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The household, gender, and age project

Eleonora Barbieri Masini
Co-ordinator, United Nations University Household, Gender, and Age Project

There has been considerable analysis of the many technological and social changes of the last 30 years at the global, regional, or national level. There have also been numerous case-studies on specific women's issues in different parts of the world, especially since the United Nations World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. However, very little has been done to analyse the nature of the changes that have occurred at the level of individuals or of micro-units like the primary living unit, the household. Only very rarely has there been any in-depth study of households, and yet the changes that occur there may have a strong influence on the attitudes, behaviour, and aspirations of its members.

Over the last couple of decades, the whole world has been affected, albeit in different ways, by a number of trends that have been part of the global historical process. These trends may be classified in a number of ways. For example, there have been significant demographic changes characterized by a sharp drop in fertility rates with a consequent ageing of the population in developed countries, and an increasing and increasingly young population in many of the developing nations. There have been economic trends related to the globalization of world markets. Politically, decisions taken in one part of the world have come to have immediate repercussions on other parts of it. These macro-trends are in turn interconnected and influence each other in ways which shape the complexity of contemporary socio-economic reality.

Considerable attention has been paid to these macro-trends and their mutual influence at the global level. Much has been written and spoken about their current or future development. In the United States, for example, a study entitled GLOBAL 2000 was conducted at the end of the 1970s. The World Bank has done a number of studies on the future of different regions, and there have been numerous national future-oriented studies on agriculture and food production, energy, and other specific topics, as well as on clusters of interconnected themes.

Micro-analysis of specific events or situations has also been developed in both industrialized and developing countries by intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and other interested agencies. What appeared to be lacking at the beginning of the 1980s was the nexus between the two levels: the influence of the macro-event, for example population change, on the micro-level, the individual or small community. Still less attention had been paid to the impact of such changes on the household, even though, as the primary living unit, its own internal changes have a considerable impact on the larger community and indeed on society as a whole.

The purpose of the Household, Gender, and Age project (HGA), initiated in the early 1980s by the United Nations University (UNU), was precisely this: to establish the nexus between macro-level historical events and the micro-level of the household. The project developed from a series of meetings held in Tokyo in 1979, Oslo in 1980, and Dartmouth and Rome in 1981. These consultations sought to develop research perspectives that would capture the relationships between societal and individual change over time, with special emphasis on the role of women in the development of a given community or society. In early 1982 the group met again in Rome and the basic elements of a methodological framework and the initial focus of the research were established.

The basic motivation of the project was born out of analysis of historical processes and the need to understand both the dynamics of their impact on individuals, particularly women, and households, and the influence that the latter in turn have on macro-level events.

Conceptually, the three components of the HGA project were set out in its very name. They were defined at a meeting in Addis Ababa in 1983 at which they were established as the common starting-point for all parts of the project. The household, in all its different cultural connotations, is the primary social living unit. In it are encapsulated a cluster of activities of people who live together most of the time and provide mutual physical, socio-psychological, and developmental support and functions within the broader organization and environment of the community. Gender was selected as an analytical device for looking at the world and considering individuals both within and outside the household; the emphasis was on the role of women. Age was incorporated as a means of re-examining traditional categories with particular reference to the social and economic implications of birth-cohorts, of generations, and of the gap between them. An indication of the conceptualizations revised on the basis of the completed research appears at the end of this chapter.

Anticipating the diverse cultural connotations of these key concepts in the different countries studied, the project set down some guiding principles for the interpretation of the household. The household was not only defined in the conventional way, that is by co-residence, but also in terms of the kinship, monetary, or other obligations of non-resident members to the basic co-residential unit.

An initial topology the household was constructed as a working hypothesis and this was used by almost all the researchers, though with varying emphases. It was based on the location of the household, income categories, the dwelling in terms of physical space - not only as a place of residence, but also, where applicable, as a production unit - the headship and composition of the household, and the internal power structure, in terms of gender and age, in relation to its productive and reproductive functions. In fact, as will be shown, the results of the field-work modified some of the general assumptions about household form and function.

