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The Irrigated Village
Information in the life-histories from the Irrigated Village, which was corroborated by observation of the remaining pockets of subsistence agriculture, portrayed the former pattern of high female participation in family labour outside the home and in craft and agriculture-related work in the home. Agriculture was seasonal, accompanied by ritual and characterized by tasks divided on the basis of gender. Agricultural work was community-based, mostly unpaid, and carried out on a sharecropping basis on tenanted land.
Although it was recognized that the agricultural sector should diversify from rice, the country's staple food, into subsidiary crops and provide suitable employment opportunities for educated youth, agriculture had been so entrenched in the social ethos as to be quite inflexible, at least in the short term. This had been borne out in the IV, where the new and more productive techniques used on an adjacent government farm had made little impression on the villagers, although they knew about them through informal contact with the farm workers at common bathing spots in the old tank. Older women had recounted their experiences as wage labourers on the farm, but this had had no impact on either systems of cultivation or the nature of the women's work in the village until the advent of the new settlements.
The key elements in the subsequent transformation were the relocation of a whole community, the possibility of owning land and acquiring resources for cultivation, and the diversification and commercialization of production. The uprooting of traditional life-styles that this involved had more drastic effects on the women than it did on the men. However, the women displayed remarkable flexibility in taking up the new agriculture and in accommodating the accompanying changes in their way of life. Their response was encouraged by the rewards and remuneration which now accrued to individual effort. Women quite unconsciously accepted a new conceptual framework and a new approach to production where the individual, rather than the community, was becoming the key entity.
Another aspect of the response to change was demonstrated in the life-histories of the older men and women. This was a positive endorsement, sometimes only in theory but often in practice as well, of new agricultural methods and the separation of agriculture from ritual and ideology. This had helped to eliminate social sanctions and factors which may have aroused the resistance of the customary custodians of tradition in a rural village. The key factor in this was the contact the older women had had with the government farm and its technology-oriented agriculture. The research was able to discern a time dimension in this change, as knowledge stored over the years and articulated in the dialogues accompanying the life-histories was catalyzed by the new agriculture and translated into attitudes and action.
The life-histories revealed the nature of the change from the old system wherein women had worked intensively in stipulated areas, their labour unremunerated and considered part of family input. This was the situation of all except the few older women who had worked for wages on the government farm. Cultivation had been solely at the will of the community, although as it was necessarily determined by weather patterns and by ritual, there had been some flexibility. Community labour had been available to complete all activities. Tasks were differentiated by seasons, with the periods between the single-crop paddy cultivation or slash-and-burn techniques used by women to refurbish their houses and grain stores and preserve food.
In the new system, the continuous availability of water, a centrally planned agricultural schedule and the introduction of subsidiary cash crops required year-round and simultaneous labour. New technology, like tractors to cope with the increased workload, was capital-intensive and therefore not available. Both the buffalo and female labour were in great demand. The tasks expected of women expanded in several ways. About 20 per cent of them took over the entire management of agricultural work, while their husbands worked in other occupations, developed entrepreneurial roles in non-traditional crafts for a new elitist market, or began trading to meet the emerging desire of the now monetized society for consumer goods. A more egalitarian attitude to work resulted in the traditional work taboos fading and the application of new criteria based on physical ability. The threshing floor, for example, which had previously been out of bounds to women, now became part of their work arena.
These changes raised many conceptual and practical issues. The household was replacing the community as the basic unit of production, and within it the female productive role was becoming pivotal. This transformation was accompanied by other new experiences for women, too. They had to deal with the formerly virtually unknown public sphere in order to transact business. They had to learn and practice new skills and technology. While there was some awareness of the need to direct training and extension services to women in view of their new tasks, such programmes did not seem to be widely available in this area. Extension work was mainly for men. This had unfortunate consequences: pesticides and herbicides were used by women (and by some men too) without heed to the hazards of their indiscriminate use, and equipment designed for men had to be used by the women. However, some of the women took initiatives to meet these challenges. Approximately 14 per cent of the young women had joined farmer organizations, while others were learning to handle a buffalo and plough. Not to be left out of the new technology, one young girl was learning to drive the tractor.
Nor were these the only features of the new agriculture which heaped more disadvantages on women. The compatibility of agricultural work and the female role in traditional societies was related in large measure to the possibility of reconciling family functions with work. The life-histories reveal that women sometimes withdrew from work (even waged work) as often as three or four times, to accommodate marriage and the birth of children, for instance. Others entered the workforce at marriage or during gaps between the birth of their children. In this way they had some flexibility in relation to major life events.
However, the new agriculture altered these options significantly, not only by the year-round work schedules, but in other ways, too. Community help was no longer available. The cost of inputs demanded that production should be continuous. Women complained that their modern homes required more attention and protection: they could no longer leave their thatched huts unattended and go into the fields. The spread of education and the higher value attached to it meant young girls no longer contributed to agricultural work. Evidence from the life-history data suggests young females of 18 or so who were educated did not use their new skills in unpaid family work.
A composite measurement of the amount of women's work in the Irrigated Village was available through the WIS. A mean score of 1.9 indicated that they had the heaviest workload of any of the locations studied. 1 his village had also the highest proportion (32 per cent) of females whose life-span score deviated from the 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 workload pattern which was regarded as the norm. The main reasons for the high score in the Irrigated Village lay in the increased tasks that were the result of acquiring land and engaging in the new agriculture. The life-histories also revealed a high proportion of women, both married and unmarried, who were employed in remunerated work for many years.
