Tayo Akinyemi

Women at the BOP

Rosie the RiveterIn my old age I’ve come to understand that points of ideological contention can be very eye-opening. My friend Akwasi and I considered each other relatively liberal, like-minded urbanites until we had the ?gender role? conversation. Yes, that one ?the quintessential Mars/Venus debate. According to Akwasi, women have certain roles such as housekeeping and child-rearing and that they are obliged to fulfill. My view is somewhat more fluid: each party should perform the duties to which he or she is best suited, traditional expectations notwithstanding. I will spare you the details of the tete a tete, but I will share my rather rudimentary analysis of the subject.

After much hand-wringing and a rather ad-hoc consultation with my uncle in Lagos, I concluded that from a ?historical? perspective, gender roles had (what I considered to be) relatively unambiguous utility. I reasoned that early man was suited to hunting and gathering due to his greater physical strength and size while early woman, as the child bearer, remained at home out of harm’s way. In my narrow rendering of the world, gender roles were simply a sensible expression of the division of labor. As the capitalist system developed, however, traditionally male roles became recognized by the market and female roles did not. Because we are pushing the boundaries that dictate gender roles, who does what, when, and for whom is now a much more complex question.So what is the point of my idle musings apart from offending anthropologists, historians, scholars of gender studies – anyone with an informed opinion? Well, quite frankly, it begs the question of where women exist in capitalist society, and more specifically, where they exist at the BOP. Over the years, I have encountered much to suggest that: 1) most of the poor are women (and children); and 2) women who are educated and can earn a living tend to be less poor. The question then becomes: to what extent does BOP business development facilitate the enhanced livelihoods of women?

It is not clear to me what degree economic development efforts, specifically at the BOP, focus on women. I’ve certainly heard of efforts to ?mainstream? gender in aid-based programs. On the BOP front, Hindustan Lever’s well-known Shakti program depends on community-based saleswomen. But do women need a special focus? Will they be able to negotiate cultural and religious norms in order to participate economically? Will they need to do so if economically-empowered men at the BOP become ?better providers??

If any of the aforementioned anthropologists, historians, and gender studies experts are out there, your contributions are greatly needed here. I would appreciate any comments, insight, resources (written or otherwise) that may help us to delve below the surface of this question. Needless to say, this won?t be the last time I post on this topic.

And finally, a bit of housekeeping. Generally speaking, I will attempt to address the questions that I raised in my initial blog post by reflecting on what I know and believe, soliciting the opinions of those who know more and/or believe differently than I do, and ultimately, presenting the collective analysis in a blog post. Occasionally, I will throw in a book review or event journal just to keep it interesting.

Sound good?

Until next week?