In order to analyse changing relationships within the household and between the household and the rest of society, the project focused particularly on the roles, activities, and status of women in their domestic, cultural, and community contexts. In other words, the project analysed the lives of women in different age-cohorts, both within and outside the household, in order to obtain not only information about their present situation but also their perceptions of their past and the future.

It was hoped to provide a fuller understanding of development processes by taking the role of gender and age into account. In many cases, this approach brought important policy implications to light. The research shows how women are affected by change, but it also shows how they affect change.

The main focus of the country investigations of which the project was composed varied according to the different problems, socio-economic conditions, and cultural background in each location. However, the impact of development projects on the socio-economic and cultural organization of the household and women's changing labour-force participation rates, and the interconnected issues of sexuality, fertility, and family-planning, were examined in every study, especially in relation to work, education, and domestic power structures. Particular attention was paid to the implications of migration in those countries where this was a significant factor. The effects of economic, technological, and ecological change were other major considerations.

The HGA project sought to understand the impact of macro-events on the women and households, to bring women's participation in social change into focus, and to indicate to decision-makers how this participation could be enhanced by policies designed to support households and women in the present and the future. The primary target group was national decision-makers involved in development planning, labour issues, all levels of education, and health and nutrition.

The other target group was international decision-makers, whether in the various United Nations specialized agencies or other organizations involved in development. Although women's participation in the labour force and political issues has come to attract the attention of more researchers in recent years, little account has been taken of changes in the lives of women and households, especially at the deeper psycho-sociological levels which affect and arc affected by macro-changes. Information about these emerges quite clearly from research on the lives of women in relation to the household and its other members.

Each study came up with suggestions for concrete action, either spontaneously or at the request of UNU. There is clearly much to be done, and it is important that the UNU and other academic bodies should bring such issues to the forefront, demonstrating the linkages between what is happening and what can or should be done by governments and other decision-making bodies on the basis of a clearer understanding of the interrelated aspects of various changes.

The life-course approach was chosen as the most suitable for capturing the impact of macro-changes on women and the household and the long-term implications that such changes have for the structure of society. The methodology, described in detail by David Kertzer in the second chapter, facilitates the measurement of changes that occur among groups of people, in this case women in the same age-cohort, in relation to specific events in each country. The researchers found that linking macro-events to what had happened to the individuals in their households was a useful way of helping even those women with very little education to recall what had happened in the course of their lives and to reconstruct their own histories, as they looked back and related each year of their life to events in the wider environment. This approach can also provide an indication of the possible attitudes and behaviour of the next generation, and even of structural changes in response to macro-events, although this was rarely accomplished in the HGA project. However, it was sometimes possible to take the aspirations of younger women as seen through the eyes of their mothers as an indirect indication of possible behaviour, although, as future studies show, trends also have alternatives, and these may be overlooked without a thorough knowledge of local conditions that might contradict general patterns (Masini, 1986).

The life-course methodology is a long-term approach which is both retrospective and prospective. It is therefore able to depict the roles, activities, and status of an individual in relation to changing social, cultural, and economic circumstances. It is based on the premise that developmental change occurs from birth until death; that ageing consists of interrelated biological, psychological, and social processes; and that the life-course of any individual is affected by macro-level social, environmental, and historical change.

In line with these conceptualizations of individual and social processes, the project linked important events in the life of individual members of each household schooling, entry into the labour force, marriage, childbirth, migration, divorce, or bereavement - with historical events that produced different situations and status for them. In other words it connected micro-level change with macro-level events.

The dynamic life-course approach requires the collection of a great deal of material, particularly longitudinal life-history data which is more difficult to analyse than cross-sectional data. In order to overcome this technical problem, whenever possible the project used a special computer programme known as the CASA, a database management system specifically developed for the analysis of life-history data like that collected by the HGA study (Kertzer and Karweit, 1985). Qualitative material was also gathered through intensive personal interviews and time-budget surveys carried out with a small proportion of the sample.