This location also had the highest proportion (20 per cent) of women with a stress score of 4. While unrewarding subsistence agriculture contributed to this among the older women, who made up 4 per cent of this figure, the balance was younger women whose stress was not always related to agricultural work. New responsibilities in home care, keeping abreast of introduced technology, and the unaccustomed competition also contributed. The time-use study revealed a very long working day for the average woman in the village.
Although increasing female education and the consequent expectations of formal employment meant that agriculture was rejected as a means of livelihood in the country at large, this national trend was not particularly apparent in the Irrigated Village. On the contrary, some of the young educated girls responded to the new image of agriculture and expressed a desire to "obtain agriculture-related jobs," or even to "work on their parents land" and to "remain in the location." However, this was accompanied by the realization that land was now limited and seeking other work was more an imperative than an aspiration. New types of employment were therefore appearing: young women were taking up teaching or dressmaking. These were certainly stereotyped jobs for women but they were new in the IV. This pursuit of other avenues was more clearly demonstrated by a new phenomenon, the involvement of young females in voluntary community activity. They were undertaking key positions in organizations, a positive indication of female leadership and decision-making in the future.
Albeit generally beneficial, the new agriculture had some undesirable consequences. Hand in hand with unprecedentedly high incomes, there was the phenomenon of households mortgaging their land and falling into poverty. The cost of inputs was high. Heavy expenditure on the consumer goods that were timed to fill the shops at harvest seasons drained cash away. Indebted households were forced to give up their land. If there were any training programmes in money management and saving, the women were not aware of them. The hazards of ignorance and shortcomings in the extension services were clearly demonstrated, for example in practices like storing grain in malathion-sprayed bags in ill-ventilated spaces regularly used by women and children. People claimed that the new competitive spirit was eroding the community spirit which had safeguarded its weaker members. This loss was particularly felt by women, as caring for children, the sick, and the aged had been shared obligations in the former close-knit society. The new system isolated families in houses which were no longer close to one another. The burden of home and child care was exacerbated.
The Traditional Village
The new settlement was not far from the traditional village (TV), and yet another aspect of the impact of change, the "spill-over" effect, was occurring. The demonstrable results of the new agriculture were undoubtedly leading to attempts at emulation in the old village. Women were undertaking new tasks like chili harvesting and drying and cowpea cultivation. However, in doing this they lost the advantage of the proximity of home and workplace. Mothers had to take their young children along with them, setting out early in the morning and returning home late in the evening during peak harvest seasons. The children, who were often exposed to the elements, were cared for by older siblings who therefore could not attend school.
But change in the old village still lagged behind the new settlement. Women in the village did not have the land or the inputs that the settlement women had. So it was that, in the old village, faint traces of scenes recalled in the life-histories of older women in the Irrigated Village continued to survive. They still did their own grain-processing in the old village, while this had been taken over completely by commercial hullers in the new settlement. Non-remunerative production for domestic use was still important for 36 per cent of the women in the old village.
The impact of new perceptions of female activities was greatest on the lower-caste groups in the village. They proceeded to benefit both socially and economically from diversified activities and training programmes introduced by national, local, and non-government organizations. The upper castes kept aloof, reluctant to mix with the others. There was, therefore, a reversal of status between the caste groups as a result of development.
This village had a population of approximately 1,800 in about 300 households, 32 per cent of them extended and 68 per cent nuclear. A majority of households (63 per cent) fell into the lowest income category in the sample, and there was a high dependency ratio of 3.9 persons per earner. Women contributed cash income in 20 per cent of the households. Most of them (87 per cent) were sole earners, bringing in between Rs. 76 and Rs. 500 per month.
Educational opportunities had improved in recent times with better roads and transport, and almost 78 per cent of the unmarried young females had obtained secondary qualifications. Only 36 per cent of the married women in the youngest cohort had pursued education to this level, while 28 per cent of the older females had had no schooling. Thirty-five per cent of the husbands and wives had had an equal education, while 32 per cent of the wives had better levels of education but 88 per cent of the wives were unemployed, as against only 3 per cent of the husbands.
The Model Village
The Model Village Scheme's initial aim was to provide a house and land for people who were living in poverty in previously prosperous villages. This was to be the springboard for social and economic improvement through participatory development. The basis for such progress lay in employment opportunities. The former work patterns of females taken from the life-histories show that a fair proportion of married (49 per cent) and unmarried (60 per cent) women had engaged in remunerated work before, although this had been in poorly paid jobs like domestic service. Unfortunately in this case relocation had in fact resulted in a loss of work opportunities: agriculture was not possible on the small plots in the new location, and if the women could not return to their villages of origin for agricultural jobs they remained unemployed. Attempts to introduce vocational training for income-generating activities had failed, primarily because the activities chosen, like crafts and tailoring, had no market. This village had the lowest household incomes of all the locations studied. In fact, despite the new access to housing and land, the situation in the Model Village tended to replicate the deprivation that it had been established to eradicate.
Some of the women did return to their villages of origin for casual work in the fields. However, the major source of female employment was domestic service in West Asia. About 11 per cent of the unmarried women had already taken jobs there, and at the time of the survey others were ready to leave in the near future. The husbands had permanent jobs in about 10 per cent of the households. However, these did not bring in the kind of capital that West Asian jobs did. Those households that had been able to improve their homes and begin to invest in education for their children derived their income from women working in West Asia.
