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Part I - analysis of the situation

Part I - analysis of the situation

Invisible rural women

Is the situation of Peulh women in Guinea comparable to that of Muhutu women in Burundi'? Is it possible to draw conclusions that are applicable to all women regardless of the differences in their societies? Even within one group or society' can women be considered as a single entity?

The immediate response to this type of question is clearly negative. A positive answer would imply reductionist views of what women are - how they live, suffer, want and choose - as individuals, producers, mothers and citizens within the family, community, society and country.

The female canvas is painted with a full palette of colours, giving a myriad of different tones and shades; its forms are expressed in a thousand complex facets and surfaces, and in teens of space it covers a wide range of environmental landscapes. Nonetheless it is possible to discern a certain genuine unity, with clear lines and features revealing conditions and situations common to all rural women in the various spheres in which their lives unfold.

Without repeating the many analyses and diagnoses made previously concerning the condition of women, a quick run-down of the specific problems of rural women can be helpful, using knowledge acquired through the course of FAO studies and support programmes. This summary of restraints or limitations is meant to extract and highlight the obstacles that should be removed by a development policy satisfying the demands and interests of women and of rural society in general, as well as the priorities of individual governments.

Women as objects or subjects of rights?

All women - including the rural women of Africa have to face many questions that are:

The weakness, if not absence, of a recognized legal status for women is partially explained in terms of the mechanisms of society (see, for example, Meillassoux, 1977; Balandier, 1974; Droy, 199()). Rural societies are made up of family groups organized into production units under the supervision and authority of a family head. The survival of these units is dependent on their productive capacities and, even more so, on their reproductive capacities. The labour factor is of primary importance here and must always be available. The continuity of the human factor is dependent on reproductive women, who are thus invested with a value and become subject, as though they were property, to the laws of exchange.

For women, this situation is manifested by their weak or non-existent legal capacity. It is an exception for women to have authority over management, decision making and control of resources and property (which, in any case, can only rarely belong to them).

The most crucial element in women's dispossession of rights concerns land, its ownership, access and use. Rural women are often excluded from owning this primary production factor through either inheritance systems or land tenure regulations. Land succession rules favour men, and land reforms and laws inadvertently divorce women from the land.

The criterion for being awarded land, whether it is distributed on the basis of inheritance or after rehabilitation or development, is status as family head. Although rural women often fulfil this function1 in the absence of men (through migration, death or divorce), they are still not eligible to hold land since the law does not recognize their status as family heads.

1 At Fouta-Djallon in Guinea it is estimated that women are responsible for 30 percent of agricultural enterprises.

All countries set goals or self-sufficiency and food security based on rising food crop production and productivity, which are in practice the responsibility of women. The contradiction is clear; if women neither have access to land nor are guaranteed rights to its use, why should they invest in increasing its productivity? Their production responds primarily to the elementary demands of individual and family consumption and not to those of security for the country as a whole.

Women, thus dispossessed of their source of work by traditional practice and civil law, are unable to join programmes the technical improvement of the soil, rational farming or the protection of resources. They are thus deprived of the benefits of development. The gap between men and women is widening and is giving rise to a social imbalance greater than any imbalance that development intervention could create. Over half the population is being left behind, and in social costs this will weigh increasingly heavily, penalizing whole countries. All of the investments and efforts made will have been in vain.

Women must have rights equal to those of men. especially when they are in practice the heads of households. When land reforms and laws are being drawn up, the forms of dispossession to which women are subject should be analysed so that they can be remedied in a socially and economically just way. Obstacles in existing legislation and traditional practice must be identified and laws and regulations promulgated to broaden women's powers and legal capacity in obtaining their due rights. These texts must then be disseminated and explained to those concerned. The majority of the rural population tends to have a low literacy level, especially in French, the language used for laws in French-speaking Africa. How many legal texts have benefited one section of the population alone because they have not been brought to the attention of the general public just because "ignorance of the law is no defence"?

Labourers or farmers in their own right?

It is estimated that women's participation in agricultural production is at least equal to that of men and often considerably greater. Nevertheless, the role of rural women and their importance as producers in their own right are rarely recognized. Their role in reproduction (as wives and mothers) is often the only one taken into consideration.

Apart from the significant contribution they make to increasing resources and production. women's working hours (over 12 per day) and variety of activities (production of cash and food crops, market gardening, animal husbandry, etc. ) provide further proof; if any is needed, of their participation. In agriculture women take part in all the activities of harvesting, storage, processing. picking and marketing. Moreover, the list of difficulties faced by women is long and daunting; it includes outdated tools. rudimentary technology, lack of machinery, unrefined methods, scant access to credit and an almost total lack of training.

