor
Participation Rates Force Female
(crude) (15 years+) Agric. Non-agric.
per 1.000 per 100
Trinidad & Tobogo
x = 6.4
x = 26.2
7 = 24.5
a/ Sources: International Labour Office.1978. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1978.
Geneva. Special table, pp. 16-47; Tables 1. 2A.
International Labour Office, 1979. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1979.
Geneva. Tables I and 2A.
United Nations. 1976. Demographic Yearbook 1976. Table 7.
b For women in agriculture, crude activity rates (economically active females
in agriculture/ total female population) are provided on the assumption
that a significant number of female agricultural workers are less than
15 years of age.
For women in non-agricultural sectors, the activity rates are calculated for
the female population 15 years and over on the assumption that most female
non-agricultural workers are more than 15 years of age.
agricultural activity rate to be at its peak in Africa (224) and
Asia (88); and lowest in Latin America (25) and the Middle East (6)12
Individual country data shows that these rates are highest for women in
Cameroon (317) and Turkey (266) and lowest in Chile (3) and Guatemala (6).
Non-agricultural activity rates are highest for women in Asia (26.2)
and Latin America (24.5) and lowest for the Middle East (6.4) and Africa
(5.4). Country specific rates are highest for women in Jamaica (53.0)
and Hong Kong (45.2) and lowest for women in Bangladesh (1.5) and
The female proportion of the agricultural work force is also greater
in Africa and Asia (39% and 28% respectively) than in Latin America and
the Middle East (11% and 18% respectively). Individual countries with
the highest proportion of females in agriculture include Cameroon (47%)
and Turkey (50%); while those with the lowest are Guatemala (2%) and
A regional breakdown indicates higher proportions of females in the
non-agricultural work force in Latin America (36%) and Asia (30%) than
in Africa (17%) and the Middle East (12%). Countries with the highest
proportions of females in the non-agricultural sectors include Jamaica
(54%) and the Phillipines (47%); and the lowest include Libya (5%) and
C. Sectoral Distribution of Women Workers Relative to the Total Labor
Table III attempts to demonstrate that the sectoral distribution of
the female labor force is substantially different from the total labor
force by (i) subtracting the proportion of the total labor force in a
Table III: DISTRIBUTION OF THE FEMALE LABOR FORCE RELATIVE TO THE TOTAL LABOR FORCE. C. 1975.
Region/ Sector!/ Distribution Distribution/ c/
Country of Female of Total Differential Total
Labor Force Labor Force Deviation
Hong Kong Ag
of Total Differential Total
Labor Force Deviation
Table III: (cont.)
Region/ Sector Distribution Distribution
Country of Female of Total Differential Total
Labor Force Labor Force Deviation
Region/ Sector Distribution Distribution
Country of Female of Total Differential Total
Labor Force Labor Force Deviation
El Salvador Ag
& Tobogo Ind
a/ Ag = Agriculture (includes agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing)
Ind = Industry (Includes mining and quarrying; manufacturing; electricity,
gas and water; construction)
Serv Services (includes wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels;
transport, storage and communication; financing, insurance,
real estate and business services; community, social and
and personal services; and activities not adequately described)
Distributions computed on the basis of figures obtained from:
International Labour Office 1979. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1979.
Geneva: Table 2A.
--- 1978. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1978. Geneva: Table 2A.
c/ See text for explanation of the Total Deviation.
given sector from the proportion of the female labor force in the same
sector; and (ii) summing the absolute value of the difference for all
sectors in each country. This final number represents the "total devia-
tion"13 of the female labor force distribution from the overall labor
A glance at the mean "total deviations" by region shows that the
Latin American and Middle Eastern countries by far have the highest
deviations in the distribution of the female labor force relative to the
total labor force (58 and 42 respectively). However, while in Latin
America this is because women are consistently under represented in the
agricultural sector (due to underenumeration in the unpaid family worker
category) and over represented in the service sector, the pattern is
not as consistent in the Middle East where women are variously over and
under represented in all three sectors, depending on individual countries.
For example, figures for Syria show that the distribution of the female
labor force is skewed so that women are proportionately over represented
in both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, whereas in Egypt,
women are proportionately under represented in both these sectors.
Although the Asian countries show the lowest total deviation in sectoral
distribution between female and total labor force (16), it is nevertheless
clear that the sectoral distributions for women are quite different.
Again, there does not appear to be any pattern to the sectoral over or
under representation. Unfortunately, the limited data available for
Africa precludes any meaningful discussion.
Individual countries reporting the highest "total deviation" index
are Honduras (106); Guatemala (102) and Paraguay (72). Labor market
conditions in these countries are likely to be quite different for
women workers than for the total number of workers. The lowest
"total deviation" indices are reported in Asia, specifically Indonesia
(4); Thailand (6); and Singapore (12). On the basis of this data, it
would appear that labor market conditions for women in Asia are rather
similar to those of all workers while in Latin America and the Middle
East they are not. However, as pointed out earlier the lower deviation
in Asia may be partly due to a more accurate count of women workers in
the agricultural sector as compared to the undercount of female agri-
cultural workers in the Middle East and Latin America (Buvinic 1978;
D. Sex Differences in Employment Status Among Economically Active Workers
Table IV shows sex differences in employment status in 12 countries
by presenting the frequency distribution of workers according to their
employment status in the agricultural and non-agricultural labor force.
The following categories are identified: employee, unpaid family worker
and other (which includes employers, own account workers and others).
In comparing women and men, the data reports that in 9 of the 12
countries, the proportion in the "unpaid family worker" category within
the female economically active population is greater than the corresponding
proportion among the males who are economically active. The incidence of
unpaid women workers is greatest in Iran (.32), Libya (.37), Korea (.30),
and Thailand (.51). The data also shows that when women are unpaid family
workers, they are most likely to be in agriculture, whereas men are most
likely to be in the non-agricultural sector.
In six countries (most in Asia and the Middle East) the proportion
of women workers in the "employee" category is lower than that of men.
By contrast, in five countries (most in Latin America) women are proportionately
and Sex Employee Unpai
Table IV: DISTRIBUTION OF LABOR FORCE BY EMPLOYMENT STATUS AND SECTOR FOR FEMALES AND MALES. C. 1975.
oyment Status / Total b Region/ Employ
............. Deviatbn Country Sector ...................
d Other Total (between women and Sex Employee Unpaid
y and men) Family
.05 .09 .16 .30
.34 .23 .13 .70
.9 ..29 1-700-.-
.07 .05 .27 .39
.43 .01 .17 .61
.50 06 .44 T .
.01 .35 .02 .38
.56 .02 .04 .62
.57 37 --06- 1.00
.07 .02 .12 .21
.64 .00 .15 .79
.7- 7 .-27-- "7
ment Status Total
Other Total (between women
ag .01 .02 .01 .04
women non-ag .71 .04 .21 .96
total 2- 06 -.00
ag .08 .03 .11 .22
men non-ag .54 .01 .23 .78
total .62 04 .f 1.-00
ag .02 .01 .80 .83
women non-ag .09 .03 .05 .17
total .-TT I- -S- .. .
ag .01 .01 .68 .70
men non-ag .17 .03 .10 .30
total 18 T04 .78 705-
ag .05 .30 .08 .43
women non-ag .31 .08 .18 .57
total .3 .38 6
ag .05 .07 .21 .33
men non-ag .46 .01 .20 .67
total .T6 .08 .41 1.00
ag .06 .23 .06 .35
women non-ag .37 .06 .22 .65
total .43 -- .2-
ag .09 .16 .35 .60
men non-ag .28 .01 .11 .40
total .37 .T7 7
ag ,05 .40 .14 .59
women non-ag .15 .11 .15 .41
total M.20 .T- -25- 0
ag .06 .14 .44 .64
men non-ag .21 .02 .13 .36
total 7 .16 .5f7 1.00
a/ Distribution of workers by employment status computed on the basis of data from:
International Labour Office, 1979. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1979
Geneva: Table 2A.
eneva: T 1978. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1978
S eneva: Table A.
bj See text for explanation of Total Deviation.
more represented in the "employee" category than men. Both female and
male workers in the "employee" category are more likely to be in the non-
In the majority of countries, both women and men workers tend to be
most frequently in the "employee" category. However, in Thailand women
workers are more concentrated in the unpaid worker category in the
agricultural sector, while men are more concentrated in the "other", i.e.,
"own account worker" and "employer" category. In India, both men and
women are most heavily represented as "own account workers" and "employers".
The male/female differential in employment status is represented by
the "total deviation" which is calculated by: (i) subtracting the propor-
tion of men in a given employment status category from the proportion of
women in the same category; and (ii) summing the absolute value of the
differences for all categories in each country.
The "deviations" for the 12 countries range from 14 to 70, with an
average deviation of 38. Thailand and Libya have the highest deviations
(both 70) and India and Bolivia the lowest (14 and 20 respectively). On
the basis of the small number of countries for which data is available
we can suggest that the deviations between the employment status of
women and men appear to be greatest in the Middle East (61) and Asia (45)
and lowest in Latin America (24). In Latin America the deviation appears
to be due to the higher representation of women workers in the "employee"
category, while in Asia and the Middle East, it is accounted for by the
higher representation of women workers in the "unpaid" family worker
In sum, this data supports the contention that women contribute
to the economy largely through their participation as unpaid family workers
and that their relative participation in various employment categories
is significantly different from that of men.
E. The Estimated Contribution of Women to GDP
The contribution of women to overall GDP, adjusted for the sectoral
distribution of their employment is estimated in Table V for 29 countries
on the basis of c. 1975 data. This estimate is calculated by: (i)
multiplying the proportion of women workers in a given sector by the
proportional contribution of that sector to GDP (for example in Thailand,
women make up 37% of the agricultural labor force; agriculture accounts
for 27% of GDP. Thus, women's contribution to GDP through agricultural
employment is estimated to be (37%) X (27%) or 10%. Of course, this assumes
equal output per worker in each sector);and (ii) adding up women's esti-
mated contribution in all sectors to obtain their estimated contribution
to total GDP.
Table V shows that in most countries, the contribution of women to
GDP is roughly the same as the proportion of women workers represented
in the labor force. In Indonesia, for instance, women comprise 33% of
the total labor force; after adjusting for variations in their participa-
tion in the agriculture, industry and service sectors, women's contribution
to GDP is estimated to be 33%. This seems to be the general pattern
displayed in most of the Asian and Middle Eastern countries, but is not
true of Latin America. Here, the data show that more often than not
women's contributions to GDP is greater than their proportion of the total
labor force. In Honduras, for example, women are estimated to contribute
26% of GDP, while they comprise only 15% of the labor force. Conversely.
the data available for two African countries show that women's contri-
Table V: FEMALE EMPLOYMENT, DISTRIBUTION OF GDP AND ESTIMATED FEMALE CONTRIBUTION TO GDP BY SECTOR. C 1975.
Region/ Sector (1) (2) / (col 1 X col 2)
Country Proportion Distribution Estimated Female
Labor Force GDP Contribution to
Region/ Sector (1) (2) (col 1 X col 2)
Country Proportion Distribution Estimated Female
Labor Force G6P Contribution to
Hong Kong ag
Table V: (cont.)
Region/ Sector ,(1) (2) (col 1 X col 2)
Country Proportion Distribution Estdmated Felpale
Labor Force GDP Contribution to
Female GDP '
Region/ Sector ,(1) (2) (col X col 2)
Country Proportion Distribution Est4mattd Few1le
Labor Force GOP Contributon t9
El Salvador ag
a/ Refer to note (a). Table III.
/ Proportion Labor Force Female computed on the basis of data from:
International Labour Office, 1979. Yearbook of Labour Statististics 1979.
Geneva: Table 2A.
---,-- 1978. Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1978.
Geneva: Table 2A.
c/ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from:World Bank 1979. World Development
Report: Annex World Development Indicators. Table 9.
bution to GDP is less than women's proportion in the total labor force.
This may in part be due to the high representation of African women
in the agricultural labor force relative to their participation in other
(more productive) sectors.
III. CONSTRAINTS ON WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT
Three inter-related forces condition and structure the position of women
in the labor market:
a. the supply factors that influence whether women are available
for wage labor outside the household.
b. the specific structure of the economy which conditions the
demand for workers in the labor market.
c. the implicit and explicit policies regarding the inclusion/
exclusion of women in the labor market as reflected in
hiring practices, segregation of jobs by sex, earnings/wage
The tendency in the development literature has been to over emphasize
sociocultural determinants, particularly as these operate to restrict the
supply of women available for work, and single these out as major causes
for the low participation and marginal status of women in the work force
of developing countries.
