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Women •

the Family
Edited by Caroline Sweetman

Oxfam Focus on Gender

The books in Oxfam's Focus on Gender series were originally published as single issues of
the journal Gender and Development (formerly Focus on Gender). Gender and Development is
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Front cover: Off to school at Kwa Ngema, Eastern Transvaal. GILL DE VLIEG, AFRAPIX

© Oxfam (UK and Ireland) 1996

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Editorial 2
Caroline Sweettnan

A voice of alarm: a historian's view of the family 8

Anna Arroba

Patriarchy and development in the Arab world 14

Suad Joseph

Fighting female infanticide by working with midwives: an Indian case study 20

Ranjani K Murthy

Female-headed families: a comparative perspective of the Caribbean

and the developed world 28
Sheila Stuart

Structures and processes: land, families, and gender relations 35

Susie Jacobs

Women, the law, and the family in Tunisia 43

Hafidha Chekir

Marginalisation and gay families in Latin America and the Caribbean 47

Dinnys Luciano Ferdinand
Child-care and the benefits trap: a case from the UK 52
Annie Oliver

Interview: Maria Isabal Plata of PROFAMILIA 54

Resources 57
Book review: Kampala Women Getting By: Weil-Being in the Time of AIDS by
Sandra Wallman et al 57
Ambreena S Manji

Further reading 60
NGOs and UN organisations 62
Audio-visual resources 64

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996


/ 1 I lhe meaning of work and existence as daughters, wives, and mothers,

I definition of output come into through exploiting their care and commit-
J L question once non-market work is ment to their families; women commonly
admitted into the economic picture, prioritise the interests of other family
because this involves emotional labour or members above their own well-being -
caring work' (Folbre 1994, 37). Examining termed 'maternal altruism' by Ann
the family from a gender perspective Whitehead (1984,112).
demands that we consider how the roles
expected of women and men, the old and Recognising the cost of
the young within the family affect the ways
in which people are able to participate in caring
the wider community, economy and state. A wide and varied literature on the family
It is no accident that the rhetoric of gives us perspectives on what the
many conservative forces, including reproductive role, in its widest sense,
religious leaders, about women's role as means for women and men, and their
wives and mothers tends to stress the relationships within the family (see
literally priceless nature of in-family care Resources section for suggestions for
for dependents. Research by feminist further reading). Women are viewed in
economists and social scientists and the most communities as primarily responsible
women's movement continues to empha- for all kinds of domestic activity, despite
sise - as it has done for the past three the fact that there is no biological reason for
decades - that this care is mostly provided taking on this work in addition to their sex-
by women as daughters, mothers and specific role in pregnancy, childbirth, and
wives, and that the economic and political breast-feeding (Oakley 1971). This associa-
forces which enmesh households create tion of femininity with domesticity has
societies which ignore the cost of this profound implications for women's status,
caring (Young et al. 1981; Kabeer 1994). well-being, and participation in economic
Development built on this invisible, and political activity outside the home.
uncounted work is unsustainable as well as An aspect of reproductive work which
inequitable. A dual concern for women's is of little importance to economists and
rights and welfare demands that we technical planners is the affection and
examine how membership of a family can emotional support inherent in caring for
curtail women's chances of participation in children, marital partners, and the elderly.
economic and political life outside the For most people, the focus of their emotion-
home, and defines their day-to-day al lives is the family. This aspect of
Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996

'women's work' has been used cynically by of life within all families is often a paradox-
planners who trust women to shore up ical blend of love, companionship, and
inadequate social provisioning through support, combined with friction, domina-
extra hours and energy put in at home, at tion, and even cruelty. Family members
no cost to the state. Socialist feminists have have different interests which may clash
stressed the value of the work women with each other, and their status in the
perform in their role as carers, arguing that household will determine their negotiating
women, through their unpaid reproductive power. Added to that, 'in some contexts the
work, are directly contributing to produc- family identity may exert such a strong
tion by subsidising the cost of reproducing influence on our perceptions that we may
the workforce (Folbre 1994). Because not find it easy to formulate any clear
women's work in the family involves an notion of our own individual welfare' (Sen
identification of interests with 'children, 1987, 6).
husbands or lovers', it is 'difficult for The perception of the family as a benign
women to take an oppositional stance of the institution, free from the conflicts which
sort necessary to acknowledge [their] characterise life outside, is accompanied by
involvement in an exploitative exchange of a second myth - of a senior male household
labour' (Ferguson 1989,97, quoted in Folbre head who holds everyone's best interests at
1994). heart - which runs parallel to a more
complex reality (see, for example, Sen 1987,
Standing 1989). The patriarchal family
Perceptions and reality structure is widespread throughout the
In examining the family, we need to recog- world, and the power relations within it
nise that there is a profound difference cannot be narrowly compartmentalised
between popular conceptions of what from what goes on outside, in the 'public
families are, and the reality. Most people sphere' of the market, the state, and the
are confident that they know what a family community. In this issue, Suad Joseph
is, or is should be; our ideas about this defines patriarchy (the rule of male elders)
primary social institution are shaped by in the context of the Middle East, and
what Gramsci called 'common sense'. 1 discusses the way in which power is held
However, as articles in this issue argue, our and retained by older men not only in the
perceptions of family may be quite different family, but in commerce, politics, and
from the realities of family life in our own religion. Joseph argues that it is the
communities, and these in turn differ from pervasiveness of patriarchy, and the fact
those in other times or places. What we that it is part of 'common sense', which
believe to be 'common sense' is actually make it resistant to attempts from different
shaped by a constant contest between the quarters to end it.
ideas of those who wield power in our
societies, and those they dominate. In addi-
tion to changing awareness of gender Family and household:
inequalities at national level, changes must defining the concepts
take place in hearts and minds. In her The need to care for children is a primary
article, Hafidha Chekir examines how the rationale for the existence of the family,
civil law of Tunisia interacts with custom to which has been defined as a primary social
limit women's chances of realising their group consisting of parents and their
rights as individuals. offspring, the principal function of which is
Ideas of family life are usually based on provision for its members.2 The belief in
an ideology of caring and co-operation most if not all societies that a family is
between family members. In fact, the reality centred on children has profound
4 Gender and Development

implications for childless couples and An assumption on the part of national

households made up of adult siblings, and international policy makers that the
friends, or same-sex partners. Policies at nuclear family form is superior to, and
state or NGO level may marginalise such more desirable than, other forms has
families, or try to coerce them into con- caused the failure of many development
formity. interventions, and marginalised house-
In most communities, women become holds which have alternative character-
associated with another family through istics, as Sheila Stuart points out in her
marriage. As Anna Arroba discusses in her article on female-headed households in the
article, the need of patriarchy to ensure Caribbean. In many parts of the world,
knowledge of paternity necessitates that households headed by single women have
female sexuality is controlled by norms of been, and are, particularly singled out as
heterosexuality, marriage, and fidelity. On deviations from a norm.
marriage, through practices such as Over the years, research into female
changing one's surname - and, in some poverty by gender and development
cases, one's forename - and travelling to specialists emphasised that female-headed
live in the husband's home, women are households in developing countries often
generally understood to leave their birth suffer from acute poverty, not only of
family and become a member of the resources, including human, but of status in
spouse's family. Women's identity is thus the community, which makes it harder for
defined through their relationships to them to take advantage of initiatives intend-
fathers and later to husbands. ing to address poverty (Young et al., 1981).
Closely connected to abstract ideas of
family and kinship is the more concrete
notion of the household: the physical space
Households, work, and
inhabited by members of families. It is economics
likely that many or most of the people Economists have given the household
within a household may be related by varying degrees of attention, starting with
descent or marriage, but this is not uni- the assumption that the household is an
versal. Many households include individ- arena where individual needs were under-
uals who are not part of the family in these stood, and resources distributed accord-
ways, and family members may in their ingly 3 (see Kabeer 1994 for a useful
turn be absent from the household for all or summary of theories of household econom-
most of the time. ics). Many development initiatives have
A web of external and internal factors foundered because of this assumption, and
determines which pattern of family, and still more have worsened women's status
which household form, is dominant in a and well-being. A degree more sophisti-
particular context. Under colonial domina- cated than this, 'bargaining' models of the
tion and in the post-colonial era of develop- household highlight the different bargain-
ment along Western lines, policy-makers ing power of family members, according to
joined with religious leaders to promote age and gender.
the model of a nuclear family form living Understanding how bargaining power
beneath one roof (Hansen 1992), and the in the household works necessitates that
terms 'family' and household have thus we understand 'perceived contributions ...
commonly - and wrongly - been assumed to be distinguished from actual contribu-
to be synonymous. Anna Arroba gives a tions' (Sen 1987, 24). Cultural, economic,
historian's view in challenging the idea of and political factors combine to ensure that
the unchanging, 'traditional' nuclear family the contributions women are permitted to
model. make are perceived as less valuable than

those of men (Standing 1990). Women's ers can use woman's role at home as a
responsibility for reproductive work is not useful excuse to justify paying women less
valued as 'work' in the same way as paid than a 'male breadwinner', or laying them
work outside the home: 'husbands are off from paid work whenever the employ-
generally in a stronger bargaining position ment market becomes slack; this is
than wives, because men tend to earn more currently the case in Eastern Europe
money than women, and gain forms of (O'Connell 1994, 111).
work experience which aren't adversely
affected by divorce' (Folbre 1994,23).
Families in crisis
Women, the family, and What are the implications of ideas about
the family, and the different realities of
production contemporary family life which confront
For most women, work to nurture and politicians and development organisations?
maintain family members is inextricably A central question is where responsibility
linked to income generation, as part of an should lie in caring for dependents - the
overall livelihood strategy; the common non-productive members of society who
association of men with production and are becoming steadily more numerous, as
women with reproduction ignores the the proportion of older people increases in
reality of most women's lives. For many Northern countries and, in the South, the
women throughout the world, working the percentage of children in the population
land provides subsistence and sometimes continues to grow.
income, and their control of this vital As this introduction has indicated,
resource is linked to their status in the separation of the private sphere of family
family. In her article, Susie Jacobs explains life from the public sphere has been con-
this link, assessing the extent to which land venient for governments whose regimes
reform affects women's subordination. benefit from unmeasured work performed
The fact that unpaid reproductive work within the home. First, and most import-
within the home continues to be considered antly, not only must the work carried out
the primary responsibility of women has within the household be recognised by
deep implications for the sort of work mainstream economists and political
women do outside the home, and for their decision-makers, but they must design
access to such work. In many countries 'a future policy in a way that does not take
male-dominated labour market has the work of caring for families for granted.
managed to exclude women from many Women's health, human rights, and ability
areas of skilled employment, as well as to to participate in development all depend
lower the prestige of 'feminised' occupa- on this. Women deserve, and demand,
tions such as nursing and teaching' (Perry- more than a sentimental acknowledgement
Jenkins 1994). Growing poverty, and a of their contribution to the welfare of
process of 'feminisation of labour', are humanity through unpaid family work. At
currently pulling more women toward the Fourth UN Women's Conference in
whatever means of making an income they Beijing in 1995, demands included formal
can: concerns which will be addressed in recognition through statistics, with the
the next issue, 'Employment, economics, setting up of 'satellite accounts' which
and exclusion'. include unpaid work.
Where women are able to break through There is a common assumption that
the practical and ideological barriers to poor countries cannot afford to provide the
participate in work which men are also services associated with a 'welfare state',
employed to do, governments and employ- and this view is increasingly taken by
6 Gender and Development

richer countries as well. Yet, it is unaccept- form of violence against women, and in her
able and unsustainable for economic policy article, Ranjani Murthy points out that
to be formed around an assumption that cultural bias against females is linked with
women's work will subsidise cuts in social economic poverty and powerlessness both
spending. The assumption that women's inside and outside the home. Community
time and energy is elastic has been at the leaders and development institutions need
heart of IMF/World Bank structural to work with traditional birth attendants to
adjustment policies, where women have halt the neglect and murder of female
had to substitute their labour for health and infants behind the closed doors of the
education services which have been 'private sphere'.
withdrawn (Lennock, 1994). Development agencies, as well as
In the confusion over national and governments, need to recognise that family
international will to consider how social structure, and women's position within it,
welfare should be provided, one thing is is critical in affecting the sort of develop-
clear: women's workload in the family ment needed by families and communities,
must be addressed if family stability is to and the likely outcome of projects. In an
be ensured. A failure on the part of other interview in this issue, Maria Isabal Plata of
family members to assist with work in the PROFAMILIA discusses Beijing in relation
home, and decreasing opportunities for to debates on the family. An approach to
men's paid employment, is causing crisis: development which is gender-aware prof-
'obviously, some degree of co-operation is oundly challenges the idea that develop-
necessary if households are to remain ment is something which takes place only
intact; persistent non-co-operation is likely in the public parts of people's lives, and
to lead to disintegration' (Kabeer 1995, which benefits all members of the house-
127). Women should not be forced to bear hold equally.
the burden of the two 'shifts' - of paid or Even where policies are designed which
subsistence work, and of care for depend- are intended to benefit families of different
ents - which must be accomplished in all sorts, careful consideration is needed as to
households. In 1997, one issue of Gender whether an unconscious bias will limit the
and Development will look at masculinity access of families seen as atypical. Although
and address aspects of family life from this households with a female head may be
alternative angle. economically independent, this should not
Most crucially, condemning a break- be confused with social empowerment; a
down in the 'traditional family' as the female-headed household may face real
cause of civil disorder of all kinds is a difficulties through being marginalised
convenient way for policy-makers to shift from state and development policy which
the blame for failed economic and political assumes that there is someone within the
policies onto other shoulders. The household charged full-time with the duties
suggestion that family life is separate from associated with a domestic 'wife', while a
its social context, and that some issues are 'husband' exists with the attributes and
inappropriate to address in the public authority to participate in meetings and
sphere, is used highly selectively. For development activities outside the home. In
example, both religious and state leaders this issue, Annie Oliver of Single Parents'
have often intervened in the most intimate Action Network (SPAN) speaks of her
areas of the family when it comes to experience as a single mother who is
policies on reproductive rights; yet violence prevented from finding regulated, well-
against women has until very recently been paid employment by the lack of child-care
seen as a 'private' matter for the family to facilities open to her; and Dinnys Luciano
address. Female infanticide is an extreme explores the marginalisation of families

