Women in Developing Countries

Researchers and policymakers have been examining the impact of women in developing countries since the 1950s. The term ‘developing countries' refers to nations that are seen as having low or middle income in terms of their economy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, feminist scholars studying women challenged the dominant male opinion in development theories. They criticized the popular theory at the time, referred to as modernization, for the fact that the social dimension of change in developing countries was ignored and for the assertion that women would be liberated by economic modernization. Marxist literature also came under fire for ignoring the experience of women.

Feminist scholars of the Third World and women from ethnic minorities have argued that women's studies are a reflection primarily of the privileged women, who lack the perspective of disadvantaged women. These scholars stress that the concept of a woman has become a synonym of the white middle-class female. They believe that studies need to recognize various degrees of oppression of women based on nationality, class and ethnicity

According to Rekha Datta and Judith Kornberg, authors of Women in Developing Countries: Assessing Strategies for Empowerment (2002), researchers since the 1970s, including influential Danish economist and writer Ester Boserup (1910 to 1999), have inspired academics and practitioners to address the problems of gender discrimination that exist in countries as they develop.

Datta and Kornberg argue that women's organizations empower women in developing countries to play a more active role in the development process. Women are also adopting strategies to beat discrimination and deprivation in the community, workplace and society. This has resulted in an expansion in the field of empowerment studies in the 21st century. Datta and Kornberg state that empowerment is a widely used but complex and hotly debated issue.

Studies on women and international development have benefited from the increasing amount of information and research on women. These writings acknowledged the complexity of women's experience and the focus in women's studies was shifted. Feminists emphasized the complexity and diversity of women's lives and in this way drew attention to the importance of social relations between the sexes.

In countries where women have inferior social status due to custom or formal law, it is sometimes seen as acceptable to exploit and abuse women. The beliefs, norms and social institutions of such cultures legitimize and perpetuate violence against women. In developing countries, abused women often accept their status, adopting the traditional values of servility and submission. Due to poverty and custom, extended families live together and as a result young couples adopt the traditional values of older relatives.

Another form of subjugation directed against women is the absence of property rights for women. In many African countries, access to land is crucial because subsistence farming is the main source of livelihood. In countries such as Liberia, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia, women usually lose their land when they become widows since their entitlement to the land is founded on their marriage. In addition to custom, civil law in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan can foster the subjugation of women.

‘Honor killings' are known to occur in some Muslim countries and occasionally among Muslim immigrants in Western countries. Women who ‘dishonor' the family include rape victims, women accused of adultery and women suspected of engaging in pre-marital sex. Even when an honor killing is seen as murder under formal law, men who kill female relatives are often acquitted. The sentences given to those convicted tend to be lighter, according to the findings from a conference on honor killings held in Lebanon.

Another factor relating to women in developing countries is dowry-related subjugation. In countries such as India, the practice of a dowry is prevalent despite the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. In cases of dowry-related murders or suicides there is a high level of acquittals. In addition, there are dowry-related killings, which occur predominantly in South Asia. Women in developing countries can be confused about their rights because of the gap between formal law and customary law.

In developing countries, there is a common practice of marrying under-age girls, which effectively ends their chance for education. The problem is acute due to the risks from pregnancy-related complications for girls not physiologically ready to bear a child. In addition to early marriage and pregnancy, another hazard for under-age girls is to be sold into prostitution by poor families, which is prevalent in South East Asia.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Women in Developing Countries: Assessing Strategies for Empowerment
Rekha Datta; Judith Kornberg.
Lynne Rienner, 2002
We Are Poor but So Many: The Story of Self-Employed Women in India
Ela R. Bhatt.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Do Microfinance Programs Benefit Women in Developing Countries?
Siraj, Mazhar.
Advancing Women in Leadership, Vol. 32, January 1, 2012
Advancing Women into Educational Leadership in Developing Countries: The Case of Uganda
Sperandio, Jill; Kagoda, Alice Merab.
Advancing Women in Leadership, Vol. 27, Spring 2008
The Condition of Women in Developing and Developed Countries
Cohen, Michelle Fram.
Independent Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall 2006
Inner Strength in Salvadoran Women: A Secondary Analysis
Rutherford, Mary S.; Parker, Karen.
Journal of Cultural Diversity, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring 2003
Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation
Gisela Geisler.
Nordic African Institute, 2004
Haitian Heroines: Women Are the Backbone of Haiti's Market System. but They Need Help-Desperately
Rhodes, Leara.
The International Economy, Vol. 15, No. 6, November-December 2001
Women in Indonesia: Gender, Equity, and Development
Kathryn Robinson; Sharon Bessell.
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2002
Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan
Hafizullah Emadi.
Praeger, 2002
Women under Attack: Violence and Poverty in Guatemala
Ogrodnik, Corinne; Borzutzky, Silvia.
Journal of International Women's Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, January-February 2011
Women and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Power, Opportunities, and Constraints
Marianne Bloch; Josephine A. Beoku-Betts; B. Robert Tabachnick.
Lynne Rienner, 1998
Women Farmers and Commercial Ventures: Increasing Food Security in Developing Countries
Anita Spring.
Lynne Rienner, 2000
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