Relatively little systematic attention has been devoted to identifying
structural properties in developing economics that are associated with
low levels of demand for women workers, nor to an assessment of how
practices of statistical discrimination4 operate to curtail the access
of women to work opportunities
A. Labor Supply: The Over-Rated Variable in the Employment Equation
In this section the supply and demand conditions influencing women's
employment and work in the Third World are examined. With respect to
supply conditions, three major questions arise: How restricted is the
supply of women? Who and what determine this restriction? What are the
consequences of this restriction?
How Restricted Is Women's Labor Supply: Who and What Determine It?
Three major forces interacting to influence the supply of women
to wage employment outside the home will be discussed:
1. The particular position women occupy in the household,
which is dependent on household composition, family
structure and organization.
2. The culturally defined sexual division of labor in market
3. The resources women bring to the labor market, i.e., education,
training, on-the-job experience, to the extent that these
enable them to respond to labor market demands.
I. Women's Position in the Family and Female Labor Supply
It is assumed that family organization has powerful sources
of resistance to women's work patterns and acts as a restrictive
force to curtail female employment. The influence of marital
status and fertility as major conditions controlling the supply
of women available to the labor market has been heavily emphasized
in the development literature. The contention that woman's first
responsibility is to her home and immediate family means that
the course women take with respect to work depends on the adjust-
ments made between the organization of the economy and the pre-
vailing family system. It is argued that as a result of effective
socialization women have internalized the image society holds.
This image varies from the "expectation" that women should not
work at all; should not work once married; and/or should not work
if she has children. If women seek employment, they regard work
"exclusively as a means of overcoming the economic problems of
the home", defining it as temporary in relation to her major
ambition which is exclusive dedication to the home (CEPAL 1974).
These arguments have generated a series of assumptions
regarding women's behavior. Although these have n6t been verified,
they are drawn upon to:
(1) explain women's marginal position in the employment/
structure (i.e., low employment, exclusion from the modern
sector; high concentration in low-status low paying jobs),
as a voluntary choice women make in order to be able to
meet family obligations.
(2) validate the uni-dimensional image that employers, have
of women as mothers/housewives, which gives rise to and
considerably influences the practice of statistical discrimina-
tion in hiring, wage structure and job sex-segregation prac-
In the first instance policy formulation has emphasized that
women's familial role curtails her availability for work rather
than that little demand for married women or women with children
cause low level employment among women.
In the second instance, assumptions are made that women
workers are less committed to the job than men; that they place
priority on home responsibilities; and that they have high rates
of absenteeism and turnover due to family-related events (marriage,
motherhood). In short, women are not reliable and are a bad
investment-if not always with respect to initial hiring-then for
on-the-job-training opportunities, promotion, etc.
The uni-dimensional view of women as wives/mothers also fosters
the image of men as primary workers and the consequent notion
that women function in the labor force temporarily as secondary
earners when husbands' earnings are reduced or they have lost
The reality of women's life is quite different. From an
opportunity cost perspective, the extension of the uni-dimensional
wife/mother view of women to all women neglects the growing phen-
omenon of woman-headed households, and that there are differing
forms of family structure than the Western nuclear model which free
women from home/childcare responsibilities. Furthermore, within the
pool of the adult female population there are young and older
single women who are either childless or whose children do not
need maternal supervision.
The incompatability between the mother and worker roles is
put to serious questioning. In Thailand gainful work for women and
a combined worker-mother role are the norm (Cook 1975). In West
African societies women who bear children do not bear the full
responsibility of rearing them (Ware 1977; Oppong 1978).
The recent findings of a positive relationship between wage
employment and fertility among low-income groups clearly suggest
that the need for additional earnings has a stimulative effect
and dominates over the negative influence of childcare on women's
work participation. In Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico,
Panama and Peru, female participation rates increased between
1960-1970 in the 25-44 age groups which coincide with child rearing.
Participation was found to be highest among women from low income
groups with large numbers of children (PREALC 1978).
For women surviving at subsistence levels, low wages reflect
low opportunity costs; when wages are barely at subsistence level,
the opportunity costs may be very high (Wolf 1979).
The presence of young children was shown in several instances
not to affect the kind of work women engage in or whether or not
they work near or away from home (Pecht 1978). Extended family
networks in Latin American cities enable needy women with young
children to work in the modern sector of the economy and to put in
as many hours of work as women who have no children (Peeks 1978).
In San Salvador specifically, consanguineal household arrangements
permit women to delegate childcare responsibilities to other adult
female members of the domestic group and to obtain employment (Nieves
In many parts of South and Southeast Asia, despite high fertility
rates and the presence of young children in the home, women's work
participation and active job seeking in the market economy is noted
to be high (Dixon 1978;-Stoler 1977; Mencher and D'Amico 1979;
Das Gupta 1976; Cain 1978; and Qureshi 1977).
Among Javanese women in non-agricultural employment, for example,
those with children ages 10 and over work 8.2 hours daily as compared
to 7.8 hours among women who have no children (Peluso 1978).
2. Cultural Prescriptions and Job Segregation: Their Impact on
the Supply of Female Labor
Labor markets display, in varying degrees, patterns of labor
market job segregation based on sex. Such segregation is validated
and perpetuated by cultural prescriptions regarding job appropriate-
ness for each sex and the claim that such an organizing principle
is an innocuous accommodation of women's child rearing roles.
The fact that women are thereby not allowed access to certain
sectors of employment obviously restricts the supply of labor.
Furthermore, it is also clear that the degree of labor market segre-
gation is a highly successful mechanism for perpetuating the economic
marginality of women in the production process.
These are some of the consequences for women of a sex-segregated
1. The reinforcement of the traditional spatial and symbolic
boundaries of women's activities; the limitation of opportunities,
through a lack of policy interventions to expand women's income
2. Reduction of women's opportunities to find wage employment.
Wage employment demand generated by male sources is greater than
that generated by female sources.18 This is because men's activities
in sectors such as agriculture are more constant throughout the
year, whereas women's are dependent on specific peak seasons for
3. The assignment to women of those types of jobs that are the
dullest, the hardest, and the worst paid.19
The notion that a female monopoly over a productive sector
necessarily bestows upon her a source of strength and power is open
to question. Thus, it is argued, that the often cited example of
the African women' monopoly over the farming and marketing system
has been at the expense of her exclusion from education, modern
sector employment, farm mechanization, etc. If only men take the
step from family production to specialized production, while women
continue in the traditional/subsistence areas only, women's contri-
bution to local and national economies becomes highly questionable
However, cultural prescriptions regarding job appropriateness
for each sex are not immovable. Ideal behavior does not always
correspond with real, observed behavior. Examples from several
countries illustrate how cultural conceptions of job appropriateness
for each sex offer little resistance to structural changes brought
about by technological innovations and modernization processes-.
Jobs once exclusively the domain of males are, through increased
male labor shortages, redefined as female. Furthermore, the
economic needs of individuals and households is great enough to over-
come cultural proscriptions and disregard sexual stereotypes in
occupations. A case in point is rural Bangladesh where the economic
need of the poorest families, most of them headed by women, is so
overwhelming as to force women to break purdah restrictions and
enter occupations which are typically male, such as selling in the
bazaars and hiring themselves out as field hands in spite of psycho-
logical and social costs (Cain, et al. 1979).
The exigencies of capitalistic development in redefining types
of work considered appropriate for women is also reflected in two
Latin American countries in which women have been pushed by economic
need into previously held "male occupations," thus breaking down
the cultural assumption of a rigid sexual division of labor. In
particular zones in Colombia noted for recent heavy male outmigration,
women have now taken over the coffee haciendas--a sector which 17
years ago was still taboo to women because it was believed that
"women would infect the crops" (Leon de Leal and Deere 1979). In
Minas Jerais, Brazil, men have been moving into higher paying
sectors since 1978 (construction, railroad building, etc.) and
women now fill such previously male-dominated jobs as street cleaners,
bricklayer assistants, etc. By 1976 women's entry into "male
domains" had become so significant that the Minister of Labor, on
the request of employers, removed from the labor legislation the
clause prohibiting women from performing night work (Merrick and
Often cultural definitions of what is sexually appropriate work
are blatantly at odds with the real demands of the jobs in question.
An example from Nigeria makes this clear. In the construction
industry, demand for women's labor is limited, ostensibly because of
the heavy and dangerous work involved. Men are hired to lay the
bricks, but the few women who are also hired are immediately channelled
into associated tasks that are thought to be adequate for women but
pay less: they haul and carry on their heads pots of heavy, wet
cement (Debo Akande 1979).
In Yemen, economic need has been shown to outweigh strict
female seclusion norms. Chinese textile factories set up in Yemen
were..met with extreme skepticism by the Yemen government regarding
the feasibility of implementing China's stipulation that only women
be recruited as factory workers. The assumption was that Islamic
cultural constraints on women were too strong to overcome. The
Chinese launched a massive radio campaign to recruit women and on
the first day of recruitment 600 Yemen women presented themselves;
the majority were women heads of household (Hammam 1979).
Caution must be exercised against perceiving in such changes
the eventual disappearance of a sex-segregated occupational structure.
Although it may become acceptable for women to enter a variety of
"male" occupations, such changes are often specific to particular
situations and dictated by immediate needs. Generally, the occupational
structure continues to remain sex segregated and women continue to
be assigned to low status and the lowest paid jobs.
3. The Effect of Education and Training on the Female Labor
The female labor supply is not restricted by women's lack of
education/training. However, the lack of such resources is a
highly successful mechanism to perpetuate relegation of women to
low status-lowest paying jobs.
Two predominant trends emerge from the observed relationship
between women's education and work in poor countries: the first
is a positive relationship; increases in levels of education
correlate positively with increases in participation in the work
force. However, these results are based on education-specific
activity rates computed from reported labor force data; as such they
exclude many uneducated workers in the non-wage, informal sector
of the economy who are not reported as economically active. This
exclusion minimizes the actual number of women with little or no
education who are working.
When consideration is given to working women with low levels
of education as well as women's economic activities in non-wage
sectors of the economy, a second trend emerges; a U-shaped or non-
linear curve suggesting that women with little education have higher
rates of work participation than those with somewhat more education;
but beyond a certain point the relationship is again positive.
Given that the poorest of women enter into a diverse range of
economic activities to support a subsistence existence, it is to be
expected that the least educated would constitute a large proportion
of the labor force. At the same time, the few women with high
levels of education are in great demand (besides having a competitive
advantage) and thus have access to opportunities for high paying
wage or salary employment (Standing 1978).
Analyses of women in the labor force based on education and
wage employment figures at the neglect of non-wage activities
obsure the actual extent of women's economic activities. Secondly,
the small proportion of educated women currently in the work force
perpetuates the limited access women have to education and training.
This small proportion coupled with a scarcity of women's training
programs and on-the-job experiences reinforces the belief that
women's economic contribution is slight, their productivity low,
and their commitment to work weaker than men's. In other words, women
are viewed as a poor investment. This belief in turn prevents the
development of training programs and further limits women's access to
education. A vicious circle of discrimination develops which con-
tinually forces women into low status, marginal positions (Standing
In addition, low wage rates may in some instances limit the size
of the female labor supply, particularly for women who are better
off economically. Very poor women, on the other hand, have no choice
but to accept low wages.
There are other factors that interact to restrict the number of
women available for wage employment outside the home. Among these
are: distance to the work place and lack of adequate transportation.
B. Levels of Demand for Women Workers: The Real Source of Constraints
The previous section examines some of the conventional wisdom regarding
restrictions in the supply of.women workers to the labor market. The present
section will begin with a brief discussion of some of the economic theories
of labor market discrimination which basically argue that, in general, labor
markets are not competitive either because monopoly conditions exist or
because in dual labor markets, the primary sector has barriers which restrict
free entry. Subsequent sections will add to these arguments by further
showing how unemployment among males restricts the demand for women workers;
how modernization processes interact with labor markets to restrict the demand
for women workers; and how protective legislation for women effectively
restricts their entry into certain types of occupations and makes employers
institute discriminatory hiring practices.
1. General Economic Theories of Labor Market Discrimination
A variety of economic theories have been developed to explain the
persistence of labor market discrimination. However, efforts to explain
the continuing existence of discrimination on the assumption that
competitive market conditions exist have not met with a great deal of
success. This has led to the development of alternative labor market
theories and to relaxation of the assumption of perfect competition in
It is perhaps useful at the outset to distinguish between pre-market
and post-market discrimination. Pre-market discrimination exists when
one group does not have access to those factors (such as education,
training, experience, etc.) which increase human capital and enhance
their marginal product. Post-market discrimination exists when
individuals having similar amounts of human capital receive dissimilar
wages for their labor.
The persistence of pre-market discrimination can be due to a variety
of factors. A social structure which encourages the education and
training of one group relative to another is one factor.20 Additionally
since the acquisition of skills and training requires giving up current
income and money resources in favor of a higher future income, indivi-
duals without access to the necessary financial resources may not be able
to acquire the skills necessary to compete in the semi-skilled and
skilled labor markets.