based on a homosexual union from policy References

and development practice - basic statistics
Comaroff, J and J L (1992) 'Home-made
on these families do not even exist in many hegemony: modernity, domesticity and
countries. colonialism in South Africa' in Hansen, K (ed)
Planners and policy-makers must African Encounters with Domesticity, Rutgers.
recognise that the family evolves to meet Folbre N (1994) Who Pays for the Kids? Gender and
changing human needs. A sustainable the Structures of Constraint, Routledge
vision of human development should not
Forma A 'Two mothers, two cultures: I know
only consider economic and socio-political how it feels'' independent on Sunday, 12 May 1996
factors, but should also stress intangibles
Hansen K (1992) (ed) African Encounters with
such as emotional satisfaction and happi- Domesticity, Rutgers University Press, USA.
ness; those aspects of reproductive activity
Hite S (1994) The Hite Report on the Family:
which cannot be counted in quantitative
Growing up under Patriarchy, Bloomsbury
terms. 'Wherever there is lasting love, there Publishing Ltd, UK.
is a family' (Hite, 1994,372).
Kabeer N (1994) Reversed Realities, Verso.
Finally, we must challenge the idea of
the nuclear family as the ideal model in all Lennock J Paying for Health: Poverty and
circumstances, and learn from societies Structural Adjustment in Zimbabwe, Oxfam,
which have evolved alternative, more
appropriate, social structures. For example, O'Connell H (1994) Women and the Family, Zed
a common tradition within African Books.
communities is to view the mother as one Perry-Jenkins M (1994) 'The family division of
of many carers for her children, valuing the labour: all working is not created equal' in Sollie
role of the entire community in socialising D L and Leslie L A (eds) Gender, Families and
Close Relationships: Feminist Research Journeys,
its junior members (Forma 1996). 'Women's Sage Publications.
equality and the removal of gender
constraints are the essential foundation Sen A (1987) Gender and Co-operative Conflicts,
stones of juster societies within which
families can thrive' (O'Connell 1995, xii). Simon R (1991) Gramsci's Political Thought: An
Introduction, Lawrence and Wishart.
Standing H (1990) Dependence and Autonomy:
Notes Women's Employment and the Family in Calcutta,
1 Gramsci defined common sense to denote an Routledge.
'uncritical and partly unconscious way in which Whitehead A (1981) 'I'm hungry, mum: the
people perceive the world ... often confused and politics of domestic budgeting' in Of Marriage
contradictory, containing ideas absorbed from a and the Market: Women's Subordination in
variety of sources and from the past, which tend International Perspective, CSE Books.
to make them accept inequality and oppression
as natural and unchangeable' (Simon, 1991). Young K, Wolkowitz C, and McCullagh R, (eds)
(1981) Of Marriage and the Market: Women's
2 Definition from Collins Softback English Subordination in International Perspective,
Dictionary, 1992 Routledge, Chapman and Hall.
3 For a fuller discussion of household economic
models and their relevance to gender-sensitive
analysis, see Nancy Folbre's 'Hearts and Spades:
paradigms of household economics' in World
Development 14: 2.
A voice of alarm:
a historian's view of the family
Anna Arroba

This article argues that the category of family' is not universal; in fact, there are, and
have always been, 'families'. No attempt can be made to analyse what the family
means for gender issues in development without pointing to the variations in its
forms, in the different responsibilities of its members, and the manner in which
different social systems and ideologies offamily life encode particular definitions of the
rights, needs and responsibilities of individuals within families (Moore, 1994).

For those of us who were raised within

am speaking from the perspective of
living in a family first as a daughter, unconventional families, meaning that we
and later as a mother who did not were circumscribed emotionally and
always manage to create and perpetuate economically by illegitimacy, single-
the normal 'nuclear' family, and yet who, motherhood, divorce, or the absence of our
despite it all, managed to raise fairly well- fathers, not to mention alcoholism,
adjusted human beings. The pressure to domestic violence, incest, and so on,
conform as a 'family' for me has meant statements about the dangers to the
building a tight facade of respectability and 'family' formed a permanent background
normality, so as not to be blamed for chorus. The alarm has been raised by
problems like delinquency and teenage different institutions in the West, pointing
pregnancy, and so as not to fall into the to a crisis in the family. To understand who
hands of the welfare system, and be is raising the alarm, and to what crisis they
labelled dysfunctional. If these things refer, this article will attempt to peel back
happened, it somehow meant that women some historical layers in order to
were to blame. understand what 'the family' has meant for
That all over the world millions of women.
women are doing the same under circum-
stances including wars, revolutions,
Origins of the family
droughts, and economic depression makes
it seem necessary to analyse what 'family' Generally, the family has been studied
is, and what danger comes from a narrow from a Eurocentric and ahistorical perspec-
understanding of the term, from the per- tive. Ironically, even historians have
spective of women's realities and roles. For studied the variations in family structure,
many of us, the family was where we and not its origins (for example, Rossi et al,
acquired our griefs and sad memories, and 1978; Laslett 1972, Stone, 1979). It has been
also where we learnt to be women or men. seen as the 'natural', hierarchically-ordered

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996

A historian's view of the family 9

human organisation, as if people naturally resource acquired by men, and could be

and automatically join together under the exchanged or bought in marriage, to
protection of their father, and the nurtur- benefit their families.
ance of their mother. Lerner's study suggests, with other
This notion hides the coercive ways in influences, that the major symbols and
which many families are structured, and metaphors of Western civilization regard-
the laws, religion, and education that have ing people's gender identity were largely
made people exist within family organisa- derived from Mesopotamian and, later,
tions. Sociologist Maria Mies asserts that from Hebrew sources (ibid.). Many other
concepts like the 'biological' or 'natural' historians, as well as anthropologists,
family are linked to an ahistorical concept theologists, and archaeologists have con-
of the family, in which heterosexuality and cluded, on overwhelming evidence, that
the birth of children who have the same patriarchy replaced a system of family
biological parents, are both compulsory organisation based on the care of mothers
(Mies, 1986). for children, and on the leadership of
As a historian, I am here concerned women, in most communities (Stone, 1976;
with examining how this model of family Gadon, 1989; Gimbutas, 1991).
evolved, and how it became established as Marija Gimbutas maintains that this is
the best and only model for all groups and universal (ibid.). During thousands of years
all societies. In order to do this, it is import-
of pre-patriarchal existence, motherhood
ant to establish that 'the family' has variedwas the only recognized bond of relation-
and changed, but in fact has not always ship. Stability in societies was created by
existed. the kinship bond that kept groups together
and encouraged co-operation. In most
matrilineal societies, the oldest woman
The creation of the headed the family, which was composed of
her brothers, children, and grandchildren.
patriarchal family The mother's brother was the male
Gerda Lerner asserts in her book, The authority figure, because he was under-
Creation of Patriarchy, that the patriarchal stood as a blood relative to the child
system has existed for about 5,000 years. (Walker, 1987). The kinship bond was
She arrived at this conclusion after lengthy maternal, because no paternal relationships
research on ancient Mesopotamian society were perceived. Research has asserted that
during the second, third and fourth millen- the idea of fatherhood was alien to the
nia BC, and argues that the 'establishment religious or social thinking of the earliest
of patriarchy' was not an event, but a civilizations (Walker, 1983; Knight, 1991),
process developing over a period of nearly which believed that only women held the
2500 years, from approximately 3100 to divine power to give life.
600BC. According to Gimbutas, all the most
Lerner asserts that the basic unit of ancient mythologies throughout the world
Mesopotamian society was the patriarchal speak of a Creatrix, Life and Birth Giver,
family, which both expressed and rather than a Creator, because living things
constantly generated social rules and could be made only by a female, according
values. Female subordination within the to primitive beliefs. As childbearers and
family became institutionalised, and nurturers, women also took charge of
codified in law (Lerner, 1986). Men, as a growing crops. They became the produc-
group, had rights over women, which ers, storers, and distributors of vegetable
women as a group did not have in men. In foodstuffs, hence the owners of the land
effect, women themselves became a they used for cultivation. They made the
10 Gender and Development

our ideas of the male-headed family. Proof

of this can be seen in laws and beliefs
dealing with the regulation of female
sexuality and behaviour. An example from
Laws of Manu, an Indian sacred book for
religious and civil institutions dating from
1280BC, states: 'during her infancy, a
woman should depend on her father;
during her youth, on her husband; if he
should die, on her children; if she does not
have children, on the husband's next of kin
and, if this is not possible, on her father; if
she does not have parental relatives, on the
sovereign; a woman should never govern
herself at will' (Book V, Rule No. 148).

The changing patriarchal

The patriarchal family has been resilient
The basic family unit: a woman and her children.
and flexible, varying in its features in
Jamaica. different times and places. It has encom-
passed polygamy, and female enclosure in
earth valuable, and their metaphors and harems. In Classical Antiquity and in its
symbols equated it with femininity. European development, it was based upon
Women's economic and social power thus monogamy for women, but in all its forms
evolved the early village community in a double sexual standard, which
matriarchal form (Walker, 1983). disadvantaged women, was part of the
Once the link between man and system. Patriarchal dominance in the
childbearing was understood, the rule of family has taken a variety of forms,
the father, and of men in general, was principally through the man's absolute
solidly established (ibid.). Patrilineal authority over his children and his wife or
descendency replaced matrilineal descend- wives (except that in some places and at
ency, and the children that did not have some times restraints on this exist, due to
their father's name were categorized as reciprocal obligations to the wife's kin).
illegitimate or outsiders to the newly The man holds authority over the other
created laws, and also outsiders to the new women in the household, such as slaves,
religions of male gods. For the West, this and poor relatives, and over younger men.
meant a religion of God the father, and As other articles in this issue show,
God the son, that made birth, (from a patriarchal dominance moved from private
mother's body) the result of original sin, practice into public law. The legal subjec-
that only the new church 'fathers' could tion of wives to husbands and of children
forgive (Ranke-Heinemann,1990). An to parents reinforced the obedience of each
example of an early patriarchal state is that subject to the growing claims of the
in the Ancient Near East, which emerged in centralising state (Boxer and Quataert,
the second millennium BC (Lerner, 1986). 1987). Lerner stresses that sexual domi-
Therefore, I would argue that subordin- nance underlies class and race dominance,
ation, and the reality of man's control over and that the sexual regulation of women
women's reproductive capacity, underpins underlies the formation of classes, and is
A historian's view of the family 11

one of the foundations upon which the the norm before this period than is usually
state rests (Lerner 1986). believed, and in fact was considered
The basic pattern of the patriarchal progressive. Thus began the process of
family has been constantly reinforced both what Mies has termed the 'housewifisation'
in ideology and practice. Political or relig- of women (Mies, 1986). Men were viewed
ious reforms have invoked ideas of as providers and as breadwinners. Sally
'morality' to confine sexual activity solely Westwood comments, with reference to
to marriage, treating premarital and extra- India in the 1920s and 1930s, that ideologies
marital intercourse as sex crimes. These of this kind had clear resonances with both
laws and norms have not only elevated the colonial ideologies and extant cultural
monogamous family to the basic economic forms. Using these ideologies, the state
unit of society, but have helped to played a key role in promoting a climate in
strengthen property ownership and class which it was easy to push women out of
formation (Lerner, 1986). the mills (Westwood, 1991).
Women have complied with the rules in The Western model of family -
order to survive, and taught, and are still Christian, nuclear, middle-class, with
teaching, their daughters to comply in their employed father and housewife mother -
turn. By their compliance, women can guar- has been a major ordering and prescriptive
antee the protection of men, the family, and concept, and is still central in many policies
wider society. Women who live outside the and welfare programmes. Other articles in
patriarchal family have been, and still are, this issue explore the argument that this
severely victimised; if not by the religious model of family is vanishing, not only in
institutions, and the immediate community, the West itself, but in other societies, and
then by the welfare states, or development argue that this is not, as so many policy
projects that perpetuate the dichotomy of makers have thought, due to individual
the father-breadwinner head of family, and failure, but to the fact that the family is
the mother-housewife concepts, at the embedded in society, and mirrors social,
expense of women and children (Mies; political, economic and cultural changes.
Afshar, 1991). Such changes profoundly affect gender
The transformation in family structures relations and arrangements, for the family
and roles over time has had important is made up of individuals who also change.
consequences for women and wider
society. For example, major changes Motherhood and
affected the early modern family in the
European upper classes in the eighteenth fatherhood
and nineteenth centuries. Maria Mies Families are social institutions, where the
maintains that capitalism created modern work of mothering and (sometimes!)
notion of the nuclear family first among the fathering takes place. Mothering is not
propertied classes, and later in the working recognised as work by most men, and thus
class. 'Childhood' began to be conceptual- many women themselves find difficulty in
ised as a separate stage of life, at the same seeing it as such. This distinction causes us
time that the social and sexual division of to blame women who try to combine both.
labour, characteristic of capitalism, was We are in danger of replicating the idea of
established (Mies, 1986). The family was separate productive and reproductive
declared a private territory in contrast to work, valued in different ways.
the public sphere of economic and political Yet, fathering does not have the same
activity. implication as mothering. When men
It appears that the nuclear family form, declared themselves the fathers of society,
as we understand it today, was much less it was in opposition and reaction to the
12 Gender and Development