Another negative effect of this relocation scheme arose from the fact that only young families had been moved to the new site, and the social structure therefore lacked some of the essential elements of a rural community: there were no village elders, no one to perform religious or other rituals, no village shrines. Parents, relatives, and other members of the extended family still lived in the old villages. The settlers tried to fill this vacuum by maintaining close ties with the old village, going there to find work, gather food, borrow utensils, to seek advice in illness and times of trouble, to consult astrologers, and to worship at the accustomed shrines. Those who had no time to go felt a sense of deprivation and loneliness. The missing role of the elderly was a significant loss to these settlers.
On the other hand, the relocation of young families severed not only physical ties but also cultural and social bonds, with the result that the women had greater freedom to make their own choices for themselves and for their children, and these choices were relatively untrammelled by the cultural and social sanctions that generally prevail in a typical village community. People here were relatively free from caste consciousness and more receptive to change, as exemplified by the Muslim woman who stated emphatically that her daughter would be educated for employment and would marry "late."
The Semi-urban Locations
If the Model Village lacked some of the characteristics of the more typical rural settlement, like agriculture and the presence of extended families, semi-urban location H (SU-H) retained some of them. About half its land (100 acres) was used for paddy cultivation and its economic base was still partly agricultural. However, this was changing because of its proximity to the capital and a rapid increase in its population. Urbanization was accelerating and housing, health, education, and communication policies were affecting the area. Industrial activity was rising and the increasing pressure for residential and industrial space was competing with the old agricultural system.
At the time of the survey there were approximately 5,000 people living in 520 households there. About 90-100 acres of the land, most of it owned by the older residents, was devoted to housing. The migrants who came looking for work rented accommodation there. The sample here comprised 35 households; 44 per cent of them were extended and 66 per cent nuclear. The women were divided into three age-cohorts: 18-39 (which included 32 per cent of those who were married and 20 per cent of those who lived in extended families), 40-59 (54 per cent of the married women but only 10 per cent of those in extended households), and 60+ (14 per cent of the married women in the sample and 70 per cent of those who lived in extended households).
The average household included six people, but the dependency ratio was fairly low at 2.1 persons per earner. In roughly a third of the households about 34 per cent of the women contributed, from various sources, to cash income. Only 27 per cent of the husbands and 9 per cent of the wives were employed and household income was mainly derived from the earnings of younger family members. The educational levels of the young women, both married and unmarried, were quite high. Twenty-seven per cent had married less educated men; 18 per cent of the couples had equal education.
The employment prospects for women had brightened and their status had changed somewhat as more jobs for them became available in the FTZ. This created some resentment among young unemployed men for whom there were fewer opportunities, especially when they had to concede the role of provider to their wives.
Most households (63 per cent in SU-H and 66 per cent in SW-K) in both semi-urban locations fell in the middle of the income classifications, which embraced household income between Rs. 1,000 and 2,999 and per capita income of Rs. 101-300 per month. However, while over half (57 per cent) of the earners in SU-H fell in the highest per capita income group (over Rs. 300 a month), only 42 per cent of those in SU-K were in this category, and more (53 per cent) were in the middle group, compared to only 36 per cent of those in SU-H. Although their income was low by urban standards, the new jobs, albeit poorly paid, had eased household deprivation.
There were nearly 6,000 people in 1,100 households in SW-K. Sixty-three per cent of the 40 households in the selected sample were nuclear and 37 per cent were extended. There were 5.1 people in the average household, which was below the national average. The dependency rate was 2.1. Fifty-three per cent of the married women in the sample and 55 per cent of those who lived in extended households were in the youngest cohort. The middle cohort included 31 per cent of the married women and 18 per cent of those in the extended households, while 16 per cent of the married women and 27 per cent of those in extended families were over 60. In contrast to the other locations, where all the never-married women were clustered in the youngest groups, 17 per cent of the unmarried women were in the middle cohort here.
Again the level of education was high among the younger women, many of whom had completed the final secondary-school examinations. Some of them had gone on to acquire skills like typing and stenography. Fifty-three per cent of all the women were in formal employment and another 37 per cent earned small amounts by informal trading, in which they were sometimes assisted by their small children. Although new avenues of employment had opened for both men and women, the opportunities in the FTZ were greater for women.
The Urban Location
There were approximately 13,400 people living in 2,230 households in the densely populated urban location (UV). Only 28 households were included in the final study because in 12 of the 40 selected the main female had gone to West Asia. However, in these and the other five families in the total sample, the implications of this were discussed with the husbands or other family members. Fifty-four per cent were extended households to which half of the youngest cohort belonged, the rest of the women being equally divided between the older cohorts. Thirty-two per cent of the married women were in the youngest group, 54 per cent in the middle group and 14 per cent in the oldest cohort. Some of the extended households were actually multiple households in which related families occupied small parts of the same house but did not operate as a single economic unit. Average household size was seven, with a dependency ratio of 1.6.
Incomes were relatively good in this location, but the socio-economic heterogeneity of the community meant there were great disparities. Half the households and 68 per cent of the per capita incomes were in the highest categories, but in this urban setting the poorer groups in semi-permanent shanties were totally dependent on cash income. Their poverty was somewhat alleviated by food stamps and their conditions and spirits had recently been raised by public and non-government programmes to upgrade child health and housing in the area.
The women's educational levels ranged from none at all to postgraduate degrees. Thirty-nine per cent of the women were employed and contributed monthly incomes between Rs. 200 and Rs. 3,500 to 64 per cent of the households. Sixty-seven per cent of the female sample obtained between Rs. 50 and Rs. 6,250 from various other sources ranging from food stamps to fixed deposits and investments.