Furthermore, after carrying out all their farming tasks and taking care of the household (fetching water and fuelwood from considerable distances, preparing meals, bringing up and caring for children in areas where social services are not readily accessible and are often expensive), women often have to pursue other activities on their own account in order to earn a personal income, since income resulting from their labour on the farm does not go to them but is managed by the head of household, who distributes it according to his own criteria. As rural women are responsible for household food security they find themselves forced to earn extra money to meet this responsibility.

The results of development programmes and projects show that they are still not designed to enhance the role of rural women as producers in their own right. Rural women are rarely the beneficiaries of rural services and support (see box opposite) and this is partly the result of the foundations of the agricultural production system.

In the agricultural production system, in addition to being constrained in their activities. women have no access - or can obtain access only with difficulty - to the production factors of land, capital and labour. Land is subject to rules on purchase, access and use. Acquisition of capital is subject to rules on guarantees and capacities to enter into trade agreements. For rural women, the quality and quantity of labour often depends on their own efforts.

The figure indicates rural women's position in the production system and their degree of access to production factors ( land, capital. Iabour)2 and resources.

2 Land: all available resources (land and natural resources) that can be used for productive purposes; subject to rules of purchase, access and use.

Capital: constituted resource used for ends other than personal; financial inputs, fixed capital, etc.; subject to guarantees.

Labour: productive human resources the quality of which depends on education, training, etc., and the quantity of which is subject to working hours, seasonal fluctuations, the availability of workers, their age etc.

The first observation to be made is that rural women are close to the labour factor in production as quality and quantity are often equivalent to their own efforts. Women count mainly on themselves, while the land is totally beyond their grasp. They can acquire capital to the extent that certain marketing activities sometimes allow them to generate an income. Women's access (or lack of access) to resources and the question of whether or not they are taken into account in development projects are conditioned by these production factors.


Rural poverty

Often the burden of droughts, famines and seasonal troughs fall[s] disproportionately on female members within poor households - in terms of consumption adjustments, asset depletion, work burden and, in extreme cases, destitution and abandonment.


Women's literacy was consistently lower than men's. In some cases, as many as 70 percent of rural men were illiterate, compared with 82 percent of rural women, although the gain in agricultural productivity resulting from education was larger for female than male farmers.

Infant mortality and malnutrition

Infant mortality was in inverse proportion to the mothers' literacy level. The percentage of underweight children was higher among females in Asia.


Women typically work more hours per day than men. They were more likely to be engaged in casual labour contracts than permanent ones, generally earning 30 to 40 percent of men's wages.


In some specific cases, the effects of new technologies on women were not altogether favourable. In the Gambia, for example, an attempt to introduce new technology in the cultivation of rice (a food and cash crop traditionally cultivated by women) resulted in the expansion of household farming under male control and in the displacement of women by men in the cultivation of rice.

Savings and credit

Programmes for granting credit and guaranteeing loans benefit male farmers, while women, who have no land or guarantee, are excluded from these, although it is recognized that they are less likely to default on payments and that they have a greater propensity to save.


The distribution of land rights under communal tenure often became less equitable. Women not infrequently saw their land rights eroded. Land redistribution programmes usually targeted the household unit, with little attention to the distribution of land within the household or to women's special needs.

Extension work

The bias against women was particularly striking, especially in Africa where agricultural extension systems often did not serve women farmers as effectively as male farmers. The role of female labour in food and cash crop production, food processing, food storage and marketing was critical. In Africa, the low proportion of female extension workers (11.1 percent of extension personnel, 7 percent of field staff) contrasts with the rural population as a whole where there were more women than men.

Rural organizations and cooperatives

Women represented a very small proportion of the total membership of agricultural cooperatives.

Rural women and production management

The second observation is that access to resources is in direct proportion to access to production factors. The labour factor, being equivalent to their own efforts, often corresponds to the work done. It is hence easier for women - although still not altogether easy - to claim and benefit from such forms of support as extension work and training and to join informal mutual aid groups.

Any activity that requires investment, financial contributions, working capital or cash-flow - and hence a minimum of management ability and recognition - is linked to the capital factor. This factor entails the acquisition of inputs, machinery, technological expertise and credit. Capital is often linked to status and to eligibility to join farming and community organizations. Women very seldom have their own income, personal capital or a recognized status, and since development action is subject to the availability of capital, this means that women are often overlooked in development programmes.

Development actions are based on the principle of the working or family unit, and their beneficiaries are therefore family heads (men) or legally or socially recognized organizations. There is, therefore, a tendency to develop specific projects for women concerning: agricultural processing activities, such as milling and grain hulling projects; income-generating activities, such as market gardening and cottage industries; and women's organizations for production or marketing. In this there is a very real danger that women become segregated from the rest of the rural world.

