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Part I: Proceedings

Part I: Proceedings


The Regional Expert Consultation on Rural Families and Household Economies was held in the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) from 7 to 10 November, 1995. It was attended by 15 participants from eight countries, as well as representatives from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The FAO Secretariat included the Senior Home Economics Officer from FAO Headquarters in Rome, two FAO consultants-cum-resource persons, and regular RAP staff. The list of participants is included at Annex IV.

The Consultation was opened by Mr. Dong Qingsong, FAO Deputy Regional Representative, in the absence of Assistant Director General and FAO Regional Representative Mr. A.Z.M. Obaidullah Khan, whose speech was read on his behalf. In it, he said.

The full text of the speech is at Annex I, with a List of Documents at Annex II. The Agenda and Timetable (Annex III) were adopted unanimously, and Dr. Cecilia A. Florencio of the Philippines was elected Chairperson. Dr. Bina Pradhan, Nepal, and Dr. Makha Khittasangka, Thailand, were elected Vice-chairpersons. Ms. Shagufta Alizai, Pakistan, and Ms. Kamaliah Hashim, Malaysia were elected co-rapporteurs, assisted by Ms. Margaret Kalakdina, FAO Consultant. Several participants assisted in the drafting committee session to finalise the draft report, which was presented to the Consultation on 10 November, 1995.


Regional overview paper

The Secretariat paper RFHE/95/1 Rural Families Household Economies in Asia and the Pacific: A Regional Overview was presented by Ms. Alexandra Stephens who also summarised papers prepared for the Secretariat: RFHE/95/3 Rural Women and the Family in an Era of Liberalization: Dangers and Opportunities; RFHE/95/4 The Family as an Enterprise; and RFHE/95/5 The Family and Democracy: Challenges from the International Year of the Family. Ms. Stephens pointed out that these latter papers had been prepared for an FAO meeting in 1994, which was subsequently cancelled, so the material had been subsumed into the regional overview paper RFHE/95/1 for this Consultation.

The presentation focused on the situation of rural women in the Region, noting demographic changes which include high population growth in some, especially in food-insecure countries; declining population growth rates in others; and massive rural urban migration. A Region of great diversity and dynamism, Asia and Pacific countries' food production has out-stripped population growth overall, but there are serious pockets of malnutrition. This is due mainly to lack of access to available food on the part of poor households, as well as problems of ignorance and aggressive marketing by "fast-food" corporations.

The widening gaps between rural and urban populations, by most social and economic indicators, was shown using data from recent production and income statistics. In a period of rapid industrialization and urbanisation it was noted that rural women tend to remain at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. Examples of positive responses to this trend include organisation into production and marketing groups, and increased specialisation in agro-processing activities which add value to primary production.

It was noted that various family types operate as enterprises at the micro level, forming efficient production units for subsistence needs. They are however increasingly challenged by environmental degradation, the out-migration of productive members of the family, women's incapacity to take over all the responsibilities for both farm and family, and policies which favour industry and service sectors over agriculture. The presenter stressed the need to support rural women as farmers and entrepreneurs rather than as "housewives", mentioning the economic, social and political imperatives for the reorientation of home economics and agricultural extension to address their emerging needs.

In referring to the paper on liberalization, Ms. Stephens highlighted the economic implications for rural families and households, viz. increasing competition which will require improvements in efficiency and quality control; increased productivity; sustainable production systems; education, training and extension services to prepare rural women for the "free" market; removal of socio-cultural constraints to women's work and productivity (citing child care facilities to increase women's productivity as one example which proved very cost-effective in Vietnam), dismantling of legal barriers to women's access to and control over resources e.g. inheritance of land, access to financial services and credit; improvement of data bases on women's work; and the creation of "rural woman friendly" policies, plans, programmes, monitoring indicators, services and information to enable rural women to

Country statements

Participants presented a summary of each country statement, providing a profile of the situation of rural families in their respective countries. Where possible, hard data and information was made available to the Secretariat, and these are available from the Regional Office.

INDIA by Leela Gulati

The concept of the family remains deeply embedded in the Indian ethos. Also, the concept of marriage for all its members remains very central to the culture. While there is a steady increase in the age of girls at marriage, age differences between marriage partners continue to be large. This has important implications with regard not only to the incidence of widowhood but also to the need for family support to widows. With the age at marriage on the rise, there is a decline in fertility levels and in the reproductive span of a woman's life. There is however only a small change in the household size. Half of the Indian families are nuclear and the proportion of single member households and female headed households are increasing. At the same time, the reported incidence of violence, female foeticide and of bride-burning is rising.

