Working Paper 89-19, June, 1989.

By Elizabeth W. Moen

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado at Boulder

This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail:

Copyright (C) 1989. Elizabeth Moen. Do not reprint without permission.

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Interest in female poverty is growing not only because of concerns about human rights and justice, but also because there is growing recognition that when women are disadvantaged, so is the entire development process. Yet, twenty years after the first feminist critiques of development theory and practice, women are still ignored and misunderstood, and class and gender stratification are still magnified by development efforts. Consequently, the "Women in Development Act of 1989" was introduced into the US Congress to hasten the incorporation of women into ongoing U. S. Agency for International Development programs, on the grounds that when women are excluded from development planning, "...projects are usually failures, particularly agriculture and reforestation projects because women have key roles in those areas....As the money available for foreign development shrinks, we want more impact for our dollar, and one way to do it is to focus on women" (cited by Kraft, 1989:15). In addition to increasing their attention to women, donor agencies and governments are turning to grass roots organizations in the voluntary sector to rescue development efforts among the poor. The voluntary sector may be characterized as having two extremes in its dealings with poor women: elite women's welfare organizations that seek to alleviate the worst aspects of poverty while perpetuating the poverty-creating system, and feminist women's action organizations that seek opportunity, justice, and corresponding change in the social system. The majority of voluntary sector development organizations (VSDOs), however, are run by middle class men. Usually small and locally based, we know very little about VSDOs such as these even though they will touch the lives of many more women than either the women's welfare or the feminist action organizations. This paper presents unusual data from thirty small VSDOs in India, headed by men who, because of their direct involvement with village and slum life, are discovering for themselves what the feminist critics have been saying for the last twenty years. But they add a new twist, claiming that development efforts are hurt not only by the exclusions of women, but also by the inclusion of men. Following a brief overview of voluntary sector work with women in India , I discuss the background and context of this research, the development organizations' analysis of gender stratification, their women-centered approach, and the resulting contradictions when male development workers target women. I conclude by considering where these organizations fit in the literature on women and development, feminist criticism of conventional grass roots development work, and development policy.


Within the Indian voluntary sector the main strategies regarding women and development are welfare, feminist activism, and community development. In her detailed study of the welfare approach in Madras, Caplan (1985) describes associations of upper class women operating social welfare programs which promote upperclass, patriarchal ideology; treat women as if they were already or soon-to-be dependent housewives and mothers who might need to supplement their husbands' earnings; and stigmatize those who do not fit this mold. In addition to providing hand-outs they may also sponsor income generating projects based on domestic tasks, which usually put women into low-paying, home-based work. Organizations such as these mirror public policy which, under the housewife model of development (Mies, 1986), seeks to harness women's idle time (Mukhopadyyay, 1984) while maintaining the cult of domesticity (Caplan, 1985).

The antidote to the welfare approach are the explicitly feminist activist organizations (Patel, 1988), which see women primarily as workers, not dependents, and the social structure as something to change rather than to climb. Examples of such organizations are the Self Employed Women's Association in Ahmedebad (SEWA; Sebstad, 1985), the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC; Women and Environments, 1988), and the Working Women's Forum in Madras (WWF: Azad, 1986). They employ education, organization, consciousness raising, and agitation to enable and empower women to become autonomous and self sufficient. Regarding mainstream, generally male-headed community development organizations, feminist critics of development acknowledge that grass roots development carried out by the voluntary sector, holds more promise for for women than do centralized top-down or basic needs strategies. However they focus on and are are skeptical of the currently popular project-based approach to development, and particularly income generation projects for women because the additional time and work requires "Superwoman in the Third World" (Goldberg, 1987), and there is not the explicit goal of women gaining full participation in the nation's development or equal access to the fruits of development. Instead, these critics say, most development resources are reserved for men, women are seen primarily as wife/mothers and supplemental income earners, women's traditional skills and work that can be done in the home are emphasized, it is assumed that women have considerable leisure time to devote to these projects, income is too small, institution building is neglected, and the women do not learn leadership skills or even all the skills involved in the project such as management, accounting, and sales. Antrobus (1987) concludes these projects are widely supported because they yield a minimum income without challenging the status quo and without empowering women. Elvia Alvarado, a peasant organizer in El Salvador has a similar concern:

The foreigners love to fund `women's projects'. So all the campesino groups respond by creating womens projects. And what happens? When the project is finished, or if the profect fails, the women's group disintegrates. We're not interested in organizing women around particular projects. No. We want women to organize for the sake of organizing; and out of their organizations, projects will emerge. (Benjamin, 1987: 87; also see Mayoux, 1989; Goldberg, 1987; footnote 1).