The land factor is closely linked to status and the right to make decisions. Access to land leads to social recognition and the opportunity to belong to professional organizations, unions and cooperatives. Few development programmes or projects envisage the involvement of women on this level.

Women in development as protagonists or extras?

In most cultures, women are excluded from positions of command and policy-making and are not admitted to the decision-making process at family, community or national levels. They are very poorly represented in political parties, public institutions and workers', farmers' and professional organizations. It is essential, however, that their capacities for decision-making should now be recognized on every level.

The question of women's role in decision-making processes is far from simple. The interests of men and women in rural areas do not always converge. Women should nevertheless have the same opportunities as men and under the same conditions - to speak out, participate and take decisions. At the same time, men must shoulder their responsibilities in fields that have traditionally been left to women for the sake of convenience. A family, society or nation cannot hope for rational management, healthy functioning and balanced organization if not all members are consulted on all matters. No problem can be solved on the basis of the views of men or women alone.

The approaches that most reliably promote the role of women in decision-making and management are support for organized groups and the training of women and men.

Groups, whether mixed or solely female, increase women's visibility at village level by representing them and ensuring that their right to play a real part in making decisions regarding the village, projects and actions to be taken is respected. Groups also help women to overcome their reluctance to speak out, act or intervene on their own. This factor is particularly significant when it comes to obtaining credit, machinery, tools, land and access to services.

Groups are also excellent structures for all types of training - technical, management, negotiation, literacy and social. Mixed audiences allow discussion and help improve the position of all members. Raising the level of knowledge boosts technical and economic capacities, improves status and increases the ability to make decisions. If men and women share in management and organization, the sharing of benefits and resources will also be facilitated.

Women as traditionalists or innovators?

It is an accepted fact in all discussions that in African society rural women have always made an active contribution to agricultural production and family subsistence. Since they already form such an integral part of the process of development, why should the discussion be about women's integration? Would it not be more appropriate to examine the relations between men and women and the capacities of each to bring about change?

A fairly common observation is that it is women themselves who resist change, by putting forward conservative arguments referring to tradition, customs, the established order and the need to preserve the cultural heritage untouched and by claiming that change would be impossible.

The relationship between rural women and development projects, however, gives a different answer to the question of whether they are innovators or traditionalists. Women have a remarkable capacity for assimilating and appropriating projects and the measures they introduce. Both individually and collectively, women are the "big consumers" of projects. They readily accept the point of view and reasoning of donors and support bodies that they see as meeting their needs. This observation applies to small-scale projects involving relatively few beneficiaries.

Women have a high regard for anything concerning collective organization. The creation and continuation of such organizations are made all the easier by the fact that every woman is a stranger when she first arrives in the village. Apart from the family into which she has married, her immediate rallying point is the other women. Such groups (mutual aid, work, social, tontine) are not only traditional for women, but also respond to their need to have some control at least in one area of their lives. Women are traditionally excluded from political and social power, and technical developments can sometimes deprive them of their economic control as well. In groups, women have their own rules, working systems and mechanisms. Men are excluded, except for those the women themselves have invited - often to give technical help or to facilitate negotiations with the rest of the community. For women the group is a means of acquiring resources and production factors for themselves and of assuring that they will benefit from the investment they have made in energy, time and finance.

Women know that such groups may enable them to obtain means of production (land, inputs and machinery), to gain access to certain resources (credit) and to benefit from services (professional training and literacy education). As soon as a path to improvement and change is opened to them, women respond. Credit is certainly the most significant example here.

Savings and credit systems, whether mutualist or not, were created with the male economic agent, as family head, in mind. Banking mechanisms have been opening progressively to women in response to their demands. Although women may not be in the majority numerically, they are unfailingly the best clients in the contractual relationship in terms of mobilization of personal contributions, meeting commitments regularly and capacity for repayment.

It is still rare for a man and woman to share control of the family budget, and women are forced to generate a daily income in order to assure family subsistence. Imagination, creativity and drive are indispensable. When labour is divided according to gender, so are budgets. Each individual is responsible for his or her financial commitments and for making payments at specified times. The time unit of a man's budget is the agricultural year, for a woman's it is the day. Women have to seize every opportunity to increase their resources or income and create new opportunities to replace those of which they have been dispossessed.

The modernization of some occupations, such as rice cultivation, market gardening and small-scale animal husbandry, transfers profits that used to be women's to men. One constant, which often emerges from research on the effects of technological innovations on the situation of rural women, is that, for all income-generating activities, the higher the income and the lighter the overall workload, the more the activity, its control and its profits shift towards men.

