In quest for equality, poor women seem to slip

Carment Guerrero Nakpil chuckles at the social and economic transformation she helped launch in 1978 in the nearby town of San Miguel. Some seven piglets were given to each about 45 women as the start for small pig farms. They were also assisted in forming a feed cooperative and in constructing concrete pens.

The result has been, she said, that these women have become the "economic czars of the place." They are better off than their underemployed husbands.

"They even hired their husbands to clean the pig pens and mix the feed," she laughed. "The women are the capitalists. I told them, 'This is your money. don't give it to the men.'"

Sale of the grown-up pigs can provide these women perhaps 600 pesos ($48) a month -- a handsome sum in the poor barangays (districts) of the Philippines.

One husband took a pig and sold it to pay off some gambling debts. His wife then slept near the pigs to prevent any further "thefts." Another man took some money by force from his wife. For the most part, however, the men have gone along in good grace with this break from the tradition of men being the household providers.

"These are Amazon families," joked a smiling male colleague of Mrs. Nakpil. She is managing director of the Philippine government's Technology Resource Center in charge of technology dissemination.

Unfortunately, economic development in the world's poor countries has often worsened the lot of women -- not bettered it.

Irene Tinker writes in an Overseas Development Council book on "Women and World Development": "During much of the last quarter century, 'development' has been viewed as the panacea for the economic ills of all less developed countries: Create a modern infrastructure and the economy will take off, providing a better life for everyone.

"Yet in virtually all countries and among all classes, women have lost ground relative to men; development, by widening the gap between incomes of men and women, has not helped improve women's lives, but rather has had an adverse effect upon them."

This is the major concern of the second United Nations World Conference on Women now under way in Copenhagen. Mrs. Nakpil, interviewed here just before leaving for the conference as a member of the Philippine delegation, was concerned that political issues not obscure this basic issue: that economic development must be so structured as to help women progress socially and economically.

News from the conference indicates that the delegates are being diverted somewhat from this economic problem by such political issues as the Palestine-Israel dispute.

But Mrs. Lucille Mair, the secretary- general of the conference, said in an interview some months back that the preparatory process for the conference is "far more important" than the conference itself. Global analyses of the status of women have been gathered. Several regional and sectoral conferences were held where political showmanship was less prominent.

These analyses, Mrs. Mair noted, indicate that the status of women has made some progress since the first UN World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975.

1. Most nations have made "reasonable progress" in eliminating the glaring inequities in law facing women.

2. A number of governments have improved administrative mechanisms -- commissions, bureaus, councils, or departments -- to deal with issues concerning women.

"It is a bit too early to see what these have achieved," Mrs. Mair said.

3. There is "some evidence" that government planning is taking more into account the role of women. For instance, government agriculture programs more often consider the vital activities of women in cultivation.

4. At the level or primary education, there has been "some progress" in including women. At higher levels of education, the developments are "uneven." Not enough women are getting technical educations.

5. "The economic situation is the gravest area," Mrs. Mair said.

Women are flooding into the paid labor force. On a global level some 30 to 35 percent of adult women are working for wages, with the smallest proportion prevailing in the Middle East and more than 50 percent in such industrial nations as the United States.

"But working outside of the home is not necessarily elevating the status of women," cautioned Mrs. Mair.

Many women are working in low-status, low-wage jobs in the electronic, textile, or food processing industries, or as secretaries or clerks. Many sucj jobs are "sex segregated" -- considered fit only for women.

On average, women get only 40 to 60 percent of the wages of men.

Usually women are still looking after their children as well as working, and thus have long hours. An International Labor Organization study estimates that women provide two-thirds of the world's work hours.

In rural areas, the introduction of modern tractors and other farm machinery often deprives women of their jobs in the fields. Only men may be considered able to handle the machines.

Many men migrate to jobs in cities, leaving their families behind in primitive conditions.

"We must work out new development strategies," said Mrs. Mair. "We haven't paid enough attention to the contribution of women to the economy.

For instance, on a worldwide basis, it has been estimated that women contribute 44 percent of the world's food supply.

"It is unrealistic to look at global aspects of development and leave out women," added Mrs. Mair. "The right place for women is in the mainstream. Many governments now realize how critical women's contribution is to their countries' economic development. We have to build on that interest."

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