Nuosu Women's Economic Role
in Ninglang, Yunnan, under the Reforms
Wu Ga (Luovu Vugashynyumo)
Scholars writing about women and economic development are divided on the question of whether the penetration of capitalist markets into communities previously practicing subsistence agriculture is helpful or detrimental to women's position in family and community. Boserup (1970), for example, suggested that in many colonial situations, development, along with Eurocentric ideas about the proper role of women, led to erosion of women's traditional social rights and economic autonomy. Dauber and Cain (1981) and Ahmed (1985) pointed out that the development of commercial agriculture and wage labor had deleterious effects on rural women. Other literature has stressed the “feminization of subsistence agriculture” in situations where men have switched to cash crops or migrant labor and left women with the burden of providing for the family's subsistence needs (Staudt and Jacquette 1982; Tinker 1990).
Afonja (1980), however, disagreed with these blanket statements, pointing out that it may be wrong to imagine that the predevelopment world was one where women always had a significant degree of independence. She also noted that the feminization of agriculture has not occurred everywhere, that there are places where women's agricultural contribution remains small and others where commercialization has increased both women's and men's agricultural labor inputs. Boserup's general formulations are thus applicable only under certain conditions.
Since the late 1970s, China's economic reforms have greatly changed the structure of agricultural economy and rural society. The introduction of the household responsibility system and the creation of related economic incentives have significantly stimulated agricultural productivity. As a result, sur