In spite of the fact that the pace of urbanisation is accelerating the overwhelming majority of Indian families are still rural based, and 43% of these live below the poverty line. Irrespective of whether the family is rural or urban, life is harsh given the lack of basic infrastructural facilities and increasing environmental degradation.

In terms of policy implications, the family remains for most, the only social agency in India that can provide support to its members in difficult situations. Whatever public or government support is provided in such situations, one should not overlook this major institution. Instead, efforts to strengthen the family in all possible ways to provide basic support services to all its members must be made.

Out of 152 million households in 1991, 74% (112 million) are in rural India. Clearly, the rural family dominates the Indian scene at least in numbers. Indian family size has varied between 5.0 and 5.5 over the past 50-60 years with rural families slightly bigger. For 1991, rural family size was 5.6 as against 5.3 in urban areas. Interestingly, however, the proportion of large sized families (6+) has been on the increase, whereas that of very large size (10+) has virtually disappeared. Joint families account for one-fifth of the total; the proportion in rural India being 21.2% and urban India 17.1%. Incidence of female headed households is as high as 19%, i.e. almost 15 million families in India are headed by women, who may be widows, divorced or separated. Incidence of poverty among female headed households is very high, in some village studies as high as 90%. These families are mostly comprised of scheduled castes and agricultural labourers. Because life expectancy has improved, the proportion of aged people has increased. Widows account for 56% of the aged women, which is four times higher than for aged men. Landlessness and poverty have been found to be strongly correlated in rural India. Even when a family owns land, women's rights to land are the least assured. There is a lot of unemployment, seasonality and wage discrimination among rural women and the incidence of violence against women within and outside the household is very high. Incidence of illiteracy also high among rural women. Women are more migratory (44.3%) than men (17.8%), so displacement on account of migration is more a female phenomenon.

Empowering Rural Women

Rural women can be empowered only if they have (i) access to ownership of land and property, (ii) access to training and technology, (iii) access to credit and markets, (iv) equality in wages and quantum of employment, (v) access to safe water, sanitation and fuel, (vi) improved domestic technology, (vii) reliable and efficient family planning services which are client-oriented and within easy reach, (viii) expansion of girls' education and retention in school, (ix) autonomy over their reproductive life.

It is important to fund simple technologies for collecting water and fuel (two very basic necessities) develop and supply labour saving agricultural equipment and thus lessen women's stress, allowing them more free time and subsequently improving the quality of life for the entire family.

INDONESIA by Dra. Soejatni

The high workload of women in the field and in-and-around the household is increasingly being recognized. The awareness of existing gender needs, gender interests, gender biases and other gender issues, and how these are addressed will influence efforts to increase access of and control of resources and benefits. Female farmers have traditional knowledge about water problems in their field, but women do not know why there are fixed rates for water use.

The important role of women is not only just to perform the household duties. Most often certain farm activities are done by women, and in many instances, women are the key decision-makers both directly and indirectly. Women usually make the decisions on the household budget alone, and are usually the ones who administer the family income, which makes their influence within the household significant.

The nuclear family and marriage are the most relevant social institution and form the context in which the role of women in our society should be analysed. In Indonesia, the numerous cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversities among regions also need to be taken into account.

Women's control over land is significantly less than that of men. Looking at land leasing contracts, which are most often entered by the male heads of the household, one third of the men and two-thirds of the women have no land.

Especially in the lower social classes, the women's contribution to the family income is usually crucial to survival. Due to increasing modernization in agriculture, women are being more and more pushed back into the nonproductive areas and their employment outside the home is being defined more as newly added income to the husband's main income. However, the norm still prevalent among the rural population requires that men and women must be economically active. The double burden which is a result of this means that women work an average of three hours more per day than men. The consequences of the exploitation of the female reproductive capacity include a greater physical and psychological burden, little free time, and poorer health.

Perhaps because of this pattern of multiple occupations (which also change seasonally), the sexual division of labour within the household is, in practice, not as clear-cut as ideology suggests.

MALAYSIA by Kamaliah Hashim

The agricultural sector continues to contribute towards overall development of the economy. One of the challenges in the 1990's for agricultural and rural development will be to substantially contribute to national growth, provide income for the rural poor and increase food supplies while at the same time decreasing the overuse of natural resources and environmental degradation.

Increase in productivity is envisaged through modernization and commercialization of the agricultural sector, particularly among the small farmers.