founding principle of motherhood and this say about the state of the family today?
mothering that had sustained societies for History helps to explain the present. It
thousands of years. To 'mother' and to is not an exercise in escapism, but a device
'father' have very different meanings. to help us to understand the barriers to the
While to 'father' signifies to beget a child, changes that so many of us are trying to
to 'mother' implies constant nurturing, and implement. I personally believe that the
lifelong concern for the children. family is in crisis. It is the principal pillar of
Mothers are commonly blamed for the patriarchy, and, as such, contains people
problems that assail new generations; they who have varying amounts of power in
are described as possessive, emotional, and their relationships. This power is often
overprotective. The irony is that while expressed in violence (Heise, 1993). We
women are socialised to take care of others, only have to look into our past and present
when they do what they have been taught, families to see women struggling to liberate
they face overwork, and in millions of themselves from belittling or damaging
cases, impoverishment, domestic violence, roles.
and possible abandonment. For hundreds But to say that the family is in crisis
of years, 'experts' in various disciplines does not mean that it is extinct. What is in
have been talking about mothers' faults, crisis are the rigid concepts about the
particularly in relation to the sons women family held by many institutions: religious,
socialise. From Aristotle to Freud, educational, medical institutions, and
hundreds of male experts have written many development agencies. Many of
about women as mothers, and have these have a profound interest in propa-
overseen and directed mothering gating their ideas, for they sustain them,
(Ehrenreich and English, 1979). and the social systems which give rise to
them, and justify their work and the
employment of their workers.
The future of care However, if we are interested in the
Where are we today regarding women's rights of women and men to a fairer system
relationships to family? It seems to me that of social development, we must work from
women are holding their families together a knowledge of different family forms, and
almost entirely on their own. I recognise the needs of individuals within those
that some men might feel offended by this families. This was one of the central
statement, and retort that they change the arguments at the UN Fourth Conference on
nappies too, and cook, and earn in order to Women, at Beijing in 1995. We live in a
maintain their families. However, this does world where the work of care for depend-
not diminish the fact that even when a ents is marginalised from economics and
family includes a husband/father, a politics (Waring, 1988; Folbre, 1994). Com-
majority of women do most of the domestic munities, states, and development agencies
work within and for the family, even when need to make the ethics of care central to all
they also have to go out and 'work' - i.e. development initiatives. This demands that
generate income. Neither does it change we confront the causes and consequences
the harsh reality for a large percentage of of poverty, and understand why it is that
women who are left literally 'holding the households headed by women are dispro-
baby', unexpectedly and unprepared, and portionately represented among the
who may then be blamed for the situation. poorest households (Moore, 1994). We
What has happened to motherhood since should assert that the state and its institu-
the beginning of patriarchy? Why are tions have a responsibility towards all
women and their children among the families, and that a duty of care is shared
poorest people on earth? And what does by all individuals in a society.
A historian's view of the family 13

We should also analyse the deeply Folbre, N (1994) Who Pays for the Kids?,
rooted misogyny in our societies. It is time Routledge, London.
that men began to ask themselves about Gadon, E W (1989) The Once and Future Goddess,
patriarchy and masculinity, and their part Harper, San Francisco.
in sustaining a system which is fundament- Gimbutas, M (1991) The Language of the Goddess,
ally unsustainable. Harper, San Francisco.
I conclude by offering a practical idea, Heise L (1993) 'Violence against women: the
based on my experience in development missing agenda' in Kobinsky M, Timyan J, and
projects, and as a firm believer that what Gay J (eds) The Health of Women, Westview Press.
we have to change first is human attitudes Kandiyoti D (1988) 'Bargaining with Patriarchy'
in order to change behaviour. I suggest that in Gender and Society, 2: 3.
in any project that involves women and Knight, C (1991) Blood Relations. Menstruation and
men, a child-care centre be established, the Origins of Culture, Yale University Press, New
where both women and men take turns in Haven and London.
caring for their young. Caring is learned Laslett, P (1972) Household and Family in Past
behaviour. Once the children are taken care Time, Cambridge University Press.
of, women will free themselves from Lerner, G (1986) The Creation of Patriarchy,
looking on caring as their private destiny, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford.
men will involve themselves emotionally Mies, M (1986) Patriarchy and Accumulation on a
by learning to care for their children, and World Scale: Women in the International Division of
both will work in a more productive way Labour, Zed Books, London.
towards a collective goal. 'Family' in this Moore, H (1994) 7s there a Crisis in the Family?
case would acquire a collective connota- Occasional Paper no. 3, World Summit for Social
tion, instead of being a symbol which Development, UNRISD.
represents the private burden of just a few. Ngan-ling Chow, E and Berheide C W (1994)
Women, the Family, and Policy: A Global
Anna Arroba has lived in Costa Rica since Perspective, State University of New York Press,
1980. She directs a programme on Women, New York.
Health and Gender at the Latin American Ranke-Heinemann, U (1990) Eunuchs for the
Institute for Prevention and Health Education. Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the
She also teaches in the Women's Studies Catholic Church, Doubleday, New York.
Master's Programme in the University of Costa Rossi , A S et al (eds) (1978) The Family, W W
Rica and the National University. Norton, New York.
Stone, L (1979) The Family, Sex, and Marriage in
England, 1500-1800, Harper and Row, New York.
References Stone, M (1976) When God was a Woman,
Afshar, H (ed) (1991) Women, Development and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and
Survival in the Third World, Longman, London London.
and New York. Walker, B (1983) The Woman's Encyclopedia of
Boxer, M J and Quataert J H (1987) Connecting Myths and Secrets, Harper and Row, San
Spheres: Women in the Western World, 1500 to the Francisco.
Present, Oxford University Press, New York and (1987) The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering
Oxford. the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, Harper and Row,
Ehrenreich, B and English D (1979) For Her Own San Francisco.
Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women, Waring, M (1988) If Women Counted: A New
Doubleday, New York. Feminist Economics, Harper, San Francisco.
Faune\ M A (1995) Mujeres y Familias Westwood, S (1991) 'Gender and the Politics of
Centroamericanas: Principales Problemas y Production in India' in Afshar H (ed) Women,
Tendencias, PNUD, San Jose, Costa Rica. Development and Survival in the Third World.

Patriarchy and
in the Arab world
Suad Joseph

The persistence of patriarchy in the Arab world, and other regions, is an obstacle for
women, children, families, and states. It affects health, education, labour, human
rights, and democracy. This article argues that patriarchy is powerful in the Arab
world because age-based kinship values and relationships are crucial socially,
economically, politically, ideologically, and psychologically.

In the European context, Carole

o understand why patriarchy is so
resilient, we have to study how it Pateman has argued that eighteenth- and
permeates society at many levels, not nineteenth-century Western political
only in the family. I define patriarchy in the philosophers replaced the father with the
Arab context as the prioritising of the rights brother figure to create 'fraternal'
of males and elders (including elder patriarchy (Pateman, 1988), and that as a
women) and the justification of those rights result women are understood by Western
within kinship values which are usually political theorists as subordinate to men as
supported by religion Qoseph 1993,1994a). men, rather than to men as fathers. Most
(This definition differs from some Western Western feminists, following suit, have
feminists, who do not consider age or seen patriarchy as the power of men over
kinship.) women (Jones 1993, Phillips 1993,
Few scholars have analysed the system- Eisenstein 1994).
atic impact of patriarchy throughout Arab Arab patriarchy has been defined by
society, and little has been done to study its Peter Krauss (1987:xii) as 'a hierarchy of
psychological implications. I will focus on authority that is controlled and dominated
these points in offering a framework for by males', originating in the family.
understanding the persistence of patriarchy Another view is that while patriarchy is the
in the Arab world. 'universal form of traditional society'
(Shirabi, 1988,3) patriarchal values and
social relations also exist under a veneer of
Differing 'patriarchies' modernity. This is termed 'neopatriarchy'.
Patriarchy is a useful descriptive tool for Halim Barakat contended that the
discussing social patterns. In the Arab traditional Arab father 'has authority and
world, as in the rest of the world, responsibility ...expects respect and
patriarchy does not have just one form unquestioning compliance,' (Barakat
(Tucker 1993, Schilcher 1985) or one site, 1993,100) and supports his power by
the domestic. control over land, resources, and income

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, ]une 1996

Patriarchy and development in the Arab world 15

generation. Barakat argues that patriarchy resources, including human resources.

is seen throughout Arab society because Patriarchal kinship is the primary source of
economic security, and males and elders
the family is the basic unit of society (ibid.).
are considered to be financially responsible
for women and junior relatives. Even
Social patriarchy though women and children are economic-
Most writers on the Arab world agree that ally active, their contributions to their
kinship is the centre of Arab society. It households are often considered secondary
sustains a person's sense of self and to, or subsumed under, that of men and
identity, and shapes their position in elders, so that their contributions often do
society. It is the primary source of econ- not appear in national statistics.
omic security. Kinship defines political Inheritance rules in the Arab world
membership and offers networks to crucial favour male descendants and patrilineal
political resources, and also defines relig- members over females. In most Muslim
ious identity. The centrality of kinship has legal systems, daughters do inherit, but
implications for patriarchy: kinship trans- they inherit less than sons. But many
ports patriarchy into all spheres of social Muslim women never claim or obtain their
life. full inheritance, in deference to their
But patriarchy is also independently brothers. Land tends to be given to males.
produced throughout social life, because Some women accept this as insurance for
the privileges of males and seniors are the future, should they need to return to
justified in terms that are not bound up their father's or brother's household in case
with kinship. For example, men and older of divorce or widowhood.
people are argued to be superior to women While Arab Christian inheritance rules
and younger people as administrators, usually allow for female inheritance, many
professionals, politicians, religious leaders, Arab Christian women also defer to their
and the like, without reference to kinship. brothers. This deference may be forced. In
In the Arab context, descent through the many Arab countries, land inheritance is
male line determines one's primary identity complicated, since patrilineal kin often do
throughout one's life. Thus, patrilineage is not legally subdivide properties for genera-
responsible to varying degrees for the well- tions. Concentration of wealth in the hands
being and behaviour of family members. A of males and elders offers them the
married Arab woman retains membership economic resources to underpin patriarchal
in her father's kin group, who are respons- authority.
ible for her throughout her life, which is Economic patriarchy gives men and
not the case for all patriarchal systems. elders control over kinship labour; they can
This aspect of patrilineality gives elder call upon others for services and labour
males authority over women and juniors of (paid or unpaid) more than women and
their lineage. While matrilineal kin juniors can. The assumption here is that
(mother's relatives) are important emotion- males and seniors are more able to recipro-
ally, socially, and often economically, cate, or that when females and juniors
political membership in non-kin commun- reciprocate, they do so through the male
ities is based on patrilineal heritage. and senior kin. Relatives often pool
resources for investments, open businesses
together, or run agricultural endeavours
Economic patriarchy collectively. Kin-based shops, crafts,
I use the term 'economic patriarchy' to businesses, and farms account for a signifi-
discuss the privileging of males and elders cant proportion of small and big business
in ownership and control over wealth and in the Arab world. While some of these
16 Gender and Development