Several theoretical approaches have been taken to explain the persis-
tence of post-market discrimination (Becker 1974). Traditional neo-
classical economic theory is perhaps the least satisfactory explanation
for the continuing existence of large wage differentials between groups.
This is because it views the economy as essentially competitive with
entrepreneurs attempting to maximize profits. If employers did maximize
profits they would have to minimize the cost of producing any given level
of output or else be undersold and driven out of the market firms that
did not discriminate. Given that discrimination does in fact exist,
either firms have different production functions or there are non-com-
petitive elements in the market.
The first attempt to formalize an economic theory of discrimination,
(Becker 1964) was based on the argument that discrimination exists if'
individuals are willing to forego money income to avoid working with,
for, or employing a particular type of labor. The greater the degree
of monopoly power, the greater the ability of employers to discriminate.
What this approach does point out, however, is that the total level of
output in an economy is lower when there is discrimination than when
there is not.
Another approach to explaining market discrimination is the dual
theory of the labor market (Cain 1975, Gordon 1972; and Doeringer and
Poire 1971). This approach has often been advanced to explain the
existence of large wage differentials between workers with the same
skills in under developed countries. Workers in the primary market are
protected from competition by those in the secondary market through
monopoly power of employers. High levels of unemployment in the primary
labor market can exist if workers in the lower paid market are willing
to give up their jobs to search and wait for an employment opportunity
to open up in the protected sector. Since the primary market in
developing countries is often substantially more capital intensive than
the unprotected sector, a worker's marginal value product and hence his/
her wage could be substantially higher in the protected than in the
These theories explain how labor market discrimination occurs in
general; they do not provide full insight into why women-as a particular
subgroup-are discriminated against.21 Subsequent sections identify some
of the specific factors in the labor markets of developing countries which
discriminate against women.
2. The Surplus of Male Labor and Its Impact Upon the Demand for Women
There are specific processes intrinsic to modernization which increase
the supply of male labor, namely:
Third World countries are experiencing capitalist development in
their cities and key resource sectors, while in the countryside, cash
crops are replacing subsistence agriculture without major reforms in
land tenure arrangements. This has led to a surplus labor population,
particularly where plow cultivation is the agricultural base, with
high numbers of under and unemployed males. This is particularly true
of Latin America and Asia, but less so of Sub Saharan Africa where the
traditional subsistence base still is hoe horticulture. Furthermore,
given the vagaries of the commodity cycle in world markets and the
small size of many countries' modern industrial and frequently capitalist
export-oriented sector, urban jobs are short in supply for the number of
men who are searching for employment.
In addition, low income economies with considerable small-scale
self-employment both in agriculture and in other industries, experience
fluctuations in the derived demand for labor which generally take the
form of fluctuations in the production and prices of marketable output.
When decline occurs in prices and output or there are rises in costs of
imported inputs, small-scale producers are compelled to curb production,
to incur debts, and are forced to sell land or other productive assets.
The effect of this is to drive worker families out of self-employment
into unemployment or wage-earning positions. In the long run, such
slumps tie workers and their families more tightly to complete dependency
on the wage system, thus increasing the pool of labor supply.
The surplus male labor thus generated results in high levels of
unemployment. The persistence of such a condition becomes a critical
component in the dynamic interaction between sex-specific supply and
demand factors. Discrimination against women workers is rationalized
on the grounds that where there is high unemployment, female employment
would push up the male unemployment rate. Thus, high male unemployment
levels are expected to mitigate against female employment and contribute
to the growth of sexual dualism, particularly where female labor force
commitment is lower than male, and where female labor turnover is greater
Empirically, overall unemployment in developing economies has shown
to have two opposite effects on women's employment. In several studies
in which aggregate level labor force data is analyzed, high overall
unemployment rates have a significant negative effect on female parti-
cipation rates (Puerto Rico 1950-1960; Thailand 1960; India, the
Philippines and West Bengal). In other instances, and particularly where
subgroups of women from relatively low income families are surveyed, the
unemployment rate is found to be positively related to the weekly number
of hours worked by the wife (Philippines; Malaysia; Colombia). This
is consistent with the hypothesis that among low income families, greater
overall unemployment means more husbands are unemployed and wives have
to work longer to compensate for the loss. For example, it was male
unemployment in Malaysia that forced many women to seek employment in
multi national corporations to partially or totally support their
families or themselves (Lim 1978). In Bogota, overall unemployment
increases were positively related to young (15-19) and older (45-49)
women's participation rates.
Widespread discrimination against women workers in times of high
unemployment has fostered sexual dualism. The dualistic nature of
labor markets in developing societies coupled with women's limited access
to education and training increasingly restricts the demand for women
workers to secondary jobs. This is legitimized/perpetuated by the
expectation that women are secondary wage earners. The probability of
women's work participation is seen only as a response to the unanticipated
fall of the family's prime worker (i.e., the male).
Lack of training and on-the-job experience keep women's productivity
low, thus allowing initial sex discrimination to be reinforced by
statistical discrimination. Employers come to regard women workers
generally as having a lower degree of work commitment than men, so they
discriminate against women in general and screen workers on the basis
of sex, preferring to hire men even if individual women do have education,
training and labor force commitment (Standing 1978).
3. Capital Intensive Development: How it Restricts the Quantity and
Quality of Women's Employment Opportunities
It is by now well recognized that the process of socio-economic
development is reducing the economic opportunities of women. It does
so in several ways: by destroying traditional means and relations of
production; by introducing capital intensive technology into the agri-
cultural sphere and commercializing agricultural production for export
purposes; by creating capital intensive rather than labor intensive
productive arrangements in manufacturing; and by maintaining a sex-
segregated labor market which has no need for female labor in the industrial
sectors of production. The result of these interacting forces is that
women are pushed out of agriculture and are prevented from entering the
industrial and manufacturing sector as wage workers. The squeeze, coming
from both directions, increasingly relegates women to the only remaining
sector: the tertiary sector and thus, into the informal labor market.
The nature and characteristics of women's over-representation in the
informal labor market is dealt with in subsequent sections. Here,
we attempt to illustrate through specific case examples how these economic
transformations squeeze women out of most productive activities and
The displacement of women workers from agriculture is the combined
result of several factors, including:
(a) generally depressed conditions in the agricultural sector
(low productivity, low prices, low wages);
(b) increased landlessness (especially among the poor), land
fragmentation, and population growth in rural areas (Stoler
1977; Meesook 1975, Youssef 1980).
(c) limited opportunities for women as agricultural wage laborers
(Ryan and Ghodake 1979; Deere 1977; Peluso 1978; Youssef 1980).
(d) the introduction of capital intensive, rather than labor
intensive technologies, particularly in those tasks traditionally
performed by women (the introduction of rice mills in Java,
for example, is estimated to have displaced 1.2 million
women from their jobs according to Cain (1979) and in India,
Papola (1978) shows that employment in agriculture fell from
21% to 9% between 1951 and 1971 as a result of the introduc-
tion of capital intensive technology).
(e) development of commercial production processes which utilize
male labor (for example, in Java while local women tradition-
ally have been hired to harvest rice, land owners, in recent
years, have begun to sell their crops to middlemen before
they are harvested. They, in turn, contract male laborers from
outside the village to come in and harvest these crops.)
The operation and affect of these factors can be seen through an example
from Latin America where in the 1960s about 60% of rural families had
some access to land resources. Among these families income was usually
supplemented by having some members, primarily women and children, seek
seasonal wage employment during periods of peak agricultural activity,
e.g., during the harvest time. Since then, agriculture in Latin America
has become increasingly commercialized through capital intensive crop
production and through the introduction of technology. The opportunities
for seasonal employment for women and children have disappeared as
male laborers and machines have replaced them. With diminished access
to land, peasant families used to rely on women's seasonal employment
to supplement their incomes. Seasonal unemployment among women is now
a major problem for these landless families (PREALC 1978).
Specific national studies in Paraguay (Silva et al. 1975) and
Guatemala (Chinchilla 1977) have further documented this and other
aspects of the squeeze described above.
In general, these trends have been exacerbated by planning policies
which during the 1950s and 1960s either neglected the agricultural
sectors or were consciously designed to keep wages and prices low,
thus discouraging investments and growth (UN 1978).
While overlooking the agricultural sector, planners were busy
developing the industrial/manufacturing sectors. However, efforts have
tended to focus more on the development of capital intensive rather than
labor intensive industries and production processes, which has limited
the general demand for labor in this sector, and in particular, female
labor. In many cases this is due to the transfer of unadapted tech-
nologies from the West which tend to reflect the relatively capital
abundant, and labor scarce environments of the developed world (Lim 1978).
The adverse effects of these policies on women is shown by evidence
from several countries which demonstrates a relative decline over time
of women's employment in manufacturing. In India, while total employment
in factories has been increasing, women's employment in this sector has
decreased from 11.4% in 1951 to 9.1% in 1971 (Papola 1978). Comparative
data for Guatemala shows that while male workers have increased their
participation in the manufacturing industrial sector (1.4% in 1950,
12.5% in 1965 and 17.5% in 1973), the proportion of women workers in
this sector has declined from 28.1% in 1950 to 21.7% in 1973 (Chinchilla
1977). And in Colombia, women's participation in the industrial sector
decreased from 36.4% .to 12.5% between 1938 and 1973 (Leon de Leal 1977).
It is within the industrial manufacturing sector that under-repre-
sentation of women workers is most striking. This is also the sector
where there have been historical trends towards diminishing opportunities
for women, especially as the production of crafts has been replaced by
industry. Although there are very few studies linking the productive
organization of manufacturing and technology to employment opportunities
for women, the few that are available indicate that as technological
innovation takes place and as there is a replacement of traditional
manufacturing processes by capital-intensive industry, women are displaced
and replaced by men. New industries hire men rather than women for
the stated reason that women cannot provide a stable, committed labor
force (Jelin 1979).
Further, data from Brazil (Bruschini 1979) shows that capitalist
expansion has pushed both men and women out of agricultural activities
over the last 30 years, but while men have been absorbed into a wide
range of occupations in the secondary and tertiary sectors, women have
been squeezed into an increasingly smaller number of occupations in the
tertiary sector, which was already overburdened with women in 1950.
Between 1950 and 1970, women's labor force participation in the industrial
sector decreased by 5 percentage points (from 15.6% to 10.4%), while
men's participation rate in the same sector rose by 7 points (from 13.1%
to 20.1%). And while 22% of the non-agricultural female labor force
was employed in industrial activities in 1950, by 1970 the figure
had been reduced to 13%. In other words, the participation of women in
non-agricultural labor force had been cut in half.
As women are pushed out of the agricultural sector and prevented
from entering the industrial sector, they are squeezed into the only
remaining sector of the economy which has any jobs to offer: the lower
levels of the tertiary or service sector.
There is evidence from all regions of the Third World that women
tend to concentrate in service occupations, that the percentage of women,
although low in the labor force as a whole, is disproportionately high
when one looks at the service sector in comparison to industry in general,
and manufacturing in particular. In Colombia, between 1938 and 1973,
women's labor force participation decreased substantially in the primary
and secondary sectors (from 33.4% to 4% and from 36.4% to 12.5% respectively),
while in the tertiary it increased from 29% to 44.8% (Lopez de
Rodriguez and Leon de Leal 1977). As a consequence of monopoly capitalism,
and capital intensive foreign investment in the agricultural and
industrial sectors of the economy, poor, uneducated Guatemalan women,
particularly in urban areas, are confined in increasing numbers to the
tertiary sector; 57% of the feminine labor force occupied this sector
by 1950; by 1964 it was 66.5% and in 1973 it had reached 67.9%
Women in the service sector c. 1975 in percentages by world regions
Of the total Of the Total Labor
Female Labor Force Force in this Sector
Africa 12.5 19.5
Asia 33.9 31.4
Latin America 67.4 42.4
Middle East 38.0 11.5
*Calculated on the basis of individual country data appearing in Tables
III and V.
The above table shows how in all regions except Africa, where women
tend to concentrate in agriculture, more than a third, in one case more
than two thirds, of working women are confined to service occupations.
Care must be taken, however, in interpreting the data because census
statistics subsume professional, white collar, and menial service
occupations, including domestics, under the service sector. The figures
on the Middle East might be the most misleading in this respect: most
of the menial service work in Muslim Middle Eastern countries is done
by men; women constitute only 17% of menial workers (domestics, cooks,
and servants) in Syria, and 10% in Turkey and Libya (Youssef 1974).
This points to the fact that in the Middle East, with the exception of
Morocco, women who appear in the service sector may be mostly professional,
middle and upper class women. Nevertheless, the data from Latin America
does show quite dramatically how the ranks of women in the service
sector are swollen by their entry into the lowest and most menial types
of employment, primarily domestic employment. In the mid-sixties
approximately 90% of domestic employees in Chile were women; in Colombia
the figure was 80% and in Peru and Mexico, 68% (Youssef 1974). This
point is developed further in the section on critical employment issues.