The ratio of rural to urban population has reduced tremendously between 1970 and 1990 (70%: 30% to 50%: 50%). The majority of the rural population is poor consisting mainly of farmers, agricultural and non-agricultural workers. Various government agencies are working together towards improvement in the economic and social well-being of the rural folks in order to reduce disparity between rural and urban sectors. Economic activities were mainly targeted at the male farmers where group-farming/co-operative-farming is given emphasis. Lately, activities are also geared towards the women in income generating activities where downstream/value added activities are given priority. Women's groups are formed at the village levels which organise specific courses tailored towards their needs. Women are taught food processing, handicraft making, vegetable gardening and nursery stock production. Aspects of quality control are stressed so as to make their products competitive in the market. Ways to increase quality of life are also taught to the women in subjects such as village/home beautification, food and nutrition, etc.

Rapid industrialisation has brought about numerous social problems, and the government is taking steps to rectify this by promoting the caring society/caring culture concept, inculcating the right religious and moral values among the youths, promoting youth programmes (friends of the youths), as well as having campaigns to increase the awareness of harmful diseases/practices such as AIDS, alcohol/drug-abuse, child-abuse, etc. In order to lessen the out-migration of the work-force, industries are being brought to the rural areas where more and more urban-type facilities are made available and more work/employment opportunities are created in factories.

NEPAL by Bina Pradhan and Harinder Thapliya

Nepal's population is predominantly rural with 90.4% of the population living in rural areas. The total population is approximately 18.5 million at an annual growth rate of 2.1%. This suggests a possible decline in fertility and a considerable high out-migration. The fertility rate in rural areas has declined from 6.4 to 5.8; however, it is still much higher than the rate in urban areas which has dropped from 5.8 to 3.5 in the year 1991. The literacy rate in rural areas has improved but the rural/urban difference was 29% for males and 31% for females in 1991. The infant mortality rates (IMR) in Nepal although declining is still among the highest in the region. The NFHS Survey 1991 confirms the IMR at 98 with 104.7 for male and 91.0 for female. This sex difference in the IMR rate reverses the earlier trend which showed higher mortality among female infants.

The mean age at marriage is increasing over the years for both sexes. In rural areas the marriage age for females is 17.6 whereas in urban areas it is 20.6 years. This marriage age among adolescents causes to many reproductive health problems and stress for young women. It also leads to high fertility and related problems.

Females, most of whom are aged 60-69 years, head 13.3% of the households whereas males head 86,8% of the households, with the highest rate between the age 50 and 59.

Families in rural Nepal are dominated by social and religious activities as a unit. Compared to urban areas the divorce rate is much lower and family planning has very little impact on rural family life because of prejudice and other traditional beliefs. The situation of a girl child or daughter in rural families is still worse than that of boys. Cultural and social values, beliefs, customs, written and oral mythology and religious literature have largely shaped role models and role expectations. Domestic and family violence has varied causes, of which poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, bigamy, polygamy and cultural subordination are the main ones. Child abuse is common in families with step relationships and is also due to discrimination against girls (UNICEF, 1992). PCRW and SFDP programmes are helping rural women to increase their income through rural credit programmes for small farmers.

PAKISTAN by Shagufta Alizai

Pakistan is mainly an agricultural country with 70% of its population living in the rural areas-many without the basic necessities of life including access to safe drinking water. In Pakistan, households tend to be large with an average of 6.7 persons, and only one quarter (26%) of all households have fewer members. The breakdown by place of residence shows that there are more members in urban households (7.2 persons) than in rural households (6.5 persons). Households are predominantly headed by males and only 7% of all households (urban/rural) are female-headed. Factors impacting rural families in Pakistan include rapid urbanisation/industrialisation, increased poverty levels, environmental degradation and out-migration.


Poverty is more widespread in rural areas with 35% of the population below the poverty line as compared with the corresponding estimate of 31% for urban Pakistan. Agricultural labour and small-cultivation households account for the bulk of the rural poor. Nearly 56% of agricultural labour households, 44% of the tenant households, 30% of owner- cultivators are below the poverty line (1991). On average, rural families dependent on non-agricultural sources of income are relatively better off than agricultural households. Data indicates that the dependence on agricultural wage work as the main source of employment is higher for rural women than rural men; nearly 7% of rural women work as farm labourers as compared to only 3% of males in the rural household. As the poorest paid group in the rural sector, agricultural workers are particularly disadvantaged.

Environmental Degradation

All environmental change, whether due to dwindling natural resources (accentuated by high population growth rates), pollution or displacement through developmental projects affect the rural poor and especially the women. The massive displacement of families that has followed the development process in Pakistan has had economic, psychological and social repercussions. Conditions of water-logging and salinity have reduced cultivable land holdings which has lead to out-migration of male members and, in turn, has left the responsibility of looking after the family on the women.


