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The most fundamental attribute of the household as the basic living unit is its ability to meet the material and non-material needs of its members. Changes in form or internal or external relationships which inhibit the household's capacity to do this must be considered inimical to goals of social stability and personal well-being. Those that enhance the household's capacity and flexibility must be considered beneficial. The rising number of households too poor to meet material needs and the growing dissatisfaction with some household forms as a source of non-material support suggest that much recent change has impaired household capacity, indicating that reassessment and redirection are imperative. It also suggests that perspectives and policies should focus more on the individuals for whom the households exist.
Whatever form it takes, the household should be a resilient unit, the strength of which is not jeopardized by structural or socio-psychological factors that enfeeble the contribution of any of its members. Through them it must have access to the services and resources which are major practical determinants of function - or dysfunction - in families and households. This relates not only to economic or political opportunity but also to the confidence and social competence to take up and expand this opportunity. Basic social responsibilities may have to be reallocated as the ability to meet them shifts. This applies not only within households; it also affects the linkages between them and other households, the community, and the state. The reciprocal support of these larger social entities should be directed towards enhancing the ability of the micro-unit to meet those basic functions for which it is best suited. This should not be a matter of rejecting or shuffling of social responsibilities but of developing the complementary and reciprocal arrangements most appropriate in various contexts.
Obsolete stereotypes and attitudes are a major obstacle to the flexibility that facilitates adaptation. Attempts to modify these through socialization and education will only be successful if attitudinal change is encouraged by real options for new behaviour. Women's ability to cope and adjust to change is constrained by their subordinate position in households and in society. Measures which enshrine legal and rhetorical recognition of their rights as individuals and the value of their role should be accompanied by practical steps to support and enhance them. Equitably shared domestic responsibilities and equal access to economic opportunity would strengthen households of all kinds and reduce their vulnerability in transitional phases.
Though research and experimentation with methodologies and measurements that cover activities hitherto hidden must continue, it is neither necessary nor desirable to delay policies or programmes for lack of them. The search for better definitions or data can easily become an excuse for procrastination. It will be a long time before all the conceptual and technical difficulties are overcome. The very nature of many of the social and cultural factors which must be considered if change is to be monitored and managed means the indicators may be very different from those which are taken as most authoritative now. In any case, more emphasis on quantitative data as criteria for micro-level social betterment might well be queried. They must be complemented and interpreted by qualitative material that expresses the attitudes and perspectives of the people concerned.
These factors must be taken into account if policy-makers and opinion-formers want to identify the types of integrated change that do bring development; they must also be aware that the processes of change are mutually interactive, though not necessarily in predictable ways. Assessing the impact of change on individuals in their domestic setting will enhance understanding of how sustainable development is achieved. Studying the responses of households to change would enable them to be supported and directed as a valuable resource which can - and does influence and direct macro-level change. To recognize the power and predict the patterns of action and reaction at the micro-level would be a significant step to harnessing them as a force of change appropriate to the aims of development.
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