6.2 Women and the Basic Human Needs concept
6.3 Women's status - women's priorities
6.4 Influence of workload on women's health and nutritional status
6.5 Women's time use: Potentialities for satisfying own needs
This chapter will examine how women's work along the food chain and their command of food and cash, resulting from such work may affect their own quality of life. Considerations for women's own life situation has important implications for the formulation of development plans and projects aimed at increasing women's productivity in the food chain and their effectiveness as family food providers. In this context it is necessary to take into account the possible conflict that may arise between women's expected role in providing nutrition to their families and the opportunities for improving their own quality of life.
Unfortunately the nutrition related literature has rarely dealt with the impact of women's food related work on the nutrition and health of women themselves. There has been a tendency of regarding women only as wives and mothers and not as individuals in their own right. The increasing demand for integrating both the interests of women and nutritional considerations into agricultural development makes it imperative that more is known about how women's activities in the food chain may affect their own welfare and life situation. The present chapter is an attempt to discuss some issues that are relevant in this respect. However, due to the lack of research in the area, this discussion is mainly based on documentation that does not deal with this problem area directly.
As depicted in figure 2.2 women's activities in the food chain influence their resource situation in two ways: on one hand, food and cash is generated through their food chain activities, but on the other hand women's labour and time are spent in the process. The food and cash generated as well as the total workload implied in such food-related work will in turn influence women's quality of life.
The main focus of this chapter will be on women's workload and its effect on the nutritional status and on other aspects of women's quality of life. How food and cash generated through food chain activities may influence their nutritional status will not be discussed, simply because the literature has not dealt with this topic. The reader is also referred to the two previous chapters which have discussed women's control of food and cash in relation to their role in the food chain and the impact on family food availability and child nutrition.
As a point of departure for discussing possible impacts on women's quality of life, the concept of Basic Human Needs (BHN) will be used as defined by the ILO, World Employment Conference in 1976 (ILO 1976) in its proclamation of a strategy for development. The BHN approach to analysing women's conditions has also been suggested by the PAG-report (1977) and Palmer (1977). The latter has pointed out that the BHN approach to development must also take into account the unequal exchange relations between men and women as well as women's productive role, and not merely their reproductive function.
The BHN concept provides a universally relevant framework for analysing women's conditions, irrespective of socio-cultural differences. Two broad categories of the concept can be distinguished, the material needs (e.g. food, health, shelter, education) and the non-material needs (e.g. participation, cultural needs, self-realization). The BHN concept, particularly the non-material needs component, is often vaguely defined, and therefore difficult to operationalise. In the report to the World Employment Conference the concept is given somewhat further content by discussing it in relation to strategies for development:
A basic needs oriented policy implies participation of people in making the decisions which affect them. ... For example, education and good health will facilitate participation, and participation will in turn strengthen the claim for the material basic needs (ILO, op. cit. p. 32).A BHN strategy especially geared towards women is also discussed, mentioning among other things, the need to ease women's work burden, further their economic independence and ensure a more equitable integration into the community (ibid. p. 61).
A further operationalisation of the BHN concept will not be attempted here, but rather a discussion in broad terms about certain elements of the concept as they relate to the analysis of how women's food related work affect women's quality of life. Such elements are: women's access to health and adequate nutrition, access to resources relevant for the procurement of food, access to education relevant for women's activities in the food chain, and opportunities for self-realization and participation which apart from being fundamental rights, are judged necessary for the satisfaction of the other basic needs.
Before discussing how various authors in the literature have dealt with the relationship between women's activities in the food chain and their quality of life, it will be necessary to high-light certain aspects related to women's role as the main providers of food and other basic needs within their families.
One decisive factor determining not only family nutrition, but also women's opportunities for satisfying their own basic needs, is their status in a given society and the role they are expected to fulfil. The successful fulfillment of their role as main providers of nutrition to the family is particularly important to women in traditional societies, in that it is linked to their identity as women. In other words, women's food related household work is also a moral obligation tied to general conceptions of "male" and "female". The priorities that women make concerning allocation of their own labour, their cash spending and distribution of food between the family members may thus not only be dependent on their access to and control of resources, but also on the existing socio-cultural norms for women's role in society (Holmboe-Ottesen and Wandel, 1985).