The life-history and time-budget approaches are both very time-consuming, but they have the advantage of arriving at a deeper understanding of the lives of women who are not accustomed to describing their personal histories. Compared to the long perspective of the life-histories, time-budgets survey a brief period, as they are used to record the amount of time devoted to various activities on certain days. Although the reliability and validity of time-budget data are very much linked to the manner in which they are collected, they can be useful indicators of social, gender, and age differences, of the direction of change, and of the ways in which the demands of various activities are balanced. The use of the time-budget approach varied widely in the different country studies. Considerable data was collected in China and in Brazil, for example, and only a little in Colombia and Kenya, though it was nevertheless very illuminating.

The project benefited from the participation of women who already had research experience in their own countries (Carmen Elisa Flórez in Colombia, Neuma Aguiar in Brazil, Isabel Vial in Chile, and Myrtle Perera in Sri Lanka), as well as others who were familiar with the problems of women in their countries but had not necessarily carried out research in this field (Sun Hejun in China and Kavetsa Adagala in Kenya). All had organizational skills, a great advantage in the very difficult situations they had to face at times. None had had experience of the life-course methodology, but most were very happy to apply it. Indeed, a willingness to learn new research skills was a basic requirement for the project. When the researchers met in Addis Ababa in 1983 to discuss ways and means of capturing the dynamics of these macro- and micro-level changes, they were thus already indirectly reinforcing the capacity of women as agents of change.

The project was greatly assisted by strong support from various institutions, particularly the Centro de Estudios Sobre Desarrollo Económico (CEDE) in Colombia, the Marga Institute in Sri Lanka, and the All-China Women's Federation, which made its extensive network of organizations and their local groups available. The level of interest shown in the countries themselves was a very important factor, especially in Colombia, Chile, and China, and one which has positive implications for the impact of the results.

The principal hypothesis of the project was that among the many rapid changes in the world today, there are some that affect women in a specific way. However, as their impact is mingled with other changes, it may not be immediately or clearly visible. It was decided to identify examples of macro-changes in each country over the last 10 to 20 years and to use the life-course approach to examine personal histories in relation to these large-scale events in order to ascertain how women had been affected by them. The women were grouped in age-cohorts, the time-spans of which were determined according to the nature of the macro-events. Each research team decided which events were deemed important in its own country, but could also be relevant in other countries. Some of these events were global, others more regional, and others still strictly national.

Demographic transition (a change from high to low birth- and death-rates) was the macro-change chosen for the HGA project in Colombia, for this is a change which, albeit in different ways and in different stages, is occurring throughout the world. Both urban and rural areas were taken into consideration. The demographic transition there started in the 1960s when fertility rates declined; mortality rates had already started to fall in the 1930s. The total fertility rate represents the number of births a woman is likely to have had by the end of her reproductive period (between 19 and 49 years of age). In the urban area this decreased from 7.04 in 1960-1964 to 3.6 in 1980 - a drop of almost 50 per cent in less than 20 years. Of course, this is an extreme case, paralleled among developing countries only by Cuba and Singapore, but demographic transition has none the less been a global trend over the last two decades.

This drop in the number of births was an important phenomenon in both the urban and the rural districts (although there was a 12-year time-lag between its occurrence in the two areas) because of the resultant changes in the age structure of the population. The HGA research focused on how those affected work, family formation and size, and the spacing of children. In fact the consequences of demographic transition were visible not only in Colombia, which concentrated on this specific macro-event, but also indirectly in the other studies.

Environmental changes, though often global, of course differ from one region and area to another. The introduction of large hydro-electric irrigation schemes in Sri Lanka provided the example of an environmental macro-event. These schemes clearly have a strong impact on the lives of women and on the formation and transformation of households. They affect agricultural techniques and work patterns, nutritional habits, and, whether directly or indirectly, health. Indeed, the research shows that they can even affect religious practices related to the cycles of nature.