1 The thirty development organizations, located in seven districts of Tamil Nadu, are small and locally based. Christian, Gandhian, and secular; conventional, left, and socialist, their orientation makes little difference in their programs (xxxx, 19xxb). Most of their participants are in the official categories of backward castes and scheduled tribes and castes. The lowest, most despised social groups, they are unemployed or severely underemployed, primarily as landless agricultural laborers, and also as farmers, artisans, and service providers.

2 All of these organizations have applied for funds from Right Sharing of World Resources, a Quaker program that funds grass roots development work in the third world.

3 The data for this research come from their grant proposals, progress reports, annual reports, and correspondence in the Right Sharing files; interviews and observation of the work of nineteen (plus correspondence with eight of these), and interviews with another five. Most of my field work was done during the winter of 1987-88. Elsewhere I describe the VSDOs and GRDWs, the context of their work, the lives of their participants, the perspective underlying this work, and the method of analysis, and then derive and systematize the GRDWs analysis of the causes and consequences of poverty (xxxx, 19xxa), and their definition, metatheory, and strategy for development (xxxx, 19xxb).

4 Gender Stratification in Tamil Nadu Gender distinctions are strictly enforced in Tamil Nadu from clothing and work to bus seating. Gender stratification is evident in education, wages, occupation, and autonomy. Although violence against women appears to be higher in Northern India, beatings and rape are common in Tamil Nadu and dowry-related violence and killing, as well as female infanticide are increasing. Here, to be a woman is to be a devoted wife, mother-of-sons, and servant to the family. Consequently even though most women are engaged in wage or debt labor, the full-time housewife is idealized. A powerful double standard exists regarding sexuality, and women bear the burden of maintaining family respectability. Despite the fact that they routinely carry more than their weight in life-giving water, women are thought to be weak and their work is considered unimportant. For example, at construction sites, it is common to see women walking some distance and up rickety ladders carrying large rocks or heavy pans of mortar or bricks on their heads. Men sit, apply mortar, and put the rocks or bricks in place. "Why are these women paid only half what men make?", I always ask a male observer, and am always told, "Because they don't work as hard". When I point out that it is harder to carry rocks than to mortar them, they laugh, agree, and resort to their other explanation: "Oh, it is because the men's work is more important; the women are only helping them." In rural areas women work all day, bent over, the sun beating down on their backs, often calf-deep in mud, planting, weeding and transplanting. Meanwhile men stand, riding the buffalo-pulled plow. The male supervisor, generally found dozing in the shade, will explain that women's wages are half of men's because women don't work as hard as men do. When the reality is pointed out, the supervisor laughs, agrees, and stops trying to explain the wage gap.

5 Further, since Indian women are responsible for child care, food preparation, house work, carrying water and finding fuel, for the great majority, the work day begins well before and ends long after paid work is finished. GRDWs' ANALYSIS OF GENDER STRATIFICATION The GRDWs see things differently than most, and without saying the words they describe and criticize "patriarchy" and "sexism": The nation, India, is hailed as "Baratha Matha" i.e. Mother India, but the women are not properly given respect and rights. Indian womenhood, in large numbers, but with marginal exception, is living behind feudal colonial chains, familial fetters and under legal, political, economic and social discrimination...They are not given proper respect at the time of planning and the decision making in the family and also in the community. They are remaining isolated in the thought of development programs. They are considered as the midwives, who delivered the new born i.e. the machine for producing the child...Regarding chastity, stress is only on women. Men easily escape their deeds...Divorse, this action takes place quietly on women who are not allowed to remarry whereas men can engage as he wish. The effective evil on women is the dowry. It is only the money and the jewels that determine their lives...Many of them are well aware of their condition and they don't know what needs to be done for their free movement (VSDO 7/F).

