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Rural women in Honduras

Rural women in Honduras

Rural people in Honduras constitute almost 61 percent of the total population. They have little access to basic development goods -- food, shelter, potable water, sanitation systems, education, communications, roads, and markets. Eighty percent of all rural people live in poverty. Sixty-six percent of farmers who produce basic grains, the country's staple food, have access to only eight percent of all cultivable land. This 66 percent has, on average, slightly more than one hectare of land to secure a year's supply of basic grains to feed a family with approximately six children, and to produce a surplus for the nation. Peasants cultivate indigenous seed varieties using rudimentary hand tools and some animal traction to prepare, sow, and harvest the land. In need of cash, peasant farmers often sell part of their food crop in order to purchase goods necessary for their family's livelihood or to settle debts, only to buy food at high prices in periods of scarcity.

Paid work opportunities for both rural men and women are minimal, but the situation is even more difficult for rural women. In some regions, women's handicraft production increases their official economic activity rate, but the 1988 census shows an economic activity rate for rural women of 11 percent. This is not to say that women do not work. The traditional gender division of labour hides the actual economic participation rate of rural women. Women's work is even further under-estimated in the agricultural sector because women typically do not consider themselves primarily as agricultural workers. A 1990 comparison of four studies on women's economic participation in the 1980s revealed that 75-79 percent of rural women participate in agricultural production, although this is often seasonal or part-time. This "adjusted" figure includes women's participation in subsistence production in areas that traditionally are under the woman's control -- poultry, pig and goat production, and vegetable gardening. These activities normally take place close to the home, allowing women to attend to domestic and productive responsibilities at the same time.

The census shows that, of all women who claim to be heads of households in rural areas, 22 percent are involved in economic activity, which is more than twice the rate registered for women who are spouses of a head of household (nine percent). The most recent statistics on rural households headed by single women -- 17.8 percent according to the census under-estimate the actual number of women with dependents who lack a companion. Abandoned women's emigration to urban areas, single mothers who identify their oldest son as the household head, and separated women reincorporated in their parents' households, hide the actual "count" of single mothers.

Trends in rural emigration indicate that women respond differently to rural poverty compared to rural men. They are less likely than men to remain in rural areas. Women make up 49 percent of the rural population and 53 percent of the urban population. Of all rural emigrants, 54 percent are women, of which 64 percent migrate to urban areas. Higher women's emigration is often linked with either temporary or permanent dissolution of households, and the need to earn an income.

Rural women's educational level is equivalent to men's, but both are deficient. Illiteracy is concentrated in rural areas where, according to 1988 statistics, 51 percent of the population is illiterate. The historical trend that discriminated against young girls' education has been rectified in Honduras, according to recent census data. Comparing women to men, slightly more women are literate than men.

The poverty of the rural population is manifested by chronic malnutrition. Multiple births without adequate spacing, and nearly continuous breast feeding have even greater negative consequences for women's health. Depending on the region, illiterate women in rural Honduras have an average of between 6.7 and 8.2 children in their lifetimes, averages which are among the highest in Latin America. Seventy percent of all breast feeding mothers suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, and iron intake is estimated at 40 percent of the recommended level. The rural population suffers from both caloric and protein deficiencies that limit mental and physical growth as well as the capacity for continuous physical activity.

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