Several authors have discussed women's "sacrificing role" in intra-household food distribution. Rizvi (1983) describes how girls in Bangladesh from puberty onwards learn to become the least demanding in the family and to give priority to the needs of the male members of the household when food is scarce. The same phenomenon was observed in Sri Lanka: The poor women took pride in being able to provide their husbands and children with satisfying and adequate meals every day, even if they had to work extra hours or reduce their own food intake (Wandel and Holmboe-Ottesen, 1984). Katona-Apte (1975) describes how women from southern India feed their husbands first, then the children (boys before the girls), and only then do they think of themselves. The best and most nourishing portions of the food are served to males. Maletnlema et al. (1974) summarizes results from food consumption surveys in 5 villages in different regions in Tanzania and states that "food is made by women for men and often the better share in quality and quantity is given to men".
Anwar and Ijaz (1984) present data from a sociological study in Pakistan, clearly showing the subordinate position of women with regard to intra-familial distribution of food.
Both husbands and wives were asked which family members needed the most healthful foods, and both husbands and wives (wives even more so) responded that husbands most needed such foods. The food needs of infants were ranked much lower, followed by the elders. Wives were almost never mentioned as being the ones needing the most healthful foods, neither by husbands nor by wives.
Schofield (1979, p. 131) summarises the results of surveys from 898 villages around the world:
Our data indicate that in the family food distributive system, priority is usually given to males rather than females.This clearly indicates that women's self-sacrificing role in food distribution is a universal feature.
There is evidence that the degree of discrimination against females may vary from one country to another. Findings from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have revealed discriminatory feeding and health practices of favouring male children right from childhood (WHO, 1980; Chen et al., 1981). In Sri Lanka such practices vis-a-vis children seem not to exist. Data on prevalence of malnutrition from a field survey from the southern district of Sri Lanka showed no difference between boys and girls (Holmboe-Ottesen, 1983).
Ware (1981) reviews weight-for-height data as a measure of nutritional status among male and female children and adults in different African villages, finding no coherent pattern of difference between the sexes. She suggests that women may enjoy a better nutritional status in places where they have a major role in productive activities. This role may result in a reluctance to accept an inadequate share of the family food supply. This notion is supported by Hamilton et al. (1984) and Katona Apte (1983) who points out that the extent to which women contribute income to the family, may determine their share of food among the family members.
Food taboos specifically directed towards women, especially pregnant and lactating women are common throughout the world. In reviewing this phenomenon Hamilton et al. note that restrictions are characteristically put on protein foods particularly needed by women in pregnancy and lactation. They conclude, however, that little is known about the nutritional importance of these taboos during other phases of the life cycle. As pointed out by Ware (1981), it is interesting to note that few traditional cultures seem to recognize the increased nutritional needs of women during pregnancy and lactation. She exclaims:
The suggestion that the best food should be given to young wives is a revolutionary one in most traditional cultures where the best is reserved for old men (p. 60).There are, however, important exceptions to this general picture of little recognition for pregnant women's nutritional needs. For example, in Sri Lanka women are pampered and given special nutritious foods both during pregnancy and lactation (Obeysekere, 1963).
A study by G. Lewis in 1975 may give an indication about how role expectations influence women's priorities as to catering for their own health. Lewis found that women in New Guinea were expected to be very ill before they gave up their work. Men, on the other hand, lied down simply when they felt unwell. This point is underlined by findings from India, Korea and Bangladesh where parents put less priority on the health of female children than on that of male children. For example, girls are taken less often to the hospital for treatment than boys (WHO, 1980).
Ware sees the "underinvestment in females" as a general feature in the Third World, pertaining not only to food and health but also to other basic needs, such as education, time and affection that female children are given. In a report to the World Conference of the UN decade for women in 1980, WHO states:
Attitudes which discriminate against girls from infancy to adolescence have negative influence on their potential contribution and participation as workers, mothers and members of society (p.i.).It can thus be concluded that women's subordinate role and status in society reduces the potential that women have for catering to their own needs through their food chain activities. In the conflict that arises between fulfilling their role as food providers for their families and catering to their own needs, the latter aspect is bound to lose out. In this way women can be said to contribute to reproducing and perpetuating their subordinate position in society. It is therefore evident from a policy point of view that apart from attempts to uplift women's material standard of living, attitudinal changes also have to take place both among women and men.
