20 March 2013

What are the barriers to work for women in developing countries?

Bob Rijkers and Rita Costa have a really interesting recent paper looking at gender differences in rural employment in developing countries, something I've been thinking about a lot in Rwanda over the last 3 months. In Rwanda the government has an ambitious goal to increase off-farm employment, and if this goal is to be reached there needs to be a big shift in female employment. Young women are currently much less likely to start their own businesses than men, and more likely to get "stuck" at home or running the family farm. 

Bob and Rita document that in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, women are also much less likely to establish a rural non-farm business, and that the businesses they do establish are less productive.

The reason that the businesses are less productive is not down to education or access to capital, but the sectors that these businesses are in. And this is where their quantitative story ends. They conclude that "Collecting panel data would help us better understand the causal mechanisms underlying the patterns documented in this paper and would permit a richer representation of the dynamics of rural labor markets"

But actually I think some qualitative work could get you a lot further a lot faster on those crucial policy questions of why women are less likely to start a business and why, when they go, it is in a less profitable sector.

An American who worked in Rwanda for several few years told me that teenage girls often aren't allowed out of the house as much as boys, for both security reasons and that they have more housework duties. Which means they get less exposure to the people and places around them, and less chance to think about what kind of market opportunities there are out there.

I also think that there is a strong cultural element around gender norms and what kind of work is acceptable for women. The New Times in Kigali tells the story of Nadine, one of only four female moto drivers in a city where there are hundreds. She quit tailoring because it didn't make enough money, and now driving a motorbike taxi she takes home enough to pay for rent, school fees, and childcare.
Naturally, challenges have come her way, the biggest being lack of support from some of her relatives who insist she is in a male field. 
“Nobody in my family approved of my choice to be a motorcyclist. In fact, they accused me of being a prostitute because I was joining a ‘male’ job. It was hurtful and discouraging but I decided to go with it anyway,” she narrates.
Presumably actually there is loads of sociological / anthropological research out there on this, anyone got any ideas? In England it took a world war for women to finally get access to "male" fields. What will it take to achieve such a cultural shift in developing countries?

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