Women's Participation, Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Farming Systems Research (FSR) views the farm as one system and focuses on the interaction of components therein while considering physical, biological and socioeconomic variables. The women's studies component of FSR has remained mainstream, concentrating on ways to increase women's participation in an economy that offers them little reward. While women already contribute more than their share of labor, little attention has been paid to assessing incentives for their participation. Many of the approaches in integrating women's concerns into FSR fit into the "integrationist mode," which assumes that the cause of women's subordination is exclusion from the main production spheres. But do women benefit from increased participation, or are they simply pack mules being further driven?

In the classic FSR equation, women farmers are considered as production factors. The goal is to harness women's productivity through new technologies, credit and improved access to information. The alternate paradigm is to see women as decision makers in their own right, working within a set of structural constraints. When women farmers become conscious of productive alternatives and the availability of choice they then can be discriminate users and technology generators, with a voice in the development process.

Case in Point

In Kabaritan, a lake shore village bordering Laguna de Bay in the Philippines, a study was conducted to assess agricultural decision making processes. Twelve married couples participated. Domestic work, entrepreneurial activities and agriculture were revealed as female domains, while fishing, animal husbandry and aquaculture were male domains. Research indicates that new technologies are male dominated upon introduction until superseded by newer technologies.

Rice harvest is a women's task during the wet season and a joint responsibility during the dry season, indicating that tasks are relegated to women when chores become tedious and difficult with bad weather.

Domestic duties are still disproportionately women's responsibility regardless of the amount of time they spend in productive activities outside the home. Male participation in domestic chores increases when women spend more time in income-generating activities during the wet season. The economic viability of the household at such times depends on women's entrepreneurial skills and initiative.

Because women attend to most domestic duties and participate in productive activities outside the home, they have less leisure time (30% less) than men. That time is usually spent at child care. Thus, there is little justification for the integrationist approach, which seeks ways of eliciting more participation from women in agriculture. It is time to examine questions of compensation, skewed distribution and mechanisms that prevent equity.

Who Eats What?

In terms of food allocation, men eat more of every food group during the wet season except for vegetables (equal for males and females) and invertebrates (more for females). Conversely, the dry season is characterized by more balanced food allocation between the sexes. Still, during this season, men consume more root crops, cereals, vegetables and fish, while women consume more invertebrates.

Men generally weigh more and require more calories than women do. Therefore a moderate imbalance of food allocation in favor of males is justifiable. During the dry season, when men are fully occupied with production tasks, their higher consumption of carbohydrates in the form of cereals and root crops is understandable. However, in the wet season, when male-dominated operations are at a standstill and the woman's contribution supports the family, more food is still allocated for males.

What is demanded of women is not even remotely compensated in terms of leisure time and food. Free time and food allocation are influenced by social and cultural definitions. Women give more and get less.

It is instructive to look at the way women view the world to see why such inequity persists. The informants of the study were asked to draw a map of Kabaritan. The drawings indicate that men recognize more resources than women. Men noted the river, fish ponds, lake, roads, rice lands and the general wetland area. Only the railroad and the residential areas are more highly recognized by women. Resources that are not recognized are less likely to be used, and for practical purposes, they might as well not exist. This social and gender differentiation in terms of perception reinforces inequitable access to these resources.

FSR and Gender

Integrating women's concerns into FSR refers not only to things people think should concern women, but things that women are concerned with, such as health, child care, dignity and self-determination. Meaningful change must come from women's consciousness and pursuit of alternatives rather than a proliferation of technologies designed for women.

New directions for FSR may address such issues as: returns in terms of leisure and food in proportion to women's participation, why women accept their lot and why women perpetuate a collective consciousness that works against them through the socialization of their children.

Opportunities for women to speak for themselves and to listen to each other are necessary if FSR is to advance. Women affected by development must be given a choice concerning appropriate technologies. Only when women are heard and allowed to shape development can such programs serve women well and improve the quality of their lives.

Nazarea-Sandoval, V. 1991. Some Lessons To Be Learned (Still) in Integrating Women's Concerns into Farming Systems Research. J. Asian Farm Syst. Assoc. Vol 1, pp. 153-177.


Virginia Nazarea-Sandoval
International Potato Center
UPWARD, P.O. Box 933