Social Scientist. v 10, no. 109 (June 1982) p. 51.

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Role of Women in Rural Development

THE subject of "Women and Development" has invited a good deal of attention, especially in the case of rural women, in recent years, and rightly so. Women constitute about 50 per cent of the world's population and one-third of its total labour force. The overwhelming majority of women workers in rural areas is afflicted by problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment. Historically, the sustained labour of women has been the pivot of the village economic system. Rural women share abundant responsibilities and perform a wide spectrum of duties in running the family, maintaining the household, attending to farm operations, tending domestic animals and engaging in rural artisan work and handicrafts. But female labour engaged in such activities is usually not measured in economic terms. An implicit assumption is made that the woman is basically a mother and housewife; any productive work she carries out is considered socially secondary, an extension of her primary function, and thus it has tended to remain unnoticed, more so in the case of rural women. As for the productive activities, those women who are from lower classes have always participated in them, but they suffered as members of the working class on account of two forms of exploitation—one with regard to wage differentials and the second with respect to their position as the main component of the reserve army of labour.

In the analysis of poverty of underdeveloped nations and the possibilities of economic development, the contribution of male labour is given a prominent place, but the contribution of women and the possibilities of mobilising their unutilised labour for economic development are generally overlooked. As a result, while economists have been concerned with male unemployment and while some attention is paid in the development programmes to the use of those production methods which do not drive men out of employment, displacement of women workers in the process of economic development is not considered to be of much consequence. To see the role of women in its

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