IMPORTED STRATEGIES Women and Development by Chris Weiss Chris Weiss works with the Ms. Foundation for Women, Economic Development/Technical Assistance Project and is the Acting North American Coordinator for Women's World Banking. She lives in West Virginia. In Chicago, the Women's Self-Employment Project designed a loan program, making capital available to groups of women who are starting self-employment projects. The Graumeen Bank is doing the same thing with women in Bangladesh. Women in Jamaica and New Hampshire are learning construction skills through the Jamaica Women's Collective and Northeastern N.E. Women in the Trades. In West Virginia, a local affiliate of Women's World Banking offers guaranteed loans for microenterprises (See The Front, page 7). The Kenya Women's Finance Trust, a Women's World Banking affiliate in Kenya has a similar program. Women from the United States have been studying and adapting models that have worked in Africa and Asia. The notion that "developed" countries teach "undeveloped" countries still persists but some profound changes are taking place in the United States where development practitioners are designing economic development programs for low-income women. In developing these new programs and analyzing and creating the new strategies, women's organizations in the United States are beginning to pay attention to research, analysis and project development that is already taking place in Third World countries. Kristin Timothy, chief of the New York office of the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), says that it is hard to trace the origins of development strategies around the world. "It's a chicken and egg situation," she explains. But she adds, "there has been a fair amount of cross-fertilization in developing techniques, particularly at the grassroots level." Women's organizations are beginning to move away from the developed/developing distinction, as they recognize more cross- cultural parallels. Timothy says she is not sure if it is strategies which have been transferred "so much as shared experiences and people exchanging ideas about what to do." There is a growing consciousness on the part of women working in economic development projects that unacceptable conditions exist for women and their families regardless of national boundaries. In Appalachia, on Native American reservations and in the urban ghettos of some of the biggest U.S. cities, for example, women are realizing that a Third World existence is possible anywhere in the world as long as women lack economic choices. At the same time, such women are aware that there are still major differences that cannot be ignored in the poverty, culture and in public policy. Until recently, however, the idea that there was any similarity at all between the work that women in the United States and women in Africa or Latin America were doing to increase economic choices for women would have been ridiculed. U.S. feminist, author and activist, Gloria Steinem commented on the potential for an international perspective in a preface to a recent book: "Women are a Third World wherever we are: low on capital, low on technology, labor intensive and a source of raw materials, maintenance and underpaid or unpaid production for the more powerful." Many women agree. In recent years, individual women and women's organizations in the United States have begun to explore new kinds of economic interventions into the lives of low-income women, substituting economic development projects for social service projects. This is a major change for these organizations which have traditionally been involved with social welfare programs or concerned with equity issues such as assuring women equal rights under the law. This trend is a product of the considerable frustration that institutions serving women have encountered while attempting to address the economic restrictions U.S. women face. The staff of domestic violence shelters note, for example, that a battered woman might return to the abusive situation, because there simply is no viable way for her to support herself independently. And finding a salaried job is not the only problem. Many women in traditional "women's" jobs face the dilemma of being forced to give up their work because the low pay they receive is not sufficient to pay for adequate child care. Women's poverty was one of the many issues debated at the 1985 United Nations (UN) Conference on the International Decade for Women in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was attended by more than 3,000 women from the United States and much of the discussion there was devoted to the economic realities facing women around the world. Out of this discussion came a new acceptance of the idea that solutions can come from anywhere, as long as they provide the answer to a local need. One important solution which Timothy says emerged at the Nairobi conference "was the idea of empowering women by giving them the resources and skills to allow them to play a role in decision-making and [to] channel resources toward goals that are meaningful to women." Twenty-six percent of the workshops in Nairobi dealt with the theme of development, one of the three major themes of the meeting (along with equality and peace). One of the major plenaries and several workshops were led by representatives of a group of researchers and practitioners from around the world called Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN). DAWN's analysis of the economic alternatives for women involved looking at global trends in military spending, the pervasive influence of the religious right and the economic discrimination that is practiced by governments against women everywhere. DAWN argues that economic development starts with women. In a later publication, it wrote "If the goals of development included improved standards of living, removal of poverty, access to dignified employment and reduction in societal inequity, then it is quite natural to start with women. They constitute the majority of the poor, the underemployed and the economically and socially disadvantaged in most societies. Furthermore, women suffer from the additional burdens imposed by gender-based hierarchies and subordination." DAWN recommended to project developers and funders that, if they intended to see the greatest return on their money, they needed to spend it on projects directly affecting women. Income- generating projects which target women as their main constituency have been found to bring greater wealth to a greater number of people. Women, this research shows, spend more of any net increase in income on their families--on food, fuel, shelter and clothing. Men tend to spend more of their income on consumer items. Therefore, if development projects start with women, there is greater net benefit to the community. DAWN made it clear in Nairobi and in subsequent publications that although they considers theirs a "Third World" perspective, it is more inclusive than that, encompassing people "from the South countries [and] from oppressed and disadvantaged groups and sectors of the women's movement within the North," among others. There were many in Nairobi who took DAWN's vision back to the United States and other countries and began to put it to work. They did not have to look far to find their constituency in the United States. The ranks of the very poor