In Pakistan, out-migration has affected the family negatively. Case studies of villages in Punjab, for example, show that jobs provided have been outside the villages. As migration is largely male and somewhat skilled, it has left behind a village of women and low-skilled labour. Villages have been polarised into migrant households and non-migrant households. Women have increasingly entered into production in the absence of male members who have migrated. The increased migration of young men is changing the gender division of labour on farms. The Agricultural Census (1980) data for the Northern Areas of Pakistan indicates that the number of female family members on the farm is higher than that of males.

Women's economic participation within family systems

In countries like Pakistan women's economic participation is a reality (even though data may indicate otherwise) both within and outside their homes in the formal and informal sector, in urban and in rural areas. Some 72.2 % of the women are agricultural workers.

Sources: Pakistan National Report. Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) Women's Economic Participation in Pakistan - A Status Report

Others: Case Studies

PHILIPPINES by Marietta Adriano and Cecilia Florencio

The Philippine Population

With a population of 68 million, the Philippines now ranks 9th in Asia and 14th in the world. While the country's population growth rate is actually going on a downward trend (3.08% in 1970 and 2.39% estimated for 1995), it is not slowing at the desired level.

Urban-Rural Population

Urban population has increased from 31.83% of the total population in 1970 to 48.61% in 1990. The most common reason for migration from rural to urban areas for both male and female population is to "look for work or better income." It should be noted that the average rural income is only about 46 % of the average urban income.

Household Heads

Only 11.3% of the total households are female-headed. In 1990, married women accounted for 35.8% of the total female population. About 85% of the married women are 25 years and older. The mean age of marriage among males and females has been increasing at 26.3 years for the men and 23.8 for the women.


About 39.2% of households have incomes below the poverty line. While this has decreased by 4 percentage points since 1985, the number of poor people increased in absolute terms. The total share in income of the bottom 40% is only 13%.

Literacy Rate

The Philippines has a literacy rate of 93.5%. Much can be gained by providing more schools and greater accessibility in rural areas so as to reduce the difference in the literacy rate of 97.2% for urban residents and 89.9% for the rural residents.

Family Law and Gender Discriminating Rights

There is a need to continue to revise provisions on marriage and family relations to promote equality and fairness among family members.

SRI LANKA by Ramanie Jayatilaka and Yoga Rasanayagam

Sri Lanka is predominantly an agricultural country with 78.1 % of the population residing in rural areas and engaged in agricultural activities. At present the total population is 17.5 million and the growth rate is 1.3 (1993).

The average size of the household unit in Sri Lanka is 4.9; for rural areas the average size is 4.8 and for urban areas 5.1. The percentage of female heads of households was 18.8% in 1992, 20.3% in 1993 and 21.4% in 1994 (1st quarter excluding north and east). Approximately, 50% of the population is still living below the poverty line, of which a large percent live in rural areas.

Incidence of poverty identified on the basis of adequate levels of calorie consumption (i.e. 2,000 calories) is urban 18.2%, rural 34.7%, estate 20.5%. In the context of poverty alleviation programmes approximately 7.4 million individuals are receiving state assistance. The average monthly income of a household in the country equals Rs 3,549. Sectorwise distribution of the income of households is Rs 5,471 in the urban sector, Rs 3,057 in the rural sector and Rs 2,429 in the estate sector (1990/1991). The poorest 10% of the households receive an average of Rs 661 per month.

Sectoral distribution of economically active population in the rural areas was 49.9% in 1985/86 and 49.1% in 1994 (1st quarter). In the urban areas it was 46.0% in 1985/86 and 42.8% in 1994 (1st quarter). Literacy rates in rural areas were 89.3 for males and 84.3 for females (1990). In 1994 21,329 of the international migrant workers were male and 108,698 were female. 29% of the rural population had access to safe water and 58% had access to adequate sanitation (1991).


THAILAND by Amornrat Chareonchai, Puengpit Dulayapach and Makh Khittasangka

Since the implementation of the Fourth National Five-Year Plan (1977-81) Thailand has experienced rapid economic growth. The structure of the Thai economy growth has changed dramatically, moving away from its traditional agricultural base towards more manufacturing and service sector employment.

An increasing gap between rural and urban populations is manifest in a widening income disparity, with urban families being more affluent than rural ones. This fuels migration from rural areas to towns and cities in search of economic opportunities. One of the social impacts is the growing division in families as "breadwinners" attempt to supplement farm income with non-farm activities and wage employment.

The most disadvantaged are left in rural areas without adequate support and diminishing opportunities as the rural environment is degraded. In the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1997-2001) the Government will undertake programmes targeting rural families with increased emphasis on human development and improving the quality of life.