6 The destiny of the women is giving birth to the children and to look after the house hold affairs...They have less prestige and low status and no sayings in the family and in the community. The girls from this village are rarely attending the school and even if it is so, they are dropping out of the schools after attaining puberty (VSDO 1/F). It is very pity to note that women are not given adequate freedom in the family...A girl who attained Puberty will not be allowed to go to School, to neighboring villages, for any entertainments like Cinema drama, etc. If a girl speaks with a young man lonely, the Rural People will twist the Situation to a bad way (VSDO 8/C). According to the VSDOs, women are suppressed by traditional social practices, oppressed by men, and exploited even more than men by their employers. "Apart from giving birth to children, there is no other profitable employment for women" (VSDO 21/F).

7 The GRDWs acknowledge women's double work day, and the heavy "drudgery" of collecting and carrying water and fuel, cleaning and grinding grains and legumes, cooking (often indoors over open fires), cleaning, and washing clothes--all from scratch. They say that women's work goes unnoticed and unrewarded; that women are exploited financially and sexually at their place of employment, and often treated brutally at home, especially by alcoholic husbands. They speak of the "evils" of dowry and are visibly shaken and angered by reports of female infanticide, wife battering, and and dowry-related violence.

WOMEN-CENTERED DEVELOPMENT Development policy of the last thirty five years has been a massive failure. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Inequalities between and within nations are growing. Perhaps one of the major reason for this is that women have been largely excluded from the thinking of development planners. A third of families world wide are headed by women and in many of the least developed countries women play a major role in food production. To ignore women's role in development is to ensure that at best a project can only half succeed. To marginalize women's issues can be worse...The need of the hour is to recognize the central role of women when building alternative development strategies (VSDO 7/F).

7 I was surprised to discover that the VSDOs' analysis so closely parallels the women and development literature and the Indian feminists critique of development planning (see footnotes 1 and 2). Even more surprising was the finding that these VSDOs are directing most of their efforts towards women. Knowing that Right Sharing will fund programs for women, nineteen sent proposals for programs only for women, four that heavily emphasized women, and seven that focused equally on men and women. None sent proposals for men only. Looking at their work in general, three of the VSDOs serve only women, fourteen place considerable emphasis on women, ten serve women and men equally, and none serve only men. (There was insufficient information from three organizations to tell about their work in general). The focus on women has not been entirely spontaneous; some VSDOs were prodded to include women on their boards and in their projects by visitors from abroad; their work with men may be made more difficult because of men tend to migrate in search of work more than women; the federal and state governments have funds for VSDOs to develop special programs for women and recently, they have been encouraging VSDOs take actions to reduce gender stratification.

8 However the main path to the GRDWs' feminism seems to be their own experience. Responsible Women, Childish Men Contrary to prevailing beliefs, these GRDWs say that women are more responsible, hard working, studious, innovative, cooperative, and altruistic than men. Further, women are more likely to repay debts, and to form and successfully run organizations (sangams) and co-ops. Men, say GRDWs, fritter away their money on coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, other drugs, fortune tellers, and gambling, whereas women will use their income to feed, clothe, and educate their children: "Men are irresponsible by tradition, tho the common lore is that women are irresponsible" (VSDO 5/F); "Women suffer because of poverty, illiteracy, and drunken husbands" (VSDO 20/F); "Women's entire earnings are absolutely utilized for the family upliftment" (VSDO 19/F); "100% of women's wages go to the family...[they] won't use income to selfishly improve their own status (VSDO 33/F); "Women people, who hold the responsibility of protecting their children and the family members, are suffering untold grievances and difficulties" (VSDO 13/F); "Women have trouble controlling their own money; their husbands take it" (VSDO 6/N).