Women are both traditionalists and innovators. They need to be convinced that the possibility for change rests first and foremost with themselves before they are likely to act. On the other hand, as soon as they see that a certain action is in their best interests, women's potential for change and the speed at which they bring it about are striking.

Analysis of rural women's experience shows constant interaction among the different spheres (political, economic and social) in which they move. A linear presentation of their role and status is, therefore, inappropriate.

All women, particularly rural women, are involved in all these activities equally in qualitative terms and for them there is no clear dividing line between the economic and the domestic spheres. The guiding principle for women's activities is first and foremost the survival and continuation of the family. Although profitability and productivity may be considerations, they are not given the same importance they get in an exclusively economic approach; instead elements based on the social relations within families and rural communities come into play.

This attitude is not, of course, confined to rural women; male agricultural workers follow a similar approach. This fact, which is seldom taken into account, affects the activities carried out during the implementation of development programmes and projects.

The "systems", "farmers' knowledge" and "development research" approaches, set aside productionist and sectorial points of view in order to interpret and try to understand the choices and mechanisms of the rural world. The farm is often taken as the basic unit of reference. These effective and interactive analytical approaches tend, however, to obscure the priorities of some groups of the population, including women. Each element in the farming system has its own internal mechanisms of actions and reactions that lead to contradictions, malfunctions or imbalances.

Women speak out

In the 1960s, first in the United States and then in other developed countries, a wave of feminism began to sweep the world, with feminist intellectuals setting out to explain women's subordination in terms of a social rather than a natural fact.

The year 1970 saw the publication of Women' s role in economic development by Ester Boserup. A pioneer in the field, she highlights the fact that, whatever the development theories being advanced, whoever the authors and whatever the works, there are very few reflections on women's specific problems and those that there are tend to be fairly superficial. She points out the progressive losses in terms of status and autonomy suffered by rural women in developing countries as development programmes and projects are established and implemented.

Since 1970, the number of symposia, seminars and workshops on women and their situation has increased rapidly. Women in development (WID) networks were set up first in northern countries, then between northern and southern countries and now among countries in the south. The questions that Boserup raised in 1970 have been taken up by research experts. There have been more and more writings on women's integration in development and, although these are catalogued in information centres, it has become almost impossible to take into account all the articles, books and studies that have been appearing on the subject since the 1980s.

Women's demands as the basis for policies of integration

In 1975. which was International Women's Year, the United Nations Decade for Women was inaugurated in Mexico, with the integration of women in economic development being chosen for special attention. About I ()() countries adopted and signed a world plan of action benefiting women and this was then the subject of a midterm progress appraisal in Copenhagen in 1980. In 1985, the decade was closed in Nairobi, with an appointment being made for 1995, when advances in the sphere were to be evaluated. In 1989 over two-thirds of UN Member States ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which had been adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

As well as these events and achievements, there have been other government-level demonstrations of a concern not to neglect women, with such measures as: the establishment of the right to vote and be elected; the recognition of women's status as adults; the proclamation of equality between men and women; and the outlawing of polygamy.

In more specific terms, major attention was given to a regional conference of West African countries which met in 1988 and 1990 to draw up a plan of action for African women. This became known as the Lomé Conference for the Integration of Women in Development.

The Decade for Women really did mobilize countries and had some concrete outcomes. It influenced ways of thinking and encouraged governments to give close attention to the question of women's position in society. People became aware of an unjust situation and of the vital need to involve women in development.

The favourable political context

In recent years, the populations of African countries have been affirming their desire to take charge of their own destinies. They have placed transitory or new governments in power, with mandates to, for example, establish democracy, develop equitable policies, draft new and just constitutional and legislative texts and recognize human rights.

The political and social movements have made it possible to demand equality between women and men, the elimination of sexual discrimination and the improvement of women's status. Equality is proclaimed or confirmed when constitutions and legislation are revised and governments place women's problems on the agenda when drafting mainstream policy guidelines. General behaviour and the attitudes of society are more open, so people are freer to discuss the question of women's equality.

The conviction not yet fully established

Technical or financial cooperation organizations back the concept of women's integration, and their guidelines and directives now explicitly include the consideration and involvement of women in the whole process of development programmes and projects. The effective participation of women is an increasingly significant factor in the approval, extension or refusal of funding.

Social pressure, together with foreign funding that favours programmes linking women with change, have prompted governments to develop effective lines of action that meet women's interests. In recent years, the large number and wide variety of government applications to FAO for assistance in this sphere demonstrate a growing concern and an increasingly favourable attitude (see box below).

