A woman's rightful place?
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CTA. 1993. A woman's rightful place?. Spore 44. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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One of ORSTOM's female research scientists recently wrote: 'It is counterproductive to see development as something purely male and such an attitude gets now here. 'This view is shared by more and more development workers. African women carry heavy...
One of ORSTOM's female research scientists recently wrote: 'It is counterproductive to see development as something purely male and such an attitude gets now here. 'This view is shared by more and more development workers. African women carry heavy responsibilities: they grow crops; they market produce; they feed their families, and they often take on the role of head of the household. If development projects are to have any real impact women must be given a greater say. One African woman summed up the situation which is still widespread in Africa. 'Some foreigners came to the village to help us to develop, they met the men but they forgot us.' Despite slight improvements in recent years, development projects often fail to take into account the role and importance of women. Women in Africa make up more than one-third of the workforce. They account for 70% of agricultural workers, 80% of food producers, 100% of those who process basic foodstuffs and they undertake 60-90% of the marketing. Yet the role of women in these activities, so important economically to the continent, has for many years remained in obscurity because women never play any part in political activities or the decision-making processes. Even when their work does get the recognition it deserves, it does not appear in the statistics on which planning for rural development or project implementation are based. If the role of women is not taken into account then the result will be inefficiency and, ultimately, lack of development. The integration of women as both agents and beneficiaries of development in the main sectors of the economy must be a primary objective. Another factor that has come to the fore recently is that, because of male emigration, women often take over as head of the household. Men leave to look for paid employment in the big cities, industrialized areas, or even abroad and they leave their wives to look after the family financially and to manage the land. In some areas where male emigration is high, women are in charge of up to 65% of all households (in Rwanda this applies to 40% of rural families; in Western Kenya 60%, and in the Congo 70%). Male emigration These households are often some of the poorest. The land which these women farm is generally poor, which is why their men have left, and the husbands may send them little or no money. Indeed, these men often set up new households where they settle. But these negative attitudes are not universal: the 'Dossier' which follows (page 5) reports on the constructive relationships that have existed between development activities in West Africa and Africans living and working in France. In the Sahel, the men who have been forced away from their villages by drought leave their wives to cope with the problems of desertification. Sahelian women struggle against drought and the advancing desert. In Burkina Faso, day in and day out in the burning sun, they labour building dykes in their husbands' fields to combat erosion. In Niger they dig trenches in the hard-crusted laterite soil to plant trees. In Senegal they tend small plantations of eucalyptus, ziziphus and acacia to replace trees which, as they call it, are 'greedy' and take too much from the land without giving anything back. Here the workforce trying to stop desertification is 95% female. Women's rights yet to be recognized Women come up against all sorts of difficulties in their attempts to be seen as agents for development in their own right. First and foremost, they have no landownership rights. In some communities, they have only annual rights of use on individual fields given to them by the head of the household. They cannot therefore make any long-term improvements to the land, such as planting perennial fruits crops, setting up irrigation facilities, etc. Projects involving cash crops often take no account of the food crops grown by women. Sometimes the fields traditionally worked by the women are taken over to increase the project area or these areas are forgotten when it comes to plans for improvement. Women are often employed on these projects, but as hired hands rather than as producers in their own right. This not only jeopardizes the women's independence but also deprives them of the traditional crops which help feed their families. Several studies have found that this contributes to the increasingly poor nutrition, especially of children, which occurs when subsistence crops are replaced by commercial ones. Much the same happens when projects involve irrigation or the settlement of new land. Land can be made over only to men as heads of the household. In 84% of water and land conservation schemes through which land has been reclaimed, only six per cent of women have been able to acquire official ownership. Women lose out because not only are they used as labour but they are also deprived of their traditional plots of land while still having to find means of feeding their families. Furthermore, these new systems of village land ownership take no account of such considerations as the need for firewood and small plots to grow vegetables which provide vitamins, and other ingredients for sauces. This places a greater burden on the women who have to walk long distances for firewood and cuts out an important source of nourishment for the family. No land, no credit Women find it hard to get credit because they are often not the official owners of their land and therefore cannot offer guarantees on bank loans. The law in man' countries insists that their husbands act a' guarantors and this they are often unwilling to do. And yet ironically wherever women do manage to get access to credit they manage higher repayments than the men. However women do not usually at tract the attention of credit brokers since the loans they request are often small, attract little interest and are costly to administer Often credit systems use existing villa' cooperatives of which often only the male heads of household are members, eve though there is no formal bar to female membership. For some time now some development agencies have been looking at the possibility of giving individual loans and guaranteeing them by group credit schemes know as `esusu', because this traditional method of savings is known to work well. The final obstacle to obtaining credit for women is that illiterate women cannot complete the necessary bank loan forms. Although these days African primary schools have as many female pupils as male, the rate of illiteracy among women is still above 90% in 28 African countries, according to UNESCO figures. Similar problems arise over the use of fertilizer. Since women produce different crops from the men, often from smaller plots, they need smaller quantities, and often different types, of inputs. These may be overlooked while all the resources are spent on cash crops. Lack of training Not only do projects tend to be oriented towards crops traditionally grown by men but the training given is also aimed at men. Timetables take no account of women's chores such as looking after children, cooking, cutting wood and fetching water. Written training material is useless if women cannot read and, in any case, it tends to be directed towards the production of cash crops and is therefore less useful to women. In many countries cultural or religious factors play an important part in preventing women from receiving training. Trainers and agricultural extension agents are usually male and thus may not speak to, or get close to, women. This is especially true in Muslim countries. Husbands too will sometimes be reluctant to allow their wives to learn new techniques from men who are not part of their community. The 'dangerous half ' 'Women are no longer going to put up with being treated like this. We don't want revolution but men have got to help us advance'. That is the voice of the leader of one women's group. African women are not prepared to go on as passive victims. Georges Balandier, a French geographer, called these African women who contest some project decisions the 'dangerous half'. When they find that projects do not benefit them financially, they reject them and devote their time and energy to more lucrative activities. This could jeopardize the projects or even mean that they are not implemented. In the Volta valleys development project, women lost the plots on which they grew their food crops, so they occupied a wet area which had been earmarked for experimental purposes. 'They soon saw the opportunity this offered them and developed it into little rice paddies which became quite profitable. But they still worry lest the project coordinators take away their high-grade land and redistribute it among the men' (OECD report). A considerable number of projects have run into real trouble in a similar way because women, who had not been included, have resisted their introduction. To achieve sustainable development many factors need to be taken into account: among them, the peculiarities and needs of an area, and the special requirements of women in development projects. In some places this does already happen but more needs to be done. The real difficulty is on the domestic front, where real changes will have to be made: women will never be able to participate effectively or even regularly, in any development project while they still have to spend six to eight hours each day on domestic chores, fetching water and wood, grinding cereals or tubers, preparing and cooking food. It is possible to lighten the rural women's burden by introducing labour-saving technologies such as the use of wells and mills and the adoption of household improvements. Many projects have ignored local realities and, following the examples of western women's initiatives, have brought in schemes for sewing, cooking or embroidery, when it was tools and fertilizers that were actually needed. 'IWD. the Integration of Women in Development, is not a sector in its own right, but more like a leitmotif through all development work, which must be picked up and integrated into the principal development programmes,' emphasizes one EEC official on the subject. Investing in women is not just an efficient way of ensuring the viability of any rural development scheme, but is also a means of fulfilling other objectives of development, for example protection of the environment and controlling population growth. The African woman holds in her hands not only the future of mankind, but also of the environment and of development.
- CTA Spore (English)