Rapid economic growth is expected to continue but with more resources to be channelled into to rural areas. Rural extension services will emphasise small scale agro-processing and non-farm employment for rural youth, increased social services and a higher proportion of financial investment to the farm sector.

Resource papers


The paper on "Rural Women in Asia and the Pacific: Barriers to Access" on data on rural women prepared by E. Ann Misch was presented by Alexandra Stephens, who also highlighted the need for relevant access to meaningful data and information by women at the grassroots level.

Problems of definitions, techniques of data collection, the selection and preparatory training of enumerators leading to misrepresentation of rural women's situation and contributions were highlighted. Issues were discussed at two levels. First, national agricultural and other census data about people must be disaggregated by sex and by rural-urban to obtain the necessary profile on rural women, and to enable comparison with men. Women's work needs to be analysed in relation to men in time use, productivity and remuneration. Various techniques for improving quantitative and qualitative data on women were presented.

Attention was drawn to data gaps and the need for more information in line with availability of resources. The presenter mentioned pilot time use surveys of men and women conducted in rural areas of four Asian countries with FAO support. These revealed rural women's longer working day, the fragmentation of their time, and their overall lack of personal time due to the many demands placed on them by family members. The need to quantify qualitative data was discussed and techniques used in participatory research, monitoring and evaluation were presented.


Participants raised issues on the importance of quantifying data on women. In selecting enumerators, their education levels and language skills should be taken into account. The orientation and training of enumerators to collect accurate data on women requires a specific commitment of relevant resources. Another mentioned the problem of recording multiple activities undertaken by women while in any primary activity. This requires double column recording and appropriate data processing techniques. Problems of comparison when definitions and methods vary widely, and the high cost of some forms of data collection were recognized. women's illiteracy makes some methods inappropriate.

It was recommended that FAO undertake studies to provide more information on the linkages between property ownership and control, matrilineal and matrilocal systems in relation to women's status and role, their participation in decision-making, resource allocations and management, and food security.


The paper "The impact of the Institutionalisation of Religion on the Status of Women" was presented by Ms. Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, of UNIFEM's Asia-Pacific Regional Office.

Religion has governed human action since time immemorial, and for most of history it has been society's main source of law and social control. It has been so central to human existence, that it has been responsible for the best and the worst in societies. For women, religion has proved a similarly mixed blessing. Throughout the world women can be counted among the most fervent of believers, but at the same time within the chosen religions, they have had little power. Women's status and position in society has been curtailed and restricted by the dominance of male clergy in all the great institutionalised religions.

Since religion has been a central source for legislation, the law pertaining to women has been thoroughly conditioned by religion. Indeed, in all societies throughout history, the development of law and religion have been so close as to be almost indistinguishable, the one defining the other.

Looking at Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity in the context of gender-equity, it becomes evident that all of these religions in their formative, philosophically critical phases, recognised the central, natural and essential truth of the equality of all humankind. All their earliest texts attest to the equality of the sexes before God, or heaven, and accord women a high degree of respect and status. All at some stage became and have remained dominated by men. Under their control a variety of rules were instigated to subordinate women. These rules were institutionalised over centuries, and informed, conditioned and defined the legislation enacted in respective countries.

The central truths and basic doctrines of the old faiths are not necessarily inimical either to the position of women or to modernization in general. In their day, the great religions were all reform movements and powerful agents for change, leading to radical alterations in pattern of thinking, attitudes and customs.

When considering religion and its impact on the status of women, it is important to distinguish a religion's rituals and institutions from its inner truths and fundamental philosophy. At their highest levels, most religions are rational, idealistic and not opposed to reform and change. However, most adopt customs, institutions, priestly interpretations and community biases, cloak them with religious sanctions and convert them into immutable doctrines. The priests who interpreted the teachings were usually part of the patriarchal elite of society. By legitimising inequalities, they ensured their own dominance over their followers and justified their unequal access to knowledge, to power, and sometimes to wealth. Priests were ideologues, no more anxious to encourage the full participation of women in religion than landlords are to hand over their land to rural women.

However, many of the sanctioned customs and traditional values are still appropriate, for example, certain modes of dress, of planting and building are suitable in certain climates. Bans on eating certain types or combinations of food for example, can protect against disease. These are economic or social customs instituted to help ensure survival, although they have been given religious sanction, and are not religion itself.

It is apparent that the structures of patriarchal and traditional societies, elite interest, the position of the priestly class and its orientation were more decisive influences in inhibiting religion as a channel for the quest for equality, than were doctrinal factors. It follows that doctrinal deficiencies are not the main reason for gender equality being associated with the secular tradition.