a) Women's health and nutritional status
Despite the biological advantage that women have over men in terms of longevity, this fact is not reflected fully in life expectancy and mortality statistics for women in most developing countries. Life expectancy in these parts of the world is usually lower for women than for men in age classes below 50 years (WHO, 1980; Ware, 1981; Hamilton et al., 1985). This can be explained by higher mortality rates for women in childbearing age (between 15-44 years) and a generally higher mortality rate for female children above 5 years. In India and Pakistan, the mortality rate among girls aged 0-5 years is higher than for boys in the same age group, despite the fact that infant mortality rate among boys in most countries is substantially higher than among girls. This indicates discriminatory practices towards girls already from birth.
Complications associated with child birth are among the five leading causes of death for women aged 15-44, and nutritional factors have been associated with these complications. Lack of nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, may cause deformities of the pelvic bones resulting in difficulties during child birth (WHO, 1980). Nutritional anemia is also listed as one of the major causes of death among women (Hamilton et al., 1985). It is estimated that at least half of the non-pregnant and two-thirds of the pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic (WHO, 1980). Anemia has been shown to affect the psychological and physical health. It increases the susceptibility to diseases, lowers resistance to fatigue and affects working capacity. Studies are quoted by Hamilton et al. (1985) where women's working capacity and endurance were significantly increased by the supplementation of iron.
b) Influence of workload
Studies dealing with the relationship between women's workload and health, have most often looked at how the workload influences child nutrition and health. This indicates that the nutritional and medical professions have been more interested in women's nutrition from the point of view of child bearing and lactation, rather than showing interest in the health of the women for their own good. However, many of the studies in relating women's work to child health may also give indications as to the effects of this work on women's own health. For instance, studies relating workload in pregnant women to low birth weight in their children illustrate this point. Low birth weight is not only an indicator of the child's nutritional status but also of the mother's.
It can be assumed that the workload can affect women's nutrition and health status both in a direct and indirect way. The direct effect could be nutritionally related, as when increased energy use in heavy work is not matched by a corresponding increase in food consumption, or it could be a "wear and tear" effect causing body pains, arthritis or premature deliveries. The indirect effect could be mediated through changes in women's diet or dietary patterns, which may occur during periods of heavy work.
As pointed out in the two previous chapters, several studies have shown that women have a heavy workload, and that it varies with seasons. The workload is especially high in peak agricultural seasons for women who participate in the fields. The total time women allocate to work on a yearly basis, seems to average about 8-10 hrs a day (Bério, 1984a; Tobisson, 1980; Brun et al., 1979). In peak seasons their total daily work time can amount to as much as 15 hrs (Palmer, 1981). However, time allocation studies do not give a clue as to the energy that women put into their various work tasks. Such information would be necessary to judge the "heaviness" of women's work burden. Bério (1984b) has calculated the energy expenditure for men and women based on time-allocation data from a national survey in the Ivory Coast. Her findings showed that the energy expenditure over a week's period was higher for women than for men. (A similar finding was done by Haswell (1981) in Gambia.) More interestingly, Bério's computations proved that women in the Ivory Coast spent more energy on the average, than what has been set as the standard level of heavy physical activity for women by the FAO/WHO expert groups on energy and protein requirements. This was so, despite the fact that the time-allocation data were collected in a period which was not considered to be the peak season for agricultural activities (women's total work time being 7 hrs).
Bleiberg et al. (1980) estimated the energy expenditure by season of female farmers in Burkina Faso (Upper Volta). In the dry season the women were found to have a total daily expenditure classified as moderate - very active, according to the FAO/WHO grading system, while in the rainy season their energy expenditure was classified as exceptionally active. The results indicate that women have much heavier work in traditional societies than what has been supposed.
It is reasonable to assume that such heavy work burden will affect women's health. A good example of women's hardship is described by Haswell (1981) from her field work in Gambia: When women returned from working in the fields they collapsed from overwork and lack of food.
