All currently prevailing international academic fads make their way in time to the corridors of power and planning in Kathmandu. National policies are quick to accommodate prevailing concepts, theories and Approaches to development. Since the 1950s, our deve-lopment goals have consecutively em-phasised agriculture, then industry, then "balanced growth", then "regional development". Subsequently, "growth oriented" development gave way to "equity oriented" development and fin-ally to "integrated rural". Such progression, if one might call it that, seem as inevitable as the turning of the wheel of fortune.
Recently, the focus has shifted from growth and GNP orientation to a concern for people and equity. The emphasis, on paper -at least, is to be of direct assistance to those on the lowest economic strata the rural poor, the small farmer, the deprived. Women fall in the lowest economic strata under any type of classification. The thought that development activities .directed to the rural people will automatically include women has been borne out to be untrue. The beneficiaries of social, political, government and development activities have in fact overwhelmingly been "the male rural poor". The "trickle down effect", in this case from men to women, has worked no better at the household level than it seems to have at the national level.
Unthinking use of Western categories of "housewives" and "money earners" without looking at the Nepali rural household has ignored and distorted the actual productive roles of women. Nepali women have thus been more or less by-passed in development. The functional roles of "housewives" and "money earners" apply only to an exclusive minority of the elite, but it is the members of this small elite who are the immediate receivers or disbursers of foreign aid and development. And they are what they are either by virtue of western education and influence, or, in a few cases, the anachronistic left-overs of the elites of previous times.
The concept of "housewife" in Nepal assumes the woman as a leisurely lady limiting her activities to household and domestic chores, categorised either as reproductive or unproductive. This excludes all those activities of the vast majority of Nepali women who do crucial, productive, but unpaid activities such as food processing, manufacturing for family consumption, household construction, water and fuel collection, hunting and gathering.
Thus, the crucial contribution of women in the family farm enterprise and their productive inputs to the rural household system have been overlooked. With women restricted to the farm household, project aid directed to the rural poor has reached only the men, because it is they who represent the farm family and society in "outside" negotiations and activities with the Kathmandu bureaucracy and foreign donors.
With the United Nations' declaration of 1975 as the International Year of Women, foreign funds for local seminars and conferences began to flow and various women leaders journeyed far and wide to international gatherings on women and development. Subsequently, money also became available for women's programmes. Unfortunately, most such programmes continue to be in skill development (sewing, knitting and handicraft), nutrition, family planning, maternity and childcare. These activities simply extend the domestic role of women. Income generation for women has been limited to providing credits for chicken and goats and vegetable gardening.
Ail the seven integrated rural development projects (IRDPs) in Nepal have major agricultural components, but none are geared to women specifically. They may target "farmers", but that will never include the female farmer. There even seem to be instances of deliberate exclusion. The Koshi Hill Area IRDP has scheme for giving intensive four-year agricultural training to Grade 7 dropouts. Girls are not eligible, it is precisely such formal training that women lack. Asked why girls were excluded from the training scheme, a (foreign) expert said, "Do you think a 60-year-old farmer (by implication, male) would listen to a young female JTA?" The expert, and he is not unique, seemed unaware of the existence of female farmers in Nepal.
A review of IRDP activities leads us to conclude that women have not really been considered seriously. The field is barren except for a surfeit of lip service and symbolic gestures in the form of minimal funds.
In the Community Forestry Project, women are involved only in 'nurseries and in education programmes. While they are preferred for nursery work such as weeding and planting, in spite of better performance, the female labourers are paid less than men. In Kathmandu, the official rate is NRs 14 for men, NRs 11 for women and NRs 9 for children. In 69 village panchayats we surveyed, there were only three women nursery foremen in that better paying job. In the afforestation programme, extension workers are all male.
Our analysis of ten women-specific projects showed that most of them had inadequate training, weak implemen-tation, no follow-up and no continuity. Most were directed towards "house-wifely" activities leading to income generation. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but the programmes seemed to be ad hoc and carried on with an air of lady-like amateurism. Only two of the ten seemed to view women as crucial contributors to the family farm enterprise. Within the total picture of development, however, the benefit by women from these women-specific project is minimal.
Almost all the projects that exist for women in Nepal are externally funded, implying a lack of seriousness and commitment in HMG to women's programmes. This exclusive dependence on external funding leads one to question what will happen when international funds dry up. It is time to correct the situation in which women have either been left out of major national development projects or relegated to peripheral activities. It is not acceptable that women are actually being displaced by men in their traditional roles in agriculture as a result of "development" activity. Women can only be reached by being specifically targetted, and they can only be reached in most cases by other women. This is the crux of the problem and has to be .squarely faced. Unfortunately, even now, while there is a growing awareness of women's right to development, most efforts seem to stop at the stage of verbalisation,
~ Both writers are development consultants in Kathmandu. Bina Pradhan is with Womens Development Group and Indira Shrestha with the Integrated Development Systems.
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)