``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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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.