Participation of Rural Women in Development: A Case Study of Tsheseng, Thintwa, and Makhalaneng Villages, South Africa

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Abstract

This study investigates factors which influence limited participation in the development process by women in South Africa's rural areas. The influence of government development policy, education and cultural values on rural women was sought and investigated in this study. The results suggest that most women in rural areas are illiterate. They lack initiatives, innovations and self-reliance attitudes. Women in rural areas are isolated, confined and marginalized through the non-interactive government policies on rural areas. These symptoms reflect a lack of structured development strategy to create needed opportunities in these areas. As a result, there is a high rate of unemployment, because the present development policy clearly has failed to enhance the welfare of most rural women in the country.

Key Words: Developing Countries, Development Policy, Rural Women, Economic Empowerment, South Africa

Introduction

Rural women's participation in the development process has been the focus of intensive debates by most international forums in the past years. Among forums that have recognized the plight of Third World's women's participation in the development process are the 1995 Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women held in Kenya, the 1995, The Beijing Declaration, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (2000). According to the philosophy of these forums, each member state should promote women's economic independence, which includes the creation of employment, access to resources and credit, the eradication of the persistent and increasing burden of poverty, malnutrition, poor health and illiteracy on women. Although such declarations have been able to increase an awareness and understanding of the problems facing women and their needs, as such they have not yet resulted in significant development priorities for rural women (UNIFEM, 2000).

The impact of development on women in South Africa is quite different for both urban and rural women. In fact, there is substantial evidence that rural women are mostly neglected, and consistently have lost in this process (Meer, 1998). There is also overwhelming evidence of development policies and projects formulated bypassing the involvement of rural women in most African countries (Hunger Project, 2000). The majority of the population in LDCs lives in rural areas, approximately 70% being women (Cartledge, 1995).

Development, according to Olopoenia (1983) and Pradip (1984), is not an isolated activity, for it implies a progress from a lower state to a higher and preferred one. Development is a process by which people are awakened to opportunities within their reach. Development, therefore, starts with people and progresses through them (Seer, 1981; Gwanya, 1989). This is the reason, according to these authors, why rural women should be involved in on going development initiatives. They are the most marginalized group in terms of their needs, while being the people who produce almost 80% of the food consumed in most of Africa's rural areas (Hunger Project, 1999).

The focus on rural women in this study is a concern; it implies that these people have a certain consciousness about their position as rural women, although there are no strategies developed to affect change on them (McIntosh and Friedman, 1989). Following the Lagos Plan of Action for Economic Development of Africa, it is advocated that the needs, rights and concerns of all women be fully integrated into individual country's development planning to benefit all sections of the population (Hunger Project, 2000).

This paper investigates factors that act as bottlenecks to the active participation of rural women in development in South Africa. It is assumed that if these factors are not investigated and analyzed, they are likely to cause a continuous impediment on rural women's participation in on-going developments, as well as on the viability of development efforts in the country itself. …