To complicate matters, development policies which give priority to
the capital intensive expansion of the manufacturing industry are also
displacing male workers, who then must seek employment in the only
labor-intensive sector remaining--the already overburdened service
sector. The Brazilian example used above also illustrates how the
proportion of males has increased in the tertiary sector since 1950;
males, however, did not begin to get squeezed into service occupations
until well after it had become predominantly feminine, and do not, even
today, enter the tertiary sector at the high rates women do (Bruschini
All these forces combined result in an overburdened and
bottom heavy tertiary sector in which the jobs available are not
enough to accommodate the supply of labor. Like a container packed under
high pressure, the over supplied service sector needs a safety valve to
compensate for the blocked entries into other sectors. It creates its
own safety valve for expanding job opportunities by generating,
parallel to the already saturated formal labor market, a less organized
and regulated one--the informal labor market within the tertiary
sector. It is the women in this sector who tend to be increasingly
relegated to informal jobs which receive the lowest remunerations.
While men do enter the informal labor market as well, they tend to
do so by obtaining better paid jobs in construction and other fields
offering higher status employment (Lubell and McCallum 1978; Fraenkel
et al, 1975).
The position of women in the informal labor force is discussed in
more detail below, as one of the critical employment issues for women.
Here we provide a scattering of examples from Latin America and India
to demonstrate that as women get further squeezed into the tertiary
sector they increasingly become part of the informal labor market.
The size of the informal sectors in Bombay, Jakarta, Belo Horizonte,
Lima and eight other Peruvian cities varies to engulf between 53% and
69% of the working population. Female workers and those who have not
completed primary education are disproportionately represented in this
sector. Merrick (1976) reveals that 54.1% of the workers in the informal
sector in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, are women, as compared to 20% among
the men. Even if the women working as domestics are excluded from the
definition of informal sector, the sex differential continues to be
strong; 40% of the remaining informal sector labor force and 60% of
the self employed are women--against only 18% for the formal sector.
In India, between 41% and 49% of the female labor force participates in
the informal sector, while only 15% to 17% of the male labor force
contributes to this sector (Mazumdar 1976, ICSSR 1975). In Salvador,and
Bahia, Brazil, the proportion working in domestic service and petty
production is 21% among males and 56.4% among women. For Mexico City,
women were reported to make up 72% of all unskilled service workers
(including domestics) (Arizpe 1977). In Peru, women make up 46% of the
urban traditional sector; they only account for 18% of the modern sector.
In Cordoba, Argentina, women constitute 63% of the informal sector
Development planning and government policies which insist on expanding
the industrial sector through capital intensive means are usually
accompanied by a disregard for the tertiary sector and the informal
labor market (PREALC 1978). Worse still, planning has neglected to
consider the reality and implications of a sex-segregated occupational
structure, for, as the following example shows, jobs which women are
concentrated in are either actively or passively planned out of existence
over time by a neglect to consider the impact on the informal tertiary
sector. Given the high concentration of Ecuadorian women (80%) into
10 occupational categories in the 1970 labor force structure (most of
which were in the service sector), development plans and policies that
favored capital intensive production in the industrial sector would be
expected, by 1980, to produce labor expansion in only 3 of these 10
mainly feminine occupations: own account retail businesses, sales
and office clerks, and typists, cashiers and bank tellers. In this last
category the demand for labor was expected to increase by 194%, but
cashiers and bank tellers were 1% of employed women in 1970, and all
three categories together constituted only one fifth of the female
labor force. Jobs in primary school teaching and paramedical services
which employed 9% of the female labor force in 1970 could be expected
to increase by 60% by 1980, but depended on the government's willingness
to integrate social programs into its plans for economic growth, a fact
that seemed unlikely at the time the study was prepared (Finn and
Junesius 1975). Although we do not actually know if the prediction
bore out, the point stands that women were not included in the planning
4. Protective vs. Protectionist Legislation--How Great a Factor in
Restricting Labor Demand for Women
No accurate measure exists to date of the degree to which legislation
which is passed in order to protect women in the work place, or to
protect women's reproductive function in society, has the inadvertent
effect of restricting the demand for female labor. However, scattered
examples are available of how protective legislation has a negative
impact on women by:
a. Widening the opportunity gap between men and women workers;
b. Making certain jobs inaccessible to women, thereby
reducing job availability for women and contributing
to a sex-segregated occupational structure;
c. Creating reluctance and resistance among employers
towards hiring women workers.
The International Labour Office endorses three separate international
labor agreements which make the hiring of women for night shifts and
holiday shifts in industry illegal. (Conventions Nos. 4 (1919), 41
(1934) and 89 (1948)) (ILO 1979). The last of these has been ratified
by 20 of the 46 countries which are members of the Economic Commission
for Africa, 9 of the 23 countries which are members of the Economic
Commission for Latin America, 6 of the 12 Economic Commission for Western
Asia members and 5 of the 21 nations belonging to the Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific. This effectively puts a ceiling
on the hours women can work and the earnings they can get. The ILO
ibidd) is now beginning to recognize the adverse effect these regulations
have on women, and is encouraging some assessment of the advantages and
disadvantages of protective legislation.
Nevertheless pieces of legislation which are restrictive of women's
employment continue to be adopted. In 1976 Kuwait ratified a labor law
making it compulsory for women employed in the private sector to have
a nightly rest period of at least 11 hours (ILO 1979). Although this
piece of legislation does not make explicit the prohibition on night
work, it makes it impossible, as one cannot work and rest simultaneously.
The ILO is of the opinion that the ratification of this convention is
a good example of progress achieved for women in the last 5 years ibidd).
Some countries have repealed restrictive women's labor legislation.
In Malaysia, for example, when electronics companies wanted to open
plants in the country in 1970, the government took steps to make
Malaysian women more attractive as potential employees by giving legal
exemptions to the law that restricts women to working only the day
shift (Grossman 1980). Similarly, the Brazilian government in 1976
responded positively to industrialists' demands that restrictions on
women's employment after 10:00 p.m. be lifted; demands for female labor
in the textile industry had increased sharply due to the sudden shortage
of labor supply caused by men moving into the better paying construction
industry (Merrick and Schmink 1978). The policy reversals were made
for corporate economic gain in these cases, rather than to give women
more economic freedom.
There are other types of legislation that attempt to protect women
by preventing them from entering certain areas of employment. The
ILO's Convention No. 45 which has been ratified by more than half of the
member states of ECA, ECLA, ECWA and ESCAP combined, bars women from
underground work on the basis that it demands great physical strength
and is very dangerous (ILO 1979). In conjunction with other legal
restrictions on women to participate in heavy, dangerous and health-
risking occupations, these ILO conventions have created a body of
protective and restrictive norms which effectively reduce women's
employment possibilities and relegate them to lower paying jobs.22
Several protective measures are more protectionist than protective
in character, based on sexual stereotypes and aimed at safeguarding
women's morality. The structural consequences of these legal measures
are to bar women from certain employment opportunities and to establish
constraints on demands for women workers. Paraguay maintains a legal
code which prohibits women from work which can be dangerous to
feminine morality but does not specify what this work is, leaving it
open to interpretation (Silva et al, 1975; PREALC 1978). Until very
recently Nigerian law, in order to safeguard women's morality, did not
extend maternity benefits to single mothers (Debo Akande 1979).
Other kinds of current legislation are demonstrably discriminatory
and do not claim to be protective of women. Sri Lanka enforces quotas on
the numbers of women who can have access to jobs in the public service
sector. Only one fourth of employees in the Administrative Service
(from which decision-makers are drawn) can be women; the Accounts and
General Clerical services can have no more than a fifth of their total
staff be women. This has resulted in a considerable proportion of
well-qualified women being denied entry into Public Service employment
in the last six years (University of Colombo 1979). The Nigerian
Civil Code requires women who become pregnant while enrolled in training
programs to withdraw from the courses and pay back, in whole or in part,
the cost of their training. This may actually diminish the opportunities
for self-improvement among women who are employed and can act as a de-
terrent to enrollment for women (Kesiah Awosika 1976).
In Latin America interviews carried out among employers in Brazil,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Venezuela revealed that they prefer
to hire men over women because of the additional costs--establishment
and maintenance of nurseries--and the disruptions of production through
absenteeism due to maternity that hiring women may imply (CEPAL 1979).
Social legislation which has a protective purpose proves to be too
costly for employers and encourages preferential hiring of males
(PREALC 1978). A Brazilian case examplifies numerically how protective
legislation effectively constrains demand for women's labor: many firms
simply dismiss women when they get married or become pregnant. Personnel
managers in 20 firms in Sao Paulo which employed a total of 12,467 women
in 1965 were interviewed about hiring and firing practices. In 13 of
the companies, spokesmen explicitly stated they had policies to terminate
women's employment at these times, primarily in order to avoid having
to install daycare facilities on the premises (Merrick and Schmink 1978).
In 1972 the government of the Philippines changed legislation on
maternity benefits from 60% of the salary for a period of 14 weeks to
100% of the salary for 6 weeks and limited coverage to the first four
children of a working woman. A personnel director at a textile factory
is quoted as saying "this made it profitable to hire women again"
In situations where the law stipulates employers must provide
facilities for working mothers when they hire X number of women, the
former circumvent having to comply by providing employment for no more
than X-1 women. This was reported to be the case in pre-revolutionary
Nicaragua where the stipulated number was 30 women (Gillespie 1976).
This practice, when generalized, effectively limits labor demands for
IV. CRITICAL ISSUES RELATED TO WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT
This section discusses the structural and psychological forces at play in
society which force women into residual occupations.
A major issue related to women's employment is the double burden: women are
unable adequately to combine worker and maternal roles, and childbearing is used
by society to relegate women to low-status/low-income jobs on the fringes
of the economy.
Under the subtitle "Women's Economic Marginality" we will examine
several facets of what it means to be a poor, marginally employed woman in
the Third World. Although these facets are interrelated, we deal with each
one separately to highlight the different ways in which women arrive at
and remain on the periphery of the job market and economic development.
Migration aggravates the economic situation of women, both for those who
migrate alone and those who are left behind; a large number of rural-urban
migrants turn to domestic labor in order to survive in the city. Domestic
employment absorbs a large part of women's labor supply but traps them in
dead-end occupations. Women's poor economic condition is also seen in their
roles as unpaid workers in family enterprises and in recently available
statistics on the extent of their unemployment and underemployment. Further,
for those women who do manage to secure employment, economic marginality takes
the form of systematic under-remuneration compared to male employees. Finally,
the informal labor market and women's over-representation in it provide a
unifying theme to the economic plight of women.
A related aspect of women's marginality is their exclusion from the
agricultural sector in rural areas, and their resulting need for off-farm
employment. A crucial element in rural development planning is therefore
the expansion of off-farm employment opportunities for women whose earnings
are of central importance to their families.
This section ends with a discussion of the recent growth of employment
opportunities for women in transnational corporations which produce labor-
intensive goods for export. The conditions of employment for women in
these industries reflect the "internationalization" of female labor, and the
exploitation of Third World women workers.
A. The Double Burden
A constant problem associated with women's changing economic roles and
responsibilities, and their increased employment outside the home is the
double work load they must perform.
For the overwhelming majority of working women employment means an
extension of the working day to accommodate both their salaried activities
and their home responsibilities. This double burden or double-day phenomenon
is among the most serious of the problems contained in the issue of women's
employment. The problem is intensified when one considers the long-term
effects of women's double burden on their psychological and physical health
and resulting loss of productivity.
Many of the stereotypes surrounding women's work behavior are based on
the individual woman's failure to juggle successfully conflicting work and
home demands on her time. Problems of absenteeism, reduced earning capacity,
reduced profitability for employers, work histories characterized by
exits from and entries into the active labor force, and other behavior which
is interpreted by employers and researchers alike as a lack of commitment to
their work and employment (PREALC 1978), are the result of situations where
women are unable to totally cope with the double burden. Market vending
has been characterized as work which is essentially compatible with motherhood
and housework, yet the evidence indicates that the double burden of market
women in urban Latin America is quite taxing (Bunster n.d.). A case study
from Egypt documents the difficult situation of women factory workers with
family responsibilities and how their work performance is sometimes negatively
influenced by these (Hammam 1980).