A note of caution must be sounded, however, because the proclaimed conviction seems to lose momentum as soon as it comes to concrete actions. There is a considerable hiatus between stated political commitment and effective action. Unless agricultural end rural policymakers are reminded that women are full citizens and producers in their own right, it is a sad fact that women will not be taken into much account in any planned action. However, it has already been agreed that the necessary integration of women in development and the means of Implementing this will be discussed. A necessary starting point is that all the parties involved should be convinced that this concept and idea are relevant and important.


Institutional reinforcement of women in development (WID) units

Central African Republic 1992

    · support of a national seminar to draw up a plan of action benefiting rural women

    · reinforcement of the Agriculture Ministry's new WID unit

    · formulation of a technical cooperation project

Egypt 1992

    · support for the Agriculture Ministry's new WID unit

    · support for the establishment of a technical secretariat on gender and development at the Agriculture Ministry

    · formulation of projects to assist these units

Sudan 1990

    · support for programmes and strategies for rural women

    · formulation of a project

Training and support for the creation and maintenance of WID units

Mauritania 1991

    · support for the inclusion of women in project planning

    · training of officials and technical staff in gender analysis

    · formulation and implementation of a technical cooperation project

Definition of a policy and national strategy benefiting rural women

Benin 1991

    · definition of strategic guidelines for WID

    · review of rural development projects and national policy proposals

Central African Republic 1991

    · assistance in formulating a national policy for rural women

    · revision of programmes and formulation of new projects

Egypt 1990

    · study to establish a WID planning unit at the Agriculture Ministry

Guinea-Bissau 1991

    · assistance to the Ministry for Women's Promotion regarding:

    · a cereal-bank system for women

    · formulation of projects for women's integration

    · elaboration and implementation of a technical cooperation project

Guinea 1992

    · reinforcement of a training programme for rural women

    · formulation of a project for technical cooperation in training supervisory and field staff in gender analysis

Madagascar 1992

    · support to the Population Ministry in drawing up a national strategy for rural women

    · participation in the national seminar on women in development

    · formulation of project identification sheets for rural women

    · integration of women-oriented activities in the emergency programme for the drought-affected southern region

Mali 1991

    · support to the Agriculture Ministry in defining national strategies for rural women

    · designing a strategy and plan of action for the Agriculture Ministry

Niger 1991

    · support to the Ministry of Social Affairs in designing a national plan of action for rural women

    · formulation and implementation of a technical cooperation programme

    · support for the national seminar on formulating a plan of action

Tunisia 1989

    · support in designing a national plan to benefit women

    · national seminar on extension work among women, consideration of recommendations for a pilot operation

Specific technical assistance to WID units

Guinea-Bissau 1992

    · training of extension workers in health and environment

Interstate programmes or the establishment and management of networks

Eastern Region 1990

    · regional workshop of the interregional assistance and monitoring project for population services and women in development services of rural and agricultural development administrations in the following countries: Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Women's issues are often perceived superficially and they are, at best, grouped together with issues that affect the rural sector in general. In other cases women are considered an underprivileged group, according to the same line of reasoning that sees handicapped children and juvenile delinquents as welfare cases. Actions to benefit women are still too often confined solely to the social sphere, ignoring the economic and political dimensions. The causes of discrimination and the very real marginalization that women suffer are not explicitly identified, leaving women's true situation unknown and unrevealed.

Women's integration in development tends, therefore, to be seen as a political catch-phrase that sets the tone for the overall approach, rather than as an indispensable element of any sustainable development. From this, it is hardly surprising that national policy-makers and authorities are not concerned about integrating women into development whenever they design programmes and projects. Since they are far from convinced of the merits and advisability of this new dimension, they will obviously question the need for a new deployment of investments and energy.

The lack of methods

Such an attitude cannot be explained away by reference to the de facto subordination of women in practically all societies. Its origin lies, instead, in difficulties in understanding the concept of integrating women in development. The concept has emerged without enough explanation and its importance in the design and implementation of programmes and projects has not been made clear. In addition, there has been little effort to equip people with the decision-making and priority establishing methods and instruments that would help them to take account of the issues specific to women as well as to women's complementarily with men.

The absence of such expertise is a real stumbling block. Work carried out jointly by governments and FAO has highlighted a major methodological problem over implementing government guidelines intended to benefit women. This shortcoming emphasizes the view that women band together spontaneously and naturally and not because they are a distinct group with its own mechanisms and interests. Such an attitude leads to a leisurely approach to the translation of intention into action.

Young ( 1979) and Rogers ( 1981 ) introduced a concept that distinguished sex from gender and made it possible to study the social and economic mechanisms underlying relations between men and women. This is known as the "gender and development" approach and is not to be confused - as often happens - with the women in development (WID) approach. Gender and development issues are the starting point; they concentrate on highlighting the importance of women's role, the inequalities to which women are subject and the pressures and restraints they encounter. Obtaining a clear picture of women's position in the rural system and the development process is essential.

