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Congress Moves to Increase Women’s Role in Foreign Aid

May 2, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two studies that criticize the Agency for International Development for failing to pay enough attention to women in the Third World have galvanized members of Congress.

Eighty-nine House members are co-sponsoring legislation that would require AID to incorporate local women in development projects and ensure that 50 percent of the people in AID training programs abroad are female.

″Much has been said and written about incorporating women in development efforts, but far too little has been done,″ Democratic Reps. Mickey Leland of Texas and Patricia Schroeder of Colorado said in a letter to colleagues.

The issue is also being pushed by Bread for the World, a Christian group that lobbies against hunger and poverty.

That group plans a letter-writing campaign to encourage AID to increase benefits given to women in developing countries, said president Art Simon, the brother of Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

AID spokesman Jerry Lipson said the agency has long recognized the important role women play in development and believes more needs to be done for women, but it opposes the legislation because it limits the agency’s flexibility.

He said Alan Woods, the agency’s director, is ″committed to AID’s efforts to integrate women into developing economies.″

But agency officials think the legislation is like ″using an elephant to deal with a fly,″ he said. Among the provisions AID dislikes are one that sets quotas for the number of women involved in projects, and another that would require an AID office focusing on women’s role in development to spend $10 million annually.

Moreover, Lipson said that while Americans recognize the importance of women in the Third World, AID officials sometimes run into roadblocks in developing countries where women frequently have inferior status.

What prompted congressional interest were two independent studies - commissioned by AID and completed in 1987 - that evaluate how AID deals with poor women.

″AID’s women in development policy is not being implemented fully or vigorously, and there is little enthusiasm and few incentives for doing so,″ Development Associates Inc., a consulting group, wrote in a December report.

Unless there is agency-wide acceptance of the policy of incorporating women, it will be ″marginally useful at best,″ the study said.

While lip-service is given to the importance of women’s roles in development, the policy is not a ″serious concern″ for many AID managers, the study said.

In developing countries, women are frequently farmers. In Africa, experts estimate that women are responsible for growing more than 80 percent of the food consumed in the home.

Case studies in Botswana, Kenya and the Caribbean, for example, show that when there is widespread male migration, women’s earnings are the mainstay for subsistence expenditures.

Women also play a large role in informal commerce, serving as traders and merchants in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. In a community in Bolivia, women’s earning from handicrafts tided families over during a drought.

The failure to take women into account can undermine some development projects, according to a report written by Alice Carloni for AID in April 1987.

The Botswana Agricultural College Expansion project was rated highly successful in developing an agricultural training institution.

But the project may not ultimately improve the lives of farm families if the extension service continues to bypass female farmers who play a major role in agriculture, the study said.

In another project in Nepal, architects focused too narrowly on the domestic role women play, the study said. The women were taught to use a different type of stove designed to reduce deforestation, but were not educated on broader conservation topics.

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