Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty

Theme: In poorer households, social norms regarding gender roles may be
less rigid

Morocco-Livestock and Pasture Development Project in the Eastern Region - A woman loads up on plastic containers before going to collect water. IFAD Photo by Alberto ContiOne of a series of IFAD papers on household food security and gender is based on original research undertaken between 1994 and 1995 in three villages in the Taforalt-Taourist Region of the Oujda Province in Eastern Morocco. Women's roles in production and food security are among the issues addressed. Many of the findings in these three communities are likely to have parallels both within Morocco and in similar cultural and socio-economic situations in neighbouring countries.

The villages studied were at different stages of moving from traditional to modern. Elhouafi and Taghilast are poorer, traditional and subsistence-oriented villages, relying on multiple strategies for survival, which include rainfed agriculture. The third, Oulad Lfquir is a relatively better off, more modern village, largely dependent on irrigated agriculture. A comparison of the villages and of households within the villages showed that, in this area:

  • women's direct involvement in production is greater in subsistence households than in market-oriented households; and
  • the poorer the household, the greater the woman's role in ensuring its survival, and the more likely it is that both the woman and her husband are supportive of women's productive activities.

Traditional values in this Muslim society place restrictions on women's movement and activities. Many productive tasks are considered shameful or demeaning. Participation in such activities lowers the social status of both the woman and the household. (The study found that women aspired to the life-style of a "rich woman" that means not having to move out of their houses or perform 'menial tasks such as weaving, water collection, looking after animals'). But the study also noted that these norms were applied more loosely among poorer families, when the struggle for survival required that the whole family, including women and children, take an active production role.

Crops. Women very rarely become directly involved in crop production activities, even women in the poorest households. The study found such activity performed by only one widow. However, in all three villages, women process fruit and vegetables (such as drying niora), and are responsible for the storage of crops harvested (such as luzern), including the making of storage sacks from the alfalfa carpets or hides. But when silos are used, men and boys are responsible for the storage. Also, in the poorer villages of Elhouafi and Taghilast, women take meals to their men in the fields and pick fruit within the douar. In Taghilast, during ploughing and harvest, women put up and take down tents in the fields. However, in the relatively wealthier and more modern village of Oulad Lfqir, women's production role is primarily limited to processing. It is considered demeaning for a woman to go out in the fields, but women may prepare meals for the men of the household and even the labourers.

Livestock. Livestock management (of mainly sheep, goats and donkeys) is range based. Men own and manage animals, though women in poorer or intermediate households help with their care (milking, assisting at births, providing traditional treatments and sometimes herding the animals within or near the douar). Veterinary services are inadequate, and the death of an animal is considered a major tragedy, with relatives coming to offer condolences. Women tend to own an average of 4-8 scavenger chickens (the maximum owned were 20). Associations among women for poultry-raising are common in the villages. The sale of a chicken provides a woman with cash in emergencies. In the poorer communities, women will give the poultry to their husbands to sell, and the proceeds go to family needs or to the women's own personal needs (mainly health care). In the wealthier village of Oulad Lfqir, men consider it shameful to sell their wives' poultry. Here women either sell to middlemen or give the poultry to male children to sell at the souk. The women tend to keep the resulting income for their own personal use, rather than for household expenses.

Off-farm income-generating activities. Women in the poorer households in Taghilast and Elhouafi sometimes produce traditional alfalfa grass carpets. This is a long and physically painful process, involving picking, soaking, drying, beating and weaving. In the latter village, the carpets are mainly for home use, but in Taghilast, the income from their sale becomes an important contribution to family survival. When men sell the women's carpets, they hand the income over to the women. Women are not interested in improved carpet-weaving because of the stigma of poverty attached to it. Occasionally women also earn some income from the collection of rosemary or medicinal plants. Poorer women are interested in undertaking other income-generating activities, such as bee-keeping which is beginning to come into vogue, but at the time of the study did not involve women.

Differences by age and status. A woman's age and status within the household play a role in both her decision-making and her activities. The adult married woman decides what is to be done and supervises the work of younger women in the household, such as unmarried daughters.

In similar situations, development initiatives will need to consider that a woman's decision whether or not to undertake a certain productive activity may be influenced by considerations of status and prestige. However, women from poorer households are more likely to ignore the social norms in the interest of survival. This can help in poverty targeting of projects, as it automatically excludes wealthier women .