The heterogeneous nature of the households in the urban and semi-urban locations made this a complex issue. The life-histories point to the fact that remunerated urban work did not provide the flexibility found in rural jobs. As a result, 50 per cent of the women were occupied exclusively in housework, compared to only 4 per cent in the Irrigated Village. Extremes in class differences also contributed to a low M score for job acceptance. The Úlite at one end of the spectrum and those from low-income groups at the other both subscribed to a non-working role for females, though for different reasons. The Úlite found role fulfilment in marriage and housekeeping; the low-income women rejected the only jobs available, which were in domestic service, as demeaning. With regard to work intensity, a significant finding was that in contrast to the rural locations, the score here was higher for the more educated than for the less educated women. This points again to the lack of acceptable employment for the lower socioeconomic groups.
However, there had been great changes. Employment options had widened for females of all social classes, for those without schooling and for those with secondary or higher education. Twenty-eight per cent of the women who had been unemployed because they rejected low-status jobs responded positively to work in West Asia, and many unmarried women (20 per cent in one location and 58 per cent in another) had taken up work in the FTZ. The lesser-educated had also ventured out into new areas in informal retail trading, food processing, and the preparation and sale of snacks and lunch packets to meet a new demand from employees for whom home-cooking had become a burden. While the more educated still kept mainly to traditional fields like nursing and teaching, some women were now taking new occupations. These included jobs as clerks, managers of co-operatives, postmistresses, tailors, and, for those with higher qualifications, librarians and research workers.
THE FREE TRADE ZONE (FTZ)
One of the government's key considerations in the establishment of the FTZ had been the expansion of employment and training opportunities for educated young people. Most of the enterprises were garment factories which sought female labour, particularly those with good secondary qualifications, and they employed large numbers of young women, the majority of whom came from the vicinity. Proximity to the zone was an important factor, as the wages were not sufficient to cover travel or lodgings and many of the households in both semi-urban locations included females who worked in the zone. FTZ employment was sex-stereotyped, the schedules were more rigorous and more regimented than in workplaces outside the zone, and the jobs were described as "low paid" and "tedious," though they carried a certain status. There was some attraction in working for foreign companies and dealing with new technology and equipment and the employees "could tell the world they worked in the FTZ, " as one of them put it.
There were other disadvantages, too. There was no mobility of employment, since training was limited to the FTZ industries. Work on the night shift affected eyesight. Indeed, the late night shift was viewed by many as unsuitable for young girls and there were allegations of misconduct among those who returned home late at night. Many of the women had to have an older household member to chaperone them to and from the bus stop. However, some married women preferred this shift because it enabled them to complete their housework and leave their children with their husband or other family members.
Nor did the jobs provide long-term benefits, because the pay was low and only covered basic needs. In one SU, however, it had given a new value to some females as sole providers in homes where the men could not find work. Unfortunately, there was no evidence of any extensive role changes whereby the men took over household chores or child care. The unemployed husband was often found to be "looking for jobs" outside the home (using his wife's money for expenses) and the dual responsibility of remunerated and domestic work fell heavily on the female.
The temporary and insecure nature of these jobs caused anxiety, particularly among the married women who had become the sole earners in their households. The unmarried females were more inclined to view them as opportunities to earn some money before marriage. The FTZ had certainly provided new opportunities for the young women. In spite of the drawbacks, they saw this work as a means to a better future, perhaps through a better job, a better marriage, or even the possibility of postponing marriage and keeping their independence. Others recognized that the FTZ was just another source of ill-rewarded, strenuous jobs for females, but for those who had no choice, the work was valued for what small income it brought them. In the broader community, the increased employment opportunities for young women appeared to cause some resentment among young educated males, whose prospects had not improved.
WEST ASIAN MIGRATION
The demand for housemaids to work on two- to four-year contracts in West Asian countries provided an opportunity for large numbers of unskilled females with little education to earn money. It is estimated that around 75,000 to 100,000 of them from both rural and urban households had been so employed over the previous decade. The jobs were domestic and so compatible with gender stereotypes about work. However, as they uprooted a female from a known and protected sphere and involved travel, financial dealings, and other unaccustomed practices and ways of living, the earlier migrants had been more adventurous spirits who had already opted out of traditional roles and been exposed to non-conventional life-styles as sales girls or hotel workers. Migration was not considered "respectable" then and the girls had to contend with social ostracism. The idea caught on, however, as there was no role conflict or need for special skills, and this avenue of employment began to attract females from very conventional backgrounds who had no opportunity or desire to participate in the labour force at home. Although they rejected the same work in Sri Lankan homes as demeaning, they were attracted by the prospect of earning a considerable sum of money in a short period, after which they could revert to their customary roles. This primary economic motivation was reinforced by the demonstrable material gains of relatives and friends who had benefited in this way.
Community attitudes to these jobs were confused. On the one hand there was a suggestion of social inferiority, while on the other the ensuing benefits of travel abroad, familiarity with modern equipment, the improvement of their homes, and other material advantages lent status and acceptance to the West Asian returnees and their families. The families which were studied came from the urban and two semi-urban locations. One of the rural locations, the Model Village, had also benefited from the females who took jobs in West Asia. In the other locations, only a minority were willing to brave the social sanctions. "When we bring back money, society will accept us," said one of them.