The best documentation on the relationship between relating women's work burden and their health, concerns pregnant women. In a cross-cultural study of 202 societies, Jimenez and Newton (1979) show that the most common pattern of work during pregnancy in traditional societies was that of continuing full duties until the onset of labour. However, the authors also point out that there are some traditional societies where women are relieved from performing heavy tasks, as for example, in parts of India and Sri Lanka. The cross-cultural study also showed that in more than 1/4 of the societies women returned to full duties 1-7 days after delivery, while in 1/2 of the societies women returned to full work after 2 weeks. The traditional Asian societies seemed to be more restrictive in regard to a new mother's resumption of duties, probably because women here are not as involved in field work as in e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa.
Studies on the relationship between women's workload and weight gain in pregnancy or low birth weight in infants indicate that heavy workloads do affect women's health. Thomson et al. (1966) found that all women in a remote village in Gambia tended to loose weight during the peak of the agricultural season and to regain this weight in the period with lower activity level. In the period of low activity the average weight gain of pregnant women was 5.5 kg, while in the peak season it was only half of this. Another study from Ethiopia (Tafari et al., 1980) confirms these results, finding that women engaged in heavy labour had a weight gain in pregnancy of 3.3 kg, while less active mothers gained 5.9 kg. The difference in the mothers physical activity also appeared in the birth weight of the children being delivered at full term. The "heavy work" children weighed 3060 g, while the "less activity" children weighed 3270 g. A relationship between high workload and low birth weight has also been found in India (Rajagopalan et al., 1981).
It has been shown that low weight gain during pregnancy, low birth weight, and weight losses during seasons with heavy work is caused by a combination of high workload, low food availability and increase in infectious diseases (Hamilton et al., 1984). Schofield (1979) examined data from 25 African villages and found a significant difference between the percentage fulfillment of energy requirements in the peak season for agricultural labour and the low season in the village populations. This was related to a difference in energy intakes and not in requirements, the reason being that the estimates of energy requirements were based on the nonworking part of the population. The data indicate an overall reduction in food consumption in the high agricultural season. Haswell (1981) in her study of Gambia found the lowest food intake among the women in the preharvest period, the peak season for work, when women's energy expenditure rose fourfold compared to the season with the lowest work. Thus an energy deficit was created which caused weight losses in women.
Seasonal variations in weight have been shown for many societies (Bleiberg et al., 1980; Chowdury et al., 1981), and also for pastoral societies (Nestel, 1985; Galvin, 1985). Both men and women tend to loose weight, however women seem to loose more weight than men (Hamilton et al., 1984; Galvin, 1985). Some studies indicate that not only the energy deficit created by a combination of low food intake and high workload may be detrimental to women's health, but that high workload in itself may influence their health negatively. Bantje (1980) showed in a study from Tanzania that even when food was plentiful, but agricultural labour demanding, women had a high risk of giving birth to low weight children. The birth weight appeared to be affected by changes in labour conditions even as late as just before delivery. This indicates that high labour intensity could lead to premature deliveries. A similar phenomenon has been observed in Sierra Leone. As described in the previous chapter, Tommy (1980) found that the survival rate of infants born to women operating heavy farm tools while pregnant was lower, than for infants whose mothers had used lighter tools or worked less frequently with heavy tools. Data from Thailand show a doubling or a trebling of the incidence of miscarriages in women during the seasons for rice transplanting and harvesting (FAO, 1984c).
A heavy workload for women may also lead to a poorer diet, not only for their children and other members of their families (as discussed in previous chapter), but also for women themselves. The diet may be poor because there will be less time for preparation and cooking. As Schofield (1979) points out, the combination of low food availability and less time for food preparation during peak agricultural seasons, may result in meals that are less in quantity, less varied and less well prepared. Meal frequencies have also been reported to be reduced. Bleiberg et al. (1980) found in Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) that lunch was skipped because women were working in the fields at noon. The PAG report (1977, p. 81) quotes a study by Thompson and Rahman in Gambia where women were involved in swamp rice production to demonstrate the detrimental effect of women's work on child nutrition:
When the mothers were heavily engaged in farming, those who did not cook the morning meal might go for days and almost never see their children. At times they left early in the morning when it was dark and returned after sunset.From this account one may really wonder when women themselves had time to eat. It is reasonable to assume that this type of work pattern will not only affect child nutrition, but also have detrimental effects on women's own health.
There is a general lack of documentation that directly deals with how women's work in the food chain affects their Basic Human Needs such as access to education, social services and opportunities for participating in community life. It is, however, evident that women's time constraints limit their opportunities to participate in any activity apart from their primary tasks in household and food-related work.