Then there are socio-economic macro-events. The recent exodus of Sri Lankan women from low-income groups was part of the broad phenomenon of global migration, although its immediate impact was regional and local. A tradition of migration was undoubtedly part of the colonial legacy in the region: male and female workers have been migrating from the subcontinent to the Middle East since the 1930s and 1940s. This migration had been mostly confined to the educated classes, but significant numbers of poor people started moving from Sri Lanka and Thailand to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait after the oil boom of 1973. By 1983, approximately 200,000 Thais and the same number of Sri Lankans, including a significant proportion of women, had migrated to take up jobs there.

The implementation of development projects provides numerous examples of socio-economic macro-events which clearly have an impact on the lives of women. Though not global phenomena, for they are generally related to developing countries, they are a good illustration of the way in which schemes or projects- for example, the government's Model Village Settlements Scheme in Sri Lanka - affect every aspect of the environmental, social, and economic life of households.

Another type of macro-event can be defined as both economic and political. These are usually considered national, insofar as they vary widely from one country to the other because of obvious differences in particular situations; yet in a sense they are also global, since similar patterns and events occur around the world. As elsewhere, the studies show that the effectiveness of macro-level policies may not be achieved without attention to constraints at the micro-level. In spite of the steps taken to advance the schooling of girls in almost every country, for example, extra domestic duties, cultural influences, or lack of employment opportunities to motivate them still limited their access and attainments in many places.

An extremely important type of macro-event, which can be considered global at one level but highly diversified at another, is technological change, which has of course had an impact on all the other phenomena, especially in the last 30 years. The HGA project chose national examples that have affected women in many different ways. It analysed the situation of female workers in textiles, an industry of particular importance in developing nations, and selected Petrópolis in Brazil and San Martin in Argentina as the sites of specific studies. It examined another interesting example of the effect of technological change on the lives of women in developing countries through the introduction of the Free Trade Zone in Sri Lanka. Both these situations were born out of economic policies and technological change.

Hence, although they were diverse, all the macro-events selected had an impact on households and the lives of women which was analysed by each research team within the framework of their own country.

It was important to establish the impact of macro-events on women of different ages. The women were divided into two or three different age-groups, depending on the local situation. A birth-cohort (generally referred to as a cohort) is a group of people born in the same period, and each study used cohorts to examine the way the effects of change may have varied from generation to generation. It is interesting to note that although every effort was made to use cohorts for comparison in all the studies, cultural differences often demanded variation in their form and definition. For example, in relation to demographic transition in Colombia, the researchers decided to look simultaneously at households with women of reproductive age who were at the peak of their fertility before and after the demographic transition. Hence in the urban areas the cohorts consisted of women who were at the peak of their fertility in 1960-1964 - and who therefore were between 45 and 49 years of age when the study began in 1984 - and women who were at the peak of fertility after the transition, who were between 25 and 29 at the beginning of the study. Because the demographic transition began later in country areas, there was a difference in the rural age-cohorts, since the group that was at the peak of fertility before the transition there (1968-1969) was between 40 and 45 at the time of the study in 1985, while women who were at the peak of their fertility in 1980 (after the drop in the fertility rate) were between 20 and 24 in 1985. This is an example of cohort selection in relation to macro-events that have different time-spans and effects in different places.

A comparison between the two cohorts was made by analysing the effects of demographic transition on the process of family formation and extension, on labour organization and participation, on power relations within the household, and on women's perceptions and attitudes. In this way the cohort study was able to show both the similarities and the differences in the effects of the macro-event at various times in the urban and the rural environments.

Cohorts were not chosen for the study of textile workers in Brazil and Argentina because the sample was not big enough. There women were divided into two groups, those over and those under the age of 30, which was the average age of the male and female textile workers, and a distinction was made between employment in the modern or the traditional sectors of the industry as the main differentiating factor between the groups.

In Chile, the cohorts were 15-32 and 39-65 years old. Events were classified in relation to the ages of the women, as in the other projects, but in this case independently of the calendar year in which the event took place. The life-course approach was used, but the historical event was not chosen. The work situation of the women was central to the study and the workers were classified and subdivided, as in Colombia, into three income strata. In the rural area of Colombia income stratification had to be established a posterior) because of obsolete data. In fact, although per capita and household income levels were considered in all the studies, stratification by income was a particularly important component of the methodology in Colombia and Chile.