With aspirations rising with their levels of education, the kind of work girls took up was becoming more important. However, those with less education were realistic about their potential for employment. Their contention was that the type of job they could get locally would be of very low status anyway, and would expose them to similar risks as in West Asia, but with less financial reward. Some families found a way out of the dilemma by sending mothers or older sisters; others were careful to select the family member "who would know how to behave and not disgrace the family." Although no one in the sample had had any adverse personal experiences, they had all seen and heard of them. However, they seemed to believe that "good behaviour" could assure protection.
Increasingly, the would-be migrants were seeking jobs through friends who were "selecting good homes there," or even lending them the passage fare. Otherwise they raised the money by selling assets or borrowing from those who lent money specifically for this purpose. However, the majority paid sums ranging from a minimum of US$100-200 to private agencies, as they were disinclined to trust government bureaux. Although some attempts were being made to train women for work they would be expected to do, those in the sample were totally unprepared and depended solely on the kindness of the lady of the house to train them.
All the money the women earned was sent back by bank draft or brought home on their return. Those who had worked for two years - many had worked longer - brought back at least Rs. 20,000 (US$700). Priorities in expenditure seemed to be fairly uniform. After settling outstanding debts, the primary goal was to buy or build a house, and almost every returnee managed to do this, even if it was only a semi-permanent structure. Children's education was the other most important area of investment. Those who had earned enough brought a package of benefits, including television and radio sets and other electrical equipment. While the modern kitchen equipment was sometimes more for conspicuous display than actual use, there were many instances in which it not only lightened women's workload but encouraged some male participation in domestic chores. The insistent demands of husbands, children, and other family members for consumer goods and luxury foods put great pressure on a woman whose "nature is to pamper her family." With exposure to the media and better education, aspirations and expenses for children rose.
Most of the women arranged for family members to care for their children and house; others put their children in hostels and convents. Parents and c lose family members sometimes offered support out of concern and a desire to help, but the returnee often shared her earnings in cash or gifts with a fairly wide circle of relatives and neighbours who had assisted in the expectation of monetary reward. Some of these arrangements worked better than others; there were examples of neglect and misspending and of transactions which led to ill-will or even caused the break-up of relationships.
Despite the tremendous boost West Asian job opportunities gave to a new class of participants in the labour force, it has remained a controversial area both nationally and globally. It was not always considered a boon and it was not always beneficial. Children's exposure to new media, labour-saving equipment for the household, release from the stresses of tenancy, and, for some, a better marriage were among the benefits described. On the negative side, there was often fear and anxiety about a female venturing out in this unaccustomed way. The migrant and her family were frequently under great strain, which they had to endure as part of the only way out of poverty open to most of them. However, family fears usually abated considerably after the woman's first home leave and the distribution of the fruits of her labour. Some of the women felt they had been covertly pressured into taking these jobs, considering this as yet another burden thrust on them as part of their caring role. While there was no doubt that most of the families benefited from a higher quality of life, for some, albeit a minority, the advantages were short-lived and they paid a high price for them in broken homes and neglected children.
The management of the money earned depended very much on the cooperation and temperament of the husband or, in other instances, on the status of the wife vis-a-vis the husband and the children in the family. Some families had been reduced to poverty as a result of mismanagement or extravagance, usually by the husband. Only a very small proportion of the money earned was invested in banks or business enterprises. Lack of financial experience was a factor in much wasteful expenditure, for the women who had had an income prior to their departure spent frugally and saved for the future.
In fact, all the families had invested in goods and a standard of living that required a regular high income, which in most cases they failed to ensure. It was suggested that this situation might have been prevented had the government-which after all benefited by their foreign exchange earnings- recognized the problems that would confront the women when it encouraged their pursuit of jobs in West Asia. A supportive package of training, financial counselling, and advice on investing their money for regular returns could, it was felt, have ensured stability and long-term benefits for the families that availed themselves of these new opportunities. As a matter of fact, some such measures had recently been implemented through the Department of Labour, but the women in the sample knew nothing about them.
The impact of foreign employment on the women themselves was rather more superficial than might have been expected. There was no perception of a role change. Rather, some of them considered it yet another service they were compelled to perform for their families" welfare, an attitude reinforced by the fact that the initial agency fee was less for a female migrant than it was for a male. Some of the women did not even refer to their work in West Asia as "a job." Nor did the experience lead to further employment when they came back, because the wages for similar domestic jobs at home were not sufficient to attract them. So many reverted to the same situation they had left. While working in West Asia was a way out of poverty for some, for many it was only a palliative, the benefits of which wore off with the euphoria.
Changing and Unchanging Roles and Perceptions
In one respect the image of women was changing somewhat. Children were beginning to perceive the mother as the one who encouraged them to study and whose earnings enabled them to do so. Another dimension was being added to her role: that of providing the extra means to educate children, and the responsibility to see that they took full advantage of this. In so doing, of course, the modern mother sacrificed the substantial domestic help which she would otherwise have had from her older girls. In spite of this, the perceptions children and unmarried girls had of parents had not changed much: the father was still seen by most as the provider and seat of authority, and the mother's new function to make education possible was merely taken to be an extension of her traditional role.
