Earlier there was, with a few notable exceptions, a very strong emphasis on concentrated capital-intensive development in those sectors of the economy deemed to have the greatest prospects for integration (or further integration) into the international market system. The dominant measure of development was the rate of growth of the GNP.
More broad-based development, the stated goal of all development plans, was supposed to follow gradually through more or less automatic multiplier or spread effects.
In due course it became increasingly clear that the spread effect of this strategy was very weak. Rather, this general approach to development was found to be the prime mover towards increasing economic and social stratification, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, which soon emerged as a prominent feature of development, internationally and nationally.
From the continuous debate of these matters, it has since the late 1960’s become increasingly clear that development must, without neglect of the growth issue, concern itself with the need for structural and institutional change to ensure that the benefits become more equitably distributed. No less important than the equity issue, is the realization that the prospects for development improve with wider participation.
From the point of view of rural women’s role in development, these matters are of primary importance since they have been a major factor in at long last gaining women some recognition as active contributors to development. In what follows a number of current issues of special interest to rural women will be identified and suggestions made on possible policies or strategies of special interest to them.
At this point it should also be noted that we are in the present study primarily concerned with rural women’s problems as they present themselves within the developing countries, as this is where the majority of opportunities for technical co-operation present themselves.
This should, however, in no way make us lose sight of the importance for women—and men—of the severely disadvantaged position of developing countries vis-a-vis industrial countries in their efforts to attain full sovereignty and a higher level of living for their peoples.
The establishment of the New International Economic Order” is therefore of primary concern to the women in the developing countries, in particular those in the poorest countries. In the international as well as the national arena, women have special problems related to such matters as conditions of work and transfer of technology, etc.
In either case, the initiatives for remedial action will mainly have to be generated within countries, and key efforts need to be aimed at the adoption of policies that will “promote the participation and advancement of women in all fields of work, provide them with equal educational opportunities, and such services as would facilitate housework.”25
Because so much of the development effort has been deficient in its attempts to reach the common people, there is now widespread agreement that the revised development strategies need to be more broad-based and people-oriented.
For such strategies to succeed, they must combine two basic principles. On the one hand they must provide for a wide distribution of benefits and services like health care, education and training, productive employment, credit, marketing, fuel, water, sanitation and protection against environmental degradation, in particular the loss of cultivable land through erosion. On the other hand, to make such policies a realistic alternative, a greater mobilization of people as productive agents must be achieved.
Their labour, capability, motivation and enterprise in bettering their own conditions must be stimulated. In both respects, women’s role in development, not least in rural areas, deserves special attention.
For rural women, new initiatives are particularly urgent in matters of agricultural production, cottage and small-scale industry, credit, marketing, energy, technology, potable water supply, sanitation, primary health care, education and training.
Special attention to women’s role in agricultural production, including animal husbandry, is justified on several counts, First, the continuing re-evaluation of development strategies has, inter alia involved an assessment of the relative importance of rural versus industrial/urban development.
As a result, the consensus now is that rural development had been grossly neglected. Major factors behind this conclusion were the realization that absolute poverty was a common phenomenon of frightening proportions and that many countries were beginning to lose the ability to feed their rapidly growing populations.
Second, as part of the increased interest in rural development, and often quite coincidentally, women’s crucial role in agricultural production, as well as other aspects of rural life, has emerged or, willy-nilly, been “discovered” (a dairy project could, e.g., not be launched without the participation of women, since they were entirely responsible for the milking and care of the cows).
Most important is probably the recognition of the crucial role women play in food production. If they have any access to land at all, they grow at least part, often all or most of the food the family consumes, and they often participate in the production of marketable food supplies and other agricultural crops as well.
Additionally, they are everywhere traditionally responsible for the processing, preparation and preservation of food. Other common tasks include the care of animals and, of course, the care of children, house-keeping and the fetching of fuel and water.
Rural women are also traditionally occupied in cottage industries of various kinds and in the local trade of the output of such industries and other products, in particular surplus food. As the shortage of cultivable land intensifies, non-agricultural occupations have assumed greater and greater importance as the main source of income.
Under all too common conditions of extreme poverty, the opportunities for reasonably productive and remunerative work are scarce indeed.