enterprises may entail co-ownership, often Political patriarchy

financially able kin employ other kin in
their businesses. Even when females and Kinship is central to the political system.
juniors are involved as workers or co- The constitutions of most Arab countries
owners, males and seniors are usually the state that the family, not the individual, is
primary owners and decision makers. the basic unit of society. By declaring the
responsibility of the state to preserve the
Patriarchal kinship directly supports
family as the basis of the nation, the
economic patriarchy through the use of kin
constitutions use the family as the recruit-
networks for temporary or long-term
ing and training ground for citizenship
support. Males and elders are more likely to
(Joseph 1996). Children inherit their
help their kin find jobs and learn important
father's citizenship, so, for example,
information about the market place, or to act
citizenship is usually denied to children of
as references. Males and seniors are better
women who marry non-citizens, but given
located in the market to begin with, and can
to children of men who marry non-citizens.
offer better assistance. Since males and
Children born outside of wedlock may
elders usually control greater financial
have difficulty in obtaining citizenship, or
resources, they are also in a better position
be labelled 'illegitimate' on their ID cards.
to give short- or long-term loans.
A child also inherits the national, ethnic,
In places of work where workers are not
religious and social affiliations of his or her
related, economic patriarchy draws on the
father. In so far as these affiliations affect
idea of the patriarchal family. For example,
political choice, then the father's heritage
in small businesses, kinship terms are often
determines children's opportunities and
used to justify work relationships. Here,
economic patriarchy can be seen support-
ing gender and age privilege independ- Many Arab countries reinforce patriar-
ently of patriarchal kinship. The employer chal kinship through pronatalist policies,
may be thought of as a father or uncle. The which subsidise reproduction with
workers may be thought of as juniors in payments for births, which are usually
this 'workplace family'. Employers may added to the wages of the father. A few
bear 'familial' responsibilities toward their Arab countries have offered payments for
employees, such as going to weddings, dowry to make marriage easier. Social
funerals, births or other special familial security, welfare, medical, and retirement
occasions of their workers, extending loans benefits are often channelled through the
during family crises, or even intervening in labour market. Given that the formal
family disputes. Workers are expected to labour market is mostly male, women's
be loyal to the employer as head of the access to these state services is through
family, doing such things as working long their husbands and fathers (Giacaman, Jad,
hours, rejecting strikes or unions, and Johnson 1996).
attending to the family of the employer. Children may inherit the father's
In all Arab countries, men control the political affiliation or political patron/client
better-paid and higher-status positions. relationships; Arab political leaders often
Males and seniors support and prioritise ensure that their sons follow them as heads
the placement and advancement of other of political parties or as members of parlia-
males and seniors. Such gender and age ments. Heads of state and state agencies
privilege can be justified on the assumed give their kin government positions. The
superiority of men and seniors in specific privileging of relatives in access to
jobs and professions. government resources is so normal in most
Arab countries that it not only goes
unnoticed when practised by political
Patriarchy and development in the Arab world 17

leaders, but is accepted as a political prin- other. Some political theorists argue that
ciple. People come to feel that their rights boundaries among these domains are
of access to the state come not from inadequate in Arab countries, leading to
citizenship, but from specific relationships faulty systems of representation, and
which link them to resources and services. authoritarian regimes (see Sadowski 1993
Even those who do not identify with for review). However, these theorists take
their father's political affiliations often find Western society as 'natural', and inapprop-
themselves having to rely on such connec- riately judge other societies by a Western
tions. In Arab countries where access to model of social organisation, which has
political resources is through kinship developed only recently.
networks, people often start with, while not Such theorists seldom recognise the
limiting themselves to, kin to gain public contribution of patriarchy to the lack of
services and resources. Political leaders boundaries between spheres of socio-
often reinforce this patrilineal patronage political life; they themselves are often
process by asking clients about their kin bound up in similar patterns.
I have called this a 'relational construct
of rights'. It contrasts with the contractual
Religious patriarchy
notion of rights found in many Western I use the phrase 'religious patriarchy' here
states (Joseph 1994b). Relational rights and to refer to the privileging of males and
contractual rights, however, co-exist in elders in religious institutions and prac-
most states. While a few scholars have tices. Religious identity is important in the
attempted to study relational rights Arab world. Children and women take the
(Nedelsky 1990), what has not been recog- religion of their fathers and husbands. Even
nised is that relational rights are often part if a person leaves their religion, they are
of many patriarchal systems. identified by the religion of their fathers.
Political leaders enhance patriarchy by Religion can bestow social status and
using patriarchal kin terms. Heads of state communal identity, as well as channel
often refer to themselves as 'fathers of the political membership and opportunities.
nation'; heads of political parties identify Religion is sometimes regarded as a
themselves as 'fathers' of their movements. civil status in Arab countries, and this is
Members in political parties may refer to also true of many non-Arab and non-
each other as 'brothers' and 'sisters'. They Middle Eastern countries. In Lebanon,
capitalise on the legitimacy which is citizens have their religion indicated on
implicit in the kin system, but, in doing so, their national ID cards. Representation in
they support patriarchy in the political the government is allocated on the basis of
arena. The political system also reinforces an assumed distribution of the 17 formally
patriarchy in that males and seniors recognised religious sects. Distribution of
constitute the overwhelming majority of state services and resources is supposed to
political power-holders, as heads of state, follow sectarian lines.
members of parliament, government Most Arab states do not define citizen-
officials, and members of political parties. ship in this way, but religion remains
Patriarchy is woven throughout Arab politically important. With the exception of
society partly because of the fluidity Lebanon, all Arab states identify them-
between civil society and state, public and selves as Muslim, and honour some Islamic
private domains, family and government laws. The most important of these are
0oseph In press a). Many political theorists personal status laws, or family law. With
have argued that democracy requires civil the exception of Tunisia, none of the Arab
society and state to be independent of each countries have civil personal status laws.
18 Gender and Development

Marriage, divorce, child custody, and Where a sense of selfhood is fostered

inheritance are governed by religious law. which emphasises the connectedness of
Usually the laws of one dominant religious individuals to each other, 'patriarchal
sect prevail, while recognised religious connectivity' can emerge. This is the foster-
minorities are tolerated. By placing ing of selves with fluid boundaries who
personal status laws in the hands of relig- defer to males and elders and understand
ious clerics, most Arab states have given gender and age privilege in kin and relig-
control over fundamental issues of daily ious terms. Few anthropologists or sociolo-
life to males and elders. The privileges of gists have managed to capture this psycho-
patriarchy include patrilineal custody over dynamic aspect of patriarchy. Astute
children, and male privilege in inheritance, analyses of patriarchal connectivity have
in divorce initiative, and in passing on of come instead from novelists such as
religious identity. Religious clerics often Naguib Mahfouz (1990) and Hanan Al-
reject marriages outside their sect. Shaykh (1989).
Religious clerics are, throughout the
Arab world, males. Clerics prioritise the
kinship system and sanctify it in religious Development planners,
terms; religious institutions in the Arab practitioners, and
world, as in much of the world, are patri- patriarchy
archal. They support the power of fathers
over their spouses and children, the power The argument that patriarchy persists
of elders over juniors, and the authority of because it permeates social, economic,
extended male kin over females and political, ideological, and psychological
juniors; and they themselves act like father aspects of social and personal life has
figures of their communities. important implications for development
planners and practitioners, and policy
makers. Democratic development means
that every part of society has to be studied
Patriarchy in the self for patriarchal practices and beliefs. Most
Patriarchy works also because it becomes non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
part of the psyche, one's sense of oneself as are headed by males or seniors, and kin
a person. The way in which patriarchy terms and values are frequently used in
permeates the psyche is one of the most NGOs. Even women's organisations often
profound reasons for the endurance of parallel men's organisations in using
patriarchy. This internalisation of patri- kinship, and female heads of NGOs may
archal principles is perhaps the least act like mothers, bring their relatives into
understood aspect of the persistence of the organisations, and treat members as
patriarchy. I have argued (Joseph 1993) that junior kin (Joseph submitted).
patriarchy in some Arab societies is linked Planners and practitioners must assume
to a 'connective' (or relational) notion of that indigenous organisations and
self: a sense of self that is embedded in activities, in whatever sphere, are likely to
relationships. In contrast to the individ- be imbued with values and practices that
ualist, autonomous, bounded, contractual support gender and age privilege. If they
self valued in the West, both women and start with this assumption and are proven
men in some Arab societies are encouraged wrong, they will have lost less than if they
to see themselves in relationship to critical disregard the influence of patriarchy.
others, especially in their families. The It also implies that development
boundary between one's sense of self, and programmes for any sector of society have
other people, is relatively fluid. to be carefully designed, so that they do not
Patriarchy and development in the Arab world 19

reinforce gender and age privilege. Not Joseph, S (1994b) 'Problematising gender and
every programme may actively work relational rights: experiences from Lebanon,'
against patriarchy, but it should be the goal Social Politics, 1,3,271-285.
of all programmes to avoid supporting Joseph, S (1996) 'Gender and citizenship in
patriarchy. Middle Eastern states,' Middle East Reports, 26:1,
However, planners and practitioners
should expect resistance on many fronts Joseph, S (In press) 'Civil society, the
public/private, and gender in Lebanon,' in
when patriarchy is challenged. It would not Muge Gocek, (ed.), University of California
be surprising for local stakeholders to Press, Berkeley.
respond with confusion and disorientation
Joseph, S (Submitted) 'Shopkeepers and
to organisations which seriously displace feminists: the reproduction of political process,'
patriarchal values and practices. Little can in Dawn Chatty and Annika Rabo, eds., Women
constructively happen without local people in Groups in the Middle East, Berg Publishers,
committed to change holding positions of Oxford.
leadership. In addition, planners and Kondo, D (1990) Crafting Selves: Power, Gender
practitioners need to examine their own and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace,
values, practices, and psyches for overt and University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
covert patriarchal assumptions. Krauss, P (1987) The Persistence of Patriarchy:
Class, Gender, and Ideology in Twentieth Century
Suad Joseph teaches anthropology at the Algeria, Praeger, New York.
University of California. She has published Mahfouz, N (1990) Palace Walk, Doubleday, New
extensively on sectarianism, gender and the York.
family, and constructions of the self and state in Meeker, M (1976) 'Meaning and Society in the
Lebanon. Department of Anthropology, Near East: Examples from the Black Sea Turks
University of California, Davis, CA 95616, and the Levantine Arabs/ International Journal of
USA Middle East Studies, 7, 383-422.
Nedlesky, J (1990) 'Law, boundaries, and the
bounded self/ Representations, 30,162-189.
Pateman, C (1988) The Sexual Contract, Stanford
Al-Shaykh, H (1989), Women of Sand and Myrrh, University Press, Stanford.
Quartet Books, London.
Phillips, A (1993) Democracy and Difference, Polity
Alvarez, S (1990) Engendering Democracy in Press, Cambridge.
Brazil, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Sadowski, Y (1993) "The new orientalism and the
Barakat, H (1993) The Arab World: Society, Culture democracy debate/ Middle East Reports, 183: 23:
and State, University of California, Berkeley. 4,14-26.
Eisenstein, Z (1994) The Color of Gender: Re- Schilcher, L S (1985) Families in Politics:
imaging Democracy. University of California Damascene Factions and Estates of the Eighteenth
Press, Berkeley. and Nineteenth Centuries, Franz Steiner Verlag
Giacaman, R, I Jad and P Johnson, 'For the Wiesbaden GMBH, Stuttgart.
public good? gender and social citizenship in Sharabi, H (1988), Neopatriarchy: A Theory of
Palestine/ Middle East Reports, 26:1,11-17. Distorted Change in Arab Society, Oxford
Jones, K (1993) Compassionate Authority: University Press, New York.
Democracy and the Representation of Women, Tucker, J E (1993) 'The Arab family in history.
Routledge, New York. "Otherness" and the study of the family/ in J E
Joseph, S (1993) 'Connectivity and patriarchy Tucker (ed.) Arab Women: Old Boundaries, New
among urban working class families in Frontiers, Indiana University Press,
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Ethnologist, 21:1, 50-73.

Fighting female infanticide

by working with midwives:
an Indian case study
Ranjani K Murthy

A feature of family life in many cultures and throughout history has been preference
for sons over daughters. This article describes a workshop with traditional midwives in
Bihar, which explored the underlying power structures in families and the community
which lead to son preference in general, and infanticide of female children in
particular. Strategies for combating female infanticide are examined and lessons drawn
from this experience?

strategies to combat female infanticide.

n May 1995, Adithi, a non-
governmental organisation (NGO) Participants included 28 dais, staff and
working in parts of Bihar with resource- volunteers from Bal Mahila Kalyan and
poor women, and Bal Mahila Kalyan Adithi, the author as an external consult-
(BMK), an NGO working in Bihar with ant, and a reporter from The Times of India.
poor people in general, organised a work- We began by asking the dais: 'if you
shop with dais (traditional midwives), on could choose, would you like to be born a
the issue of female infanticide. Adithi had male or a female next time?' We gave each
previously carried out a study in the area dai a chick-pea to place next to pictures of a
which concluded that a central reason for boy and a girl, and asked each to state her
the ratio recorded in the 1991 census of 820 reasons. (This method was adopted as most
girls for every 1000 boys between the ages of the dais were illiterate.) Of the 23 dais
of birth and six, was female infanticide in present at this stage, 18 wanted to be male;
certain caste groups. It noted that dais were only five wanted to be female. The benefits
often called on to kill female infants. Dais perceived of being male fell into five
predominantly belong to the dalit categories: material, social, religious,
community,2 are mostly illiterate, typically biological, and emotional. Among the dais
live in poverty, and have little power in the who wanted to be born again as a female,
community. two felt that women played an important
The workshop aimed, first, to explore role in producing life, and keeping the
gender discrimination in different caste generations going. One of them said: 'if all
and religious groups. A second aim was to of us became males, how will life continue?
understand the history and extent of We play an important role in society.' Two
female infanticide in the area, and to dais felt that as women they could be closer
examine whether the incidence varies with to the children, which was a source of
caste, class and religion, and birth order. satisfaction. Two dais pointed out that
Finally, the workshop aimed at identifying women do not need to go out and strain
Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996
Fighting female infanticide 21

themselves as much as men. They could inequality and discrimination are found in
relax, to an extent, at home. Thus, as far as extreme forms in upper-caste Hindu
the issue of the division of labour between communities. The upper castes - Rajputs,
women and men is concerned, it appears Bhumihars, Brahmans and Kayasths - who
that some of the dais had struck 'bargains are also wealthier, scored the highest with
with patriarchy' (Kandiyoti 1988), and the dais in terms of gender inequality;
enjoyed some of the privileges which the Banias and Yadavs came next; and gender
system had to offer women, though it inequality among the dalits and Muslim
limited their access to, and control of, communities was perceived to be lower
resources. On the positive side, at least two than in other groups - though still
of the dais felt that women played a key considerable.
role in society.
Gender inequalities among Hindus
We decided to summarise the different There are some common gender-based
reasons cited through pictures. Most dais disadvantages faced by all Hindu women
were used to drawing rangolis (decorative in this part of Bihar; for example, irrespect-
designs) on the ground, and some also ive of caste, Hindu women do not have
drew pictures on the wall. Some of these customary rights to land. It is common
pictures may make more sense to those of across all castes for daughters to leave their
us present than to outsiders, but it served parental home to go to their husband's
the purpose of summarising and synth- home upon marriage, so the parents do not
esising the discussions! derive any significant economic benefit, nor
social support from daughters after their
marriage. Irrespective of caste, women with
Caste, religion and male
sons occupy a higher spiritual status than
preference those with only daughters. The practice of
The dais participating were all from the paying dowry to the husband's family was
dalit community, and were mostly very widely prevalent, though the extent varies
poor. We asked them if they considered with caste.
that gender-based discrimination was There are also a few caste-specific
prevalent in other castes, and to what disadvantages. 'Forward-caste' women3 do
extent. The dais thought gender-based not normally go out of the home to work,