Women as the torch-bearers of tradition was another concept still strongly entrenched in the domestic sphere. This was evident from the high rate of adherence to customs, beliefs, and rituals. In all locations and all age-groups, the responses indicated a society where traditional customs were accepted. Although there was a significant minority who dropped observances because ideas had changed or they did not believe in them, a fair proportion of the unmarried educated females said they would continue such observances because they believed them to be beneficial. Another reason given was "respect for tradition," irrespective of personal belief. Neither a withering away of tradition nor a generalized homage to modernity appeared to be on their current agenda. A point of interest lay in the way the transmission of change was sometimes reversed from the young to the old. The older women were as strong in their endorsement of different values that they perceived as beneficial as they were vehement in their denunciation of them when they were not.
Most of the women in the study held that marriage was central to household formation. However, an important change was the universal acceptance of later marriage - over 25 - which was supported even by those who had themselves been married when they were under 16. Marriage was very definitely being postponed to 28 or even 30. It was recognized that preparation for marriage now included gaining independent means, or at least paving the way for such means through education.
These findings have important demographic and social implications. Later marriage was enabling women to develop an individual identity in the household and in society. The search for financial independence was combined with economic necessity and the need to relieve extra burdens on parents, who now had perforce to extend their nurturing role. Some of those who had no jobs became involved in voluntary community tasks. But, like employment, this was seen as a mere stop-gap. Marriage was perceived to have more than a biological purpose; it was a vehicle of progress up the class ladder, and as such it entailed inevitable pressures on both males and females for ever greater achievement.
The concept of marriage as a means of economic security for a woman was implied in the statement of a fair minority (from 13 to 33 per cent) of the girls in both the rural and urban locations that marriage was not absolutely necessary for a female. A woman could dispense with it if she could earn her own livelihood independently: the search for new options was challenging even basic value systems. However, this did not apply among urban elite families, whose parents desired an early marriage for fear their daughters would make undesirable alliances if left to themselves too long. Delayed marriages prolonged dependency on parents and entailed new family interactions. Older females saw this extended space between puberty and marriage as fraught with danger for young girls, though some considered that the new ideas and ways of this transient phase would eventually be cancelled by the sobering effects of marriage.
The selection of a marriage partner appeared to hinge more on the consent of the woman rather than on the choice of parents, although parents still wanted the acceptable combination of nationality, caste, and religion. However, the situation was changing considerably and a good education and a job could override other considerations. In fact, parents were willing to leave the selection of a husband to their daughters, if they were educated and mature, provided their choice satisfied basic economic and social aspirations. However, this was not altogether welcomed by the girls, some of whom indicated that they found the task overwhelming.
Contrary to the general impression that considerations of caste and the dowry system were outmoded, a significant number, including young unmarried women, thought they were important. In some places where caste and dowries had not been part of the tradition, young girls were said to be emulating "elitist thinking" and supporting them. While some parents, and a few young women, did reject the concept of dowry vehemently, a considerable proportion of both parents and educated young women endorsed the dowry system as enhancing status in an otherwise unequal contract. It was now even thought to be more attainable, since education and employment were perceived as feasible substitutes for cash and property. Thus, symbolically, the custom had been transformed from one denoting female subservience to a token of a new level of independence for women.
A perceived increase in marital instability in the urban areas was partly attributed to female employment opportunities and partly to contact with the public sphere, which made female work more "visible" and had adverse effects on husbands' egos already dented by their wives' assistance in providing for their families. Female employment or other activities outside the home, exclusion from decision-making, and other points of contention which challenged the customary dominance of the husband were frequent sources of marital conflict. Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic cultures provide a firm base for this male-dominated ethos, and in spite of all the changes and the rejection of many traditional structures, a large majority of the men and women in all locations upheld the superiority of the man in the home. However, analysis of the data on current marital status suggested that marital distress had taken the form of more expressed dissatisfaction within the marriage, rather than an actual increase in separation or divorce. West Asian migration had sometimes led to infidelity on the part of the husband or the wife and the break-up of some marriages. Social sanctions still operated against infidelity, out-of-caste marriage, and other deviations from norms, but not in the stringent forms they once did.
Two factors appeared to have contributed to the relatively higher incidence of marital break-up observed in the earlier years of the life-histories of the older women. One was that they often entered into customary marriages with no legal backing and the other was the refuge readily available for a daughter and her children in her parents' home. This was evident in the frequency with which some females moved in and out of a marriage in the older life-histories. The poverty of a parents' home did not appear to detract from its ability to shelter a separated daughter.
The idea of a small family was universally accepted, without any relationship to education, age, location, or social class. Small families were most common in the Irrigated Village, where natural spacing methods and sterilization at very early ages were used. A new motivation for family planning was apparent, as a number of women in the urban locations had adopted contraceptive practices in the hope of proceeding to jobs in West Asia. Although there was widespread knowledge of contraception, the most popular method in all locations appeared to be sterilization, especially among the would-be migrants, who were also more likely to use modern techniques. The more cautious kept to traditional practices. Fears about modern methods were still very high and lack of access to supplies frequently surfaced as a reason for not using them. The overriding rationale for the acceptance of the small family was the desire to educate children for employment and thereby progress up the social ladder. The economic liability of educating a large family had made even the older women change their minds about the desirable number of children. Another important factor was the impact of education, which acted as a catalyst in the community. The government Rs. 500 incentive was encouraging some men to have vasectomies or to permit their wives to be sterilized.
The complete endorsement of small - two children - families, but the wide divergence in its achievement, raises many questions. The reasons for this discrepancy have not been fully understood. The predominant acceptance of natural methods of contraception and sterilization suggests a lack of confidence in the modern family-spacing methods available caused by very real fears of side-effects.