Additionally, rural women have difficulties in engaging in income-generating activities because of their general lack of modern education and training and their hard and time-consuming responsibilities in the above- mentioned tasks of food processing (e.g. pounding and other processing of grain) and the fetching of fuel and water, often requiring many hours of work a day.
Finally, given these conditions, both the women themselves and their families, in particular the children, are prone to suffer from further impediments in the form of illness and general weakness and debilitation.
To assist them in their work, rural women are primarily obliged to rely on their daughters, who consequently are drawn into the same conditions of life and all too often fail to obtain the same educational opportunities as the boys.
Even from this very brief account of rural women’s responsibilities, it will readily be seen that women carry a very substantial responsibility for the maintenance of rural life.
However, since all or much of this work is of a subsistence nature, performed at home, rural women have, as noted earlier, generally been ignored by the planners.
As a result they continue to perform their work, which is increasing on account of larger family size and increasing pressure on land and other resources, without any assistance in the form of education, training and improved technology.
If the commonly advocated, more broad-based rural development effort is to succeed, an inescapable conclusion would seem to be that rural women must be given increased support, designed to enable them to perform their traditional as well as new tasks in a more productive and rewarding way.
In respect of agricultural production, women’s work must be treated as the important part of the farm family’s work that it is an extension and other services should be designed to meet women’s as well as men’s needs.
At present there are often, hardly any agricultural extension services for women. Furthermore, if the women is, in fact, the head of the household, as increasingly and frequently happens, she should be treated as such.
In plans for the development of non-conventional energy sources, such as woodlots, bio-gas, and small-scale generation of electricity, women’s energy needs for c6oking as well as for other purposes, in particular small scale industry, should be considered.
Similarly, women have a pressing need for improved tools and implements and other appropriate technology to assist them in their hard and time-consuming work in farming, food- processing, fuel and water portage and other household activities.
They also need assistance aimed at employment creation, inter alia, through the development of arts and crafts production into more efficient small-scale industrial undertakings, based on traditional as well as non-traditional, locally available raw materials. Of special importance is technical education and training in such projects as accounting, co-operative organization and marketing, and increased facilities for credit.
Finally, there is the large area of social and physical infrastructure, covering such services as education, health care, water and sanitation.
As concerns education, there is above all a need to make educational facilities available to girls on an equal basis with boys.
There is also a general need for curriculum reform, aimed at making education more relevant to the needs and opportunities of society.
In matters of certain services that have until now generally been provided through face-to-face contact with a professionally trained public employee, the consensus seems to be that the delivery system must undergo radical change because it is only reaching a tiny fraction of the rural population. The change must be towards community based delivery systems, in which members of the village population are selected, at least in part through popular participation, to serve as lay agents in their own villages.
In addition to taking care of special cases, referred to them by the local agents, professional staff should in large measure devote their time to the training and supervision of the community-based system.
This approach, practised in the People’s Republic of China and on a smaller scale in many other countries, would in appropriate forms seem to be particularly relevant in the development of more effective preventive and curative health care systems and extension services.
The majority of rural women in developing countries is also in great, sometimes desperate, need of improved water supply and sanitation facilities. Apart from the provision of the physical facilities, successful programmes in these areas require extensive training and education in matters of both maintenance and use. Other serious environmental problems concern very poor housing and soil erosion, leading to large- scale loss of cultivable soil.
More could be said about rural women’s needs, but, even as is, the list may seem prohibitive and unrealistic. Nevertheless, it is not possible to shorten the list. Instead, the emphasis must be put on the potential but under-utilized productive contribution of rural women and their families.
Given an opportunity to improve their conditions of life, there is every reason to believe that the productive effort and capability would be commensurate with the task of more broad-based development.
In getting the process started, the most crucial factors are in most instances not necessarily lack of physical resources but the capacity for organization and the rather fortuitous factor of leadership. In these in other matters, the role of women is only rarely taken into account.
To conclude, if the poor are to be given a fair opportunity to participate in the development effort, there is every reason to consider the participation by women as full and equal partners as a major factor in this effort. In this words, as there are two systems of social stratification, there are two problems of integration, that of the poor and, especially within but also beyond this problem, that of women.
Without the active participation in rural development of women, no strategy is going to succeed within the foreseeable future.