The Multiplicity of Women’s Roles in the rural Women’s Component Projects

These authors’ research deals, respectively, with: women, water and sanitation projects, education projects, supports for mothers and health.

All working emphasise the necessity of considering the “whole” women in her reproductive and productive roles and caution against a one-sided emphasis on income-generation projects.

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The essential points are that there is a need for flexibility in the approach to women and the design of projects, i.e. we should start where the women are.

The way to reach women who “are on the edge of physical survival” is not with a literacy project but one which will provide support services (day-care, etc.) and alleviate physically burdensome tasks such as fetching water by bringing potable water systems closer to their communities.

Blumberg suggests that health projects are under-rated with respect to their impact on women. She points to three positive aspects of those projects they are often labour-intensive employers of village-level women; the women who participate gain greatly in self-esteem and autonomy, as well as gaining respect from others in their communities and finally they “may act as role models whose accomplishment inspire increased educational attainment for girls”.

Timpson who is working on the Water Decade at UNDP brings to our attention the importance of avoiding an “over­emphasis on economic productivity, which can obscure other personal development and self-fulfillment goals which are part of women’s rights and which may be non-economic or not achievable through income—generating activities…”

Elmendorf demonstrates how women’s water and sanitation roles can be the key to health and integrated development “a missing element in much other sector planning”. In one case the necessity may be for an income-generating project to precede a social one in order for the latter to function properly.

An example of where this happened comes from the experience of Dr. Pairat Decharin of the Thai Community Development Department who explained that their emphasis in the 1960s was on training programmes in nutrition and home economics for women, including personal hygiene and sanitation. Due to a slow start and a lack of response from women they realised that income-generating projects were necessary before they could make progress in other areas. Elmendorf has found that “this concept is confirmed by other women in development research and agency experience”.

Elmendorf found further evidence of this idea in Sri Lanka where it was observed that income-generating activities where a necessary entry point so that efforts to improve sanitation and health could be more successful.

Similar experiences are reported by Acharya and Bennett for Nepal. “For most women, participation in traditional programmes in health and family planning, education, nutrition and child care, etc. is a luxury they cannot afford.

Unless the time women spend away from household and agricultural chores can not bring in some visible contribution on family income, they “nor their households will feel that the time is justified. Time is in fact a crucial issue for women…”

The authors added that women’s workloads, as well as the seasonal and daily variation in their activities should be taken into account and lead to the development of labour-saving technologies in villages to lighten these burdens.

In fact Elmendorf points out that: “When income-generating activities are made available in combination with the introduction of labour-saving village technologies, time and energy can be channelled into more productive activities.

Acharya and Bennett also point out that women’s increased visible contribution to the household especially if it is in the form of cash, usually brings them greater decision-making power in domestic allocations of funds which means that women potentially can influence spending of money for operation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation system”.

Thus the chain of events may be from economic towards economic/social. Elmendorf’s paper is especially interesting because it gives specific case of the nature of the relationship between economic and social projects and how they can be interdependent and how they can progress from one to the other and back again. The order needed for the projects is not fixed.

A good example of an understanding of women’s multiple roles and the issue of social and/or economic is provided by Elmendorf and wisely who used a theoretical framework developed by Chen to show the chain of events set in motion by the improvement of water supplies, “water supplies (can) affect nutrition and/or energy availability through various mechanisms. Increased household food can become available through home gardens, animal husbandry, or by cash income.

With more accessible water sources, women can use their time saved for more efficient household management or storage, processing, distribution of food and more attention to child feeding.

Energy expended by women and children in water drawing and carrying would be reduced by more accessible water sources.

Last, but not least, the reduction of chronic and acute infectious diseases and infestations could reduce the wastage of nutrients…” which result in lower physical energy.

The combination of social and economic concerns in projects is also illustrated by Srinivasan in regard to literacy interventions which “package” literacy with basic services, “many women’s programmes have begun by combining literacy with nutrition and health activities focused on the child and the range of basic services in the ‘mix’ is being increasingly broadened.”

The “package” or mix approach has several distinct advantages over traditional single-purpose literacy interventions.

The emphasis here is on facilitating women’s access to technical knowledge, skills and services which make improvements, in their daily lives possible.

Harmon (112) points to an added advantage, as long as educational programmes convey information regarded by participants as relevant and functional the likelihood of sustained attendance increases.

As Srinivasan points out, “In many instances, however, the developmental ‘mix’ may not be a mix at all. Separate services coexist without the benefit of a unifying concept or a co­ordinated plan of action.

Learning from experience of the need for both integration and relevance, the trend now is to include a strong component of income-generating activities which seem to appeal to women and which serve as a binding factor.”

Srinivasan also mentions the Bolivian project included in those financed by VEWD presented previously where the range of activities includes weaving, tailoring, cooking, crafts, basic accounting, hygiene, latrine construction, vegetable growing, home management, family relations, women’s role in society and co-operatives.

The crux of the matter in regard to ‘welfare’ criticism of women’s programmes shared by so many observers is not so much in the provision of services but in how they are organised.

The criticism is aimed at the passive role attributed to the beneficiaries by the projects’ organisers who do not consult the communities about the services to be provided.

Furthermore, the inclusion of different components “cafeteria” style in a project is no guarantee of integration “…in testing for integration perhaps it may be less important to ask ‘Does the project include multispectral components?

Than ‘what is the underlying philosophy which unifies the different elements of the project? To what extent does the order of introducing these different elements represent an evolutionary process rather than chance or expediency”.

Dixon proposes the following list of conditions for the creation of women-specific projects which are similar to those we proposed in relation to “women component” projects discussed earlier.

These projects can provide respect for cultural values which are opposed to the association in public of unrelated males and females:

a) The recognition of the needs for girls and women to “catch up” with men, e.g. in training for skills and professions previously closed to them;

b) Consideration of the specific problems of women-headed households when they represent a high proportion of the households in the community;

c) Consideration of the prevailing sexual division of labour, and women’s specialisation in certain tasks, such as food production, small animal raising or vegetable marketing, which may need assistance to increase their productivity and then returns of their labour;

d) Provision of safeguards against the likelihood that men would receive the returns of women’s labour, for example, by selling the goods that women produce or by becoming, as household heads, the formal members of co-operatives based on women’s work;

e) Flexibility in planning for women who want their own activities, such as revolving credit clubs or marketing associations, in order to achieve a measure of self- reliance or to avoid conflict or competition with men.

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