Diagram drawn by dais in

the workshop illustrating
various ways in which gender
discrimination is experienced Iucoms
and expressed.
22 Gender and Development

irrespective of wealth or poverty, and are Gender inequalities in the Muslim

constrained by strict norms of exclusion. community
Domestic work and child care is solely their The dais perceived the status of women in
responsibility. The incidence and rate of Muslim communities to be better than that
dowry is much higher than in other castes. of Hindu women. They pointed out that
In contrast, women from 'backward' castes Muslim women earn income from home-
engage in income generation; in the case of based work, and help in cultivation if they
Banias, women assist in their husband's or their husbands own land. Some Muslim
business, while women from the Yadav women own land themselves, though their
community engage in wage labour and are land is a quarter to half the size of that
also involved in cultivating any land their owned by their brothers. Muslims in the
husbands possess. 4 Men in the Yadav area married their daughters within the
community help out with housework at village, or in the neighbouring villages,
times. Women from these two communities which made it easier for them and their
either receive money from their husbands, husbands to manage the land which the
or can at least claim a share of resources. women owned. Intra-household inequal-
However, their economic contribution to ities in access to food on the basis of gender
the household is usually significantly lower were much lower when compared to
than their husband's. upper-caste Hindu communities.
Among dalits, 5 women play an However, dais reported that, in
important economic role in the household, common with their Hindu counterparts,
sometimes contributing even more than Muslim women in the area did encounter
their husbands. Husbands help out in inequalities and gender discrimination. For
housework and child care, though the example, women earned substantially less
primary responsibility rests with women. than their husbands, and they did not have
The extent of gender discrimination was full control over earnings. The burden of
least in this group. domestic work and child-care continued to
In all castes, the costs of daughters to rest on them.
parents are higher than those of sons, and The practice of dowry had spread even
the benefits lower. The cost of a girl's to this community. The dais felt that the
upbringing was highest in the case of Muslim religion accorded women a lower
Rajputs, Bhumihars, Brahmans and status, although women benefited from
Kayasths, and the socio-religious-economic that fact that Muslims, unlike Hindus, do
benefits the least. The costs of having a girl not believe that having sons gives parents a
were slightly lower in the case of Banias higher spiritual status. It was noted by the
and Yadavs, while the economic benefits to dais that the fertility rate of Muslim women
the parents and the community were in the area was much higher (ten to twelve
slightly higher. In the case of dalits, the children) than that of Hindu women (four
costs were even lower, and benefits were to five children), possibly due to religious
even higher, though still far from equal. sanctions against contraceptives and the
According to the dais, female infanti- insecurity stemming from belonging to a
cide is common amongst all Hindu castes, minority community.
to varying degrees, except among dalits. Dais felt that on the whole both
They observed that in the case of the Muslims and Hindus value the birth of a
upper/forward castes, the second or third girl less than that of a boy; and, in both
daughters onwards are the most vulner- communities, the gender differentials in
able, while in the case of backward castes, costs and benefits of male and female
the fourth or fifth daughters onward are children lead at the day-to-day level to
the most vulnerable. practices like favouring male children in
Fighting female infanticide 23

the distribution of food and education, and threatened the dai (who was extremely
at the extreme, to practices such as female poor) that if she did not comply, he would
infanticide. However, the dais said that harm her entire family. The dai used a rope
female infanticide is not practised amongst to strangle the female infant and received
Muslim households because it is against only 100 rupees in payment. The mother
Islamic principles to kill a female infant, was a silent observer throughout.
and Muslims feared that they would incur When we asked the dais at the work-
the wrath of God if they did so. shop to elaborate about the reaction of
mothers in such cases, they said that no
Dais' experience of female mother would willingly kill her own child,
even if it was a female. According to them,
infanticide mothers do not have any power in the
The dais stated that the practice of female household. After the role play, dais said
infanticide started among the upper castes they do not like being asked to kill female
in this region around 15 years ago, and infants, but are forced to, because of their
spread much later to backward castes. The extreme poverty. This poverty is caused by
assertion that female infanticide is a recent complex factors including the low pay dais
phenomenon in parts of Bihar is also receive for delivering babies (even lower if
supported by the study carried out by the infant is a female), dependency on
Adithi (Srinivasan et al, 1995), which upper-caste households for agricultural
attributed its emergence to increase in employment and credit, and the power
dowry, poverty, and destitution in the last which some of the men from these castes
decade and a half. However, the study does wield in the village.
not support the view that female Informal discussions with four dais
infanticide is not practised amongst dalits revealed that they had delivered 14
and Muslims (Srinivasan et al, 1995, Priya children in the last month, of whom eight
and Tyab, 1996). According to the findings, were females. The dais stated that, while all
the practice has spread to these commun- the male children were allowed to live, four
ities as well, due to economic marginalis- out of the eight female infants were killed.7
ation of women from these communities According to the dai concerned, two of
with technological changes, though it was these were killed by the parents (although
less frequent than in upper-caste Hindu she admitted to having killed these two
communities. The study supports the view infants as well, in the interview with Adithi
of dais that girl children born later in the staff during the survey), and the remaining
family are more vulnerable to female two by the dais. Two of the babies were
infanticide. from the upper caste, one from the Yadav
We encouraged the dais to take part in a community, and one from a family from
'role play' and held informal, intimate West Bengal, whose caste the dais did not
discussions with four dais, to try to know. A variety of methods were used to
understand the context of female infanti- kill female infants. Strangulation, giving
cide, the role of the dais, and the different the baby a large quantity of salt, mixing
forms which female infanticide took. Role poisonous seeds with milk, and leaving the
play was chosen as the method as the issues infant in a clay pot covered with a lid were
are very sensitive, and it is easier to explore some of the common methods. The dais
them if people are acting rather than talking were often promised Rs600 to Rsl,000
directly about the experience. In the role before killing the infants, but they admitted
play, the father was portrayed as asking the that they were usually paid much less in
dai who assisted in the birth to kill his the end.
infant daughter for 1,000 rupees. The father
24 Gender and Development

Why the discrimination? and power, and others believed to have

power over the fertility of land.
The next theme for discussion at the
workshop was the underlying causes of Are gender inequalities a result of social
gender inequity and female infanticide. structures which favour men?
Some dais said that men did difficult work, It would appear that underpinning the
and hence they earned more. A few said problem of gender discrimination and its
that women's inferior status was ordained extreme manifestation in female infanticide
by God, while others pointed out that are complex economic, social, and cultural
social structures were the underlying issues which are expressed though social
causes. institutions, including the family, com-
munity (including religion), market, and
Do men do the more difficult tasks? the state. Ideologies, practices, structures,
We analysed whether it was true that and resource distribution are linked
women's work was easier than that of men, together, and this leads to gender discrim-
and whether that explained gender differ- ination, as well as discrimination arising
entials in wages. The more vocal amongst out of other social differences, such as
the dais felt that this was not so, and that caste, class, religion, and ethnicity. Given
poor or untrained women perform work that these are social problems, not biolog-
which is comparable to, if not more diffi- ical or divinely ordained, they can be
cult than, the work done by men. Taking changed over time. ,
the example of the dais themselves, their
work required many skills, as much as
some of the surgery done by male doctors, Strategies to fight female
which was highly valued. Cooking as an infanticide
activity was paid when done (predomin- Several innovative strategies were
antly by men) outside the household, but suggested by the dais:
not when done at home by women.
Thus, participants realised that • Make the prevalence of female infanti-
women's work inside the house was not cide visible to the eyes of state officials:
valued economically and socially, not at present, the prevalence of female
because it was easier and unskilled, but infanticide is not officially accepted by
because of the value attached to it by the bureaucracy, judiciary, and police, as
society. This prejudice extended to no government survey has been
women's work outside the household, conducted of its incidence in castes,
which was undervalued because of gender classes, and across different regions, and
ideology, despite the fact that it earned its variation depending on the birth order
income. of babies; nor does the census provide
such disaggregated data. One of the
Are gender inequalities ordained by God? problems is that births and deaths are not
The more vocal amongst the dais argued officially registered. A workshop on this
that the inferiority of women is not issue is being planned with represent-
ordained by God, but was a particular atives from various government depart-
interpretation of religious tradition by male ments, district court officials, commercial
religious leaders. They pointed out that and co-operative banks, and NGOs, to
there are many Hindu goddesses, revered discuss carrying out a joint survey on
by the community, including Lakshmi, demographic changes across different
associated with wealth, Saraswathi, with caste and religious groups, over a period
education, and Durga or Kali, with strength of time. The survey would gather inform-
Fighting female infanticide 25

ation on the birth position of female can be found who may be against female
infants who are known to have died, infanticide, and these, and religious
through interviewing parents, dais and institutions, should be used strategically.
progressive village members. A Similarly, while the state perpetuates
campaign for compulsory registration of patriarchal values in several ways, it was
births and deaths would also be felt that its official commitment to gender
launched, and care would be taken that justice can and should be exploited.)
dais, victims of the system but the official
culprits, were not victimised. The results • Promote anti-poverty programmes with
of the survey would feed into a second dais and women from vulnerable
workshop on female infanticide with groups: The dais suggested ways of
government, bank officials, NGOs, dais addressing poverty so that they could
and sensitive village leaders, in which resist being involved in a criminal act.
joint strategies would be discussed. They suggested fighting for higher
• Set up watchdog committees at village wages, and equal payment for delivery of
level: dais suggested that BMK should boys and girls; trying to obtain a govern-
set up watchdog committees at village ment provision of RslOO per month for
level immediately, to keep track of demo- dais, which existed in the past; and
graphic changes discussed above, and upgrading their skills so that they could
ensure registration of all births and offer a wide range of services and earn
deaths; to raise awareness of the issue of more. They could also supplement their
female infanticide and other forms of income by beginning non-traditional
gender discrimination; and to exert social income generation programmes.
and moral pressure to prevent female
infanticide, failing which to take legal
(In the post-workshop meeting, NGOs felt
recourse. Dais, representatives from
that building the earnings of dais was not a
different communities, Sarpanchs
solution by itself, as the parents could hire
(leaders of local self-governance
others or kill the female infants themselves.
institutions), school teachers, religious
Strategies to raise the incomes of all women
leaders, government officials and local
from the vulnerable castes was felt necess-
staff of NGOs would be members of this
ary to raise their status, and give them an
committee, provided they are sensitive to
independent voice.)
the issue of female infanticide and gender
discrimination. The dais felt that
leadership should not rest with them- • Promote welfare programmes directed
selves, to avoid incurring the wrath of the at female infants: Some dais wanted an
community. Half the membership and orphanage for female infants, where
leadership will be reserved for women. parents could leave unwanted babies.
The external facilitators disagreed; one,
cited Tamil Nadu's experience which had
(After the workshop, the staff and the led to girls irrespective of age being
facilitating team had a heated debate about dumped by parents (Vydhianathan and
whether gender-sensitive people could be Mathew, 1992, Express News Service,
found in some of the above groups; 1992). The centres were not well-run, and
whether religion should be used to apply adequate food and education was not
moral pressure by saying it is a sin to provided. The dais pointed out that these
commit female infanticide; and whether problems could be reduced if the
police and legal action would be useful if orphanage was run by NGOs with
social and moral pressures failed. A watchdog committees, and that although
majority felt that 'benevolent patriarchs' this strategy does not address the root of
26 Gender and Development

