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.