Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Rural Women's Work and Capabilties:
Information for Gener-Responsive Development Policies
by Govind Kelkar

With our increased knowledge on the feminization of agriculture and of the informal sector, as it became more evident in the recent Asian economic crisis, it is now quite widely accepted that the goal of development is not simply one of increasing income (or GDP) but one of transforming economic and social relations, including, in particular, gender relations. Further the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are sweeping through the region and will soon become as important as land and capital. I will, if I may, reflect on three basic themes:

First, to argue that the central goal of public policy and planning is capability equality, to achieve basic individual capability - particularly in its application to the assessment of women's quality of life.

Second, to consider the necessity of transforming intra-household and intra-community distribution of resources and improve the efficiency with which a community can use its natural and other resources.

Third, to offer a few reflections on rural specific role of information technologies in rural areas in organizing professional roles of women and men along gendered lines rather than challenging culturally and politically embedded gender relations.

Some of the capabilities are primary, like adequate nourishment, good health, shelter, and say, basic education. Some other capabilities are more complex, but also important in determining social well-being, like managing natural resources at household and community levels.

The distribution of capabilities within a household is subject to variation, depending on the way in which income and resources are controlled within the households, i.e. on relations of power and hierarchy (gender and age relations) within a household. Income and resources of a household are not equally shared and enjoyed by its members. Even when a household income per member is above the `poverty line', the less advantaged members (women, children and the aged) of a household might live in sheer poverty (without enough food, time to rest, health care, education, decision-making power in natural resource management).

It is well known that the manner in which household income is used for meeting basic needs of the members of a household varies depending on whether income is controlled by men or women. Many studies have shown that women spend more of the money they control on children and household needs than men. Thus, in order to improve the achievement of basic capabilities it is necessary for a program to advance women's control over household income, which itself depends on ownership and management rights over property and self-earned income.

The development of more complex capabilities (like managing natural resource, skills of decision-making, and new technological knowledge) is related to the functions that persons perform. Carrying out functions develops corresponding capabilities. In rural Asia women are basically excluded from participation in community-level management of natural resources, from relations with external agencies and from political representation. Exclusion of women from management functions has a double effect. On the one hand, it does not allow the development of a community's capabilities. On the other hand, it ignores an important portion of social knowledge and thus leads to inefficiency in natural resource use and retards the development of the community's overall social capital.

Studies of `Village Pay Phones' in rural Bangladesh, recent spread of computer aided technologies and teleworking in Malaysia and India argued that gendered division of labor have been maintained and in some cases even magnified with the introduction fo new ICTs. The new cyberculture of rural Asia did not bring in new relations between women and men in the home, the workplace and in cyberspace. It is well known that communication via the internet is itself cultured: it is strongly shaped by communication needs and styles of class and gender factors. Although the introduction of new ICTs in rural Asia seem to offer women access to skilled employment, and a means of control over their own lives and hence increase their capabilities, it does so in severely limited terms.

In an indicative manner, I would propose that development projects, including new ICTs projects, among rural people should pay attention to:

Development action and support for change in gender relation cannot be seen as "soft alternative" to macro level change in poverty and environment.

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page