the problem, it provides immediate relief with age and birth order, and how, at the
and can save the lives of female infants. community level, gender relations interlock
• Raise awareness and empower women, with social relations of caste and religion.
using dais as change agents: In short, a social relations and institutional
dais who had been exposed to other approach (Kabeer, 1994) to examining
group activities joined the staff of BMK, gender relations is essential to understand
and the facilitators in suggesting training the ideology of son preference, and female
committed dais to act as 'change agents', infanticide as its extreme consequence.
to enhance awareness among women The exploration of strategies to combat
and men of the broader issue of gender female infanticide suggests some of the
discrimination, and to empower women. difficulties in prioritising strategic gender
Such programmes may be carried out by interests over practical gender needs in the
NGOs, rather than the government, and short run (Moser, 1989), and raises the
may be directed at women and men from question of whose priorities count. Both
all communities, unlike most pro- strategic interests and practical needs
grammes of NGOs which are directed should be identified and addressed
only at economically weaker sections of simultaneously, with the vision of working
the community. Some of the strategies towards strategic gender interests in the
identified for raising awareness were long run. Women's own definitions of their
setting up of gender-sensitive cultural needs and interests should be central.
groups, holding shivirs (awareness- Other lessons relate to the methods
raising camps) at village level, and chosen to unravel the factors leading to son
organising a padayatra (march) of parents, preference and female infanticide. While
who are proud and happy to have surveys are inadequate to address complex
daughters, with their daughters. It was social relationships, participatory methods
recognised that the empowerment of are not foolproof either. If the methods
women may demand strategies beyond employed in a participatory way of work-
occasional events; forming women's ing actually challenge power relations, they
groups, and strengthening their econ- may be more effective than the survey
omic and social base, was considered method, both in capturing the factors
essential. leading to female infanticide, and
indicating appropriate strategies.
Lessons learnt at the An analysis of what worked and didn't
work during the workshop suggests that
workshop some of the factors which need to be kept
The experience of the workshop offers in mind while using participatory methods
several lessons on how to examine factors are: identifying methods 8 to express
leading to son preference and its conse- gender-based power relations which lead
quences at family and community level; to son preference and female infanticide;
particularly the importance of getting to working towards a goal of changing these
the roots of such issues, showing how the power relations throughout the workshop
distribution of resources and power in the process; promoting clarity on the objectives
family and community leads to son of each exercise among participants, and
preference, and how policies and practices consensus on this;9 respecting the need of
of the state and markets reinforce this. participants to retain privacy during sensit-
Gender relations are always closely ive discussions, and timing the workshop
intertwined with other social relations. according to demands on their time; and
Within the institution of family, it is useful making a conscious effort to reduce hierar-
to explore how gender relations interlock chies between facilitators and participants.
Fighting female infanticide 27

Lastly, the strategies suggested for fathers - or if it is simply a cultural belief that
combating female infanticide suggest that this is the case. These aspects need to be
participatory approaches and survey explored further.
methods may not be mutually exclusive. 7 The figure of a maximum of one female
For example, strategies to make visible the infanticide per month per dai is lower than the
figure recorded by Adithi in the course of its
prevalence of female infanticide may need survey, which put the figure as high as 3-4 cases
to combine participatory approaches with of female infanticide per dai per month
base-line surveys. (Srinivasan et al, 1995).
8 For a detailed analysis of lessons from this
Ranjani Murthy is a gender specialist and workshop and other experiences, see Murthy
researcher in rural development. Address: 16 (forthcoming).
Srinivasa Murthy Avenue, Adyar, Madras 9 Some of the dais, given their poverty, were at
600020 India. times more concerned with their personal gain,
rather than combating female infanticide.
Similarly, the journalist who attended the
Notes workshop, though committed to combating the
practice of female infanticide, had also come
1 The author would like to thank the dais, Adithi
with another objective - of getting facts (names
and BMK staff for giving her an opportunity to
of dais, for example) required for authentic
be part of the process of sharing, analysing and
reporting. These various motivations came into
learning. She is also grateful to Caroline
the way of good discussions.
Sweetman for her comments on the original
2 The term 'dalit' means oppressed and down References
trodden, and was coined by the untouchables to
refer to themselves and other oppressed groups, Express News Service (1992) 'Cradles for
as against the paternalistic term 'harijan' unwanted attracting bigger kids', Indian Express,
(children of God) which was coined by Gandhi 26 November.
to refer to untouchables alone. In popular usage, Kabeer, N (1994) 'Towards gender-aware policy
'dalits' refers almost exclusively to and planning: a social relations perspective', in
untouchables. Macdonald, M (ed.), Gender Planning in
3 'Forward and backward castes' are terms used Development Agencies, Oxfam, England.
by the Indian government to categorise different Kandiyoti D (1988) 'Bargaining with patriarchy'
caste groups based on their economic and social in Gender and Society 2: 3.
position. Forward castes are more privileged in
these two respects, and backward castes are less Moser CNN (1989) 'Gender planning In Third
privileged. However, the government's World development: meeting practical and
valuation of social position does not take into strategic gender needs' in World Development 17:
account the gender dimension, which at times 11.
follows the reverse order. Forward castes are Murthy, forthcoming, 'Examining gender
Rajputs, Bhumihars, Brahman and Kayasths. relations through participatory approaches" in
4 Yadavs (traditionally cow herders) and Banias Guijt, I and Shah, M (eds.), The Mytli of
Community: Gender Issues in Participatory
Development, IIED/IDS, England.
5 Including Dravidas, Mushahars, and Chamars.
Priya, D and S, Tyab (1996) 'Birthday deathday',
6 The facilitation team felt that the processes at in Humanscape, January.
work may be more complicated. Do mothers
silently give consent because they realise the Srinivasan, V, et al (1995) Female Infanticide in
plight of their daughters if they survive? Do they Bihar, Adithi, Bihar.
comply because the status of mothers of only Vydhianathan, S and Mathew, T (1992) 'No
daughters is lower than the status of mothers of babies for TN cradles', Indian Express, 2
only sons or sons and daughters? A very basic December.
area for questioning is whether mothers are
more biologically attached to their children than

Female-headed families:
a comparative perspective of the
Caribbean and the developed world
Sheila Stuart

The Caribbean family has been perceived to be in crisis, partly because it does not
conform to the Western ideal of a nuclear family. This article compares the changing
family patterns in other parts of the world with family patterns that have remained
fairly constant in the Caribbean, and suggests that many of the earlier assumptions
about Caribbean families, particularly in relation to female-headed households, need to
be re-examined.

The controversial
ccording to Hart and Miller, family
forms long established in the Caribbean family
Caribbean are now becoming more
general in the Western World, as the The African-Caribbean family has been
nuclear family collapses under a multipli- examined over the past 50 years from
city of social forces. It has therefore become varying theoretical perspectives. While
'more difficult to hold that the Caribbean providing some understanding of the
family is a backward failure to achieve the family within the Caribbean context, family
modern nucleated norms celebrated by research in the Caribbean has remained a
American sociologists of the 1950s (Hart, hot-bed of controversy. For example, early
1989). Miller theorised: 'Caribbean peoples studies have alluded to 'anomalous' family
are still to discover that they are ahead of types; however, the analytical framework
most of the world in their adaptations and on which these assessments is based is
adjustments to fundamental factors shap- essentially Eurocentric, suggesting that the
ing the nature of society, now and in the nuclear family, which has its roots in
future' (Miller, 1991). Western civilisation, is the ideal social unit.
The changes taking place in the metro- The Caribbean is distinguished by the
politan countries provide the opportunity high incidence of female heads of
for a less biased approach to the study of households. According to official statistics,
family everywhere, discarding notions of between 22 and 44 per cent of women in
superiority and inferiority, and seeing CARICOM countries are sole heads of
family formations as adaptations to econ- households (CARICOM, 1995). Various
omic and social conditions. One of the basic studies have attributed this phenomenon to
features of the family is its ability to adapt the sexual irresponsibility of the Caribbean
to new social forces and reconstruct in male, which had its roots in slavery, the
response to both internal and external migration of large numbers of men in
pressure (Bruce, Lloyd and Leonard 1995). search of employment, and the loose and

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996

Female-headed families 29

temporary arrangements of conjugal bonds immediately following emancipation,

(Chevannes 1993). Marriage is not seen in many families chose to remain on the
the dominant culture of the region as a plantations, in order to safeguard their
socially necessary precursor for procrea- children and keep their families intact
tion, hence women may opt to have and (Marshall, 1986).
raise children independently. Families in the Caribbean have been
Women have long been acknowledged variously categorised over the years. The
as the backbone of Caribbean families: they census definitions are:
often perform the dual roles of housewife
1 Married: husband and wife sharing a
and breadwinner. The cases where men
common residence.
and women share housekeeping tasks
2 Common-law: man and woman not
equally are very rare, but there is some
legally united but sharing a common
indication that this is changing. The
primary responsibility of women for family
welfare is based on the sexual division of 3 Visiting: unmarried couple, sharing
labour in the family. In the early literature sexual relationship but not common
on the Caribbean family, women's role in residence.
society was defined almost exclusively as 4 Single-parent: single woman or man
reproductive, and mothering was viewed living with their children, defined as 'no
as the chief occupation through which longer living with spouse or common-
women's status was determined; while the law partner' or 'never in a union'.
male was defined mainly as breadwinner 5 Extended: three or more generations
(Mohammed, 1988). However, this view sharing a common residence.
ignored the historical contribution of The 'extended family' typically includes
women to the economic and social grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and
development of Caribbean societies, which sometimes close friends, and provides a
has its roots in plantation slavery; and has network for support and nurturing. It is
been challenged by a number of Caribbean still common today to find two or three
scholars. The Caribbean has been regarded generations of family members sharing a
as unique in the immense historical home and household responsibilities
importance of the economic role of women, (Stuart, 1993). However, as a result of social
which has given women a motivation to and economic changes, extended families
achieve autonomy, in terms of their are beginning to break down. A major
relationships with men and with wider contributory factor to this breakdown has
society (Beckles 1988; Mohammed 1988; been migration in search of employment,
Phillips 1994; Reddock 1994; Safa 1986). which has taken many forms over the
years, ranging from internal, between
territories, to external, to Europe, USA,
Shaping and re-shaping the and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. A
Caribbean family 'transnational family' structure is develop-
ing: 'a nuclear or extended family unit
Caribbean families are highly complex, and
which spreads across national boundaries',
many forms exist side by side - reflecting
in which 'critical family functions, such as
the pluralistic nature of Caribbean societies.
economic and emotional support are
These diverse family forms have emerged
shared among family members' (Wiltshire,
in response to historical, economic, and
social forces, evolving according to what
people have found functional to their
needs. For example, in Barbados,
30 Gender and Development

Life-cycle factors social order. One Government Minister in

Census data and research have shown that Barbados recently stated, 'women should
up to 75 per cent of Caribbean women be wary of their actions. Being a single
under the age of 25 have their first child parent is no easy task and judging by the
prior to the formation of a residential number of single-parent families in our
union. The mating pattern has three society mainly headed by women, it would
distinct stages, beginning with the 'visiting appear that men are not fulfilling their
union', where it is not uncommon to find obligations to women or their offspring'
young women with children living in their (Daily Nation, 3 April, 1995).
parental home. In this situation, there is
heavy dependence on blood relatives for
support. Young mothers are predominantly
Female-headed households
in visiting unions where 'marriage., except and economic motivation
in East Indian populations, is negligible' Recent research has revealed that a signifi-
(McKenzie, 1993, 81). The second stage is cant number of single-parent households
the common-law or non-marital, residential result from deliberate choice (Chant 1985;
union; while the third stage is marked by a Leo-Rhynie 1993). Women often prefer not
gradual transition to marriage; most to enter permanent or semi-permanent
women between the ages of 25 and 45 are unions with men, for various reasons.
in such unions. Women sometimes perceive that they will
Age is therefore a critical factor: while be better off financially if they remain on
family formation may begin with early their own; women also fear that they will
unmarried childbearing, as partners lose their independence and become
become older there is a trend towards subordinate to men, and lose control and
marriage. After the age of 45 there are custody of their children.
indications of higher levels of separation, The view that female heads of house-
divorce and widowhood, which leave large holds are found primarily in the lower
numbers of women without resident male classes of society, and tend to be very poor,
partners; the majority of female heads of has also been challenged. In analysing the
households are found in older age group. incidence of poverty in Guyana, Thomas'
investigations revealed that the data on
single-parent households headed by
Blaming women for 'family
females do not confirm the widely held
breakdown' view that these households are the most
A view, frequently heard today, is that vulnerable. (Thomas 1995). There is,
women are abandoning their responsibility indeed, a new trend among middle-class
to their children by opting for full-time professional women deliberately to choose
employment outside the home. Since the single parenting, because of their social and
mother has been recognised as being the economic independence (Leo-Rhynie 1993).
prime socialising agent in Caribbean But there is also a growing trend of prof-
society (Chevannes 1993), she has been and essional single men who are adopting and
continues to be consistently blamed for the raising children single-handedly. Although
breakdown of family, and particularly for this new family type has its own chall-
delinquency in young males. enges, the parent's commitment tends to be
The basis of this argument is multi- intense because it results from choice.
faceted, but includes the premise that the
loose arrangement of single-parenting does
not allow for proper socialising of children,
and leads to deviance and a breakdown of
Female-headed families 31

