Rural Women and Labour Force Participation
The nature and pattern of women's work in subsistence economies present a complex set of issues. Co-existence of wage and non-wage labour and absence of markets makes it difficult to measure women's work with definitions developed and used in advanced capitalist countries. The interplay of patriarchal ideology with pre-capitalist relations of production marginalises women's work and presents a 'no options' scenario for them. The prevalence of extra-economic coercion in both job and wage markets not only puts large sections of working population under the control of the propertied, it also makes the women from these sections double vulnerable to exploitation due to the dual relationship of women to capital through direct participation as wage labour and through husbands or male members of the family. The mechanism of surplus extraction in conjunction with patriarchal ideology keeps women at the tail end of economic process. Although historically, women have engaged themselves in agricultural activities as opposed to hunting occupations for men, in the present day subsistence economies they neither have any control over land nor arc they allowed to play an equal role in the production process. Instead, newer forms of patriarchal control emerge to exploit women both at work and home. In agriculture women get pushed into paying casual low paying wage work; while in the emerging industrial sector, they are involved largely in unskilled, low wages sectors. The sex-typing of tasks in the production process leads to increasing segregation with the supervisory role still with the male workers. The introduction of machinery takes jobs away from women and pushes them further in the unskilled labour pool. Women also end up as labour reserve both in agriculture and industry. In agriculture, women get employment during peak seasons like sowing, cotton picking and harvesting. In the industrial sector, various forms of piece wages and 'putting out' system makes it possible to employ women as and when required. The contribution of women from developing countries in generating surplus for the global capitalist system is well illustrated in a number of studies.
Roscanh Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1994