9 Thus in decrying discrimination against women, GRDWs are concerned not only about inequitable development--"Women who don't participate in development are alienated due to ignorance and poverty"--but also about negative consequences for families and communities--"When women are kept out of public life, society loses their talents and suffers" (VSDO 30/F and 14/F). These VSDOs have learned the hard way that their own limited resources go further and their accomplishments are greater with female participants. And, given their focus on children (xxxx, 19xx b), the fact that children are much more likely to benefit through women than through men, makes women even more attractive as program participants. Consequently, believing that the entire society will benefit more than if development efforts are focused on men, these VSDOs are focusing on women--"Women's right are our number one priority. Though training we want to show women and the community that women are equal to men" (VSDO20/F). Or, as a Tamil Nadu VSDO outside this study explains it, this organization serves only women because to new ideas and better agents of change" (Tharian, 1988:12). Strategy These VSDOs seek development that is participatory, whole, emancipatory, sufficient, bottom-up, decentralized, democratic, nonviolent, revolutionary, fundamentally Indian in character, and which involves only necessary charity. To achieve these goals their programs emphasize awareness, empowerment, social/economic restructuring, income generation, education, and health. Women are central to all of these efforts. (Note that family planning is not a major concern or effort of these VSDOs. For details see xxxx, 19xxa,b). However income generation projects are considered especially important for women because, as noted above, GRDWs have found women to be much more likely to use their money for family welfare, and because they believe women who have their own incomes will gain "dignity", "respect", "security", "recognition", and "emancipation", in their homes and communities. Rather than being seen as merely "a source of expenditure", women will "...become equal partners with their husbands in decision making and in family affairs" (VSDO 32/F). An organizer of a sewing co-op explained, "Women can only have security, a voice in the household, and be able to set limits on husbands behavior if they have their own money" (VSDO 5/F).

10 But despite all of the above, in placing their hopes in women and targeting them as participants in their development work, it is as if the GRDWs are saying "India will be saved by women--in their spare time." Within this paradox lie many others.


It is not that some of the GRDWs are progressive feminists and some are traditionalists; instead most are both. The following is an initial exploration of the resulting contradictions and paradoxes. 11 Class/Gender Inexperience and Bias Although they seek to radically transform society, the GRDWs themselves are fairly conventional. Most are from higher class and caste backgrounds, and all have more education than the participants.

11 Consequently, as sympathetic as they are, they are disadvantaged by not being outsider enough to be detached from the culture, or insider enough to fully understand the situation of the participants: they are men; they are products of a male-biased educational system; they have not experienced gender discrimination; they tend to carry middle class values and to believe that to have participants' respect they must conform to conventional expectations regarding their own class/gender/caste position. Thus, residing in their minds along with their feminism, are still the housewife model of development, the cult of domesticity, and the notion that women have lots of idle time. The spare time paradox, lies in the fact that male GRDWs do not fully understand women's lives and work. They talk about double days of waged and house work, but even the work of women in their own homes may be invisible. For instance, when asked how much water his daughter carried on the many long trips she made from the pump each day, a GRDW guessed the vessels on her head and hip each held five to seven liters. He was shocked when we measured out 21 liters from each, and he sent a liter out to be weighed before he would believe that one liter weighs one kilo and so his daughter was carrying over 42 kilos (105 pounds) each trip. This man probably had never lifted a full water jug or even been curious about its contents. Similarly, whenever I asked how landless families made it through the "hard season" when no agricultural work is available, GRDWs would respond, "Ah, that is the miracle of the Indian housewife" (in reality, these housewives are agricultural laborers), but none could tell me how that miracle was accomplished. Another consequence of differential experience is that GRDWs cling to gender stereotypes without even recognizing the resulting contradictions in what they are saying and doing. Some GRDWs refer to participants as children, women, and adults. Some VSDOs with farm lands pay women field workers less than men because "men's work is harder". One VSDO successfully agitated for higher agricultural wages, but did not try to reduce the 2:1 gap between male and female wages. One GRDW hired only female nonformal education teachers because "...all the men are hard at work in the fields" (VSDO 20/N This man seems to have forgotten that in India, agricultural labor is strictly divided by gender, many of his teachers were also field workers, and female field workers usually work more days and longer hours than male. Another GRDW arranged loans for household economic activities, and no matter how that work was distributed (e.g., women prepare the mud for potting, do nearly all the work for street-vending food, and are primarily responsible for animal tending), the loans all went to the men. Similarly, traditional middle class family life seems to influence the GRDWs notion of how things should be. Some, having the everpresent wife/mother/family servant in mind, speak of uplifting women without disturbing family life, even though they have already pointed out that family life under the status quo requires women to be downtrodden. Some consider women's work outside the home a necessary evil, e.g., "In these dark days a single man's earnings are not sufficient to maintain a family so the partner will expect to earn something" (VSDO 27/F). Moreover, when planning their work, GRDWs do not consider the implications of patrilineality and patrilocality, the underpinnings of gender stratification, and are then surprised when sewing students and sewing machines move to other villages as brides and dowry rather than forming the young women's sewing co-op they had envisioned. Gender vs Class Stratification The GRDWs' overall analysis of poverty includes a multidimensional stratification system in which social position results from the interaction of gender, class, and caste (xxxx, 19xxa). However, when speaking specifically of women, they tend to ignore caste, and to mix class and gender stratification, especially in their tying of women's status to earning money.