Little data is currently available to elucidate how poor working women
manage to cope--however inadequately--with the double burden. A partial
answer comes from a comprehensive study carried out among urban Filipino
women. In Languna, The Philippines, working women expand their workday,
not by cutting back on childcare time or home production time, but by re-
ducing their "leisure" time (a residual category which encompasses all those
activities not classified as market production or home production). There
are not significant changes in the manner in which males in the household
distribute their work and "leisure" time when women's market production time
increases. The latter are compelled to reduce substantially the time they
devote to these residual activities from 115.6 hours per week to 86.0 hours
per week, that is, 28 hours. Additionally, working women on the average
dedicate close to 60 hours per week to market production. Finally, older
children become increasingly responsible for home production and childcare
activities, providing some relief for their mother's double burden (Popkin 1978).
(We present the hypothesis that as women's double burden increases, so does
the economic value of children, and that increased child labor becomes a
means for working women to meet conflicting employment and home responsibilities.)
It is the responsibility of policy makers and planners to acknowledge
women's double burden and to find means to minimize it and ultimately
relieve women of it. This should happen not by denying women work oppor-
tunities, but by reducing home and childcare responsibilities to make them
more compatible with women's economic roles. (Refer to the section on
B. Marginalization of Women's Work
1. The Economic Consequences of Migration for Women
Migration has affected women in the Third World in two ways, both
of which have had serious implications for their work and employment.
As a result of population pressure and rural poverty, single women of
all ages are increasingly involved in domestic and international migrations
in an attempt to find a means of livelihood. This phenomenon of the
"autonomous" woman migrant (as distinct from women who are involved in
family migration)is occurring not only in Latin America and the Caribbean
but increasingly in parts of Asia, West Africa and the Middle East.23
Women have also been affected by the outmigration of males seeking
lucrative employment opportunities in cities and towns in or outside of
their country. This trend has been recognized as typical of Sub-Saharan
Africa.24 However, male outmigration--particularly in the form of the
internationalization of labor--has also been marked in the Middle East
since 1973 as a result of growth in demand for labor resources to meet
the production, construction and service needs of the oil-rich states.25
The impact of male outmigration on changing and redefining the economic
role of the women left behind has only begun to surface.
a. The Rural-Urban Migrant
Economic data available on the consequences of rural-urban
migration single out the woman migrant as a distinct and the most
disadvantaged category with respect to employment, work and earnings
when compared to both male migrants and native urban women of
similar socio-economic background.26 Her economic marginality is
reflected in her inability to become assimilated into the productive
sectors of the urban economy; the exception to this is the experience
in some Asian cities (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia),
where young female migrants are absorbed in the labor intensive
manufacturing industries. However by and large, migrant women are
cast and remain locked.into the most marginal, low-status and low-
pay service sectors.
Migrant women, more than any other poverty group, have pronounced
economic needs; they have least access to support networks in the
city and fewest resources of their own to draw upon in terms of
education/training, and skills, and consequently exhibit low aspir-
ation to wages.27 All these characteristics compel the woman
migrant to accept the types of jobs and marginal wages that neither
male migrants nor poor urban women are ever likely to consider.
Although women migrants are less frequently unemployed this may be
due to the fact that they are less discriminating about the jobs
and the wages they accept.28
An overwhelming proportion of migrant women work in domestic
service (some Asian countries excepted). In Latin American
cities and the Caribbean, 55 to 60% of all migrant women work as
domestics; in some countries 80% of all domestics in the cities are
women migrants. This same pattern prevails in the Philippines and
in India. Even when entry is gained into non-domestic work, it is
of the same unskilled and low-paid category as domestic work.29
Two other factors of women's migration are a) women migrants
have low return ratios to their points of origin; b) women migrants
often become women heads of household30 Rural migrants who become
heads of household make up the poorest of all among low income groups.
Their income is less than one half that of the individual
male migrants and one-fourth the total income of households
headed by male migrants (Whiteford 1978). 31
b. The Women Left Behind
The economic impact of male migration upon the women left.
behind has implications for women's employment because of the com-
pelling changes that occur in the redefinition of women's economic
roles. These changes can be summarized as follows (Hammam 1979):
1. On the one hand, new class differentiations are sometimes
introduced depending on the amount, regularity or investment
of remittances. These changes are reflected in the redivision
of labor and in the reorganization of property relations.
Depending on the amount of remittances a family or household
receives, on its regularity and on its investment, the out-
migration of males has relieved some women of the necessity
to work either as family producers and/or for a wage. Options
for the household as a whole have increased:
(i) if the household or family was landless or near landless,
they can now afford to acquire land or increase their
(ii) if the women formerly worked for a wage, they can now
reassume household (unpaid) economic activities; if they
were formerly family workers, they can now hire labor,
etc. (Hammam 1979).
2. Migration does not always have a salutary effect on supplying
areas. The negative effects of migration in agricultural
productivity, for example, have been noted: agricultural output
decreases, less food becomes available for national consumption
and export; some countries become dependent on food or have to
switch to less labor-intensive crop cultivation.32 The signifi-
cance of such changes upon women33 are reported as follows
(i) "due to the absence of males in a household as a result
of their outmigration, women are compelled to assume
increased workloads by taking on those chores
formerly performed by the men.
(ii) "due to increasing labor scarcity (on sectoral levels)
as a result of outmigration, and to the concomittant
rise in the price of hired labor, households which
formerly depended on hired labor and who now can no
longer afford their wages,' increase their dependence on
unpaid family labor of women and children in a whole
range of economic activities (from which they may have
previously been exempt) as substitutes to hired wage
The women left behind are assuming the responsibility for organ-
izing and actively participating (in some cases for the first time
in their lives) in almost all activities surrounding the agricultural
production system. This includes Turkish women driving tractors and
building their own homes; Yemeni women assuming control of family farms,
participating in group well drilling, cattle investment and home
electrification; Lesotho women organizing work parties for the plowing,
planting and harvesting of crops (Youssef, Buvinic' and Kudat 1979).
Although in some countries women's agricultural work loads and
responsibilities have increased,in others women are not assuming the
economic role of the men who have migrated out.34 In either case there
is a need to avoid exacerbating the economic marginality of rural
women by mobilizing and training them to operate and maintain machines
and other equipment engaged in field production related work, as well
as in poultry raising, dairy production, care of livestock, packing
crops, etc. Though women's role in decision and field production is
growing, these same women are not always able themselves to sell the
crops and maintain control over farm income. An additional difficulty
faced by women is that subsistence output, though still necessary
for family survival is increasingly and by necessity being subsidized
by cash purchases. Since crop cultivation yields neither cash nor
adequate food for a family, supplements must therefore be purchased.
With growing reliance on cash, male work is assuming more importance
and women are isolated in the countryside with little or no access
to wage earning activities.
2. Domestic Labor: Physical Labor in Return for Room and Board
In many regions of the developing world, notably Latin America,
domestic work in urban areas is a major source of employment for young
women (Jelin 1977). In the Middle East and certain parts of Asia, males
predominate statistically as housekeepers, servants, cooks, and other types
of domestic laborers, although women are also found in those categories
(Youssef 1974). These statistics are open to question.
The situation in Latin America is much better documented: women make
up the bulk of domestic servants and their situation is invariably accom-
panied by conditions that make it one of the more exploitative forms of
female labor.3 A typical domestic worker in Lima, Peru, will be holding
her third job by the time she is 18 years old; she will have started
working at age 12, immediately after migrating from her Indian village
and leaving behind her landless peasant family. She will have barely
completed three years of elementary education; she works an average of
14 hours daily, gets one day off every two weeks and a salary roughly
equivalent to US $30 per month. At 18 she will probably become pregnant
and subsequently be laid-off. She has no legal recourse to prevent her
employers from dismissing her, or to demand minimum wages or social
security benefits (Chaney 1977). Domestic workers in Latin America are
given no opportunities for self-improvement, and have little means of
making contact with other women in similar circumstances to organize for
collective bargaining (Finn and Jusenius 1975; ISIS March 1978). The
domestic servant works more hours per day than any of her male counterparts
working in blue collar jobs and in the informal labor market (PREALC 1978),
and she earns 60% of what other employees in the informal sector earn
The issue of extending social security coverage to domestic workers
does not have a straightforward solution. When attempts have been made
to regulate the informal domestic labor market through the introduction
of social security legislation, the result has been detrimental to the
interests of the domestic workers themselves. For instance, in Peru
the labor code was modified in 1970 to cover social security benefits for
domestics. In order to become eligible for social security coverage,
however, domestic servants and their employers each had to contribute a
monthly stipend to social security payments. This naturally meant that
the servant's contribution would have to be deducted from her already meager
salary. Because they cannot afford to make these payments, most domestics
remain ineligible for social security protection (Chaney 1977).37 The
structure of labor and social security legislation which puts the burden on
the servant herself constitutes a severe problem.
The link between migration and domestic labor among women has been
well documented (Jelin 1977; Youssef, Buvinic and Kudat 1979). It has
been pointed out that women migrate both internally from the rural to
the urban areas within countries, and internationally from depressed
areas to the growing cities of developing regions. What has not been
well documented, however, is the trend of women to migrate from
developing into developed nations for the explicit purpose of fulfilling
the otherwise unmet need for domestic labor in the latter. With the
support of the Philippine government, thousands of Filipino women are
sent overseas to become domestics in North America, some circum-Mediterranean
countries, Hong Kong and particularly Belgium. 38 The exploitation of
these Third World women in industrialized countries appears to be no less
prevalent than that of domestics in developing regions (ISIS March 1978).
The real extent of this practice of exporting female domestic labor to
developed areas is unknown. Domestic labor remains--at least in Latin
America--one of the most exploitative forms of employment for millions
3. Unemployment and Underemployment
It is commonly assumed that women have lower unemployment and under-
employment rates than men. This assumption is supported in part by
inaccurate census data due to problems in measuring employment, the number
of active job seekers and labor utilization. One reason for the inadequate
attention given to female unemployment is the notion that women's work is
not important. Another is the impression that since female participation
rates are low, the absolute number of women unemployed would be considerably
les-s than the number of unemployed men. Both impressions have been shown
to be incorrect.
Where special efforts have been made to measure unemployment, the
findings indicate the following trends:
(i) In some countries female unemployment rates are higher--some-
times two or three times higher--than unemployment rates for men, e.g.,
parts of Kenya, Colombia, Sri Lanka, India. (See Kenya Employment
Mission, n.d.; Lubdl and McCallum, 1978 for Colombia; Univ. of
Colombo, 1979, for Sri Lanka.; Ryan, 1979, and Gulati, 1976 for
(ii) Unemployment rates for women have drastically increased during
the 1960-1970 decade, e.g. Morocco, Sri Lanka (See Youssef, 1977 for
Morocco; Univ. of Colombo, 1979 for Sri Lanka).
(iii)Women at both extremes of the age hierarchy experience the
highest incidence of unemployment in both absolute and relative terms
compared to men, e.g. Indonesia, Sri Lanka (See Sethuraman, 1976, for
Indonesia: Univ. of Colombo, 1979 for Sri Lanka )
(iv) Female unemployment often increases With years of schooling in both
absolute and relative terms. In countries where the educational
level of the unemployed is greater than that of the employed,
educated women are at a greater disadvantage than educated men, e.g. Sri
Lanka, Indonesia (See Univ. of Colombo, 1979, for Sri Lanka and
Sethuraman, 1976, for Indonesia )
Likewise, efforts to measure women's underemployment point to the
(i) In general, underemployment is higher than unemployment in
developing countries, and in some is higher for women than for
men (Lewin, et al 1977).
(ii) More women than men tend to be underemployed by reason of low
income and low hours of work (this is particularly true for the
married, divorced and widowed) and by restricted access to certain
jobs (Redmana, et al 1977; and Hansen 1969).
(iii)Underutilization of women's labor increases with age in urban
areas and decreases with age in rural areas (Redmana, et al 1977).
(iv) Underemployment in rural areas is highest for women and lowest
for men; while the converse is true in urban areas (Berry and
(v) The higher underemployment of rural women (compared to men) is
often due to the seasonal nature of their agricultural work and to
their restricted access to non-farm activities (Hansen 1969).
