Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk

Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

Reflections on the Four Research Projects and Some PolicyMessagesCompared with the RDC study back in the early 1990s the situation with respectto rural women and their contribution to the economic life of rural areas isclearly changing. Overall, it would seem that rural areas are ‘gaining ground’ inrelation to broader trends in women’s employment and that this is particularlythe case in terms of levels of involvement in paid work, and the kinds of workdone, for example, the increase in professional, associate professional andmanagerial employment. However, the relatively high levels of part-timeworking and low wages in local jobs suggests also that there is a polarization inemployment experience, and an emergent two-tier rural economy as far as ruralwomen’s employment is concerned. This differentiation exists within the regionas a whole i.e. east to west, but also within individual communities whereverthese are located. As such, it may make less sense for service providers andpolicy makers to think about ‘rural women’ as a general group and more sense totalk about particular groups of rural women with particular employment needs.The proportion of women experiencing difficulties with childcare differed quiteconsiderably between the study areas and so did the patterns of childcare, withfamily members predominating in Cornwall, childminders in Wiltshire andschool / pre-school clubs in Somerset. What was evident in all three areas,however, was the relatively limited input into childcare by husbands and spouses.While there was a sense, at least from the Somerset context, that childcare hasbeen improving in recent years, the fact remains that appropriate forms ofchildcare are still missing or are inadequate. However, the challenge here is notsimply related to identifying and developing targeted and locally sensitivesolutions to the childcare issue. There is a need to think more broadly than this.While women can create employment for themselves and others throughproviding childcare this is typically low paid and perpetuates the problems oflow wages in this sector and in rural areas in general. Moreover, rather thancontinuing to link childcare issues with women alone we need to think beyondthe assumption that this is just a ‘woman’s issue’.The research has shown that constraints on rural women’s labour marketparticipation are rarely of one kind, but reflect a bundle of related difficultiestypically comprising lack of suitable childcare, limited public transport, costs ofprivate transport, low wages as well as some factors seemingly unconnected withthe labour market, such as the traditional nature of rural society. There is a needtherefore for a holistic response by service providers and policy makers thattakes on board the interconnectivity of issues facing women in accessing paidwork.Finally, it is apparent that increasing levels of paid work among rural women(alongside broader trends in society which place more emphasis on theindividual than the collective) are affecting the amount of unpaid labour that they14

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