In China, the project looked at the effects of the major national political changes of the last 40 years in Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces. Three cohorts of women were studied: those who were at the peak of their fertility in 1952 at the time of the land reform, and so were between 55 and 66 in 1986; women at the peak of fertility in 1979, at the time of the economic reform; and women who were at this point in 1986, and so were between 17 and 27. The cohorts thus correspond to the national economic and political macro-events which began with the birth of the modern China in 1949.

In Sri Lanka, the macro-events chosen - migration to West Asia for employment, work in the Free Trade Zone, the Model Village Scheme, and the irrigation scheme around the Mahawali river- were more diverse and the research was carried out in six different locations. It was decided to involve all women over 18 in the selected households. They were subdivided into three age-groups: 19-39, 40-55, and 60 and over, a classification related to the specific.

The choice of the cohort is very important as it is the basis of the data from which information is extracted. The optimum situation is therefore one in which recent and reliable census data are available. Data collection was indeed more rigorous in areas where a good and relatively recent census available, as in Chile, China, and urban Colombia. In Sri Lanka, it was necessary to collect data on an ad hoc basis in order to accommodate the considerable degree of differentiation between the locations. Although this created difficulties in combining data, at the same time it provided a very rich set of indicators of change in the lives of women and households. In Kenya, data were collected by a general survey, whereas in Argentina and Brazil the researchers had to rely on information provided by firms and trade unions.

It is important to stress that a dynamic approach like the life-course methodology has to mould itself around existing local conditions or what data can realistically be collected in a given situation. It proved itself to be a flexible instrument capable of overcoming difficulties. Such adaptability is increasingly necessary in a rapidly changing world situation in which there is extensive variation, for example between and within different developing countries and regions. The life-course approach can be considered a first step in the search for the more responsive research instruments the social sciences need to try to understand what is happening at all levels quickly, for through the life-course matrix it captures changes over time. Moreover, it is easy to use, even where literacy is low. Therefore, although some of the findings may not be based on perfect data or optimum situations, they are valuable as indicators and as indications of the need for more appropriate research techniques.

It is particularly important to be able to study the impact of local, regional, national, or international events and trends on women. So little is really known about their everyday lives, especially in relation to macro-events which, though well-known in themselves, have an impact at the micro-level that is often scarcely recognized.

The aim of this research was precisely that: to enhance understanding of changes occurring in different contexts and to identify comparative elements in regional or even global trends. Each of the country studies focused on a particular point of change. The historical analysis developed from this, making the basic concept of the life-course approach viable in different contexts. The studies provide clear examples of both diverse situations and the flexibility of the approach.

The main urban areas studied in the project were Bogota in Colombia, San Martin in Argentina, Petrópolis in Brazil, and Santiago in Chile. Colombia has been characterized by a phenomenon typical of Latin America in the post-Second World War period: rapid urbanization with migration from rural to urban areas. However, contrary to what happened in other countries in the region, this urban concentration was not confined to one town but occurred in different centres. Indeed, the rate of urbanization in Bogota was lower than in other cities. Since 1980, the rate of population growth in urban areas has tended to diminish because of the drop in fertility and the stabilization of the rhythm of migration. Labour force participation is around 53 per cent, with a high rate of female participation (41 per cent of the economically active population).

Migration and urbanization were not important issues in Petrópolis in Brazil, small town where the majority of the population has been involved in the textile industry since the end of the nineteenth century. Many of the recent economic and political changes in Brazil have had a sharp impact on this industrial sector. The introduction of new equipment in that country between 1970 and 1975 produced both a spurt in productivity and a decline in employment. Output subsequently started to decrease, and although the drop in employment remained constant, female participation rates diminished. This situation was reversed between 1975 and 1980, when the modernized firms changed their attitude towards women. Initially, men were preferred for work with the modern equipment. Later, young inexperienced female workers were employed at lower rates as unskilled labour.