in the United States are increasingly being filled with women from Third World countries. Popular myth has it that male workers make up the majority of the refugee population. Increasingly, however, figures show that women are the predominant sex among refugees in the United States. More than 62 percent of the refugees from Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, Cuba, China (Mainland and Taiwan), Vietnam, India, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Italy and Canada are women. They enter as refugees and immigrants, seeking a better standard of living and a future for their children but they often find themselves trapped in low-wage service jobs, barely making enough money to subsist. In addition, they must cope with being in a foreign country and being forced to speak an unfamiliar language. According to Annette Fuentes and Barbara Ehrenreich, the authors of Women in the Global Factory, "Ninety percent of the sweatshop workers in this country are female and the majority of these are immigrants from the Caribbean, Central America and Asia. Third World women are industry's best labor bargain, wherever they are found." Refugee Women in Development is an organization that works with refugee communities in Washington D.C. which is attempting to reverse this trend. Currently, it is working with Afghani women and Cambodian women in two separate enterprises to establish cooperatives, using the handcraft skills that these women have brought with them. According to Director Sima Wali, herself a refugee from Afghanistan, "Women bring their skills to this country plus an emotional load of abuse. [The second] is a barrier to economic transition." Wali sees similarities between the economic development work done in villages in Third World countries and the work that she is doing in the United States. There are other programs in the United States that do similar work with other communities of people. The Association of Farm Worker Opportunity Programs operates across the United States to assist migrant farm workers to "settle out" into local communities, using federal funds to place workers into local employment. The American Friends Service Committee operates a border project between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas to deal with the effects of the exploitation of Mexican women who work in the subsidiaries of U.S.-owned assembly plants or maquiladoras which have located there to take advantage of the cheap labor. Each of these non-profit groups includes former refugees and immigrants as staff and policy-makers responsible for creating new programs to address the effects of displacement on newcomers. They use their own experience as Third World women to create economic alternatives to the continued exploitation of immigrant women and their families in the United States. Even as various non-profits create these alternatives, the global assembly line in which women take part--making clothing, assembling electronic parts--wherever their labor can be obtained cheaply, continues. In "The Journey of a Blouse: A Global Assembly Line," John Cavanaugh describes the creation of a blouse from the cotton fields of El Salvador to the spinning mills of North Carolina, back to the seamstresses in Haiti to the shops in North America. He says "Workers across the United States are adversely affected by global assembly lines, as corporations use the threat of cheap imports to push wages down. Workers everywhere are the losers because they are played off against one another by the same group of large corporations." In a publication of the International Women's Tribune Centre, women discuss the ways that multinationals benefit from the global and sexual division of labor and "the effect that 'The Journey of the Blouse' has on women in Third World countries and women in the industrialized world." The quarterly publication is intended primarily for use by women in the Third World but it has direct relevance for women in industrialized countries too. The Women's Economic Justice Center in Massachusetts is teaching economic literacy with the use of materials much like those published by the Tribune. They teach the economic connections between what happens to women in the United States and Third World countries when multinationals exploit cheap, female labor. Their emphasis is on training women who are already organized in women's organizations, labor unions or trade associations. They also promote new initiatives to set labor standards for U.S.- based companies that operate in the Third World and to condition the international flow of capital. Many other new organizations are also designing strategies to deal with the problems associated with the internationalization of capital. But they lack resources and government support and their task is complicated by economists and statisticians who fail to recognize the work that women do outside a market economy. In a new book, If Women Counted, economist Marilyn Waring stresses the need for a global reassessment of the economic role of women. Waring describes the failure of the policy-makers at the United Nations to "count" women's work. She offers two rationales for the exclusion: "Reasons given by men for their failure to account for women's work are (1) conceptual problems and (2) the practical difficulties of collecting data." Waring goes on to assert that this failure undermines the overall legitimacy of the analysis. "It does not seem to occur to [the men] that if you have a conceptual problem about the activity of half the human species, you then have a conceptual problem about the whole." She also points out that statisticians have developed methods for estimating the levels of illegal or black-market economic activity in various countries (particularly drugs and prostitution) and asks why these male statisticians cannot use similar methods to deal with the practical difficulties they complain of in collecting statistics on women's work. Waring makes a very persuasive argument for the importance of "counting" women's work, primarily for the effect that it could have on decisions made by policy-makers and the "direct political connection of the statistician with the economist and policy-maker." As long as women are invisible workers whose labor is seldom acknowledged, she argues, policy-makers will never develop policies that can make women's labor more efficient and effective. Without such a change in outlook, efforts to reduce poverty among women are severely crippled. In the United States, the movement for women and economic development projects has sparked new ways of thinking about women and the economy. Alice Kessler Harris, a women's historian, says "New material conditions have shifted the content of equity from a demand for equality with men to a challenge to male structures. The altered terms of the debate no longer ask how women can achieve equality in a predominantly male work world so much as how to revalue the world of work and workers in a way that incorporates female self-interest." Communication between women globally will help to define and advance these new values. Shared experiences and borrowed strategies have already established a basis for forging new links among women. The new projects, based on an international perspective on women and development, will help maintain existing connections as well as build new ones.