4. The Underrepresentation of Women in Paid Labor
One striking aspect of Third World women's marginality in the economic
system is that they are much more likely than men to work without pay,
particularly in activities which involve shifts between market and non-
market activities. Women tend to work without pay most frequently in
the agricultural sector, and to a lesser though still significant degree
in traditional manufacturing (particularly in craftsproduction) and petty
The category of "unpaid" worker is elusive and "defiant of formal
measurement" (Dixon 1979).9 The phenomenon is only partly reflected in
comparative labor force statistics because many women involved in unpaid
economic production are often excluded from the census count and is a
major cause for the gross underestimation of the de facto female economically
Calculating the percentage of the female economically active population
by employment status40 in 56 developing countries and singling out
the proportion reported as "unpaid workers" highlights the following
trends (Dixon 1979):
Women are overrepresented as "unpaid workers" in approximately two-
thirds of the countries purviewed. The highest percentages of women among
all unpaid workers reported are in Sub Saharan Africa (63%) and Asia (52%);
in contrast to the North Africa/Middle East and Central/South American
regions where the percentage of women in unpaid labor is only 37% and 24%
respectively. However, the lower percentages in the two latter regions
are probably due to the exclusion of the "unpaid worker" category from
many of labor force surveys (apparent exceptions are Turkey, Puerto Rico
and Haiti). The higher figures for Asia and Africa are likely to reflect
more realistically the number of unpaid family workers in all regions of
the world. The regional averages obviously conceal important inter-
regional and intra-national variations associated with residence,
socioeconomic class, age,marital status and ethnicity.41
5. Low Wages of Women Workers
Evidence from all regions of the developing world shows that women
are concentrated in the lowest paying jobs. A sample of employed persons
in Ecuador shows that working women are most concentrated in personal
service work (41%), which has one of the lowest monthly salaries of all
occupational categories. Further, 43% of women and only 20% of men are
concentrated in the four lowest paying occupations (PREALC 1978). In
Thailand, a sample of industrial and service sector workers indicates that
women comprise 78% of the workers in the textile and apparel industry
and 54% of the workers in the chemical, petroleum, rubber and plastics
industry. Wages in these two industries are among the lowest of all
industry categories. A related study of women workers in the pineapple
industry in Thailand shows that 58% are in unskilled and 40% in semi-
skilled jobs (Thosanguan 1978).
Looking at the ratio of female to male wages (c. 1975) across
occupations and industry sectors, women earn 55% that of men in Ecuador
(PREALC 1978); and 57% that of men in one rural area of India (Ryan
and Ghodake 1979). Within the same industries, we also find that women
are consistently paid less than men. In Colombia, for instance, women earn
57% that of men in the textile and footwear industry, and 26% that of men
in personal and domestic services (Mohan, n.d.). In Singapore, the female
to male earnings ratio is 83% in agriculture, 45% in manufacturing and
54% in commerce (U Wen Lim 1977).
A comparison of the income distribution of men and women further
corroborates the lower earnings of women. This is perhaps best illustrated
by data from Latin America, which shows that women are more concentrated
in the lowest income groups. In Chile 72% of women earn less than 306
Escudos, while the corresponding figure for men is 58%. And in Costa
Rica, 40% of women and 15% of men earn less than 74 Colones. This difference
is even greater between men and women in younger (12-19) age groups
The gap between the wage-earning capacity and the wage-earning
reality of men and women is further accentuated by employer's different
educational and training requirements for each sex. For poor women in
urban situations the completion of primary education does not translate
into a commensurate increase in wage-earning capacity. In Belo Horizonte,
Brazil, for example, the completion of an elementary education can sig-
nify a 60% increase in wage earnings for men, but women can only hope to
increase their wages by 6% if and when they finish primary school
(Merrick 1976). Other evidence from Latin America has been documented
(PREALC 1978; CEPAL 1979).
Discrimination is evident as well in professional jobs requiring
higher education. In Colombia, for example, urban women who have com-
pleted a secondary education are consistently hired for jobs that are
considered less skilled and, consequently, pay less than the jobs male
secondary school graduates are hired to do. Women high school graduates
only make 70% of the salaries that male graduates receive. Professional
women in Bogota are able to earn half as much as professional men (Mohan,
n.d.). Individual data from ten Latin American countries shows, in every
case, that when men and women have equal trainingwomen are relegated
to the lowest paying jobs, especially among the least educated groups(PREALC 1978)
6. Women in the Informal Sector
The definition of the informal sector differs within countries--
varying from low-level service jobs, domestic work, street vendors,
laundry, all non-contractual jobs in the economy--which might include
well-paid blue collar, industrial/skilled jobs.
In some cities the reported informal sector absorbs anywhere between
53% to 69% of all urban workers (Bombay, Jakarta, Belo Horizonte, Lima).
There is a predominance of women in this sector; data for several Central/
South American countries reports that urban women comprise anywhere bet-
ween 46% to 70% of the informal work sector, in contrast to 18% of the
formal employment structure.
Women enter the job market in domestic labor and low-level service
work (unskilled jobs in the industries, street market vending). Mobility
or assimilation into the formal labor market structure is highly unlikely
(Castro 1978; Papola 1979; Arizpe 1977; Standing 1978a). For women
much more than for men, the informal sector is not a bridge over which
workers pass in shifting from agriculture to the modern sector.
Men by contrast--though many are initially relegated to low station
informal jobs--are more able to assimilate into the formal labor market
structure, as well as to gain entry into higher level jobs in the in-
formal structure (Mazumdar 1976; Fraenkel, et al 1975; Lubell and
The sex differences in job status within the informal sector are
reflected in earnings: women's earnings are noted to represent 40%-50%
of male earnings. Among the self employed, the gap in earnings is not
as wide; though women still predominate in the bottom income groups.
Despite their disadvantaged position, women's earnings from this
sector are crucial for low income family survival. Such activities are
often secondary occupations for women carried out intermittently with other
tasks. The sector provides--even in its present structure--economic
benefits particularly to urban women (and men) in that it compensates
for the lack of resources to compete in the formal job structure.
C. Off-farm Employment for Women
It is important to promote off-farm employment in rural areas of
developing countries because the agricultural sector can no longer absorb
the available labor supply. This is a result of several factors, in-
(i) generally depressed conditions in agriculture, i.e., low
prices and wages due in part to the increasing costs of fertilizer,
seeds, pesticides and other factors of production, and to neglect of
this sector by planning policies in the 1950's and 1960's.
(ii) capital intensive mechanization of production processes which
were previously labor intensive;
(iii) transfer of subsistence cultivation in family farms to commer-
cial production of cash crops, employing a limited number of wage
laborers (primarily men); and
(iv) high population growth rates and limited amounts of land.
Land fragmentation has further contributed to the displacement of
agricultural workers and to the need for off-farm employment. In many
cases land reform policies, inheritance practices (particularly in Islamic
societies) and adverse economic conditions have resulted in a decrease in
the size of plots available for cultivation. Frequently, families can
no longer depend solely on agriculture to support themselves and must
turn to other sources of earnings for survival.
The growing number of landless households in rural areas of the
Third World further creates a dependence on earnings either from agricul-
tural wage labor or off-farm employment. Given the increasingly limited
opportunities for wage labor in agriculture in many countries, there is
a crucial need for the expansion of opportunities for off-farm employment.
As a particular group, women need off-farm employment for several
reasons. They are often the first to be displaced from agriculture as
a result of the introduction of technology and changes in production
processes(see section IIIB).Opportunities for wage agriculture may also
be more limited for women due to the preference for hiring men (as they
are considered to be "primary" rather than "supplementary" earners) or
to constraints on women's geographic mobility and ability to travel long
distances to work. These constraints often are most severe for women
from lower socioeconomic groups and those who are single, widowed or
divorced (Bardham 1979). Perhaps most important of all, women need off-
farm employment because their earnings are becoming an ever more crucial
component of family income, especially among landless households where the
contributions of all household members, including women and children,
are essential. Stoler (1977) presents a good example of the importance
of women's non-agricultural employment in landless households in Java,
by showing that female income contributes one-third of the total income
of landless households, and less than 15% of the land-holding households.
In fact, because women have previous experience in many off-farm activities
they may be better equipped to deal with situations of landlessness than
men, who have a smaller set of alternatives to agricultural work.
Throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, rural
women participate in a wide range of non-agricultural activities, both in
market production ias traders, small merchants and producers in small-
scale agro-businesses and cottage industries] (Dewey 1963; Stoler 1977;
Peluso 1978; Okeyo 1979; Bunster 1978; Youssef 1980) and subsistence
activities [carrying water, collecting fuel, processing grains and other
food, and storing produce]. In many of these tasks there is room for
increasing productivity and output through technological or capital in-
puts and training; in subsistence activities, there is potential for
expanding and transferring them to the market economy, thereby increasing
Efforts to expand off-farm employment in rural areas should be based
on developing opportunities for both men and women. Sex-segregated labor
markets make certain areas of employment more suitable for one group than
the other. Thus, special consideration must be given to the appropriate
types of work and needs of both in planning for off-farm employment.
D. Women's Employment in Transnational Corporations
The promotion of manufacturing for export by transnational corporations
(TNC's) in many Third World countries represents a new phase of development
in recent years. Policies which encourage foreign investment in labor intensive
"offshore" manufacturing industries have provided alternatives to import
substitution as a strategy for industrial and economic growth in several
countries, and have created large-scale demands for cheap, low-skilled
labor, particularly among women workers. The increased employment opportunities
for women in TNC's is distinct from preceding phases of foreign investment
which have primarily employed men and/or displaced women from their traditional
economic activities (Boserup 1970, Chinchilla 1976, Lim 1978).
The move into the developing world by TNC's reflects a new strategy
in their efforts to recruit sources of cheap labor. This is especially important
for industries producing goods such as textiles and electronic equipment, which
face stiff competition in the world market, and in which labor comprises a
large part of total production costs. The relatively simple technologies in
some of these industries make it easy for new firms to establish themselves,
which further increases competition and the need for reduced labor costs.
Cheap labor can be found easily among marginal groups in the labor market
(i.e., women) in developing countries with high unemployment, underemployment
and population growth rates.
The transfer of production to the Third World by TNC's in their search
for the cheapest labor available also has been caused by conditions in the
U.S., including low unemployment (especially in the mid 1960's); the dwindling
supply of immigrant labor since passage of the 1965 immigration law limiting
the admission of unskilled workers; high wages; the increase in welfare
which has provided the unemployed with alternatives to poorly paid, manual
labor; and technological changes, especially in the container industry which
has facilitated the development of a fast and inexpensive international cargo
transport system. U.S. tariff policies have further promoted the export of
processing industries (Safa 1979).
The labor market conditions for women in Third World locations provide
TNC's with a labor pool in which wages are lower than in developed countries
and less than wages which would be paid to Third World men for comparable work
(Lim 1978). As examples, women work in the free trade zone of the Dominican
Republic for $.50 per hour (Safa 1979); maquiladoras in the Mexican border
region earn approximately $.58 per hour (Kelly 1979); and women in the elec-
tronics industry in Singapore start at an average of $.25 per hour. In
1969 the wage of an unskilled woman worker in Singapore was 1/11 that of an
equivalent American worker, and Singapore has the highest female wage rates
in Asia. In Malaysia wages are one-half to two-thirds, and in Indonesia one-
fourth the Singapore rate. The average Asian woman worker receives in a day
less than the hourly wage of a comparable U.S. worker. Statistics suggest that
this wage differential continues to increase (Lim 1978).
Other conditions which make manufacturing in Third World countries attrac-
tive for TNC's include lax health and safety regulations, reduced requirements
for fringe benefits, and limited government and union protection for workers.
In addition, host countries, faced with high unemployment and the need for
foreign exchange, encourage export processing TNC's to locate in their countries
by offering an array of investment incentives, tariff exemptions, and tax
holidays along with the provision of industrial estates and public housing
for workers. Some countries have restricted workers' right to strike and have
removed protective legislation limiting night work by women.
For host governments, industries have advantages over import substitution
industries as a means of development and employment creation because the
latter have small domestic markets and utilize capital intensive technologies
transferred from industrial countries. Because export processing manufacturers
must compete in world markets, they tend to be more efficient in exploitation
of labor and capital resources and utilization of production capacities than
the protected import substitution industries. For the host countries, TNC's
provide employment, foreign exchange, efficiently managed enterprises, and
training of upper level administrators and managers.
The rapid growth of TNC's over the past decade has created thousands of
jobs for women in developing countries and has created labor markets for women
which did not exist before. Between 1971 and 1974, employment in the electronics
industry rose from 7,750 to 24,000 in Singapore; from 5,300 to 9,000 in Hong
Kong; from 350 to 2,600 in Indonesia and from 0 to 18,000 in Malaysia.
Approximately 90% of these workers are women between 17 and 25 years of age
(Lim 1978). In one area of the border region of Mexico, employment in the in-
bond assembly plants rose from2,000to 33,000 between 1969 and 1978 with young
women comprising 85% of the workers (Kelly 1979). In the free trade zone of
the Dominican Republic 80% of the workers are women between 15 and 20 years
of age (Safa 1979).
The demand for female labor appears to be related to "exploitable" feminine
characteristics: TNC's consider women to have a natural "comparative advan-
tage" over men in assembly processes (i.e., small, nimble fingers, attention
to detail, ability to perform tedious, repetitive tasks) and are docile, disci-
plined, easy to manage and less likely to organize. The inexperience and
naivete'of young women make them susceptible to TNC labor practices which aim
at high production and efficiency and low wages. TNC's routinely sponsor work
competitions for prizes such as cosmetics and free dinners, and maintain wage
policies which penalize workers who fail to work overtime, holidays or meet
production goals (Lim 1978). In some cases women are required to work six
months as apprentices before earning minimum wages (Grossman 1979).
