3.1 Selection of documentation
3.2 Present trends in research
3.3 Research needs
This report is based on documentation on women's food related work and the nutritional consequences selected from around 300 research and policy-relevant reports, articles and monographs. The selection was made according to the main problem areas as described in chapter 2. In the selection process, efforts were made to include as much as possible of the literature which attempted to link women's food chain activities with nutritional conditions of the household and its members.
In connection with the report an annotated bibliography was prepared. Most of the documentation used in the literature analysis of this report is included in the bibliography. The composition of the bibliography therefore reflects the basis for the literature analysis.
Out of the 111 documents included in the bibliography, 58 pertained to the African situation, whereas 18 concerned the situation in Asia. This reflects the special interest in women's role as food producers in Africa. In addition 39 references concerned issues on a more global level, relevant both in the African and Asian context. Around half of the documents were based on field studies in Africa (40) or Asia (14). The other half represented review articles or theoretical contributions. A number of the documents included discussions or recommendations of relevance for development planning. Most of these have addressed issues of global concern, but some were specifically addressed to the local situation.
In this section we will attempt to summarise, on the basis of the work with this report, the main trends in the research on women's role in food-related work and nutrition, and point to areas where the research done is inadequate as information is lacking.
i) Few studies have tried to link women's activities in the food chain with nutritional consequences (the bibliography included only 31 such studies). Where the link between women's food chain activities and nutrition has been studied, the tendency has been to concentrate on the negative aspects: lack of care of children especially in number of feeds per day, infant mortality, and malnutrition of under-fives. Although this aspect is important to highlight, there is a need to balance the very negative aspect with some positive strategies that are currently being used by households that do not suffer from malnutrition. In order to do this, one has to go beyond generalizations and look for the characteristics and processes of diversity.
ii) The main emphasis has been on women's productive activities, and most of the literature has therefore concentrated on the organization of work in this sector. This fact was reflected in the bibliography, which contained 88 studies of this type. Not enough studies are available on women's work in the other parts of the food chain such as postharvest activities, loss at storage level and technologies to deal with them, problems encountered with distribution of the labour product, norms about consumption, etc. The emphasis on field production resulted in a tendency to ignore the other activities around the household commonly known as domestic activities. In fact, the cleavage between productive and domestic activities does not reflect the organization of work in rural households where "productive" and "domestic activities" are intertwined.
iii) Most research uses a very sectoral approach e.g. studies on: labour/time budgets, technology in production, nutrition/health status of the families. There is little work on a systematic analysis of the relationships between the various facets of rural livelihood patterns - the extent and scope of these facets, how the households prioritorize them, the differences between socio-economic strata, etc. Combinations and interrelationships are the basis of women's coping strategies and need to be more fully understood.
iv) Research on women's productive activities have centred around specific crops such as rice, wheat, maize or cash crops. Other crops like tubers, vegetables and fruits have been neglected. Even "women studies" have referred to vegetable production as "gardening" - a term that connotes a minor activity. Little attention has been given to the role that the production of vegetables plays in the economy and nutrition of the rural households and how this affects women's workload during "off-peak" seasons.
v) By concentrating only on field activities, the year round labour burden of women can easily be ignored as well as the implications of this work for household economy and the welfare of women. Introduction of crops or skills to reduce off-season "underemployment" can thus seriously affect important alternative sources of income which might be more lucrative than new crops, or new employment opportunities such as road construction. Time/energy budgets on a year round basis which consider all of women's productive and domestic activities are very rare.
vi) Studies on access of extension services to women have generally avoided the question of the content of such extension. Whereas formal access is important, equally, or more important, is the full range of what should be addressed. Agricultural extension to women should reflect the range of crops and livestock responsibilities that women are involved in. The current overview has also found little evidence of more experimental forms of agricultural extension both in content and methodologies that are better suited to women's needs.
vii) In nutrition/health there has been a tendency to look at women as providers of children's food and health needs. Little focus has been put on women's own needs or the perception of their own needs, how these are met or not met and the conflict and congruence between such needs and the needs of other members of the household.
viii) In nutrition-relevant literature on development, there seems to be a reluctance to discuss women as individuals with basic human rights. Such studies as those dealing with participation and decision making have usually considered these aspects in connection with economic activities. Aspects such as leisure, social support groups, women's aspirations are not discussed in the context of women's productive and domestic activities. On the whole one gets the impression that women are just productive and reproductive machines - not individual members of society with rights and needs that are distinct from those of the household, the infants or the nation.
ix) Many of the studies that have addressed the contribution of women in the food chain have been very descriptive. They have not linked the situational analysis with historical and current processes of change, particularly at cultural levels. In many cases there is a resultant lack of a conceptual framework for the analysis and no attempt to discuss the implications of the findings for resolving current problems in the food chain.
x) Finally, research on women's food and nutrition-related activities has had a positive effect on highlighting the significant role of women in providing the household food, nutrition and other needs. It has also had the effect of highlighting gender specific constraints that affect this role. However, the tendency has been to see this contribution as distinct from that of other members of the household. While this trend was justified in the initial stages in order to highlight the role of women and make them "visible", a more balanced approach is necessary, particularly as some studies show that the contribution of male inputs in the form of labour, cash and technology are important to enable women to achieve the full benefits from their activities in the food chain.