The shift to the gender and development approach can be made with relevant and reliable information. Gender and development is a more wide-reaching approach that takes account of development mechanisms as a whole by systematically examining the relations between men and women. Instead of understanding a given situation in terms of women only, relations between men and women and the significance of these relations within an evolving society are emphasized. Then the production, management and decision-making capacities of the whole population, especially women, should be increased in order to balance relations that are unequal and unfair.

On the basis of the gender and development concept, Overholt et al. ( 1984) have developed a method known as "gender analysis". This makes use of a variety of instruments for systematic data collection, thus allowing a greater understanding of the roles of women and men in a given context. Reproduction and production activities are decoded within the context of the gender-based division of labour and the roles that society and production systems have attributed to men and women. Gender analysis of programmes and projects in the rural sector looks at: the activities and responsibilities of women and men; the resources to which individuals have access, those that they control and the benefits they obtain from them: and the influence of social, economic and environmental factors.

The lack of gender-differentiated statistics

Methods of data collection and processing (handling and application) are also problematic, especially where statistics are concerned. Women tend to be largely ignored and are thus invisible. National and agricultural statistics lead to "an underestimation and underrating of women's activity. Not only are women excluded from consideration in surveys of the economic activity of a given population, but the monetary value of their subsistence production is systematically (and by convention) excluded from national accounts. The use of loaded economic indicators leads to a false perception of a country's economy and human resources. If the number of economically active women is underestimated, when undifferentiated data on activities are used for planning purposes they lose their significance." (Slothouber, 1992)

Social assumptions mean that married women are seen as economically inactive and they are therefore either omitted from the figures or included in the category of unpaid family help. The reality - that women are farmers who have taken on responsibilities and tasks that generate productive and financial results - goes unrecognized.

In the agricultural sector, activities categorized as economic are included in accounts while those categorized as non-economic are not. Production intended for family consumption or small-scale marketing is not counted, but full-scale stock farming and produce sold on the wholesale market are; sowing is an economic activity, whereas processing the product is not, and so on.

Statistics on employment and activity in the agricultural sector are used as a basis for the planning of rural development and the designing of projects, so the collection and processing of reliable data is important. Gender analysis can be a good starting point for data collection by clarifying the working-hours, activities and pay of men, women and children, as well as the benefits and effects of the process of change.

The need for information and training

It is important that policy-makers and planning and supervisory staff be briefed and trained in practical and efficient methods and instruments that take into account all the agents of change. Information and training help people to recognize the fact that certain categories of the population are being deprived of the benefits of development. Information and training also encourage a process of consideration that no longer isolates women's problems.

Perceiving, understanding and accepting the validity of an approach that encompasses the whole rural world, with its various population categories, its interrelations and its influences, represents the first step on the path to creating a policy benefiting women. Information and training develop the nation's abilities and are a basis for the formulation of a rational policy for the benefit of rural women.

Towards a coherent approach to planning

Government applications for support in the conception and drawing up of a policy to benefit women in general, or rural women in particular, often fall short on two points; their content and their tinning.

Clarification of content is always essential. Applications are often the result of a conjunction of conditions connected with individuals, finance and the availability of resources, rather than of a deep reflection leading to a substantial and increased demand for change.

If a policy benefiting women is to be coherent with national and sectorial plans, reflection and decision making should take place at strategic points in the overall planning process, such as when formulating or revising development plans, drawing up a plan for the rural sector or deciding on sectorial strategies. Integrating and linking a policy benefiting women with these other operations would thus be the first step towards guaranteeing coherence and coordination between different plans of action.

Donors are increasingly insistent on the consideration of women as a precondition for funding. The automatic response of governments, which are all in very serious economic and financial situations, is to fall in with this principle in order to assure themselves the maximum resources available. However, it is hard to accept that bilateral or international bodies for technical and operational aid should be responsible for perpetuating this type of situation. It thus seems reasonable to suppose that the institutions whose action guidelines include plans of action benefiting rural women, also have a similar mechanism regarding the preparation, monitoring and appraisal of programmes and projects. Formulating a policy benefiting rural women should not be an isolated exercise. Nor should it be a response to pressure. Instead, it should form an integral, necessary part of a country's whole planning process.

Complex alliances and relations among institutions

African countries that assert their wish for fuller integration of women in development now have a wide variety of concerned, interested and involved institutions to support them. These include: governmental and non-governmental bodies; national, international and private institutions, associations and donor agencies; and (if only timidly as yet) professional organizations.