The textile industry is one of the oldest in Argentina, too. In San Martin it was possible to identify three historical periods which corresponded to macroeconomic processes and influenced industrial structure and employment patterns. There was an initial period of industrialization accompanied by the expansion of domestic markets, the introduction of protectionist policies, and the development of a strong working class, particularly in the greater Buenos Aires area. This period ended with the political changes of the mid-1970s. In 1976 the government imposed a different socio-economic model and new technologies were introduced. This was a time of great change: the economy was opened by reduced customs duties, currency revaluation, and various financial reforms. The manufacturing, textile, and clothing industries suffered greatly from international competition in this period. Economic recovery began in 1983 with the introduction of new political and economic policies and Argentina's return to democracy.

In terms of production and employment, the textile industry expanded, particularly in the city and province of Buenos Aires, up until 1965, although most of the industry concentrated in San Martin, an agricultural area that was gradually industrialized. Historically the textile industry has always absorbed a significant amount of female labour, and was chosen by the researchers because it has been part of the local environment for a long time and also because it continues to employ a lot of women. In fact, contrary to what has happened in other places, there has been no drop in the number of women working in the industry.

The Chilean research focused on the participation of women in the labour force, which has generally changed little in the course of this century. As in other Latin American countries, economic growth has been much slower than in the developed world, while the population has continued to increase much faster, although this trend is now showing signs of decreasing: Chile's rate of population growth is below that of other developing countries and of other Latin American countries with a similar per capita income, and it has a low population density, with about 11.3 million inhabitants in an area of 741,767 square kilometres.

The study examined the evolution of women's workforce behaviour in the city of Santiago, concentrating on the supply rather than the demand for female labour in order to arrive at a better understanding of women's situation and behaviour. Increasing female participation in the labour force there shows certain similarities to the situation in developed countries, where it had also been rising. Greater access to family planning and decreased fertility, and increases in divorce, separation, and consensual unions, are all factors which, coupled with industrialization and urbanization, have had a considerable impact on women's employment there as elsewhere, but the Chilean situation is clearly considerably different in many ways from that of the other countries in the study.

There was also great diversity between and within the rural areas studied. In Sri Lanka, they were characterized by great socio-cultural heterogeneity. Most of the people were Sinhalese Buddhists, but there were also Tamils, who were generally Hindus, Muslims, and multi-ethnic Christians. Diversity was therefore a very important aspect of the research. The traditional social structure based on the extended family and many of the other elements of the former socio-economic systems were changing in different ways, but the patriarchal system continued to prevail. Regional disparities continued to exist, and the behavioural changes directed by, for example, the new agriculture- divorced from old rituals and gender stereotypes - or by increasing employment opportunities for women have not necessarily led to new perceptions of and attitudes towards women's role. Indeed, sometimes the women felt compelled to take up new functions like migration or local waged work as an extension of their caring role.

In pre-liberation China, women were mainly employed in domestic activities, part-time family agricultural work, and handicrafts. The status of women changed after 1949, particularly as a result of land reform in the early 1950s when women got their share of land, even though production was collective. In 19781979 there were further important economic reforms and the Household Contract Responsibility System was introduced. Once a contracted amount had been sold to the state, farmers were now allowed to keep surplus production for their personal use or sale. Rural businesses started to develop and townships began to process their produce. Village and township enterprises in industry, trade, transport, building, and the services developed rapidly. The situation of women improved considerably, as they now had a wider choice of occupations and greater freedom to take decisions about them on the basis of age, physical ability, and skills.

The Kenya research project was the first there to focus specifically on issues concerning women and households on tea and coffee plantations. Tea and coffee are two of Kenya's main cash crops and most important exports. They are produced in large-scale plantations that were started at the beginning of this century. The colonial government encouraged settlers to satisfy the growing demand for the products in Great Britain and the dispossessed peasants often became part of the plantation labour force, as in Sri Lanka. The household played a very important role in compensating for imbalances which developed during the transition from one system to the other. Women were required to supplement this workforce, but they were still responsible for domestic work in the household. Independence came in 1963, but the land issue remains crucial.