Women are also paid less because they are considered to be secondary
wage laborers with low skills and low commitment to the labor force. Despite
low wages, women continue to provide a ready supply of labor because of their
need for income and the limited alternative opportunities for employment. In
the Dominican Republic, women's need for income is apparent in the large percentage
of the young women factory workers in the free trade zone who are heads of
household (Safa 1979). Lack of jobs for males has forced many Malaysian women
to take on wage labor in order to partially or totally support their families.
In some cases, male unemployment has been a result of displacement of farmers
or fishermen from sites requisitioned for construction of industrial estates
or airports (Lim 1978).
While it is clear that TNC's have provided large-scale employment for women,
close examination of the conditions of employment raises several serious issues.
This, combined with the uncertain long-term viability of TNC's in any one
country, calls into question the appropriateness of "offshore sourcing" as a
strategy to promote female labor force participation. Some of the adverse
conditions of employment in TNC's are the following:
The demand for workers is limited to certain groups of women. Firms
prefer to hire women in younger age groups (15-25) with no more or less than
a secondary level education. These groups are considered to be harder working,
conscientious, obedient and less likely to organize or burden the firm with
maternity benefits. "Older" women (aged 23 or 24) are more likely to be laid
off and not rehired by TNC's, because as they build up seniority benefits,
they become more expensive.
The marital status of women variously affects their employability.
While the hiring of married women is limited in some firms because they do
not want to assume maternity benefits, other firms encourage employment of
married women because they quit on a regular basis to have children. A more
rapid turnover of workers results in lower labor costs for the TNC's
because new workers, who are just as productive, are hired at starting pay
While TNC's may expand the labor pool and increase the number of
employed women, they also tend to accentuate pre-existing imbalances in local
labor markets. Because firms operating in developing countries have drawn
more women seeking work into the labor market and sometimes displace national
industries, unemployment also increases.
The jobs provided by TNC's are highly unstable in the short run due to
cyclical variations in the world market, mergers, takeovers, transfers of
production or closures; as a result, frequent lay-offs are common. Adverse
working conditions further contribute to the high turnover rate of women workers
(200% per year in one electronics factory in Singapore according to Deyo ,980j,
and Safa  reports 60% per year turnover in the Dominican Republic.) For
women who are laid off or leave, alternative jobs are not easy to find, as the
skills women possess are not transferable to other occupations and neighbor
TNC's often refuse to hire workers from other firms.
Unionization of workers is -discouraged. In cases where unions have been
allowed, they often have been co-opted by governments to accommodate TNC's
rather than to promote the interests of the workers. The power of the unions
is also undermined by a large reserve pool of unemployed. In fact, in many
countries, the lack of an organized labor force is a major factor in initially
Worker mobility is restricted both within and between firms.
Neighbor TNC's often cooperate or colude in keeping wages low.
Fewer women than men are trained for and hold technical and managerial
Health and safety problems exist for TNC workers and result in strained
eyesight; effects of chemical fumes resulting in allergies, skin troubles, nausea
and vomiting; physiological disruptions for women on rotating shifts; stress from
continuous loud noise; and high lead content in some manufacturing processes.
The growth of TNC's is often accompanied by community-related problems
including a lack of adequate housing and, in cases when workers migrate from
other areas, the creation of squatter settlements; increased demand for housing
and food frequently causes inflation. Further, when workers live in housing
other than that provided by the TNC's transportation to work may be a problem,
especially for workers on night shifts. And, in some instances, there is a
social stigma attached to being a woman worker in a TNC.
V. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS.
Two major conclusions are derived from the findings discussed in
the previous sections: women have an undeniable need to obtain
gainful employment; and the constraints to women's employment are
generated more frequently from imposed restrictions on the demand
for female labor than on the supply of that labor in low-income
As women are displaced from traditional productive activities, and
as the welfare functions of the traditional family break down, women's
economic needs are no longer adequately taken care of by others.
Additionally, structural changes brought about by the process of
socio-economic development have created an increase in women-headed
households, in the proportion of single mothers, divorced and widowed
women, who are exclusively or primarily responsible for their own
and their dependents' survival. All these poor, Third World women
have an imperative economic need to earn a living in order to meet
their roles as providers. Furthermore, their economic contribution
to the family's survival is critical, as it is the women's income
which is usually and totally assigned to obtaining essentials such
as food and shelter. In certain cases women's income has been
shown to improve the health and nutritional status of their children.
Women's changing economic responsibilities and contributions to
family well being can no longer go unrecognized. Women's need to
work is just as crucial as men's, and should, therefore, be considered
in planning for development.
Although current measures often underestimate considerably women's
participation in the work force, national level statistics none-
the less indicate that women workers contribute substantially to
development. A survey of recent labor force participation rates
confirms that women are active workers in all regions of the devel-
oping world; are variously active in agricultural and nonagricultural
activities; participate at different rates in industrial sectors
compared to the total labor force; and are more active than men
as unpaid family workers. Moreover, estimates of women's con-
tribution to gross domestic product, when adjusted for their relative
participation in agriculture, industry and services, shows that in
most countries women contribute roughly the same as their proportion
in the labor force and, in several countries, contribute even more
than their proportion of the total labor force.
In explaining the limited employment opportunities for women, the
development literature to date has tended to over-emphasize con-
straints on female labor supply. Women's family and child care
responsibilities, a rigid and unyielding sexual division of labor,
and women's lack of training and education frequently are offered
as reasons for women's marginal economic position. While there is
no doubt that these factors are important, a substantial amount
of evidence shows that women particularly among the poor, are very
active in work outside the home even though they have little or
no education, many children and major family responsibilities.
When household economic needs are great, the assumed incompatability
of mother and worker roles and rigidities in the sexual division
of labor break down. They also break down when society needs work
done and men are not available Planning can no longer use these
arguments to avoid planning employment focused strategies for women.
Factors restricting the demand for women workers have been given
little attention, but may in fact provide a fuller explanation of
the constraints to female employment. Recent data shows that un-
employment among men has a negative effect on the demand for women
workers because in situations of high unemployment, preference is
given to hiring men on the assumption that their earnings are more
important to the family than are women's. Evidence also indicates
that the process of modernization further reduces the economic op-
portunities of women by squeezing them out of agricultural and in-
dustrial sectors and into the service sector, where women are
relegated to low level jobs with erratic earnings in the informal
labor market. Protective legislation may also restrict the demand
for female labor by making certain jobs inaccessible to women,
thereby reducing the number of jobs available and contributing
to a sex segregated occupational structure. Reluctance and resistance
among employers to hire women has been created. The high costs of
complying with protective labor laws provide and "economic" excuse
for not hiring women.
But the issue of employment is not resolved once women manage to
-secure places in the working force, for, as the evidence increasingly
shows, they can only obtain residual employment which is exploitative,
has very low status and remuneration, and is marginal to the productive
sector of society. This situation gives rise to several critical issues
related to women's work. Among the most universal is the problem of
the double burden of working women with family responsibilities, and the
long working hours they must invest in their employment and household
activities. When women are forced to simultaneously cope with work
and family responsibilities, their job security suffers. However, the
fact that women have a dual role in society should not be used against
them; rather, planning should concentrate on relieving household burdens
of working women.
Migratory trends have compelled women to take on different economic
roles. As autonomous migrants to the cities, women enter the com-
petition for scarce jobs with the dual disadvantage of being female
and poor. When the women stay behind they are not always able to
take over the vacancies in production and employment that male out-
migration has created.
The use of cheap female labor to fill the demand for domestic service
in developing and developed nations alike becomes even more critical
in light of recent findings that disprove previous conclusions re-
garding the upward mobility of domestic servants. The jobs are not
steeping stones to better opportunities; they are quite dead-end.
Women's economic marginality becomes total dependency when they must
produce as unpaid family workers. Women are over-represented in this
category of workers. A more recent finding is that the rates of
female unemployment and underemployment are considerably higher
than previously believed, pointing to the conclusion that women
are seeking employment and not finding any or not getting enough.
Moreover, when women work for wages they are concentrated in the
worst-paid jobs at the lowest end of the occupational structure,
and consistently receive less earnings than men, even when they
work similar number of hours. All these problems of marginal em-
ployment are exacerbated by the increased relegation of women to
the informal labor market.
Changes in the agricultural sector brought about by capitalist
development are displacing increasing numbers of women from agri-
cultural production and creating more landlessness among peasants.
Yet women have certain resources whose importance increases with
these circumstances, as they have learned to perform off-farm work
during periods of slack agricultural productivity in the past.
Both the need for off-farm rural employment and women's advantages
in this respect must be included in planning for the development
of the rural sector.
The rapid growth over the past decade of "offshore" manufacturing
for export by transnational corporations in labor intentive industries
has created large-scale employment for women in Third World countries
and, in certain cases, has created labor markets for women which did
not previously exist. However, the conditions of employment in
these firms, and the uncertain long-term viability of firms in any
one location, raises several serious issues, and calls into question
this practice as a strategy to promote women's employment.
VI. POLICY AND PROGRAM RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ENHANCING WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT
A. Recommendations for Minimizing Constraints to Women's Employ-
Given the existing constraints to employment faced by women
in developing countries, as laid out above, the following
recommendations for action are proposed:
(1) Identify current labor needs and project future trends
in relation to national and regional growth by
(a) assessing the present productive contributions of
of women and identifying areas where productivity
can be enhanced (e.g., rural agriculture and marketing)
and where entry and mobility can be facilitated
(e.g., urban manufacturing).
(b) identifying the potential pool of female labor in
urban and rural locations, in formal and informal
activities, and in various sectors and identifying
the level of skills women possess or need to develop
to participate in these productive areas;
(c) assessing the number of women occupationally dis-
placed by land reform, modernization of agriculture
and urban industrialization.
(2) Recognize the existence and pervasiveness of sex segre-
gation in the labor market and introduce mechanisms to
prevent future sex stereotyping of women's employment.
Sex segregation has evolved on the premise that certain
occupations are more 'appropriate' for women than others.
Consequently, women are disproportionately represented
in low pay, low skill, marginal jobs with little possi-
bility of mobility into new areas.
(3) Coordinate and integrate efforts to promote women's
employment at the regional, national, and local levels;
between the private and public sector; and among govern-
ment branches (legislative, and judicial branches and
ministries of labor, health, education, agriculture
industry and social welfare). The use of coordination
of actions and the use of existing administrative channels
and extension programs, for the introduction of new tech-
nologies, credit and skills training should reduce the time
and financial cost of implementing integrated programs.
(4) Encourage investment in labor intensive industries to
promote absorption of the surplus female labor supply
by providing incentives for public and private invest-
ment (through taxation policies, capital subsidies,
labor subsidies, lower interest rates, etc.) in labor
intensive industries notable for employing women, such
as industrial sewing, tailoring, the textiles, food
processing, chemical production, tobacco and paper
(5) Promote the organization of women in.cooperatives, unions
and other groups to facilitate the mobilization of pro-
Several examples exist of how women's productivity can
be enhanced by very basic interventions aimed at organiz-
ing women into functional groups at the'grass-roots or
community level. Providing assistance in organizational
and management skills, the government of Bangladesh has
effectively mobilized 25,000 women villagers into 600
groups which work cooperatively to secure credit and other
productive resources for its members. Their newly acquired
collective power and access to certain resources has allowed
many women to commercialize activities which were tradi-
tionally non-market oriented. Self-employment, the creation
of productive opportunities, and commercial abilities were
all made possible through, among other things, the very
basic organization of women's groups (Buvinic, Sebstad and
In another case, USAID has provided funds to create women's
pre-cooperative organizations in Senegal (Kossack Nord Project,
AID Project #698-0388.4). Through these women's organiza-
tions members have access to government training, technology
and credit programs, and they can themselves develop the
framework for subsequent formal cooperative action. The
pre-cooperatives engage in activities which collectivize
certain household tasks (e.g., grain milling) and others
which have income generating potential.
B. Recommendations to Minimize the Adverse Effects of Protective
Legislation on Women
(1) At the regional level:
In order to reduce the restrictive effects of legislation
that attempts to bar women a priori from certain types of
employment it is recommended that international labor
agreements and recommendations be reviewed to
remove unnecessary and outdated protective legislation
for women. Additionally, protective legislation, which
does retain current validity, should be recouched in
conditional rather than categorical terms, to allow for
flexibility. Finally, legislation should be reviewed
to ensure it is protective rather than protectionist in
(2) At the national level governments should:
(a) Initiate the same kind of evaluations as those
recommended above and again review existing legisla-
tion for a possible protectionist bias.
(b) Apply social security provisions in a manner that
will not allow employers to exploit these and use
them to discriminate against women workers. Specifi-
cally, the social security payments required of em-
ployers should be determined on the basis of the
number of workers and not on the sex of the workers.
