Women in Development

When thinking about women in the developing world, maybe thoughts of women filling the role of a housewife or a child caretaker begin to emerge. And to be fair, these are most likely correct. But women in developing countries typically have a much larger role than meets the eye. While living in Oman, beyond the house care, cooking, and childcare duties, women were largely responsible to keep track of the family’s finances and were typically the social connection between families. In Perú, women do seemingly run the household as well. My brothers wash their own clothes, and occasionally cook their own meals (depends on who and whether or not they’re eating at an odd hour), and everyone washes dishes, but it is truly my mom who keeps everything functioning. Her day usually starts around 5 or 6am with cleaning, and prepping breakfast (which is usually a simple affair). During the day, she goes to the market, preps a lunch or two, preps food for the restaurant, cleans or takes care of some other household chores, maybe takes a siesta from 4-6, and then opens up the restaurant at night. During the night, she cooks, washes dishes, and serves customers until 12am or 1am, and then repeats every day. She’s always in good spirits (albeit a little tired at times) and never complains about it.

In fact, four of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals specifically target women (ensuring universal education, maternity health, gender equality, reducing child mortality). In the same measure an increasing focus in development practice is to include women as actors and participants in projects.

Looking at the broader picture, women are primary focuses in development for two reasons: as they tend to suffer the brunt of poverty, and also as they can be the solution to this problem as well. In most developing countries (a sweeping generalization, forgive me) women outnumber men 60/40 or somewhere around there, and make a huge part of the informal workforce (working for a business or perhaps owning their own business, but not paying taxes or being counted by the government). Women are more likely to live and suffer from the effects of poverty than men. Women are less able to be mobile or migrate than men, and are often more dependent on family, husbands, or other actors than a man alone. Looking at youth development, girls are less likely to attend or finish primary and secondary school than boys (due to the cost of education, opportunity cost of having a girl in school versus a boy, and the perceived low value of a girl having an education). Pretty much any development topic (environment, education, poverty, banking, etc) has to analyze the influence and importance of women as being a part of the plan.

For the second reason, women are focused on in development because they traditionally tend to be more active participants in community activities. Women typically are better connected and informed in the community than men and are more likely to attend and participate in community meetings. This holds true with any type of developmental meeting as well, such as a talk on health or community project planning. Not only through attendance, but also women are more likely to use and apply information gained at home through things such as community health talks. Themes such as child nutrition (or malnutrition), maternal health, or most any issue seems to be taken to heart by women. In micro credit loans (small loans to individuals for start up businesses) women are shown to be more responsible with the money, use the money for intended purposes and have a higher repayment rate than men.
There’s really no ending to this. Women will always be a topic in development largely until a lot of the sexism ceases to exist, and opportunities for both men and women are limited simply due to gender roles.

Vale la pena?

60% of Peruvians live in poverty, making less than $2/day, or 6 soles
30% of the above percentage (or around 18% of the population) live in extreme poverty, less than $1/day, or about 3 soles

As a Peace Corps trainee I receive 8 soles/day, plus my meals and boarding are covered. I make more than a large majority of people in this country, even while simply in job training.

So while we aren’t really making any money during training, there’s really no need for anything more. But at the same time, I am often struck and thinking about prices and how much I’m paying for something at any given time and how I even think about it. A snack of sweet potato chips and Coke ran about 2.2 soles, or somewhere around 70 cents. Or I’ll go to a café near the training center, and indulge in a bit of tres leches cake and a coffee for a little over seven soles (or close to a day’s wages). Or when we go out for the weekend, I’ve spent 30 soles in one night. And even though it amounts to ten dollars, it’s a) three days wages, b) a large amount for a lot of Peruvians. But at the same time while I’m indulging, I usually fight with a cobrador (guy who collects bus fare) every day to pay the real price (1/2 sole) for the bus ride to the training center instead of the inflated one sole: essentially arguing over fifteen cents. Is it really worth it? Is it a moral stand I take; fighting because although I’m a gringo it doesn’t mean I should be paying inflated prices? Or is it that I am really trying to scrape by on a few soles a day? If either is the case, can I justify using my per-diem at a café for coffee and dessert? We’re told at the Peace Corps that we’re expected to live at the level with the people we’re working/living with. My family doesn’t go out to eat, or go out during the weekends. My brothers who are attending school don’t sit at a café every once in a while and enjoy tres leches after school is out. My brothers ride combis to go study in Lima, come home and study, or drive a moto-taxi to help pay for school.