It is often contended that issues that pertain to relationships between women, religion and custom cannot or should not be dealt with be policy makers and development planners. Leaving aside the theoretical morality of the contention, this ignores the fact that the status quo has already been upset by development, progress and modernization. Policy makers and development planners need to distinguish between mere religious customs and the essential philosophy of the relevant religion. By employing the basic tenets of religion in policy-making, they can encourage the reform of outmoded religious sanctions without alienating a religion's leaders or adherents.

It is important that the subtle and not-so-subtle impact of religion on various facets of developments is recognized. Throughout the world, innumerable religious groups oppose change because they fear the consequences of contravening old-age tenets which form tradition and provide security. Equally, many politicians use religion in furtherance of their own ends. Consequently, policy makers are reluctant to confront religious leaders and their supporters for fear of a back lash against their development efforts. Yet the failure to recognise, research and discuss the prevalence of religion and its impact on people's lives often compounds the very problems policy-makers seek to avoid.

Religion, or more accurately the institutionalisation of religion, has marginalised women in terms of access to both political and economic power. Unequal inheritance rights, male ownership of land, a husband's control over a wife's wish to work, are among issues condoned and even promulgated in the name of religion. These must be challenged, not only by women, but by development planners and policy-makers, in order to avoid the institutional oppression and subordination of human potential for development and human well-being.


The paper "Women's Strategies against Violence in the Family" that focuses on the situation in India was presented by Govind Kelkar.

Intra-family/household and social violence against women, like other forms of violence, should be viewed in the socio-economic and politic context of power relations. Within the hierarchical and patriarchal gender relationship that underlies the institution "family", forms of control, coercion, and violence against women are used to keep women in their place. Their place is in the house, where their sexuality, fertility and labour are systematically controlled. Women's relation to productive property/land is always mediated through her relation to her husband, father, or brother, which makes them resourceless and economically and emotionally dependent. Through women's resourcelessness, a system of inequality and subordination is achieved, strengthened and maintained through the socialisation process. Without real decision power and no place (outside the family) to run to, a woman has to accept a situation as it is, even if she is the victim of violence.

Atrocities committed against women within families and households have often been hidden from the public eye by a social attitude which is a mix of apathy towards women and a sense of privacy. Due to their unequal, resource less position in society and family, women concentrate on positive aspects of co-operation, and are generally unwilling to speak about unequal gender relations. Nonetheless, women and feminist theorists have questioned the normal assumption of development planning and mainstream economics that the family/household is an undifferentiated unit and its members equally share power and resources.

The state tends to overlook familial forms of violence against women, even perpetuating them in the name of upholding "cultural legitimacy" and "law and order". Its laws legitimize the patriarchal ideology of family cent red male dominance, and there has been no attempt to effectively outlaw the subordination of women or to change the relations of dependence within the family. Moreover, it is common knowledge that the coercive arms of the state (police and army) regularly use (sexual) violence against women in custody.

Data shows that the social position of women is falling and the incidence of violence against women (dowry murders, rape, witch-killing) is increasing. At the same time protest and resistance by the women's movement has been growing, attacking the mechanisms that perpetuate such violence. The paper focuses on the major strategies that have been formulated to combat both intra-family/household and social violence.

Campaign against rape: The judgement of the Supreme Court on the Mathura Case in 1979 drew country-wide attention to the non-efficacy of rape laws. The court had revised the judgement of the High Court of Bombay against two policemen for the rape of a tribal girl called Mathura. The reason for this revision was that there was no clear evidence that she actively resisted intercourse and because the girl was no virgin, she could not possibly have wanted to resist the sexual act. Besides that, the court stated that it was not an issue of a woman being violated in the right to say "no", because Mathura was a tribal girl. The judgement triggered a strong reaction from lawyers and activists, who held demonstration, discussions and organised all kinds of activities to improve the awareness of the rape-issue. For the first time women argued that rape is a violation of a human right and the most brutal expression of patriarchal power associated with the economic and political power in society. While the demand for the review of the Mathura case was the rallying point, the women's movement also demanded a new offence of custodial rape be recognised and the Evidence Act. This act presumes the absence of consent in prosecution for custodial rape, rape of pregnant women, or gang rape, where sexual intercourse by the accused is proved and the rape survivor states in her evidence that she did not consent.

In the wake of the anti-rape mobilisation and demonstrations, the question of familial atrocity of burning women for bringing in insufficient dowries also emerged. Women organised demonstrations which acted as checks on the husbands and in-laws by exposing the real nature of violence and preventing an easy escape through a facade of suicide or accidental death. Activities (marches, plays, movies) led to an increased and widespread attention for violence against women, and the issue could no longer be ignored. The government responded by amending laws on dowry and setting up special police-units to investigate cases of dowry-related harassment and "unnatural death" of women within seven years of marriage. While these measures did seek to improve the existing legal situation of women, they did not affect women's subordination and dependence on men within the institution of marriage and family.