12 However, participant womens' status is a function of class and caste as well as gender--their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons are also illiterate, very poor, and despised by much of society. And, when compared to the men of their respective classes, participant women--just because they are poor--probably have more autonomy and certainly less fear of dowry-related violence than more privileged women. As prescribed by the cult of domesticity, middle class women often lead very confined, restricted lives, and even well-educated, well-employed women may have to keep up such a front. For instance, several university faculty members told me about getting up at five to spend four hours cooking breakfast and the noon meal, and then coming home early to spend several more hours cooking after-school snacks and supper because their husbands and sons refused to eat food cooked by anyone else. They were exhausted and furious; their scholarly work was suffering; yet they continued to cook and did not leave their husbands. As they explained it, respectability (particularly maintaining gender roles and family honor) and security are the most important things in this society. Most middle class women get security by upholding personal and family respectability, and not angering their husbands. However, because the shame of divorce is so great, even women with high incomes are slaves to respectability.13 The situation is just the opposite for the participant women: to gain economic security, they must break conventional repsectablility rules by earning money via hard labor outside the home. CONCLUSIONS These VSDOs seem to have a better understanding of the microdynamics of development than many development "experts". They recognize gender stratification and its negative consequences for women as well as the entire society; they know that resources and opportunity are not equitably distributed within households; they have learned from experience that women are usually more responsible, creative, and reliable than men; they do not think grass roots development can succeed unless women are central actors. It is not surprising, then, that these VSDOs do not fit any mold regarding women and development. They are not elite welfare organizations, their work does not match the feminist critics' descriptions of mainstream grass roots VSDOs, and because they are not free from tradition, they cannot be ranked with the feminist action organizations. Yet who else provides such a devastating critique of men? Contradictions abound. They blame many development problems on men, but turn to women for solutions. They are filled with sorrow about women's difficult lives, and also add to their burdens. They want to eliminate class/caste/gender stratification, but because they have only partially deconstructed traditional gender and class ideology, they promote women's self sufficiency more for the benefit of their families than for the women themselves, and they and are much less enthusiastic about women gaining genuine autonomy than an income. These findings raise many intriguing questions and possibilities for further research including:

  1. Are these VSDOs the only ones of their kind?
  2. Do these VSDOs represent a new category or are they in process? That is, over time will they remain about the same or is this a snapshot of movement along a continuum, perhaps from traditional men-centered to women-centered development, and then to feminist action development.
  3. Have the feminist critics of male-headed VSDOs overlooked organizations such as these, or not looked at them carefully enough?
  4. Is an approach to development that focuses primarily on women the wisest in the long run?

