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``IN the tens of thousands'' is one expert's estimate of the number of development projects for women being carried out all over the developing world. But annual outlays for the burgeoning field of women's active participation in development -- though in the tens of millions of dollars -- still constitute only a tiny percentage of total project expenditures. Nevertheless, the volume of projects, particularly those designed by relatively small, new agencies (see following page), is significant, especially since the notion of systematically including women's concerns in development projects has taken hold only in the last ten years or so.

Projects for women can take many forms. Perhaps the most popular today, in view of the urgent, worldwide need for cash, are income-generating projects. In these, women may be provided with livestock to raise and sell. Or they are taught a skill -- usually a handicraft such as weaving, knitting, or caning. In the better-designed of these projects, provision is made for access to raw materials. When the women must buy their own materials, credit can also be made available -- perhaps through another development project with a local bank.

Once a source of materials is in place and skills are mastered, access and transport to viable markets must also be arranged. In addition, the women must be taught simple bookkeeping procedures so that they can keep track of income and expenses. If any one of the links in this chain is neglected, the success of the entire project will be jeopardized.

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Other typical women's projects bring agricultural training and technology. Many are geared to lightening women's daily burdens. These projects may provide improved access to clean water; training in forestry; design and distribution of appropriate technology, both in domestic and work-related areas; literacy classes; day-care centers; distribution of information on and aids to family planning; maternal and child health care.

The apparent, ``real world'' practicality of such projects notwithstanding, the development process is slow. The fact that thousands of projects are now in place, and millions of dollars are being spent to support them, does not mean that millions of women are not still overburdened and undereducated, or that they, their families, and their communities are not still suffering as a result. It is still too early to find many examples of people who are tangibly better off because of the new emphasis on wom en in development. `No turning back'

But, despite the relatively small amount being spent on women's projects, the sheer number of these projects, coupled with increased awareness of the plight of women at official, decisionmaking levels, indicate that change is on its way.

When asked to comment on whether the current focus on women was actually likely to make a difference, one development expert remarked, ``There's no turning back now.''

As a result of the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-85), two new UN agencies specifically concerned with the problems of women have been created. UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, has just increased its $4 million budget for 1985 to $4.5 million for 1986.

In Western terms, this may not sound like a lot of money. It represents only 4 percent of the total project budget of the United Nations Development Program. But in countries where whole families live on a few cents a day, careful spending of 4.5 million dollars where it is really needed can bear fruit. UNIFEM is involved in more than 240 active projects and is picking up new ones at the rate of 40 per year.

The second UN agency created during the Decade for Women is INSTRAW, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, based in the Dominican Republic. This organization performs the crucial, and heretofore unappreciated, function of compiling data and publishing reports on the roles and needs of women for use by governments and agencies in development planning.

Over the last ten years, UNDP, (United Nations Development Program) has increased the number of its projects directly focused on women from 1 to 4 percent of its total activities. In 1983, of UNDP's total expediture of $424 million for 162 projects, $17 million went toward women's projects, which constituted 17 percent of UNDP's total number of projects for that year.

On the surface, it would appear that other, more specialized, UN agencies have a better record of financial commitment to women.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) allots about 52 percent of its projects to family planning activities, which naturally involve women, at a cost of roughly $70 million per year. Yet this agency sets aside only $2 million out of its total program budget of $135 million for ``special, innovative projects designed to promote the participation of women in development,'' according to a highly-placed UN spokesman.

Another agency whose activities must focus on women as a matter of course is UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund). Approximately three quarters of their projects promote the participation of women in development. And agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, both based in Rome, devote roughly 17 percent of their programs to women's concerns.

On the national level, many governments in the developing world have planned specific projects for women, or are making an effort to integrate women's issues into more general development plans.

In terms of international aid, a number of countries, notably the Scandinavian nations, the Netherlands, and Canada, have provided specially earmarked financial support as well as technical assistance to projects that address the needs of women.

In projects supported by AID (the US Agency for International Development), ``integration'' is also the key. The efforts of this office have been especially praised by development experts, who feel that their commitment to women's issues is particularly impressive and their projects especially well designed. What form should programs take?

``A major issue in the development field is whether or not projects should be women-specific or women-integrated,'' explains Rebecca Masters, deputy director of the Women in Development (WID) office at AID. ``We feel that the most productive way to work is to integrate women into development projects, although women-specific projects are sometimes stepping stones for this.

``We work to influence the big projects US AID undertakes by providing technical assistance,'' Ms. Masters says. ``That way, we can maximize the use of our $2.5 million budget, and [by working within general development projects] we can impact on many more women.''

The purpose of projects like this one is to ensure that when experts direct assistance, it goes to the right people -- to the people who actually do the work. Very often, these are women -- a fact that has come as a revelation to male development planners in many countries.

Making planners aware of women's role in any given development program is the primary aim of WID's activities. Over the past five years, Ms. Masters estimates that her office has been able to influence hundreds of projects in this way.

Peter McPherson, adminstrator of AID, is wholly convinced of the practical implications of integrating women into development projects.

``Once development professionals have seen the dollars-and-cents value of gender analyses [research into the actual roles of men and women],'' Mr. McPherson say, ``they generally are eager to learn more about the women in development concept, its implementation, and its results.''

And an AID policy paper states it even more plainly, ``. . . to pursue a development planning strategy without a women in development focus would be wasteful and self-defeating -- wasteful, because of the potential loss of the contribution of vital human resources, and self-defeating because development which does not bring its benefits to the whole society has failed.''

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