Links between the specific oppression and the State (ideology) made women look for ways to organise themselves as pressure groups that would force the government to respond and bring issues of violence against women into focus. Public punishment and humiliation of dowry murder offenders by community action fore proved to be effective. This happened particularly in cases where the police and judiciary had failed to take action.

The new attention for violence against women enabled victims of violence to speak out, breaking the silence surrounding the family. Besides that, it created an awareness that the family not only involves love and harmony, but oppression, conflict, and violence as well, with the state reinforcing the familial structure of domination. Although the constitution of India declares equality of the sexes, and thereby acknowledges that a family should basically be an equalitarian unit, in practice the subordination of women to men and of junior to senior pervades family life. In practice, family customs and traditions exclude women from the possession and control of land, even in cases where the law grants them a fair share. As a result of pressure by the women's movement, the family has emerged as a political issue. The Sixth Five Year Plan admits women's oppression calling them "the most vulnerable members of the family" and promises special attention to their interests. Nevertheless, the family is still the basic unit of economic development analysis, thereby preventing a constructive analysis of the problems of women.

It has been increasingly debated and realised that women-specific violence can be combated only if a fundamental change is made in the existing propertylessness and resourcelessness of women, so that women have inalienable rights to land, property, and inheritance and the existing wage system (where women workers are paid less than men) is rectified. A woman's access to land further means a significant reduction in her household's vulnerability to absolute poverty, it provides security in facilitating credit from institutional sources, and it means a substantial rise in women's social position.


The paper "Fight Against Poverty: a Challenge for Home Economists" (RFHE/95/8) was presented by Ms. M.J. Mermillod, Senior Home Economics Officer, FAO, Rome.

Despite technological development, the level of poverty is increasing and the situation of women has worsened in many cases due to restructuring policies, environmental and social degradation and increasing male migration. Urbanisation is a growing phenomenon and the situation of the population living in pert-urban areas has to be addressed. Strong government policies are needed for the betterment of living conditions in rural areas to slow down the urbanisation trend.

In spite of the significant role of women in food production, they still suffer from lack of access to land, training, technology, credit and production inputs. Agricultural and home extension services have not really succeeded in addressing the needs of farm women, and only minor progress can be observed in the improvement of their working conditions both in the home environment and for their agricultural responsibilities.

Introduction of modern technologies have often increased women's workload, and the lack of concrete indicators does not facilitate the monitoring of the impact of agricultural technological innovations on women's work. Development of technologies which would benefit women has to be enhanced. To supplement resources from agricultural production, small enterprises could be developed in rural areas. However it requires specific attention to select activities which could really generate income. The development of small enterprises requires also appropriate training programmes to develop the skills that women possess as family and farm resources managers for them to become successful entrepreneurs.

Home economists have not always received appropriate training to address the needs of women farmers. It was suggested that revision of curricula be made and that more frequent in service extension training be provided. A new challenge is offered to home economists who are motivated and committed to helping rural women to improve their resources and living conditions.


The discussion focused on several aspects to improve rural family life conditions. Concerns were expressed on the scarce resources directed to the poorest in the rural areas. It was felt that male policy-makers need to be gender-sensitised in order that policies and plans developed in the ministries of agriculture reflect better the contributions women are making in economic development.

Many rural women are apparently becoming poorer, but data are insufficient to confirm this point. It was stressed that people at the grassroots level need to be better organised and expressed their priorities - NGOs can help in the process of empowerment of rural farmers, both men and women.

It was felt that decentralisation of bureaucracy's decision-making at district levels is an approach that should be encouraged. Since training of agricultural or home economics extension specialist are too often done in an urban setting, a suggestion was made to have more training institutions in rural areas where young rural people could enrol more easily, and later work comfortably with rural families.

Major findings

Based on all the papers and country statements, and on group discussions to identify key issues affecting rural families, the following were considered important for rural families:

1. Data, Information and Research Issues

Sex disaggregated data is needed to fill the data gaps on rural poverty, gender, family and child labour, household food security, the division of labour and decision-making, and time use. There is a need for quality data to be made available in a timely manner for policy planners, managers and rural families, recognising the need for data at various levels of understanding. Data bases available at national level do not adequately reflect rural family work, and are inaccessible to potential users at the rural community level.