At another level, the small family is more likely to be viewed as a viable proposition in countries that are able to provide institutional assistance for responsibilities in those areas of care which, in poorer countries, are borne solely by family, kin, and community. A recurring concern was the inability of small families to bear the burden of care for its aged and ageing members. The advantage of a small family was perceived as its ability to ensure better employment through education. This was not always possible, which led to families with neither the numbers nor the economic strength they needed for viability and support.
Obligatory responsibilities for the aged were clearly accepted. However, the practical circumstances of women in employment and changed life-styles and living conditions have made it sometimes more an inevitable duty than a welcomed pleasure. Both young and old people commented on the practical difficulties of upkeep and support when there were fewer younger family members, and they faced competing demands on their time and resources. The rising aspirations and expectations of children confronted young parents with the dilemma of prioritizing their family responsibilities and led to conflicting loyalties that created traumas, especially for the women.
There were some aspects of a women's role which did not appear to have moved at the same pace as, for instance, women's employment. This was the case with women in the home. However, relationships had progressed to the point where, although a majority of younger females accorded a special place to the husband, they did not see the wife as inferior. This concept left room for discussion on family matters, though it was usually between unequal partners.
There was considerable confusion about another important aspect of authority in the home: the ultimate conclusion was that while there was some discussion of expenditure, in most cases husbands confessed to having greater independence in spending even joint incomes. Their responses ranged from "my wife is provided with everything she wants - what does she want money for? I control the money" to "I consult my wife before I incur any major expenses." "She generally agrees with what I say" was all too frequently heard. The more educated wives stated that their husbands left them free to spend on essential household equipment, but they always consulted them beforehand. In fact, more often than not, "authority" was confined to the wife managing to supply food and clothing on a shoestring budget, while the husband often had money that he could spend as he desired. This has many implications for children and households where facilities are deemed to flow from a mother's control over expenditure.
Another crucial area was the division of labour in the home. Male support in times of crisis was as far as both men and women would go in sharing housework and child care. The idea of child care and housework as women's jobs was clearly endorsed by both sexes. Furthermore, its perpetuation was well ensured, as fair proportions of all the women subscribed to the socialization of boys and girls in their traditional roles. Rural women in the agricultural sector had the heaviest workload, averaging 16 1/2 to 17 1/2, hours a day. Tasks were varied and multiple, indoor and outdoor. They included food cultivation, gathering, processing and preparation, and caring for children and the old. The men worked more outdoors, but had a shorter day of 8 to 10 hours, as they did not participate in domestic and caring activities.
The urban upper-class females had a long day too, averaging 10 to 12 hours. The character of their work differed in that their household tasks were more concerned with supervision and management and the maintenance of the social image of the elite. There was less interaction with neighbours than among the rural or the lower-income urban women. The latter were found to have two to three hours free time each day, because they had only a simple shelter to care for and very basic cooking and domestic duties. They spent six hours or so a day on casual work or informal trading. Community living was more the norm here, and the children, very few of whom went to school, played together in groups throughout the day.
The weight of the dual role of married women was seen in their higher work-intensity scores, which also showed that the less educated participated in more burdensome economic activity. In the Irrigated Village the workload increased on the receipt of new land. In the urban locations, the young unmarried females had a higher score, since they participated in economic activity more than those in rural locations, where jobs to suit their aspirations were scarce. In the semi-urban and urban locations, West Asian employment contributed to the scores of those who otherwise would have been engaged only in housework. The stress score was lower in locations where new opportunities were utilized to obtain income. It was high in the rural locations where peasant agriculture predominated.
The study sought to establish how women, husbands, and children felt about a wage-earning role for women and how their attitudes related to actual practice. The acceptance of the possibility of both employment and domestic work for women was one of the greatest positive changes observed in all locations.
There appeared to be widespread recognition of the need for equal employment opportunities for both men and women, and of the role of women as co-providers. In practice, however, neither of these appeared to have helped the employed woman to increase her independence or extend her authority in the home. Older women deplored the neglect of home and children which they felt female employment, however otherwise acceptable, could cause, and sometimes blamed it for delinquency and disruption in the family. Others said their labour-force participation was just another aspect of women's responsibility to contribute to family welfare. Young unmarried females assumed that employed women would have more control, independence, and authority in marriage.
There was some evidence that the trend towards nuclear family structures seemed to have especially enhanced the status of the mother and wife vis-a-vis the husband. However, this gain may have been counterbalanced for many young employed mothers by the loss of the support and strength, and the child care and advice, provided by the presence of an older relative. All the locations except the Model Village included a mixture of extended and nuclear households. There was no evidence of a generation gap militating against older people living with younger family members. While traditional obligations or inheritance patterns often led to the formation of extended families, convenience was becoming more of a decisive factor in the conscious formation of extended households. There was a new phenomenon of extended family members coming in to look after a family when the mother was employed locally or in West Asia, or to overcome crises in child care. There was, however, a preference for nuclear families on the part of young people who valued their independence. While some older women welcomed the opportunity to help their younger women to achieve status through employment by taking over some of the family responsibilities, others deplored their plight in having to manage young children and being "used" in their old age. Rural households were still open to all kin members and the practice of married daughters returning to the parents' home in times of illness or family crisis was continuing. It was not so in urban locations, where houses were congested.