It is reasonable to ask why changes benefiting women should take so long to come about when all sides are declaring good intentions and concern for this half of the population. Part of the explanation lies in lack of coordination, conflicts of interests, the absence of clear, explicit policy and the lack of sufficient authority at the various levels. There is a deeper problem, however, which is the failure to grasp the importance of women's integration in development as a guarantee and response to sustainable development in terms both of national and individual economic results and of social and personal change.

Although the economic and social spheres are not incompatible, contradictory or conflictual with each other, the points where they overlap and intersect are sources of friction for institutions. Each structure has a field of jurisdiction that is linked primarily to the economic or the social sector, so its strategy, ideology, legal status and place in the state machinery all orient it towards one sphere more than the other. Although it would be more efficient for the various institutions to combine their efforts, the fact that each of them is convinced of having the best operational approach means that they have a tendency to cut themselves off from one another.

Government institutions

After the government has laid down the principle that "if women do not play an effective part in development, there can be no question of development", two structures come into play immediately and involve rural women. These structures are' on the one hand, the ministerial body entrusted with the promotion of women and, on the other hand. the body responsible for agricultural and rural development.

The institutions with an official mandate and jurisdiction in women's issues - henceforth referred to as structures for the integration of women in development (WID) - are now being revived in response to political and social movements.

Initially, structures with a title indicating they had responsibility with regard to women seldom achieved anything of real substance. Policies and strategies benefiting women were not explicit, and programmes and actions were directed on the whole towards social aspects and social and community well-being, reducing women to a solely reproductive role.

At present, political and social changes, access to and appropriation of power, the international economic context and relations that are based on cooperation mean that WID structures are receiving fresh life. Governments are indicating a desire to include women as specific beneficiaries and agents of development.

However, this revival is not necessarily accompanied by a situation favourable to the Implementation of appropriate policy, strategy, programmes and actions. The overall mandate is explicit; to make sure that women are taken into account as beneficiaries of development both in mainstream policy and in sectorial policies. This means:

Attempts to follow these guidelines come up against a number of limitations from the very start. The fact that WID structures are institutionally anchored in the state machinery is in itself restrictive. WID structures tend to be associated with exclusively social spheres - health care, welfare and the family - and to be confined to departmental, service and secretariat levels. They carry little political weight and communications with the technical ministries that are their - immediate partners come up against two stumbling blocks: the fact that their jurisdiction is confined to social matters; and the long, complex hierarchical and administrative channels that are involved.

In addition, resources (human, technical and financial) are often inappropriate, inadequate and insufficient: staff are minimal; very often they have a social assistance background or teacher training; exclusively or for the far greater part they are female; and frequently they are allotted tasks for which they have not been trained. Although the experience and abilities of such staff meet some needs, fundamental areas, such as economics, politics, planning and sociology, tend to be neglected. The programmes developed lack real substance and are limited and partial, which means that the mobilization of funding becomes problematic.

The main operational shortcoming of WID structures is their limited human resources, especially in terms of quality. It is vital for anyone undertaking specific tasks to know, understand and have the skill to do what is expected of them. Interest alone is not enough.

Once a WID structure has become official, endowed with a broad mandate and a restrictive institutional organization, it marshals its forces in order to act. The first task it tackles is often, justifiably. that of formulating a rational policy benefiting women that will tee approved and recognized by the government, technical ministries, donor agencies and other development partners. WID structures often apply for help to bilateral and international cooperation bodies that are recognized as advanced and favourable to this process; such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), FAO, the Netherlands, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the united Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Questions on the implications of the mandate come to light while the policy is being drawn up. These questions are concerned with areas of responsibility, spheres of jurisdiction, tasks, content, collaboration systems and, most crucially. intervention. The issues of women cut across all sectors of development. This means that the questions of who is in charge, who takes the decisions and who does what can be the source of conflict over primacy and prerogative.

Formulation of a policy benefiting women is, therefore, more a theoretical exercise than a practical application of government choices and decisions. The role of the WID structure as catalyst is recognized and its capacity and right to act as guarantor of and expert in female interests and problems for the technical ministries is accepted. However, the ministries, in their various sectors of authority, retain the position of specialists and supervisors of policies benefiting women. The WID structures' mandate is clear, but their sphere of jurisdiction is circumscribed.

Once policy has been decided, its practical implementation is another hurdle. Although WID structures would like to cover all spheres, they admit some doubt as to their capacity to do so. The institution responsible for the rural sector, secure of its authority, declares that anything concerning agriculture and rural development falls under its exclusive jurisdiction. On one side, there is a degree of confusion and on the other a resistance to cooperation. Both sides, in mutual opposition, would like to have prime charge of all operations. There are various explanations for this difficult situation.

