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Measuring the development of rural women

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Although it has been difficult to break down the gender blindness of development history, since 1970, gender’s role in family welfare was made as a visible social construct in development (Kingsbury et al., 2004; Bannon and Correia, 2006). Parallel to improvements made in women's position in many societies, the importance of gender to economic analyses (Kadam, 2012) and their active participation in development has been one of the most troubled aspects of the development debate (Kingsbury et al., 2004). In the rural sector, the attention to gender issues is even more challenging. This means that understanding the linkages between gender equity and development effectiveness is essential aspect of rural studies. Therefore, gender issues have been a core priority of governments including Iran. Although Iran has made considerable progress in terms of human development, its rural areas face some important challenges. Today rural people have, more than ever before, access to education, health facilities and occupational opportunities. But close examination of their living conditions indicates that although the aggregate level of production and consumption has increased, the distribution of benefits continues to show persistent inequalities, including the need for more equitable income and wealth distribution, improved access to health and basic sanitation services. The concern for increasing the development of the rural women makes researchers eager to focus on enormous diversity of pathways to human development monitoring and evaluation. These attempts lead to determining list of indicators for monitoring and evaluation a range of economic, social and environmental goals. However, various life domains directly contribute to individual development. Perhaps, human development approach presents an opportunity not only to review achievements in human development domain, but also to determine challenges at different global, national and regional levels, systematically. Not surprisingly, the human development approach, which proved very popular in public discussion, has a crudeness that is somewhat similar to mechanical devices of economic development. Besides, this approach is concentrating on what remains undone especially for different regions. Therefore, the validity of the original human development vision has been criticized on a number of fronts. This paper discusses a modified index for measuring rural women development. The present study outlines different concepts important for concerning rural women development, specifically: (1) quality of life; (2) income; (3) social capital; (4) health and sanitation; (5) food security; (6) rate of education; and (7) life expectancy among rural women in Choram County, South-Werstern of Iran. These concepts provide understanding that rural communities are both an environment of care and a cause of disease.


Since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published a series of annual Human Development Reports (HDRs) in which the human development index (HDI) is computed for each country (Sagar and Najam, 1998). HDI embodies Amartya Sen’s “capabilities” approach to understanding human well-being, which emphasizes the importance of ends (Stanton, 2007). This framework has continued to be the keystone of annual reports from the UNDP on dimensions of human development demand most attention in the contemporary world: to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and have access to resources for a decent standard of living. Adult literacy and combined enrolment ratios have been selected as indicators for the knowledge dimension, life expectancy at birth as the indicator for a healthy life and an adjusted GDP as the indicator for the standard of living. In essence, the HDRs have pushed the development debate boundaries beyond a traditional economic perspective (Sagar and Najam, 1998). Despite the positive view of these qualities by many scholars (Streeten, 1994), yet not all sides of the story are positive. However, substantial progress has seen in many aspects of human development, even in countries facing adverse economic conditions (Human development report, 2010). In the other words, the progress was proved in improving health and education and raising income, which expand people’s social capital (power to select leaders, influence public decisions and share knowledge). But not in poverty and deprivation reduction to end the inequality and insecurity around the world. As much as the HDI has introduced new way of development thinking, it has also been faced with a number of criticisms (Sanusi, 2008). Unfortunately, over the years, the HDRs seem to have become stagnant, repeating the same rhetoric without necessarily increasing the HDI’s utility.

Progress has varied, and increasing inequality has also seen among people in different countries, across regions, and especially rural areas both within and across countries. The HDI is a measure which reflects its aims imperfectly; and other important questions concerning human development are left out of the HDI altogether. Srinivasan (1994) summarizes the HDI critiques in five main categories: poor data, incorrect choice of indicators, various problems with the HDI’s formula in general, incorrect specification of income in particular, and redundancy.

In fact, the authors have modified the index to address many of its sharpest criticisms, and thus the HDI has evolved over the seven issues of the Human Development Report. Plans that maximize the modified index directly trade-off the allocations to consumption, education and health against each other. This leads to plans that balance expenditures across the three components. Engineer et al (2008) consider net income, in education and health expenditure domain, as indicating capabilities not already reflected in the index and argue for a modified HDI that replaces the income component with a net income component; i.e. income that is net of expenditures on education and health. The multi-dimensional nature of poverty is being emphasized by many analysts and policy makers. Addressing these issues requires new tools. Hicks (1997) proposed a method of incorporating distributional inequalities of three measures of income, education and longevity into the HDI framework. He believed that Gini coefficients could potentially measure inequalities in human development (annual income, educational, and life-span attainment).