Men's status in Caribbean corresponding rise in non-marital child-

families bearing in almost all age-groups (Bumpass
1994). In an analysis of the changing family
Another assumption being currently in Sweden, which he describes as one of the
challenged is the traditional negative view most advanced and egalitarian amongst
'about men and the roles they play as Western industrialised nations, Popenoe
husbands and fathers'(UNICEF, 1994, 1). argues that the trend is towards movement
Men have tended to be seen as irrespons- beyond and away from the nuclear family
ible, and marginal to family life in the (Popenoe, 1987). What Popenoe and
Caribbean, and it is true that many women Bumpass describe is almost an exact replica
are deserted by their partners, and left to of family patterns prevalent in Caribbean
support their offspring alone. R T Smith, societies: low rates of marriage, high rates
for example, claimed that the extra- of non-marital cohabitation, high rates of
residential mating patterns of men were an family dissolution, and extensive move-
expression of irresponsibility towards ment of women into the labour force.
family. But this position was challenged by Historical data has indicated that
Chevannes, who conducted a survey in female-headed households in European
Jamaica among males 18 years and over societies are not such a novel concept as
and found that nearly 40 per cent had social scientists would have us believe. For
fathered a child with only one woman and example, de facto female-headed house-
30 per cent had no children. holds were prevalent under feudalism,
The contribution of men to the family where wives were left not only in charge of
has been narrowly defined as providing households, but often managed estates on
financial support and discipline. However, their own when their husbands went off to
there are many situations where men wars: 'even medieval peasant women
(fathers, step-fathers, brothers, uncles, found themselves in charge of hearth and
grandfathers, and cousins) are involved in farm - with even fewer resources - when
an array of support networks, which their serf husbands followed the knights to
benefit female relatives who head house- war' (Hager, 1993, 13). More recently,
holds. Recently, therefore, there have been Moeller (1993) examined the West German
calls to explore the role of fathering beyond post-war family in 1946, explaining that
providing an income and discipline. Germany became a 'country of women',
with a high proportion of women living
alone with their children, and an illegiti-
Comparative perspectives macy rate of over 16 per cent.
on the family In Britain, Graham found that 'families'
Having outlined the features of the historic do not conform to a standard shape or size:
and prevailing Caribbean family, I would 'There is no such thing as "the family" in
now like to turn to the literature on the sense of one accepted model of family
changing family patterns in the developing life. Instead, variety is the norm' (Graham,
world, survey different reasons offered for 1983). There is evidence of a major change
these changes, and touch on some of the in the formation of first partnerships
similarities and differences between the among young women in Britain, with
Caribbean and Europe and North America. cohabitation becoming the dominant
In the West, change in family life is model. These unions either end in marriage
characterised by a decline in the signifi- or are dissolved. The percentage of women
cance of marriage, as witnessed by falling having a child within a cohabiting union is
marriage rates, and an increase in divorce also estimated to have doubled in the last
and cohabitation. There has also been a 30 years or so (Buck and Ermisch 1995).
32 Gender and Development

In comparing this pattern with the contemporary society among non-African

Caribbean family life cycle outlined earlier, groups who have never experienced
there are some distinct similarities. First, it slavery challenges the slavery legacy thesis
is younger women who cohabit; secondly, (Miller, ibid). Hart has tried to grapple with
a large percentage of such unions lead to this paradox, arguing that industrialisation
marriage; thirdly, a large percentage of first in the West demands the gradual separa-
births occur in such unions. This is tion of social production from domestic
confirmed by Bumpass, whose research reproduction. This separatio, had already
shows that the vast majority of new single- begun under slavery, and therein lies the
parent families in the US were formed by similarity. The division of labour under
the birth of a child to an unmarried industrialisation removed from the family
woman, not through separation or divorce. the responsibility of preparing the labour
Changes in the family in the 'developed force. This function is taken over by the
world' have been attributed to the state, primarily through the provision of
advances in gender equality, and 'econ- education. With industrialisation, the
omic changes which provide parents with institution of the 'family' becomes almost
sources of sustenance independent of their redundant, because reproduction no longer
spouse' (Sokalski 1993,8): mainly, women's depends on a specific domestic arrange-
increased participation in the paid ment between men and women.
economy. The underlying assumption is The availability of welfare benefits has
that female employment, due in part to the been put forward as an 'economic motiva-
expansion of educational opportunities, tion' for black female-headed families in
brings financial autonomy, which allows the United States. It is frequently used to
women to make a choice where family is explain why large numbers of these
concerned. This phenomenon has also been families are living on welfare rather than
cited as being responsible for changes in earnings (Darity and Myers,1984). A
family life in the Caribbean, but researchers similar theory has been propounded in the
including Reddock, Miller and Beckles UK, where large numbers of young
argue that Caribbean women have always women, many of whom are black, are
been active in the workforce, performing perceived as living off the welfare state. It
the dual roles of income earner and is claimed that young teenage girls, who
caretaker of the home and family. While are desperate to get away from home,
the working women in industrialised strategically exploit the welfare system,
societies may spend periods outside the where the state provides all single parents
workforce in childrearing activities, this is in poor socio-economic circumstances with
not the case for Caribbean women. adequate housing.
However, as Miller asks, 'what does In the Caribbean, there is no elaborate
slavery have in common with industrial system of welfare support, so the economic
societies in full bloom of economic prosper- motivation thesis is used in a different
ity?' (Miller, 1991, 71). The emergence of context. Here, it is linked to the phenomena
family patterns similar to those in the of multiple 'baby-fathers', where in an
Caribbean, in Western industrialised socie- effort to find financial support for their
ties, which have no history of slavery or children, mothers become involved with a
plantation sytems, calls for new explana- series of men. There is a strong perception
tions for such changes. Although not in some quarters that women deliberately
disputing the fact that plantation society choose to have children so that men will
influenced patterns of family formation in support them. For example, in Barbados a
African-Caribbean groups, Miller argues Probation Officer was quoted as saying that
that the spread of such patterns in mothers 'seem to think that men must
Female-headed families 33

support the children. Child support cases recognise them as self-employed persons,
could be decreased if women were more so that they could contribute and have
responsible. They need to control them- access to National Insurance benefits
selves and not let men believe they are sex where these existed (Springer, 1989). Such
receptacles ... very often a woman is a reform would recognise that women's
saddled with raising children on her own.' contribution to their families is not only
(Daily Nation, 3 April 1995). unpaid but under-valued.
• Re-definition of the roles of men and
women in 'families', to give equal status
Conclusion to each parent. For example, in several
When we recognise that the 'family unit' Caribbean territories married women
does not function in isolation from the cannot under law register the birth of
larger society, it will be easier to remove the their children, which can only be done by
labels which serve mainly as stumbling the husband, the presumed father..
blocks in the understanding of 'families'. • Strengthening of the family through
The nuclear family is but one family form sharing responsibility in the upbringing
among many, not only in the Caribbean, but of children between women, men, and
elsewhere (Hart 1989; Mille, 1991; Harris society. 'Maternity, motherhood, parent-
1994; Graham 1984). 'Dysfunctionality ing and the role of women in procreation
within the family is not necessarily correl- must not be the basis for discrimination
ated within single-parent families and nor restrict the full participation of
occurs in families of all types' (Harris, 1994). women in society' (Item No.30, Beijing
We therefore need to give equal Platform for Action).
recognition and support to all family forms
(Harris, 1994), recognising that although Sheila Stuart is a Research Fellow at the
the 'family' is the primary social institution Institute of Social and Economic Research,
in society, it can exert both negative and University of the West Indies, PO Box 64,
positive effects. We should not romanticise Bridgetown, Barbados, WI.
the family, whatever form it takes.
There are numerous policy implications References
inherent in this analysis. Policies should be
devised in such a way that women are not Barrow, C (1986) 'Finding the support: a study
of strategies for survival'. Social and Economic
marginalised, but instead are better
Studies 35: 2.
prepared to be economic decision-makers.
To achieve this, the following are needed: Beckles, H (1988) Afro Caribbean Women and
Resistance to Slavery in Barbados, Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press.
• Recognition of the economic contribu-
tions of women to families and to society Buck N and Ermisch J (1995) 'Cohabitation in
Britain', Changing Britain, Issue Three, Economic
through their paid and unpaid work. For
and Social Research Council.
example, the International Wages for
Bruce, J, Lloyd C B, and Leonard A (1995) Families
Housework Campaign proposed, at the
in Focus: New Perspectives on Mothers, Fathers and
1985 United Nations End of Decade Children, The Population Council, New York.
Conference, that governments should
Bumpass, L (1994) 'The declining significance of
place a monetary value on housework marriage: changing family in the United States',
and have this reflected in national Keynote Address in Changing Britain Newsletter,
budgets (Stuart, 1991). Economic and Social Research Council.
• Support for self-employed status for CARICOM (1995) Towards Equity in Development:
housewives. In 1989, Caribbean house- A Report of the Status of Women in Sixteen
wives called on their governments to Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Prepared for
34 Gender and Development

the Fourth World Conference on Women, Mohammed, P (1988) 'The Caribbean family
Caribbean Community Secretariat. revisited', in Mohammed P and Sheppard, C
Chant, S (1985) 'Single-parent families: choice or (eds) Gender in Caribbean Development, Women
constraint? The formation of female-headed and Development Studies Project, UWI.
households in Mexican shanty towns', Phillips, D (1994) 'The family in crisis:
Development and Change 16: 4. explaining the new phenomenon of street
Chevannes, B (1993) 'Stresses and strains: children in Trinidad', Bulletin of Eastern
situation analysis of the Caribbean family', Caribbean Affairs, 19: 4.
Paper prepared for United Nations Economic Popenoe, D (1987) 'A statistical portrait of the
Commission for Latin America and the changing family in Sweden', Journal of Marriage
Caribbean. Latin American and Caribbean and the Family, 49:1.
Regional Meeting, Preparatory to the Population Census of the Commonwealth Caribbean,
International Year of the Family. 1980/81, Volume 3: Dominica, Grenada, Guyana,
Daily Nation, 'Parents urged to be aware of St Lucia.
roles', 3 April, 1995. Reddock, R (1994) Women, Labour and Politics in
Darity W A Jr. and Myer S L Jr. (1984) 'Does Trinidad and Tobago: A History, Ian Randle.
welfare dependency cause female headship? Safa, H I (1986) 'Economic autonomy and sexual
The case of the black family', Journal of Marriage equality in Caribbean society', Social and
and the Family, 46: 4. Economic Studies, 35: 3.
Gonzalez, V D (1982) 'The realm of female Society for International Development (1993)
familial responsibility' in Massiah J (ed.) Women 'The family, women's rights and community
and the Family: Women in the Caribbean Project, responsibilities', Development. 4
Volume 2. Institute of Social and Economic
Sokalski, H J (1993) 'Aims of the International
Research, UWI, Barbados.
Year of the Family', Development 4.
Hager, J A (1993) 'The medieval family: lessons Springer, J (1989) 'Housewives want self-
from the past?', Development 1993:4.
employed status', Barbados Advocate Newspaper,
Harris, S T (1994) Family Code for the Caribbean, 24 May.
Caribbean Community Secretariat.
Stuart, S (1991) 'The good women have done to
Hart, K (1989) Women and the Sexual Division of family life', Family, May, Barbados Family
Labour in the Caribbean, Consortium Graduate Planning Association.
School of Society Sciences, UWI.
Stuart, S (1991) Counting Women's Work: New
ISER, Barbados (1986) Sub-Regional Seminar on Woman Struggle, WAND, UWI, School of
Changing Family Patterns and Women's Roles in the Continuing Studies, Barbados.
Caribbean Final Report.
Stuart, S (1992) 'Women and family life: a
Leo-Rhynie, E (1993) The Jamaican Family: feminist perspective, Family, December.
Continuity and Change, Grace Kennedy
Stuart, S (1993) Whither the Family! WAND
Occasional Paper 3. UWI.
Marshall, T (1986) 'Post-emancipation
Thomas, C Y (1995) 'Social development and the
adjustments in Barbados' in Thompson, A (ed)
Social Summit', A report on Guyana, Jamaica,
Emancipation I, lectures to commemorate the
Trinidad and Tobago, paper prepared for
150th Anniversary of Emancipation,
Caribbean Symposium on Social Development,
Department of History, UWI and the Barbados
Barbados, March 1995. Consortium Graduate
National Cultural Foundation.
School of Social Sciences, ISER, UWI in
Mckenzie, H (1993) 'The family, class and association with UNICEF and CARICOM.
ethnicity in the future of the Caribbean', Greene,
Wiltshire, R (1986) The Caribbean Transnational
E (ed) Race, Class and Gender in the Caribbean,
Family, ISER Barbados.
ISER, Jamaica.
UNICEF Children in Focus 6: 4, December 1994.
Miller, E (1991) Men at Risk, Jamaica Publishing
House. United Nations (1995) Beijing Declaration and
Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World
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Conference on Women: Action for Equality,
Women and the Family in the Politics of Post-war
Development and Peace. Beijing, 1995.

