It has by now been amply demonstrated that involvement of a local region with the world capitalist economy, or “development,” can have disastrous effects upon the economic status of women (Boserup, 1970). These changes are created by the involvement of the labor force in activities related to world markets in commodities, either by working as wage laborers on plantations, mines, and factories, or by cultivating cash crops as tenants or owners of land. In Africa women have been barred from much of the wage labor available, yet have been expected to subsidize low wages paid to men of their families by agricultural work and trading (Hay, 1976; Stichter, n.d.). Where new agricultural techniques have been introduced, men have been trained to use them despite the preponderance of female farmers in much of African traditional agriculture (Boserup, 1970: 53-65).
I had the privilege in 1969-1971 of working as an anthropologist in Ethiopia, a nation at that time marginal to the world economy. Principal exports were cotton and coffee, both unsuitable for cultivation in much of the Ethiopian highland. Indigenous manufacturing firms employed fewer than 50,000 people in a population estimated at 25 million (Ethiopia Statistical Abstract, 1970: 54). The nation had never been part of a real colonial empire; Italian domination in 1938-41 was too brief to set up successful forms of foreign-dominated economic extraction. Various types of subsistence farming and pastoralism supported the bulk of the Ethiopian population.