The research focused on the role of the household as a unit integrated into the contemporary plantation economy. There has been no satisfactory land reform since independence, and no solution to the problem of the landless who continue to be marginalized both in society and in the production process. This is particularly apparent on the plantations, which are the last resort of many of those employed there; but for women who have no rights to land to support themselves and their children, living and working in the plantations may be their only option. Some go back to their original communities in their old age, still landless and still marginalized.

The broader socio-economic context was considered in all the studies, which also included differentiation between the genders and ethnic groups. The studies highlight some similarities, for example between modernization in Sri Lanka and China, and different areas of women's work in Chile and Argentina. There are also regional similarities, like imbalance between urban and rural areas in Latin America and Asia. By considering these differences and similarities between the various areas studied and their historical backgrounds it may be possible to identify some common elements in the processes and results of change.

As researchers in the social sciences know only too well, field-work often shows that theories are not always borne out in practice, especially in development studies. The analysis presented here suggests that changes in households and in women's behaviour in response to macro-events in their broader socioeconomic environment are more gradual than might have been expected. It seems, for example, that changes in the power structure within households and in the domestic division of labour take place much more slowly in developing countries than other changes related to the participation of women in the labour force. On the other hand, the participation of women in the labour force in these countries frequently seems to follow rules that had been thought obsolete. In some circumstances, for instance, women who have less education and training in sophisticated skills may find it easier to get jobs, as the studies in Sri Lanka and Brazil suggest. Moreover, even in periods of very rapid technological change, forces and patterns of behaviour that are geared to long-established market laws and marginalization factors continue to operate.

Nor is the level and pace of change in their lives necessarily related to women's knowledge and perception of it. Frequently an awareness of changing conditions occurs much earlier than the actual changes in behaviour. For example, although women in the different countries studied, from Colombia to Kenya, are surprisingly well informed about the different kinds of contraceptives available, in fact they may or may not use them themselves for socio-cultural or economic reasons.

The general conclusion might perhaps be that although changes at the micro-level are much slower than those at the macro-level, they produce results that are far more long-lasting and have a more profound impact once they have taken place. Moreover, these micro-level changes in turn affect macro-events, as in the case of Colombia's demographic transition. Secondly, while it is recognized that broad trends and macro-events interact and influence each other, this is also true at the micro-level. Thus, for example, it is useless to implement education programmes if they are not accompanied by other changes at the local level that will enable individuals to take advantage of them. Change must be reinforced and maintained by social structures. It is also essential to consider the overall environment in order to understand what change is really occurring and how individuals and households can benefit from appropriate support during this economic process.

It is clear, for example from the Kenyan study, that it may be a long time before the impact of macro-events is felt; historical factors may continue to have a strong influence for many generations. The consequences of the colonial system in Kenya are still affecting women; the changes that followed independence have had little impact on those who still have to migrate from the north-west of Kenya to the plantation areas. The social structure on the plantations reflects the interaction of colonial practice and contemporary economic conditions: the men come and go, while the women stay working there, the mainstay of the labour force, because as de facto or frequently de jure heads of household they remain there so they can provide for themselves and their families. Yet the main aspiration of the women around 40 was to return to their home villages. Even the students from the University of Nairobi who acted as interviewers for the project had been unaware of the living conditions of these women, and of the extent to which these conditions had remained unchanged.

Another point which emerged was that stereotypes and conventional wisdom are frequently accepted without a careful examination of local situations. In Colombia, for example, urban migration was thought to have had a considerable effect on women, but closer investigation and the results of the field-work showed, surprisingly, that in fact it has not had a marked effect on either family formation or size. In Brazil, after an initial period of employing men to use new machinery, young unskilled women were more sought after by the textile industry, which throws doubt on the commonly held belief that industrialization requires people with certain skills. In China, although the Household Responsibility System led to diversification and more non-agricultural job opportunities, in the rural areas in Sichuan province the number of women who devoted themselves to full-time housework actually rose after the reforms. There were several reasons for this, the most important being that most of the scarce new jobs were for men. Moreover, when seasonal or heavy construction work called the men away, the women had to run the household at home.