I came back from Lima the other day, where we spent the afternoon with our language classes. Our group ate at a Chinese restaurant that was pretty cheap especially for Lima (seven soles a plate) and we essentially got what we paid for, as the food was pretty bland. I was telling my mom and cousin about this, saying that we ate at a cheap place and the food wasn’t really great. They asked how much it cost, and after saying that I thought it was cheap, my mom said “No, that’s expensive, Mateo”. This made me feel like a pretentious ass, because for me in terms of both actual cost (cost in Peru, especially for Lima) and relative cost (such as in comparison to the US), it was inexpensive. But for my family, it was completely different, something that was typically out of their means and abilities. I don’t know how much my family makes.

But relative to everything else, I come from a land of privilege and in fact am being paid and compensated to attend invaluable skills training for three months.

Finally, an update

Ay, it’s been way too long since I’ve written.  I’ve actually been meaning to write and get on line for over a week, but it really just hasn’t been possible.  Not because there’s a lack of access points…the Internet café is a three-minute walk from my house.  However, since I’m using an internet café, it’s not worth it to just pop in for 10 minutes to check my e-mail since I’ve been offline for over a week. I’d need at least an hour to get caught up, plus I have a list of things I need to research, look at and so on.  So using the Internet is close to a two-hour block of time, but I really only have a few hours of actual ‘free time’ each day.  I want to spend time with the family, and since I get home around 630 every night, I’d be a ghost for the whole day. 

So if you were taking bets on how long it would take me to get injured in Peru, the winning bet would have been 2.5 weeks.  I was playing soccer, and given my grace I was running full steam, couldn’t stop, and ran straight into a concrete wall. This left me with a small little gash above my left eye.   And since Jason wasn’t even remotely involved, no stitches were required. 

For the most part, the days have been much of the same; language class in the morning and various sessions in the afternoon.  The afternoon sessions have actually been a bit boring for me, largely because it’s covering topics which I studied at school (various actors in development, the importance of women in development, HIV/AIDS in development to name a few).  The tech training sessions have been interesting, but too short and few and far between.

Every Saturday we have tech sessions where two of the programs go to a university in Lima, while my program stays at the center to do our training.  This past week we’ve made shmusdecke filters and got within reach of finishing our giant worm composting bin.  It’s been taking a while since it’s pretty wide/long/deep and we could only make the base last weekend.  This week we started to put up the walls and the dividers, which was a slow process as it’s being made with brick and mortar.  A few of us stayed to work overtime, so I wound up getting back home around 3:30 covered in filth.  All week the family had been talking about a fiesta in the neighborhood, but wouldn’t mention anything specific including time.  My fear was we’d be headed out the door soon after I left, when I needed to bathe and take a siesta.  Luckily, they weren’t planning on going to the fiesta until midnight (!!!), so I had plenty of time to get myself ready. 

            In fact, I wound up going to another neighborhood with a few friends to their fiesta beforehand but this just turned out to be something like an elementary school talent show (which was amusing in it’s own right).  However, there was an over-abundance of Michael Jackson dance routines for my liking.   Some of the other trainees organized to play two songs Credence Clear Water songs (seriously) on guitar and sing for the show, and I joined them to perform in front a crowd of Peruvians who maybe had heard the Tina Turner version of Proud Mary.  So after this died down, we headed back to Yanacoto for the fiesta, which was just getting underway at midnight. 
            Festivities included three live bands, plenty of dancing, and a rather large amount of fire works.  The fire works were something special because the safety precautions we take with them in the USA were not even heard of.  They had a guy running around inside of a paper-mache bull chasing people, and on top of the ‘bull’ was a small four foot tower with carefully placed and orchestrated fireworks.  There was also a twenty-foot tower of the same orchestrated fireworks standing right next to power lines and in front of homes and such. 
            The other trainees started leaving around 2ish, and after the last person left my family showed up!!!  We stuck around and danced for about two more hours, and all the family friends had a fun time dancing with the tall and goofy looking gringo.  I woke up around eight am this morning to a living room full of extended family, to which I promptly excused myself and went back to bed for a few more hours.  Woke up again, prettied myself up (had no idea that there was a family lunch today!) and lunched and hung out with the extended family for a while. Somehow I feel I’m in for an early bed time (I’m writing this at 8pm and considering bed time around 9).