2. Policy Planning Issues

Policies need to include commitment to a balance between food production, imports and exports to ensure household food security. The lack of appropriate pricing policy on agricultural commodities works against rural families, and discourages rural youth from agricultural careers. It is exacerbated by land tenure problems such as fragmentation of land-holdings, growing land scarcity, environmental degradation, and poor rural infrastructure and support services. In order to address the needs of the rural population, planning policies must have a more rural as compared to urban bias. Internal and international migration has been increasing, which has had both negative and positive effects on rural families.

3. Infrastructure and Institutional Issues

Small farmers and poor rural people are relatively powerless because they are unorganised, unaware of their rights and often intimidated by the powerful elites. The prevalent male bias in institutions (derived from patriarchy) reduces women farmer's access to rural services, resources and to their participation in decision-making.

4. Curriculum and Training

Inappropriate curricula, training and extension materials, as well as inadequate training facilities, limit the effectiveness of home economics and agricultural extension and training. Women's access is especially limited, and extension through male contact farmers seldom reaches women.

Gender bias and stereotypes direct services to men. Gender training has so far been very limited and has not reached key persons such as policy makers, and managers. Human capacity building (skills) needs much higher priority, including "woman-friendly" approaches.

5. Participation in Decision-making and Management

There is a lack of local leadership especially among unorganised rural families and management capability is very limited among small farmers and poor rural households. Women are seldom found in positions as public leaders due to lack of opportunity, time constraints, and inadequate training in organisation Youth are poorly represented in rural organisations.

6. Extension Services

Extension services tend to by-pass women farmers, and accord low priority to poor rural families. Governments generally have a bias towards cash crops and export commodities. Extension and educational media reinforce gender bias and sex stereotyping. The private sector interests are with families who have the necessary purchasing power. The role of NGOs is increasing and important, but not all are adequately oriented towards to the needs of rural families, and many are "gender-blind".

7. Socio-cultural Factors

Gender blindness and insensitivity are found among both men and women at all levels. Women's self-esteem and confidence is lower due in part to their propertyless status. This factor combined with socio-religious and ideological customs have been linked to increasing domestic violence. Matrilineal families seem to be better off. Most acute female subordination is found in patriarchal, patrilineal and patri-local societies. Food taboos, beliefs and superstitions affect women and children especially pregnant, lactating and menstruating women - more than men and boys. Taboos relate especially to protein-rich foods. Cultures and religious traditions reinforce sex-stereotyping which subordinates women, and influence legal and civil codes and practices. Women's inheritance rights are often circumscribed by culture and religious practice.

8. Technical Interfaces

Household energy resources are diminishing, especially fuelwood. There are frequently acute imbalances between human and technological development, with gender biases in technology design, access, training and support. There is inappropriate and insufficient technology and poor access to it, to address the drudgery of rural family work on the farm and in the farm household.

9. Consumerism, Conservation and Sustainability

Deforestation and environmental degradation is acute in many Asian countries, causing loss of fuelwood supplies, pollution of water resources, diminishing soil fertility inadequate sanitation and toxic waste disposal. Insufficient linkage exists between rural production systems, environmental impact and degradation of the natural resource base. Health issues are increasingly linked to environment, while stagnating and declining production may be linked to unsustainable agricultural practices. Urban and industrial encroachment on arable land is one result of increasing competition for scarce land, while access to common property resources (CPR) on the part of the poor exacerbates their poverty.

10. Food, Nutrition and Food Security

There is now increasing concern over instability of food supplies in some areas, especially in those with high population growth. Increasing pollution and contamination of foods and safety issues are also of concern. A general lack of awareness on food security issues at the household level is poorly addressed in extension. Market forces create a demand for consumer items which often impact negatively on family health and household budgets.

There is little official support for protection against natural disasters in rural areas - flooding, drought, erosion, fire. The lack of opportunities for, and seasonal fluctuations in remunerative employment and production in rural areas undermine household food security. Food production is often pushed aside by priorities for cash and/or export crops at the expense of nutrition and family food security.

Conclusions and recommendations

Based on the findings of the Consultation on Rural Families and Household Economies, the Consultation recommended that Governments and policy planners refocus on these issues, and address them in the light of the above.

1. Policy Planning

2. Data and Research

3. Curriculum and Training

4. Extension Services

5. Participation and organisation

6. Technical Interfaces

7. Environment and Conservation

8. Information

Governments to increase rural families' access to information. Increase legal literacy and knowledge of family law, land rights, credit, and related concerns. with the support from professional organisations. especially for women, through women's organisations.

After review, the report was adopted unanimously as amended, at 11.30 hours on 10 November, 1995.

Proposed by Dr. Amornrat Chareonchai

Seconded by Dr Marietta S. Adriano

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