A number of attempts have been made to adjust the raw measure of life expectancy to take into account quality of life and time spent in poor health. One concern is that while females generally live longer, their quality of life may be lower due to poorer health than men. The Global Burden of Disease project popularized one such measure, namely disability-adjusted life expectancy (Murray and López 1996). The World Health Organization (WHO) measures healthy life expectancy (HALE) based on life expectancy at birth adjusted for time spent in poor health.

Although, these new thinking approaches and thus the new measurement tools reinforce the continuing validity of the human development vision (HDR, 2010), the study of development in regional contexts, rural areas, bring a second debate on the fore, that focuses on the extent to which the definition and experience of development is culturally specific. And, are the standardised indicators appropriate applied devises for all regions?

Even when progress in the HDI is experienced in the country level, this does not necessarily excel in the local and regional levels. In the other words, as averages can be misleading, it is possible to have an acceptable rate of progress in HDI and be unequal. These patterns pose important challenges for how to think about human development dimensions, its measurement and the policies to improve outcomes and processes over time especially in regional areas and among the mass development neglected target groups, rural women.

Perhaps, the understanding, measurement, and improvement of human development especially in local level have been commonly expressed by the term quality of life (QOL) across multiple disciplines (including sociology, economics, psychology, environmental science, and medicine).

The term QOL is a complex, multi-faceted concept (Farquhar, 1995; Carr et al., 2001; Holmes, 2005) which according to Costanza et al (2007) is generally meant to represent either how well human needs are met or the extent to which individuals or groups perceive satisfaction or dissatisfaction in various dimensions of their lives. Similarly, Calman as stated by Vyavaharkar et al (2012) defined QOL as a gap or difference between hopes and expectations of a person and the person’s present experiences at a given moment in time.

The limited amount of research has focused on QOL in development studies. However, it seems that QOL in the rural setting according to Phillips (2006) is a multifaceted phenomenon determined by the cumulative and interactive impacts of numerous and varied factors (Zaid and Popoola, 2010) like housing conditions, services, infrastructure, access to various qualities and amenities, income, living standards, satisfaction about the physical and social environment (Phillip, 2006).

An integrative definition of quality of life contains two sets of subjective (Carr et al., 2001; Holmes, 2005; Phillips, 2006; Costanza et al., 2007) and objective indicators (Phillips, 2006; Costanza, 2007). The subjective indicator focuses on respondents' own assessments of pleasure as the basic building block of human satisfaction, happiness well-being or some near synonym of their lived experiences. However, so-called “objective” indicators of QOL on the other hand, focuses on indices and data that can be gathered without a subjective evaluation being made by the individual being assessed (economic production and security, health, food security, literacy rates, life expectancy, …) and may be used singly or in combination to form summary indexes, as in the UN's Human Development Index (Costanza et al., 2007).

However, there are well-documented differences in subjective QOL between men and women, and in different localities as reflected in various researches. While discussing the definition of well-being, Arku et al (2008) emphasized that the indicators can differ between urban and rural residents within a country and similarly between men and women within the same society because of differences in needs, priorities (Chambers, 1997). Shek et al (2005) and Diener and Suh (2000) mention that the indicators are socially and locally constructed based on the cultural values of communities. Veenhoven (2005) also arguing for the need of incorporation of cultural-specific indicators in determining people’s quality-of-life. Similar results are found in the study of happiness. In a recent exploration of this theme, Camfield et al (2009) revealed that the definition and experience of happiness is culturally specific.

To understand the position of Iranian rural women in the development debate, it is necessary to modify HDI and thus examine the status of women within household and community structures regarding indicators which were chosen to reflect the average quality of life (QOL) – defined as subjective social well-being, food security, social capital, education and training, income, and life expectancy.

Women living in rural areas of Kohgilouyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Iran, are generally known to be suffering from general deprivation including access to and control over land and other productive resources, services and infrustructures, opportunities for employment and income-generating activities, and access to health care. This paper sets out to evaluate development status of rural women in Choram County, Kohgilouyeh and Boyer Ahmad province, South-Western Iran. It proposes ways in which the modified HDI can be improved to better reflect its conceptual intent. The scope of this essay then is not to nit-pick on the finer details of the proposed index, but rather to conceptualize a constructive discussion on how the modified proposed index can be improved to better fulfill its own goal of measuring human development in rural areas.

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