Previously, women in particular had achieved some recognition as aged mothers and grandmothers whose advice was sought by the young. Now, their wisdom was superseded by modern education. A sense of uselessness therefore prevailed among the older women, whose roles had become attenuated and devalued. On the other hand, the expected widening of the generation gap had not created severe dichotomies. In fact, it was bridged by the elders, who endorsed some of the changes in the lives of young women, and by the young themselves, who continued to respect tradition. This was the meeting point which to some extent reduced the potential for contradictions and conflict between the generations.
An important instance of role change was seen in the extensive female participation in community, public, and voluntary organizations. This was particularly evident in the rural locations, where young educated unmarried women were becoming leaders in youth development groups. In the absence of suitable jobs, they were launching themselves into the public sphere in this way and gaining valuable experience and training in scientific agriculture and income-generating activities. This was signalling a clear extension of authority into a sphere where the dearth of women has often been lamented.
There was no correlation between education and economic activity. Nor did high economic activity signify high income. There was great diversity between the attitudes and practices of married and unmarried females within each location and between locations. Work aspirations were persistently high among all the unmarried females with similar levels of education in all the locations. The responses of the married females of different age-groups and educational levels were conditioned by their particular image of work. This was mainly determined by where they lived.
The responses from the Irrigated Village flowed not merely from an appreciation of agricultural work for women but also from current opportunities in new agriculture, while women in the other rural areas aspired to jobs outside agriculture because traditional agriculture had a low status there. A high proportion of the women in the village were working, and while the educated unmarried girls aspired to well-paid, status-oriented jobs, they expressed strong preference for working in agriculture, which was now seen there as being both lucrative and rewarding. In fact, the highest level of female participation in remunerated activity was found in the Irrigated Village. The catalyst here was the break with the mono-crop culture and the introduction of the new agriculture which not only diversified opportunity for wage-earning but extended it from seasonal to annual work. In the two semi-urban locations, employment for women was mainly in the Middle East, the Free Trade Zones, or low-paid local jobs, so some of the older females did not see employment as good for women. The severe deprivation of females in the Model Village and their familiarity with agricultural work resulted in favourable responses to work. In the urban areas, the elite groups favoured a housewife's role for women while the low-income groups in the shanties rejected the jobs available to them in domestic service as demeaning. Some women recognized new work opportunities in informal trading or, for the educated, in the professions, and had more positive responses towards women's employment.
A majority of the parents and young unmarried women showed a tendency towards job stereotyping, although a few recognized the feasibility of a female fitting into the hitherto male preserves like the armed forces, engineering, and technical and mechanical work. This trend was apparent in the Irrigated Village, where the new agriculture had broken down traditional gender differentiation in work.
Young females and their parents favoured jobs which could be continued throughout their working life. The option of withdrawing from the workforce to cope with domestic events or to satisfy cultural norms was no longer open to them. However, many females in all locations, especially agricultural workers and casual workers in the urban areas, had dropped out. A high proportion did so after marriage because the "husband disliked it" or "to look after young daughters." The withdrawal rate was lowest in the Irrigated Village. After the distribution of new land, when female participation in remunerative work was enhanced, in the Irrigated Village it was possible for many women to work in the spaces between the births of their children. It was interesting to note that older mothers and fathers were changing their attitudes towards female employment, not for themselves, but for their daughters.
Women, parents, and husbands rejected marginalized areas of work, unless as a last resort to relieve poverty. Jobs as domestic servants or casual agricultural workers and as housemaids in West Asia were not acceptable to the educated young females in the semi-urban locations. In all locations it was found that status was a more important factor in women's employment than in men's. However, while some men and women would not settle for mere economic gain through low-status employment, there were others, like those who chose West Asian work, for instance, who dispensed with status and opted instead for a way out of their present poverty, postponing their progress up the class structure by investing in their children's education, which was recognized as the key to good jobs and upward social mobility.
The life-histories thus indicated that responses to key issues at any given point in time were, by and large, shaped by personal experiences and socialization. Nevertheless, the data also pointed to other crucial responses less consonant with these influences and more directly stimulated by development programmes or policy interventions. The mean M scores shown in table 1 are a means of comparing the response to change in five of the locations:
These scores encapsulate both types of responses. Some features of relevance to policy are worth noting. High M scores showed a significant correlation between education and non-traditional attitudes. Unmarried women had generally higher M scores than married women. There was an overall low M score on customs, indicating the tenacity with which married, and to a lesser degree, unmarried young women upheld tradition.
Table 1. Responses indicating modern attitudes (total M score = 100)
|Semi-urban area (H)
|Semi-urban area (K)
Both married and unmarried women in the Irrigated Village, where the married women had had little formal education, scored high on attitudes to work and participation in labour, and low on education. They also scored high on marriage and fertility issues. These responses were only partly due to evolutionary processes and were much more likely to be a response to the stimulus of the new agriculture and its deviation from tradition. In the urban locations high scores on work may be more validly attributed to FTZ and West Asian employment than to general job opportunities for educated females. Scores on marriage and fertility issues followed the same pattern: West Asian jobs often provided the incentive for men and women to use family-planning methods.
Another characteristic of the response to change was the diversity of experience in five of the locations, as expressed in table 2.
The Irrigated Village had the highest proportion of young females and also the highest proportion in economic activity, but levels of education and household income were poor. However, there was a low dependency ratio, as more people in a household engaged in economic activity. In the urban location, levels of work and education were not high, but it had the highest household incomes as new avenues of employment provided money to those with low skills. The Model Village showed the greatest deprivation, as the relatively young population there had low levels of education, economic activity, and income.
Table 2. The locations in ranked order of variables
|Semi-urban area (H)
|Semi-urban area (K)
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