Regarding the first question, being familiar with Right Sharing proposals from other parts of the world, having examined a dozen Right Sharing files from all over states in India, and having met with some of these VSDOs as well as Indian VSDOs that have not applied to Right Sharing, I know these thirty are not the only VSDOs of their kind. Second, although the VSDOs give the impression they are in process, I can't answer this question because the Right Sharing files are not suitable for longitudinal analysis. Regardless, currently, these VSDOs represent a new category of grass roots VSDO work that should be acknowledged, one that is women-centered and closer to feminist than patriarchal. Have feminist critics of development underrated VSDOs run by men? Clearly many male-dominated VSDOs are patriarchal, sexist, traditional and do little more than make extra work for women. However these data suggest that a closer look will reveal considerable heterogeneity among male-headed VSDOs. Feminist critics are especially dissatisfied with income generation projects which they consider to be work-making, piecemeal development. Most of the Tamil VSDOs do sponsor income generation projects for women, however, as one feminist critic has advised, they are generally embedded in broader programs involving, "...educational, organizational, and consciousness raising components, so that at least they set the participants on a path toward personal growth and greater self reliance" (Antrobus, 1987: 13). In addition, and contrary to feminist criticism, these VSDOs would prefer to use more if not most of their resources on women. Moreover, they encourage leadership, institution, and skill building among women, and they foster solidarity groups which are important for "bringing women...into visibility and power in a wider arena" (Bruce, 1989: 987). These VSDOs also sponsor day care and other programs for children and they promote labor saving technology for women (xxxx, 19xxb). Since VSDOs are eager to show visitor's their income generating projects, unless some time is spent observing their work, asking questions, and reading their reports, less tangible aspects of the their programs may be missed. Moreover, ideas for income generation projects often come from the women's organizations the VSDOs have initiated, and it is the women themselves who have chosen traditional, low skilled, home based work. I am not implying that women should not have broader options, but rather suggesting that is important to look at the women's side of the story. First, alas, participants want the respectability achieved by fulfilling traditional gender roles. Moreover, home-based work may be a very appealing alternative to being bent over knee deep in mud all day, cracking rocks in a quarry, or carrying bricks at a construction site--especially if babies and small children must be taken to these work sites. Further, those who criticize income generation projects because the income is very low, may not be in tune with the participants' situation, for even a small daily wage in their own hands makes a big difference. As a member of the Working Women's Forum dairy project so eloquently put it, "We do not starve anymore" (Azad, 1985:17). Again, I am not suggesting that these women do not deserve a substantial income, but rather, that their first concern is an immediate, reliable, and sufficient income. Entrepreneurial enterprises or totally new kinds of work may seem (and indeed may be) too risky because participants cannot afford to lose even one day's wages and VSDOs do not have the funds to redress mistakes. This point is underscored by the concept of "livlihood systems" which posits that economic goals move from survival to security to growth. (Grown and Sebstad, 1989).

14 We are faced with a dilemma. Grass roots, participatory development is currently held up as the ideal, and it is the goal of these VSDOs. If genuine participation is to be achieved, VSDOs must respond to participants' wishes, but it may take time, progress in the livlihood system, and many consciousness raising sessions before the participants (and the VSDOs) voluntarily break out of traditional patterns and the safest situations. Until then, what looks like patriarchal VSDOs telling women what to do, may instead be the result of women organizing and making decisions for themselves.

15 Regarding the last question, women-centered development is very appealing to the VSDOs because they have too few resources to waste on irresponsible, uncooperative people. Also, since the GRDWs must be successful in order to continue getting funds for their work and for their own subsistence (xxxx, 19xxa), women are also a better bet. Looking beyond VSDOs, historically, development has been men-centered and it has proven to be unjust and environmentally, economically, and socially unsustainable.

16 Also, under men-centered development, increased class status of households has been associated with lower gender status for women because these development processes usually took work away from women and put money into men's pockets (see footnotes 1 and 2). A women-centered development strategy that enables women to be self supporting or co-ricewinners could reduce gender stratification, but unless it is also a feminist strategy, it may only shift gender stratification's manifestation to greater concern about respectability and thus further reduce the women's autonomy. And, as may be the case with the Tamil VSDOs, it could make women's burdens heavier while enabling men to be even more irresponsible. Given all the difficulties these VSDOs face in their work (xxxx, 19xxa,b), it is understandable that they might want to might writeoff men, but in the long run, the decision to leave out this half of the population would surely be as foolish as conventional development's leaving out women. If we are to see just and sustainable development we must have development that is person/community/environment-centered. Policy makers and funding agencies can facilitate this transition by offering additional resources to VSDOs to promote such development and to hasten this process by enabling all men to become more grown up and responsible.