The conceptualization of the three component parts of the project - household, gender, and age - was maintained in all field-work. It was much more difficult to establish a typology of households. The nuclear family indeed appeared to be the trend towards which most of the households in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Sri Lanka were heading. At the same time, however, the extended family, in different forms, was still strong in the rural areas of Colombia, Sri Lanka, China, and Kenya. Some specific indications of households made up of co-resident members of the same generation appeared in China and in Kenya. The importance of co-residence seemed to have emerged more strongly. In the initial stages of the study it was thought that non-resident family members were often more important participants in the household than the field-work subsequently showed them to be.

The project suggests that decision-makers arc frequently not fully aware of women's actual needs and of the practical impact of macro-changes on households. Governments and development agencies often seem to lack the preliminary research necessary to identify existing or emerging needs. All too often these are established theoretically, or on the basis of past knowledge or accepted wisdom. Textile workers chosen because they are unskilled, working women everywhere who lack support systems, and women like those in Sri Lanka who lose control of their income or their assets because they lack appropriate experience and services are all in situations where the results of development and change could have been modified or magnified had they been accompanied by supportive programmes.

Even those national and international development agencies already committed to the interests of women need more accessible, concise, non-academic, and understandable reports prepared locally by those as close as possible to the people concerned. A misinterpretation of real needs can often be traced to a dearth of good reporting, be it oral or written. The audio-visual component of the HGA project was an important way of letting decision-makers actually see the results of the field-work and the need to accelerate the decision-making process. Time can be of great importance: slow decisions sometimes defeat the purposes of development projects.

The researchers who had been involved in the field-work also prepared a training videotape to help others who find themselves having to address a range of issues in different cultural contexts. Indeed, the HGA study re-emphasizes the importance of training. The closer the researchers worked to the problems and needs of women and households, the more the necessity for training to render these needs more visible became apparent. This is particularly important in working with such value-loaded elements of human life as the family, childbearing and rearing, and the care of the elderly. The HGA project has confirmed the value of women being trained to study these and other fundamental social issues in their own countries, and in so doing it has brought some quite unexpected results to light.

The training component of the study, which was initiated at the Population Center of the University of Chicago, continued for four years, mainly at the Centro de Estudios sobre Desarrollo Económico at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. The 32 women trainees, mostly postgraduate students, and most of them younger than people from developing countries usually are when they are able to participate professionally in international projects, appear to have gained a great deal from it. Approximately 90 per cent of them secured excellent jobs with universities, research institutes, or government bodies in their home countries. But the benefits were not solely processional in this sense: the cross-cultural interchange between them, which was carefully monitored in both Chicago and Bogota, was of the greatest value. Women researchers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America studied together for a period of time in such a way that they were able to understand each other's problems in an atmosphere of true South-South co-operation. In so doing they were also able to reach a better understanding of the issues related to women and households in their own countries. They were able to establish contacts with individuals and networks in other countries and so gain access to a different body of knowledge and experience that can inform their own work.

As co-ordinator of the project, I learned a great deal about development as it actually occurs in the different countries, and about the involvement of women in this process. This kind of role would seem to be one to which a truly international university like the UNU is ideally suited.

In conclusion, it must be repeated that the interests of women still require much investigation and stronger support. There is a need for concrete action that goes beyond the formal statements heard nationally and internationally. Certainly, there is now a more widespread sensitivity and activity related to women's issues, but as yet even women themselves are not always fully aware of what may really be in their best interests. Although much has been written and said about women in development, there is still too little general awareness of their real situation at every level of this process and of the socio-psychological impact of change on them.


Kertzer, David, and Nancy Karweit. 1985. Data Management for Life Course Family Research. Unpublished MS.

Masini, Eleonora Barbieri. 1986. La previsione umana e sociale [Social and Human Forecasting]. Gregorian University, Rome.

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