All the countries concerned are to a large extent economically and socially dependent on the agricultural and rural sector, which makes a major contribution to the national product and tries to guarantee food security. A ministry of the rural sector, therefore, has great importance because of the major role it plays in the general policy of a country and for its extensive experience. Such a ministry is very often large, well established endowed with wide-ranging powers and has little difficulty in obtaining operating resources.

In contrast, WID structures are the result of political and social currents of thought aiming at justice and equality. Not everyone sees them as economic imperatives. WID structures do not have a position within the state machinery that enables them to influence policies and decisions. They are still new, and obtaining resources is a complex process for them because they have to demonstrate that they are not merely a fleeting phenomenon or fashion.

Obtaining resources is now even more of a challenge since all the countries of Africa are in the throes of structural adjustment programmes entailing stringent financial policies. The conditions attached to the granting of financial resources call for immediate quantifiable results. Adjustment with a human face is often sacrificed to the rate of domestic profitability. The ministries responsible for planning and finance tend to be relatively ignorant on gender issues and give exclusive attention to macroeconomic aspects, forgetting that the sidelining of women in policy-making and planning tends to be paid for in terms of the national economy and the quality of life.

A unit (or person) with special responsibility for women's issues has sometimes been set up at focal points within technical ministries. Such units are the result of mechanisms for interinstitutional cooperation. They have the task of acting as a reference or meeting point and as a source of information for problems relating to women. Devoid of resources and authority and suffocated by bureaucracy, these units are effectively invisible. Nonetheless, the potential represented by the links they forge may bring about changes in attitude and exert pressure when decisions are being taken.

Non-governmental organizations

In recent years' ordinary people have emerged from their silence and passivity, succeeded in making their voices heard and their views felt, caused established powers and accepted beliefs to waver and, thus, deserve credit for the democratic processes now taking place.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which were already numerous prior to this period of change, have multiplied quickly. The emphasis has moved from cooperation and technical assistance NGOs to local NGOs.

NGOs are a force to be reckoned with, because they represent a way of exerting pressure and influence on government attitudes to make them take into account the needs' interests and possibilities of change for various categories of the population. Fully operational NGOs are familiar with rural and urban environments, use highly participatory methods and are demonstrably efficient. They have preferential relations with funding agencies, which see them as "spearheads" and "front line elements". Donors involve them (or use them ) in testing out innovative approaches to new projects in restricted geographic areas and in direct contact with the ultimate beneficiaries. According to the results and government response they get, these projects may become watchwords, the new approaches become strategies and the area affected be extended. The NGOs respond favourably to such a role, because it corresponds perfectly to their own philosophy of intervention; entailing creativity, change, room for manoeuvre and flexibility.

Women's associations often find it difficult to cut the link between themselves and the state. They have always been attached to the state machine and the prevailing political approach, and it is difficult for them to distinguish between which issues fall within the state sphere and which come into their own sphere of responsibility, or between what they can expect others to do and what they have to do themselves. In a democratic context, the process of independence that is linked to the progressive consolidation of a genuinely tree society is not easily accomplished.

Professionals also have a place in the movement to create organizations. Female lawyers, traders, entrepreneurs and agricultural producers, are joining together to form unions or federations. Some of these already existed, especially associations of female traders and entrepreneurs. In the professional and economic fields, these are the organizations most in touch with the situation and most aware of the opportunities. They also have the clearest views of possible developments.

Professional women's associations, which are ignored or dismissed in favour of men's associations, have often already established a network style of operation. They have set up listening posts and relay stations across the country and have strong contacts both regionally and internationally. They have economic and social significance and avoid bureaucratic institutionalization.

Organizations for cooperation and funding

The approaches and styles of action of these organizations confirm the belief that there is no hope of any rational development unless women are taken into account. One of the ways of measuring the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, effects and impact of a project (from its design to its final appraisal) is to note the extent to which rural women are involved. In the face of very low results, some agencies and donors set up minimum quotas.

Although different types of organization share similar views on the issue of rural women and on the principles of coherence, harmony and coordination are not always respected.

When governments notice this kind of disagreement, they take advantage of it to canvass the potential market, submit their own applications and satisfy their needs for investment and resource mobilization. Although cooperative agencies should work with the countries involved to avoid duplications of efforts and contradictions and to respect priorities and ensure coordinated planning, it must be admitted that things do not always work this way.

Clearer justification of the request for assistance, together with information on the lines of action already under way, could reduce the excessive number of interventions that work against rather than reinforce one another. Less energy and investment would be wasted and mutual trust would increase. This would be more relevant than to talk about structural adjustment, domestic profitability rates, cost-efficiency ratios, rational planning, economy of resources, harmonious development and sustainability.

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