The universal pattern, as evidenced by time allocation studies is that women have less time than men to spend on their personal needs (Skjønsberg, 1981; Hamilton et al., 1985; Bério, 1984a). Bério (1984b) sums up from analysing men's and women's allocation of time in the Ivory Coast:
While women work more, men are left with more time for rest, leisure and social activities, i.e. for most decision making and self-promoting activities at community level.Skjønsberg (1981), in her year-round time allocation study from Zambia, describes the implications of the discrepancies in women's and men's leisure time in this way:
Perhaps more than any other data, the amount of time spent on "leisure" throws light on the obligations and opportunities that mark the sex roles in this community. While men spent 40% of their recorded time on "leisure activities", women spent 23%. .....Several researchers report that females spend less time in education than males (Bério, 1984a; Brandtzaeg, 1982; Palmer, 1985b). This pattern holds true both for school-age children and for adults. The main reason for keeping girls out of school does not seem to be the cost of education or conservatism, but rather the family's dependence on girl's labour at home and in the fields (Bério, 1984a). Daughters are, from an early age (often from 5 years) helping in the home, looking after small children and assisting women in the field. Usually girls are assigned responsibilities much earlier, and work longer hours than the boys (Safilios-Rotschild, 1980; Bério, 1984a). Also the long working hours of the women will render little time to spend on educational activities. Palmer (1985b) suggests that the poor attendence of women in literacy classes, compared to men, is due to their time constraints.
In a typical oral society, being informed and having decision-making power are often a matter of "being present", but women often find themselves too busy to participate in probing opinions, gathering information and forming social networks.
The lack of time is generally considered to be a serious constraint to any attempt to bring women into the mainstream of development. As pointed out in many studies, technological modernization in agriculture has often had the effect of increasing women's work burden, while reducing men's workload. Development projects aimed at increasing the participation of women have therefore had limited success when they have implied further demands on women's time. The result of such efforts has been either to increase women's workload and make their working day longer, or to have little participation from women because of their already heavy time constraints (Bério, 1984a; Hamilton et al., 1984). For example, Palmer, in her Nemow case study (1985), points out that the nutritional advice offered on cooking and diet by extension workers is not always taken, partly because women lack time for implementing such advice.
Introduction of techniques and tools that can reduce the time and labour that women spend on certain tasks in the food chain, may have the potential of reducing the drudgery of women's work and give women more time to spend on other activities. However, studies show that this extra time is not commonly used for leisure or for increased participation in community affairs. Usually such time will be spent on family needs, such as cooking and child care or on production and income-generating activities. Reviewing the possible effects of a proposed food and nutrition intervention programme in Senegal, Carr (1979) put forward the hypothesis that time saved for women in water collection will be devoted to more work on their husbands' fields. As pointed out in chapter 5, studies on seasonal variations in time allocations reveal that when women do not have heavy work in the field they spend more time on cooking, food processing and income earning activities, such as beer brewing.
The main picture emerging from the literature seems to be that women, when left with extra time after fulfilling their obligations as housewives and mothers, will put high priority on activities that can generate extra income to the household. Caughman (1980) reports that women in Mali spent more time in income-generating activities, when they were relieved from part of their domestic drudgery. In a pre-project study in Ethiopia women were asked what they would do with the time saved after installment of improved water supplies. The majority of women answered that they would like to spend the extra time on income-generating activities (cottage production) as well as on housework (Kebede, 1978). Also in Sri Lanka (Wandel, field data) women were found to spend available time, in between other household chores, on weaving palm leaf thatches and straw mats for sale.
As a conclusion it can be said that women's time is to be regarded as a scarce productive resource. Devices or organizational arrangements that can reduce the time and labour that women spend on certain tasks in the food chain activities, may increase women's productive potential. This may also improve women's potential for catering to their own needs, although this opportunity is not always used. Apart from women spending less time and effort in work that can be detrimental to their health, more time can be spent on activities such as income generation, education and learning skills. As pointed out earlier, this may increase women's status and their command of food and cash as well as their bargaining power vis-a-vis their men. A potential may thus be created allowing women to cater for their own needs. More research is however needed to throw light on women's priorities in time allocation as a result of introduction of labour-saving technology.