Elizabeth W. Moen Associate Professor Department of Sociology Campus Box 327 University of Colorado Boulder CO USA 80309 Phone (303) 444-3650 FAX (303) 492-5105 December 1989-July 1990: Dept. of Gandhian Studies Madurai Kamaraj University City Campus Alagar Koil Road Madurai 625002 Tamil Nadu, India Phone 41695, 41431 TELEX 445 303 MKU IN Telegram UNIVERSITY

I am deeply indebted and thankful to members of the Right Sharing committee and especially the staff person, Johan Mauer, for their encouragement and help; to the grass roots development workers and participants for their patience, hospitality, and example; to Sedna Wineland, Glenda Sehested, and Abigail Fuller for their valuable research assistance; and to Mary Downton and Tom Moen for being friends in deed. Travel support from the U.S. Information Agency and the University of Colorado, Boulder College of Arts and Sciences enabled the field work. Data analysis and writing were supported by the Conflict Resolution Consortium and the Department of Sociology of the University of Colorado.



Interest in female poverty and gender stratification is growing because of the growing recognition that when women are disadvantaged, so is the entire development process. In addition, donor agencies and governments are turning to grass roots organizations to rescue development efforts among the poor. I present unusual data from thirty grass roots development organizations in Tamil Nadu, India, headed by men who claim that development efforts are hurt not only by the exclusions of women, but also by the inclusion of men. Following a brief overview of voluntary sector work with women, I discuss the background and context of this research, the development organizations' analysis of gender stratification, their women-centered approach, and contradictions that result when male development workers target women. I conclude by considering where these organizations fit in the literature on women and development, feminist criticism of conventional grass roots development work, and development policy.

Elizabeth Moen is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research focuses on women and development, sexual politics and reproductive rights, and grass roots development theory, policy and strategy.

23 1See e.g., Boserup (1970), Boulding (1977), xxxx et al. (1980, re women and development in the U.S.), Charlton (1984), Shimiwaayi (1985), Sen and Grown (1987), Yudelman (1987), Grown (1989). Still, I was surprised, after all that has been written about women's role in African agriculture, to find no mention of women in Lipton's (1988) effort to understand why agricultural research in Sub-Saharan Africa yields such small returns. Since there are no standard definitions of the various forms of social stratification, I will go by by the following: Class stratification is the result of individual differences in access to or attainment of status factors such as opportunity, wealth, power, privilege, and autonomy (or whatever a society deems valuable). Gender stratification reflects differential access to and attainment of status factors by males and females of the same class; it is also affected by gender-class interaction. Adding other grounds for discrimination such as race, caste, ethnicity, age, and religion, complicates the picture considerably since there is theoretical justification for e.g., comparing races within genders and genders with races, etc. and thus the necessity to consider all possible interaction terms. Just class, gender, and race, requires a three-way analysis of variance with four interaction terms.

2The term "participants" denotes those the VSDOs serve and those they seek to serve. Regarding Indian life and gender stratification, see e.g., Joseph (1987), Jain and Banerjee (1985), Devendra (1986), Jung (1987), Agarwal (1986, 1988), Mies (1986), Kishwar and Vanita (1984), Mukhopadhyay (1984), and Karlekar (1982). 3Right Sharing is a program of Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas; the budget is about $90,000/year and most donations come from the U.S. Maximum grants are $5000/year and funding will not be given for more than five years. As of September, 1989 thirty-three organizations in Tamil Nadu had applied for funds from Right Sharing; the three headed by women are not included here. Although three is too small a number to make comparisons, their files and interviews are not very different from the male-headed organizations. The 1:10 ratio, reflects a society that makes it very difficult for women to get into or become leaders in this work. In fact among these three, one is a nun, one a European who has lived in India for about 30 years, and one grew up doing this work as a member of a family devoted to the "upliftment of the poor".

