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?

1 comment:

Helen Lindley said...

I think its important to look at changing social norms surrounding gender as part of a wider picture of social change regarding women's empowerment.

I like the 'Gender at Work' Rao Kelleher framework which maps out on a matrix the influencing factors of women's and men's consciousness, access to resources, the role of formal institutions, and informal cultural norms, in influencing change - when looking at any type of gender differences it provides a nice framework to map the different influencing factors. The version I can find is cited in an article by Oxfam Novib on measuring gender mainstreaming:


Re specifically challenging social norms, have a look at the work of Gerry Mackie who has written on abandoning harmful traditional practices, most recently in the case of FGM in Senegal in partnership with Tostan - although the work refers to harmful traditional practices specifically, many of the findings refer to broader gender norms:


In relation to women getting access to 'male fields', I would add that the issue you raise is not just related to women accessing what might be considered as traditionally male roles, but their traditional restriction in many countries to the private sphere, with the public sphere (including schools and access to healthcare services) being more open to men.

Thinking back to the Rao Kelleher framework, for me the 'change' in accessing the public sphere, and specifically what might be considered as traditionally male jobs, is likely to involve any number of the following changes at the different levels:

At an individual level - it involves women not only knowing about the choices available. but thinking that this *could* be an option to them and having the confidence to take action

At a family level - it requires support and acceptance- in maybe spending less time on other things, such as certain chores, at the face, and just being able to leave the house when they wan to. In Zambia recently for example I observed a focus group with some male leaders who admitted that they wouldn't send their daughters to school because they thought the journey was too dangerous for them. In any number of contexts a woman may require her husband's permission to take a number of decisions. Even with permission, as the woman in the story you quoted highlighted, lack of emotional support can also be a big factor

at a society level - the same girls may be discouraged from school or women from the workplace because certain male colleagues or teachers ask for sexual favours to get a good grade or a job. In the UK/US recently a number of articles have been published criticizing the macho culture of companies such as facebook, and the discriminatory experiences that individual women have had there, so even if a woman gets a traditionally male job, what does she have to put up with if she wants to keep it?

On the note of qualitative research, its amazing what a simple focus group can uncover, and i never cease it be surprised. Also have a look at the work that Options Consultancy does on PEER (Participatory, Ethnographic, Evaluation and Research) - it employs a simple principle - training local actors such as a women in a community who might traditionally benefit from a programme to conduct interviews with their peers in order to unearth information that traditional ethnographic research may take years to find out. I have used the approach before and it is both enlightening (with relatively little resources needed) and the participants enjoyed the opportunity.

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