Women Studies and the Crisis in Africa
THE GLOBAL crisis of the '70s and 'SOs has had contradictory consequences for women of different nations and classes. Women workers of the third world generally experienced the highest rates of unemployment within the developed industrialised nations as well as the periphery. They found themselves increasingly relegated to 'domestic out work" forms of employment, or were transformed from permanent workers into temporary or casual labourers. An increasing proportion of land has been shifted to the production of marketable crops, including food. Labour, fertilizer, equipment and money has shifted away from the production and processing of food for immediate consumption. Large-scale production schemes (forestry, pas-toralist as well as cultivation) have augmented the rapid erosion of the land. (Mbilinyi 1985 a, 1985 b; Sen with Grown 1985). Agri-business has profited from the expansion of agriculture production and marketing in Africa through their sales of manufactured products (fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, agriculture equipment), technical services, the marketing and processing of agricultural products. At the same time, the peasants and agricultural labourers have become poorer.
Women peasants are the backbone of peasant agriculture, and have been since the colonial period. The peasant sector as a whole is the foundation of the entire labour system. It provided the only social security system for most employed workers, and reproduces the labour force in all senses. Hence, women peasants are the backbone of the African economy. They have endured untold agony and hardship during this prolonged period of crisis.
Conditions have worsened for most women in Africa, and indeed, in the entire Third World. At the same time, women have begun to receive specific attention from policy-makers and researchers, national and international. Women's bureaux and Women's organisations have been created in nearly every African independent nation. One or two women have been appointed Cabinet-level Ministers and others have made it to top positions in the civil service and in professions. For these women, conditions have definitely improved.
Women's studies as a specific body of thought, research and action, has
Institute of Development Studies. The University of Dar fcs Salaam. Tanzania.