4Briefly, the research was guided by the "new paradigm" (Reason and Rowen, 1981), which considers knowledge to be an intersubjective process and therefore seeks to heal the subjective-objective split. Corresponding to this perspective, I call my my method of analysis hermeneutic content analysis. Because this research was inductive in nature, and initiated for another purpose, the women-centered theme came as a surprise. Thus, a major pupose of this paper is to tempt others to follow25 up on the questions that have emerged. An eight-month research fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies will enable me to pursue many of these questions in S. India.

5 Of course Indian men do heavy labor; but these are instances of a familiar double bind: if men and women are both doing hard work, men are paid more because their work is defined as the hardest; however if the women's work is clearly the hardest, they are not paid more, because the men's work is now defined as the most important. The relative strength of men and women is a long standing argument, and plowing is often the example given to "prove" that men are the stongest. But according to Boserup (1970) the women's digging stick requires more effort than a plow, and Bhatt (1987) notes that Indian women pull carts of 2000 kilos (4,400 pounds)--even allowing for exaggeration, that should settle the argument.

6Citations reflect the identifying number of the VSDO and the source, where F= Right Sharing files, N= my field notes, and C= my correpsondence with the VSDO. F and C quotes are exact; N quotes are close, but not exact. Words or phrases in quotes but without citations were commonly used.

7Sometimes these GRDWs quote things they have read without acknowledgment. This quote may be such a case; nevertheless it does reflect the GRDW's opinions.

8These NGDOs are not heavily funded by government. Some have not been organized long enough to qualify, others do not want to get involved with the red tape and corruption. Government funds that are used are primarily for the benefit of both males and females, e.g., nonformal education, health, day care, tree growing, and credit. Some do employ government schemes for women's training and credit.

9In other parts of India and around the world, these are common observations; see e.g., Agarwal (1988) and Grown (1989). I know an ashram in India where the male workers' wages are given directly to their wives, in hope that at least some of this money will go to family needs. Not all women spend their money strictly for household subsistence needs. For instance, women participating in a WWF dairy project "claimed ...the ability and freedom to spend on clothes, cosmetics, tobacco, etc" (Azad, 1985:17).

10To further protect each woman and her earnings, this GRDW would put 1/3 of her earnings in the bank, and allocate 1/3 to her and 1/3 to her husband, hoping he would not resort to violence to get the entire 2/3.

11All of the GRDWs have completed high school, many college, and some hold graduate degrees. However some of them, including those with higher education, are harijans and/or have come from 27 very poor families.

12According to Mayoux, although it is generally assumed by development workers in India that some improvement in the status of women "...will automatically occur as a result of the provision of work", the little evidence we have is mixed. There is more evidence that women engaged in waged labor do not always have control over their own income (1989: 18).

13It is a viscious circle; husbands and sons fear they will lose face if they help around the house. When I asked if the daughters helped, one of the women said, "I will not ask them to help. They will suffer later. I will not make them share my sufferings now." These women were very open and very angry, but also laughing at the irony of feminist scholars being in such a situation.

14Some feminist analysts are more positive about income generation projects. They caution, however, that they must be designed with the larger economy in mind and that development organizations must also work for the removal of structural and institutional barriers to the success of women's economic activities (Grown, 1989). The Tamil VSDOs are weak in these areas. On the other hand, according to their metatheory of grass roots development, changes such as these should come about as the result of mass social movements from bottom to top (xxxx, 19xxb).

15I do wonder if these VSDOs are overlooking women's organizations and skills that might be built upon--how does that miracle of the Indian housewife get accomplished

16 As a reminder to the unconvinced I'll just mention, toxic wastes, crack, the 60% of the world's population in dire poverty, ozone depletion, widepsread grotesque violations of human rights, and massive amounts of the world's resources, money, and ingenuity spent on military weapons and operations. These symptoms of our condition our not unrelated to each other or male dominance--they reflect childish irresponsibility. However, without broad social and economic restructuring it is doubtful if women-centered or even feminist development alone could make the changes that are needed.

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