Employers, whether they hire women or not, and regard-
less of the numbers of women they employ, should con-
tribute to funds for maternity and other benefits.
In this way, the financing of special protection
for the working mother would not involve costs directly
related to her employment, reducing the probability
of discrimination in her job engagement or stability.
(c) Promote limited paternity leaves in order to distribute
costs and responsibilities more evenly between firms
within the private sector that employ men and those
primarily employing women. Additionally, paternity
leaves could have the effect of distributing responsi-
bilities within the household and, by staggering them
with maternity leaves, ensure adequate care of infants.
This approach is now being tried in some Scandinavian
(d) Legislation enacted primarily to promote breastfeeding
among working mothers must take into account the adverse
potential these measures have for women's em-
ployment. Breastfeeding legislation, therefore, must
be protective of women's work as well as infant health.
One way of accomplishing this would be to distribute
the burden of the additional costs on-site breast-
feeding facilities mean among all employers in the
private and public sectors rather than forcing only
firms which hire women to absorb the extra costs.
Alternatively, establishments which employ women should
be eligible for government subsidies to meet the costs
of setting up creches, nurseries and transportation
facilities to facilitate breastfeeding, and to balance
out the production losses resulting from breastfeeding
C. Recommendations for Relieving the Double Burden of Women
As we discussed above the double burden or double-day phenomenon
is among the most serious of problems surrounding the issue of
The recommendations promoted to ease this burden are mostly
aimed at reducing women's household chores and child-care
obligations. Recommendations include:
At the regional or international level:
(1) Emphasize the economic or market value of home produc-
tion in order to lend legitimacy and recognition to
the problem of the double burden. Providing a quanti-
tative translation of home tasks may convince inter-
national organizations, policy leaders, and govern-
ment officials of the magnitude of the problem.
(2) Develop and disseminate appropriate technologies and
labor saving devices for household work.
At the national level governments should:
(1) Recognize and act upon their obligation to provide
child-care facilities to working women. Specifically,
governments should launch nation-wide efforts for the
provision of creches, nurseries and child-care facil-
ities, with locations and time tables convenient for
home and work, and responsive to the schedules of workers
with family responsibilities, both in urban environments
and in those rural environments where the population
is concentrated enough to merit the centralization of
(2) Involve working women themselves in the planning of
programs to relieve their double burden. Women should
participate in establishing priorities among the house-
related tasks which need to be lightened or removed from
the household domain. Domestic employment should not
be promoted as a solution to this problem.
(3) Promote the development and use of appropriate labor
saving technologies. Women's access to these tech-
nologies should be facilitated through joint owner-
ship, commercial ownership, government subsidies and
loans to individuals or groups of women.
At the program and project levels:
(1) Convert food-chain activities which are common to all
households (e.g., the preparation of staple foods) at
the community or neighborhood level into commercial
activities and transfer these from the home to the
(2) Outfit neighborhood or community-level centers with
labor-saving devices, and other efficient technologies
which are unaffordable to most women. These could be
operated cooperatively or privately but beneficiaries
should be able to use the facilities paying only for
(3) Facilitate transportation between the home and the
workplace. Both public funds and private subsidies
should be made available for spatial planning of
residential and employment zones, and for the rational-
ization and general improvement of public transporta-
tion facilities. Additionally, the private sector
controlling job opportunities should, through legis-
lation and its enforcement, provide its workers with
means of transportation at little or no cost. By
reducing travel time and travel costs the double
burden of working women with family responsibilities
can be partially lightened.
Projects which create or strengthen technical infra-
structures may help relieve women's household burden.
For instance, a USAID.sponsored water project in
rural Morocco (AID Project #0150) made potable water
more accessible to the household compounds, and allowed
women to cut down on the time and effort they previously
invested in fetching water. Alternatively, wells can
be drilled close to or on the household site, as was
done in Senegal (AID Project #698-0388.7).
D. Recommendations for Minimizing the Marginality of Women Workers
(1) Women's Domestic Employment
At the regional level:
(a) International labor agreements should be immedi-
ately expanded to include the recognition and
protection of the mostly female labor force in-
volved in domestic work, and to contain concrete
ameliorative measures for the problems of domestic
( b) The exportation of women to serve as domestic ser-
vants in other countries must be controlled.
At the national Level:
(a) Establish policies to study, recommend and act
upon specific measures to improve the working
conditions of domestic workers, suited to the
particular conditions of each country. In
general, however, policies that seek to amelio-
rate working and living conditions and to dis-
courage domestic employment should be promoted,
rather than ones which intend to block or termi-
nate domestic labor, since it constitutes the.
only opportunity for remunerated work for millions
of women. The creation of alternative employ-
ment opportunities for poor, unskilled women
must be advanced as a means of opening adjacent
avenues of remunerative work to the now almost
exclusive one of domestic employment. Domestic
employment should not be promoted by governments
as partial solutions to the problems of urban
unemployment and underemployment or to accom-
modate the needs of middle and upper classes.
(b) Revise labor laws, protective legislation and
mechanisms for its enforcement, to ensure the
interests of domestic workers are represented.
Revise social security legislation in such a
way to make coverage affordable to domestic
(c). Promote and facilitate the organization of domestic
workers for collective bargaining. This could be
accomplished by requiring labor unions to in-
clude domestic workers in their membership.
(d) Institute legal counseling for domestic employees.
Such centers should be open during days and
hours appropriate to the schedules of domestic
(2) Women's Informal Work in the Urban Sector
Unable to find work many women in the urban areas are
forced to support themselves through ad hoc, unstable,
and low paying activities. Typically, these activities
range from the sale of personal services to petty marketing.
Continually in search of new sales, and dependent on the
flux of daily demand these women have little possibility
for adequate pay, income security, or collective bargaining.
Governments need to modernize and regulate, to the extent
possible, the informal sector. Market women need to be
extended credit facilities, business guidance, etc., for
the efficient performance and expansion of their trade.
Cooperative movements need to be encouraged.
Because the predicament of informal laborers is so complex
the projects designed in their behalf must integrate several
different services and activities. Thus. the Costa Rican
Barrio Program, sponsored by USAID (Project #515-0140),
aims at reaching the women in the marginal or informal
urban sector by offering motivational and skills training,
guidance and assistance in reaching government agencies
and government-sponsored projects, employment information,
and child-care in a well-orchestrated, interconnected manner.
Furthermore it involves the recipients as decision-makers
and implementors of project activities.
E. Recommendations for Promoting Off-Farm Employment
Strategies for expanding non-agricultural employment for rural
women are proposed by Dixon (1979) in Jobs for Rural Women in
Industry and Services. Measures at two levels are recommended:
First, national measures to promote investment in rural areas,
encourage the diversification of rural economies, and correct
other economic inbalances undermining rural development and
second, grass-roots measures to organize employment schemes
for rural women in nonagricultural production (particularly
small industries and rural construction), sales, service, and
Dixon further recommends a six-step approach to creating em-
ployment for women in the rural sector:
(1) identifying groups of women who are most in need of in-
come-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, technical assistance,
and training to reach these traditionally ineligible
(5) determining needs for technology to reduce domestic burdens;
(6) identifying and overcoming other cultural or structural
obstacles that deny women control over the products of
"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." (Dixon, 1979, p.ii)
Some of these recommendations are being implemented in rural
agro-industrial projects for landless women going on in Egypt
with funds supplied by USAID (AID Project #263-0060).
Poultry raising, traditionally carried out by women, is being
developed into small scale enterprises which aim to upgrade
the quality of the product and increase the income-generating
potential of participants. When teamed with aqua-culture
projects (AID Project #263-0064), they also attempt to intro-
duce combined by-product production. A parallel assessment
of the technical and social implications of the program fo-
cusses closely on the needs and potential of the women served.
F. Recommendations for Improving Employment Conditions of Women
Workers in Transnational Corporations
In view of the problems for women workers in transnational
corporations there is a need for Third World countries to
formulate and implement policies on two fronts: first, short
range policies stabilize employment in TNC firms, encourage the
organization and training of TNC workers and regulate the practices
of TNC's; and second, long range policies which create alternative
employment opportunities for women.
(1) Establish strong national employment policies which guar-
antee responsible labor practices and equality of op-
portunity and treatment for women workers, to guide TNC's
in setting up and operating firms in host countries.
(2) Promote regional cooperation and coordination of employ-
ment policies to discourage TNC's from changing locations
to countries with minimal legal protection for women workers.
(3) Encourage the development of labor intensive technologies
in import substituting industries in order to reduce the
degree of dependence of developing nations on export in-
dustries which operate in highly unstable and fluctuating
world markets; limit dependence on imported foreign goods;
create domestic employment; and conserve foreign exchange.
Policies which stabilize women's employment:
(1) Establish guidelines for the provision of stable employ-
ment and social security through negotiations between
TNCs, host governments and workers'organizations.
(2) Require TNC's to provide reasonable notice of mergers,
takeovers, transfers of production or closures (which
result in dismissals or layoffs) to government authorities
and worker organizations.
(3) Require TNC's and governments to provide compensation
for laid-off or terminated workers.
(4) Guarantee the equal employment of women regardless of
marital status or age.
Policies to allow the organization of women workers:
(1) Promote unionization of women workers in order to (i)
stabilize employment; (ii) improve working conditions;
(iii) protect women workers from "shedding practices"
(in which women who gain seniority and corresponding
benefits are laid off and not rehired because they
are more expensive to the TNC's ); (iv) promote seniority
(2) When necessary organize women's unions (for example, in
locations where male/female interactions are limited, or
where women may feel inhibited participating in activities
traditionally dominated by men). This should be seen as
an intermediary step toward the active participation
of women with men in all levels of union activities.
(3) In conjunction with the unionization of women workers,
design policies and programs to reduce the time re-
quired for household activities and transportation
to and from the work place. In certain cases, women
may not have time to participate in union activities
without a corresponding reduction in the time required
for household work and transit.
Policies to ensure training of women:
(1) Promote training for women at all levels within TNC's
as appropriate to meet the needs of the enterprise as
well as the development policy of the country. Training
should aim at developing generally transferable skills and
promoting career opportunities.
(1) Institute government regulations to control collusion of
firms in keeping wages low and refusing to hire women
from neighbor firms who quit or are laid off.
(2) Institute and enforce safety and health regulations.
(3) Direct and coordinate activities of national governments
and the private sector to provide an adequate supply of
housing and food in communities around TNC's.
(4) Remove protective legislation prohibiting night work by
35% of heads of households are women in many parts of the Caribbean;
their proportion is estimated at 18% in India, 23% in Indonesia,
15% in Iran, 40% in parts of Kenya, 46% in Botswana, 45% in the urban
slum areas of Brazil and Venezuela. Between 1960 and 1970, the pro-
portion of such households has doubled in Brazil and increased by
one-third in Morocco.
The magnitude of family responsibility in not known precisely.
Not all national censuses provide information on mother/child ratios
by marital status. Among the countries that do, the following statistics
are noted: the child/mother ratio for divorced/widowed/single women
combined ranges from 3.4 (Peru), to 5.1 (in Botswana), to 6.6 (Honduras).
Widowed and divorced women aged 35 in Guatemala have an average of 5
The average number of children per single mother is 2.2 in Chile; 3.0
in Colombia; 3.2 in Honduras, 3.3 in Guatemala, 3.4 in Peru, 3.3 in
the Caribbean. The percentage among the total adult population of
single women who are mothers is 27% in Guatemala, Colombia and Peru
when computed on the basis of those single women whose parity is known.
When all signle women who have children are counted for whom the exact
number of children is not known, the percentage of mothers in the single
adult female population is more than double. In Jamaica, nearly all
women 24 and over classified as "no longer living with common law
partner" are mothers.
According to the census figures for all adult single women, 20% are
mothers in Mozambique, 46% in Botswana. The average number of children
per single mother is 2.7. In the case of Africa it is not clear whether
the appearance of single mothers results from arbitrary categorization
of civil status according to whether the form of marriage is based on
customary or contract law.
The particular difficulty for rural women heads of household to find
work is pointed out for Bangladesh and Botswana and Kenya. (Cain 1979;
Kossoudji and Mueller 1980). In Bangladesh women heads of household
find wage labor for 17% of all persons days, compared to 41% for
male heads of household. For all type of income-generating work, women
find work for 63% of all persons days; men for 83% (Cain 1979). A survey
in rural Kenya, identifies twice as many household heads who are women
among the unemployed as there are men heads of household. (Kenya Employment
Mission nd,); in Morocco, among all the divorced in the population
who were actively seeking work 65% were women; among all the widows.
the percentage female was 78% (Youssef 1977).
The low level of asset ownership among women as compared to men has
been identified as a major cause of poverty among women heads of house-