In reviewing the literature, a number of areas stand out where the documentation is insufficient or practically nonexistent. This section will summarize the identified needs for further research.
i) Studies of how women's work in the different parts of the food chain affect food consumption and nutritional status of women and children.Whenever possible, an interdisciplinary research approach is recommended. This makes a holistic view possible, which takes into account the entire life and working situation of women.
The need for such studies is particularly evident in regard to the latter part of the food chain, such as postharvest handling, preservation, storage and preparation. There is also a need to relate data from such studies to socio-economic levels and livelihood systems.
Studies of this type are particularly urgent in pastoral and fishing communities, on which there is practically no such documentation.
ii) Studies of work and identity with regard to both women and men.
The following are relevant research questions to this end:What can women/men do and what can they not do? This question is relevant with regard to activities as well as the use of technology.iii) Studies of appropriate technologies for women.
Under what circumstances will women/men overcome social norms which prevent them from participation in certain activities or in using certain technology?
This kind of research could help in revealing the conditions required for changes in the gender-related division of labour and technology.
This research is suggested to revolve around two themes:Labour saving technology.iv) Studies of women's coping strategies, i.e. how women economize with time/energy, when they have much work to be done.
Technology that can bring about an increase in the quantity and quality of household food availability through improvement and increase of the flow at the different sequences in the food chain.
Such studies would involve investigation into how women combine different tasks in order to save time/energy. The following are examples of such combinations:In some communities women collect and carry firewood on the way back from the field (Mascarenhas, field data from Tanzania 1983).v) Studies of the potentialities for diversifying and combining cultivation.
It has been observed that women may do the washing of clothes and bathing of children on the same trip as they are fetching drinking water (Carr, 1979).
Information on women's coping strategies and their constraints and potentialities is important as a basis for development efforts.
It is suggested that such studies should involve investigation into the possibilities for combining minor crops such as vegetables, fruits, less commonly used grains, and root crops with major crops which are mostly grains, in a way that would increase food supply, decrease seasonal variations in food supply and ease the workload of women. Intercropping of complementary crops is one such method, so is agroforestry. Investigations into combinations of cash crops and subsistence crops that would benefit women is therefore suggested. Such combinations could contribute to an increase in food production by making it possible for women to obtain much needed cash for inputs to food production.
vi) Studies of the factors influencing women's priorities with regard to choice of work and distribution of food within the household.
Frequently women's responsibilities and work obligations are so many that it would be impossible to spend the optimal amount of time on each of them. Women set their priorities with regard to work in food production as well as in food distribution within limits set by cultural norms and the households socio-economic status. In times of food shortage, women have to cut down on food consumption and decide which members of the household should receive priority in the distribution of food.
Documentation on the factors influencing women's priorities within both of these areas is insufficient, although very important as a basis for development work aimed at betterment of the food and nutrition situation.
vii) Studies of inter-family and inter-community social support systems of distribution of food.
In rural communities throughout the developing world, informal local exchange systems are prevalent. These systems are often important for food security of the household or rural community. As an example, such systems may be instrumental in exchange of foods between communities with different ecological and food crop characteristics.
Studies of this topic should revolve around how such systems may function without exploitation of one of the exchange partners and focus particularly on the role of women in such systems.
viii) Studies of successful women's cooperatives.
A number of women's cooperatives have been described in the literature. These have been more or less successful with regard to the benefits women have reaped. The most frequently mentioned successful women's cooperatives are the Harambé movement in Kenya and women's savings clubs in other countries in Africa.
Information on the characteristics of such cooperatives, with special focus on the factors important for their success, would be useful in future work involving women's cooperatives.
ix) Participatory action research for women.
Action research projects where village women participate in changing their life situation are mentioned as being among the most successful development efforts for women. In this type of effort, the two components research and action are organically linked; analysis of and reflection on prevailing problems lead to action.
Such efforts may, in addition to identifying needs for development activities, also generate useful information about the constraints and possibilities for changing women's lives and working conditions.
Although participatory action research is presented here as a separate point, it is clear that many of the other types of studies will also benefit from participation of village women.