Cultural norms can profoundly influence development at multiple scales, from household decision-making to national development outcomes. Studies in Syria and Jordan are examining how gender-based division of labor impacts on women’s decision-making power and their contribution to household welfare.
The studies looked at two communities in each country, with differences in production system (e.g. migratory pastoral versus mixed farming), degree of external influence (e.g. presence of NGOs) and other parameters.
In both countries, men generally have primary responsibility for economic activities, including marketing, while women’s activities are concentrated within the household. Women generally do not own land.
In this study, women were responsible for marketing live animals in only 22% of the households in Jordan, and 15% in Syria. For marketing dairy products, the figures were 39% in Jordan and 13% in Syria.
This difference is mainly because women in Jordan have much better market access: they sell from their homes to individual customers as well as traders. In Syria, 54% of the women surveyed said dairy products were largely marketed by men, who also retain control over the income.
Very few of the Syrian women owned livestock, but the majority said they would like to, because they believed it would increase household income (20% thought it would simply increase their workloads).
In contrast, 37% of the Jordanian women owned livestock and ran their own dairy businesses, largely because of the work of NGOs and development projects at the study sites.
More income, more power
Women perceive that they contribute 47% (Syria) and 42% (Jordan) of household income. In Jordan, 74% of the women surveyed said the money earned from dairying had improved their standard of living; 20% reported that it was used mainly to purchase food.
Women in both countries felt higher income gave them more bargaining power within the household and a greater role in decision-making. The effect is greater in Jordan, largely as a result of NGO projects and better market access.
Clearly, development efforts that increase women’s incomes also improve their status and their control over their own and their households’ livelihoods.