African women, whose central role in food production is crucial to development on the continent, have failed to benefit from most recent government programs in their countries, a new study says.
In Latin America, meanwhile, women have begun a strong movement into the cities and to the paid labor force, although marriage and motherhood remain important goals for them, according to a separate report.
The two studies of the status of women are the first in a planned series on "Women of the World," analyzing the role of the female populations in developing nations. The project, compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, was financed by the Agency for International Development.
"As the primary food producers for the region, Africa's women play an indispensible role in the economy for the achievement of regional food self-sufficiency will depend on their increased productivity," Jeanne S. Newman said in the study of sub-Saharan Africa.
Directed Toward Men
"Despite women's key role in food production and commerce, however, most of the programs designed to improve productivity in agriculture and business have been directed toward men's activities; few women have felt the benefits of these programs," she wrote.
Indeed, because of the traditional division of labor, many development projects have simply increased the workload of women.
For example, it said, "expanded acreage must be weeded, and more water carried for additional livestock. When men leave the farm for wage employment, women are frequently left behind to manage alone, often without adequate resources or decision-making authority."
In addition, women have traditionally performed a major part of food distribution and marketing by taking their produce to local towns and villages to sell, and this activity has sometimes been unintendedly curtailed by development projects, Newman reported.
Lose Traditional Markets
When some cattle-breeding projects were begun, for example, families were moved to new farm areas several miles from the nearest town, depriving the women of their traditional markets for milk and milk products, she said.
Such a loss of income is a serious matter in a household where women bear a major responsibility for household expenses.
Overall, Newman went on, "change is under way in Africa, and with it, inevitable dislocation as well as opportunity."
In Latin America, rapid urbanization has been one of the most significant trends in recent decades, and "more women than men are included among the migrants from the countryside into the cities," said the Latin and Caribbean study by Elsa M. Chaney.
As they move to the cities, women increasingly enter the labor market. "Poor women have always worked, and today many middle- and upper-class women are joining them in the ranks of the employed," the report said.
By far the largest number find jobs in service industries, although many enter technical professions as well.
Not Prestige Jobs
Large numbers of women work as teachers, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technicians --"careers which do not carry high prestige in Latin America," the study said. But, "women's principal power and influence continue to be exercised in the domains of the family and household," it added.
"As with most of the world's women, Latin American and Caribbean women perceive motherhood as their destiny," the report said. "The position of legal wife is an honorable estate in Latin America, and the cultural-religious ideal of a large family still is held in high esteem."
Paradoxically, however, economics are placing increasing pressure on women in this area, as in others, to limit their family size so that they can educate themselves and work outside the home, the study said.