Structures and processes:

land, families, and gender relations
Susie Jacobs

Despite the variation in land-reform processes and in the cultures in which they
occur, there is striking similarity in some of the effects of land reform on gender
relations and women's family positions. Family and kinship patterns both affect, and
are affected by, land reform. This two-way relationship is examined here, looking in
particular at the author's study of north-eastern Zimbabwean Resettlement Areas,
conducted in the mid-1980s, and Agarwal's 1994 study of women and land rights in
South Asia.

many small-scale agricultural systems,

and issues are often considered to be
'male', especially outside Africa. male domination of land and of women
However, land reform and land may seem to be both 'natural' and inter-
inheritance processes illuminate the gender connected. Hence, the commonly-made
relations within family structures and feminist point that one must disaggregate
processes. This is indicated by the and analyse 'the family' also applies to
exclamation of one Ministry of Agriculture systems of land tenure and agriculture.
official to Bina Agarwal: 'Are you This is particularly important because these
suggesting that women be given rights in systems are intertwined with family and
land? What do women want? To destroy kinship relations.1 I argue that in most
the family?' (Agarwal, 1994:53). In South small farming systems, male domination is
India, women's natal kin, especially particularly firmly entrenched.
brothers, were particularly hostile to Land reforms may seem to have the
women's land rights because of their fear potential to break the connections between
that land might pass out of the patrilineage. women, land and domination; however,
In communities in which women have they rarely do so. Much depends upon the
never held land, such rights are met with system of tenure and the type of action, if
particular hostility: witchcraft accusations, any, which has taken place to challenge it.
attacks, divorce threats, torture and even Many land reforms have resulted from the
murder. activities of grassroots movements;
Land may be a powerful symbol of however, many others have been imposed
'community', and of 'family' solidarity and 'from above'. Even where land redistribu-
culture. Although these symbols may tion takes place as a result of widespread
operate for women as well as for men, popular struggle, as in the 1940s Telengana
women as (usually) unequal members of movement, led by the Communist Party of
families may be subsumed within them. In India, issues of gender equity may not be

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, ]une 1996

36 Gender and Development

given priority, despite women's promin- transactions (dowry and bridewealth

ence in the movement (Sanghatana, 1989). payments) or through inheritance. Thus,
In fact, many land reforms, often unwit- kinship links are crucial factors when
tingly, have further entrenched what considering women's rights to land, and
Wiergsma (1990) terms 'peasant how land reform has affected women's
patriarchy'. status.
Family and kinship systems vary
between and within societies; and between
Effects of land reform
regions, classes, castes and ethnic groups.
Land reforms have different aims and In many, though not all, societies they are
scopes in different societies; for example, in heavily male-dominated. This may operate
Korea 54 per cent of land was distributed, at many levels: husbands, fathers and
encouraged by the USA, and in India only brothers; village elders; and state officials.
1.5 per cent (Sobhan, 1993). Forms of land
tenure within land reform programmes Kinship, lineage and marriage
also vary widely. There may be individual In most Western societies (including Latin
ownership, land titles distributed individ- America), kinship is recognised bilaterally,
ually but held by the state, co-operative on both 'sides' of the family. In other
tenure where land is held on behalf of all societies, kinship links are only or mainly
members by a co-operative entity, or recognised on the father's side (patrilineal)
collective forms where land is held by the or on the mother's (matrilineal).
state and no private ownership exists. In Marriage systems may be monogam-
many horticultural and agrarian small- ous, polygynous or polyandrous. Social
holding societies, land is held (not owned) norms for preference in choice of marriage
by a kinship or lineage group; in other pre- partners vary: in some societies it is
reform societies, land is held on an individ- believed that marriage should take place
ual basis. But generally where reforms take between a man and woman from different
place, land is redistributed from large-scale villages (as in China), in others marriage
landlords or estates. between cousins is favoured, so that the kin
One of the main aims of land reforms has group is more likely to remain together.
been to share land more equitably between
individuals. However, concerns for equality Residence
seldom recognise women's interests, which A crucial factor in relations between
are subsumed under those of the household women and men within the family is the
or family; land is usually assigned to the system of residence established through
(male) household head. marriage. In the UK, the couple usually
establish a new place to live (neolocal
residence). However, in many societies, a
Family formation, family new bride lives with the husband's
relationships, and land patrilineal kin group (patrilocal residence).
Rules of descent and kinship often deter- In a smaller number of societies, residence
mine inheritance and land-use rights. may be with the wife's parents (matrilocal).
Family relationships also play a part in Still other societies have no particular
allocation of land, either through custom- norms of residence; and even in societies
ary tenure systems (as in much of Africa), with seemingly strict rules of descent,
residence and inheritance, rules are not
through customary systems of inheritance,
always followed.
or through national laws of property
transmission. Property, including land, Women's place of residence after
may be passed on either through marriage marriage may affect the outcomes of land
Land, families, and gender relatioiis 37

reforms. In some cases, even women who considerations. Norms and ideologies of
hold land, either through inheritance or gender behaviour in some cultures stress
land reform, are unable to work it since female modesty and seclusion, particularly
they tend to marry out of patrilocal for upper-caste and upper-class women.
villages. This effect is documented both for Most women are dependent upon male kin.
China (Stacey, 1982, 1983) and for parts of Especially in acutely land-hungry countries
South Asia (Agarwal, 1994). Matrilocal and such as Bangladesh, a woman faces a
(sometimes) neolocal systems are less likely dilemma: on the one hand, the security
to pose such problems for women. even a small plot of land can bring; on the
Women's status in the family, and their other, the risk of losing vital social and
access to land, is further linked to the economic support from kin.
division of labour between women and For women in South Asia, brothers in
men, and to gender-related authority and particular are potential protectors from
power. Some types of work may be violence and ill-treatment by the husband
prohibited for one sex, such as ploughing and in-laws. Few women wish to break the
for women in South Asia. More broadly, valued relation with their brothers.
women's status and rights to land are However, a woman claiming land to which
influenced by ideas about female behav- she is entitled may come into conflict with
iour, ideologies of female and family sexual her brother; if she renounces her inherit-
honour and shame. ance, any needed support is far more likely
to be forthcoming (Kabeer, 1985).
Family and land in South
Asia Reforms which
As Bina Agarwal's study (Agarwal 1994)
disadvantage women
highlights, where South Asian women have The majority of land reforms redistribute
gained land title, usually through inherit- land to individual families, which in fact
ance, there have been many barriers to their means household heads, usually defined as
full use and management of the land. In men. In many cases, widows or divorcees
South Asia, as in many societies, women with children are technically allowed to
are not deemed to be fit to control land hold land; in some cases they are not. In
fully. Even in matrilineal systems, which Operation Bargu, West Bengal, which
tend to grant women higher status, the undertook the registration of tenants,
actual management of a woman's land is mainly men, the assignment of land titles
often undertaken by a man. meant that some widows actually lost their
Agarwal stresses the effects that family rights to use of land (Agarwal 1994).
structures and customs, residence arrange- In societies in which women previously
ments, and ideologies of gender may have held land rights, or simply had independ-
on women's ability to hold and control ent rights to use land, land reform
land. She argues that the weakening of programmes commonly diminish such
custom and adherence to new laws has rights and increase women's dependence
different effects depending on kinship upon men. This is evident in many African
systems, suggesting that the contemporary programmes, and also occurred in high-
recognition of land rights causes greater land Peru, where land inheritance prev-
conflict in communities in which women iously was bilateral (Deere, 1982). In effect,
have not traditionally had such rights. nuclear family structures tend to be
Aside from legal barriers which directly endorsed - sometimes inadvertently - by
discourage women from claiming land land-reform processes along individual
rights, there are other, more indirect household lines. Where women were
38 Gender and Development

already denied autonomous rights over Where livelihoods are at subsistence

land - the majority of cases - this makes it level - for example, in Ethiopia (Tadesse,
more difficult to alter their position, and 1982) or for some people in my
entrenches male authority. Land reform Zimbabwean study - the benefits of
may bring a change in control over the increased food security outweigh all other
land, from a more distant patriarch (a land- considerations. However, in most cases
owner, or village elder) to the husband. such food security is 'purchased' at the cost
Wives in rural smallholdings are more of women's autonomy. It is very rare for
likely to be classified as 'housewives' by women's personal incomes to rise with land
land reform programme planners, regard- reform.
less of their actual contribution to farming. Co-operative and collective forms of
In Sri Lanka's Mahaweli resettlement land tenure tend to offer more benefits for
scheme, women lost customary land rights women, which may give them more auton-
and decision-making power due to omy. One reason for this is that elements of
'houswifisation' of their roles (Lund, 1978). social reproduction are placed outside the
Women may also be under pressure to family sphere, so that they are less under
bear more children, who are needed to the husband's or father's control. In a few
work the extra land (Palmer, 1985). And in countries, such as China under the Great
some cases women are persuaded by Leap Forward, co-operatives have attemp-
officials to grow cash crops, for which men ted to address the problem of women's
are usually responsible. A consequence of domestic labour by socialising it: by
this is that women have less time to grow establishing collective eating facilities or
food crops, with adverse effects on family child care. Where such arrangements do
and child nutrition. The result of land not occur, women's domestic responsibil-
reforms in many contexts is that women's ities commonly prevent them from fully
burdens of work actually increase, if the participating (Deere, 1986; 1990).
household works more land, or women are In many co-operatives women members
expected to cook for field hands. are awarded individual work points, rather
One of the main aims of land reforms is than being considered simply as family
to increase production and raise household members. Even though women are usually
incomes. However, even where household more poorly 'paid' than men, their status is
incomes may rise, these are not automat- reinforced both socially and in their
ically redistributed by the males who households, because their work is thereby
control them. Women's personal incomes made 'visible'.
often fall because of the loss of land rights Co-operatives and collectives tend to
and of marketing opportunities. maintain gender-stereotyping of women's
work, so that men control technology (for
example, ploughs, or high-yield seeds), and
Benefits for women of land governing committees tend to be male-
reform dominated. However, in some societies
Land reforms along individual household quotas of female members are established.
and collective lines bring a variety of The existence of a committee may mean
benefits and problems for women. The that women are able to discuss their needs
main benefit for women in individual in a public forum. The provision of schools,
household redistribution lies in the clinics and other services by co-operatives
increase in 'family' income mentioned and collectives is of benefit to all, but
above. Without assuming that households particularly to women. All of these factors
pool all their resources, some, perhaps tend to raise women's family status and
many, women benefit indirectly. give them more say in domestic situations.
Land, families, and gender relations 39

The nuclear family model, I would forced population movements, declining

argue, is ambiguous for women. While it soil fertility, and the guerrilla war in the
implies female dependence, it also implies 1970s, customary practices had ceased in
a companionate model of family life, in some areas by the time of land reform.
which the wife, although subordinate, has a Land was sometimes held by individual
measure of influence, particularly over men (Pankhurst, 1991). While some still
domestic matters. Collectivist land reforms, allotted land to wives (usually 0.5-1 acres)
while not promoting the nuclear family many did not.
directly, contain a tendency to individualis- The extent to which land resettlement
ation of household units. This contrasts allocation practices represented a change in
with the situation for young and for junior tenure, varied. Where land had been held
wives in patrilineal, patrilocal and poly- communally, there was a change to land-
gynous systems, in which wives are holding by individuals. For many of the
subordinate to husband's lineage kin. women in my sample (208 people,
Women in my study, and those in China including 104 wives and 41 divorcees), who
and Vietnam, saw changes linked to land had had little or no land previously, an
reform as beneficial in loosening the power allocation of half-acre gardens to them
of the husband's extended family. represented an improvement: 'I can grow
vegetables now,' said a 30-year-old mother
Case Study: North-eastern of five, 'but I need more land.'
Zimbabwean Resettlement A majority of wives in my sample
reported a significant rise in their personal
Areas incomes as well as in household incomes.
In pre-independence Zimbabwe, large However, women had more work to per-
amounts of land, including nearly all the form. This was in part due to the distance
most fertile, had been expropriated from of shops, clinics, schools and boreholes, but
Shona and SiNdebele-speaking horticul- was also due to larger landholdings and to
tural and herding peoples by white estate the pressure (from husbands and from
owners. One of the new ZANU-led gover- external bodies) to raise production: such
nment's most important programmes after pressure fell heavily upon wives.
independence was land 'resettlement' - the One of the main changes in the sphere
redistribution of land in 12-acre plots to of family relations was that, after land
heads of households. Smaller amounts of reform, families in Resettlement Areas
land were also redistributed in production lived in nuclear families, whether monoga-
co-operatives. As elsewhere, the effects of mous or polygynous; most often, these
land reform on women varied according to were separate from the husbands' brothers
age, class, marital status, and other factors. and other patrilineage relatives. In general,
Women were largely left out of the alloca- women thought that this change increased
tion, since land went to household heads, their influence within households.
although a very small proportion of While husbands by no means saw wives
widows and divorcees with children as equals, they were more likely to turn to
gained land titles. the wife, or senior wife, for advice, in the
In Zimbabwe, land was customarily absence of wider kin. 'We are alone here,
held communally within patrilineal on other people's [ancestral] land: the
communities; the land was allotted to husband talks to me more,' one 50-year-old
households by a 'chief or elder. Polygyny wife said. However, with male-household-
was and is allowed, and wives had the head land titles, wives did not gain the
right to a small garden plot. However due security that land can bring. Any increased
to the development of settler capitalism, influence is dependent upon remaining
40 Gender and Development

married; and divorce and desertion are burdens increased, the overall division of
common. Many women live in fear of labour became somewhat more equitable.
divorce as they are likely to face destitution Second, men, according to wives, were
and the loss of custody of children 2 'better husbands', ploughing back profits
(Mpofu, 1983). 'What can I do?' said a into the smallholding, drinking less, and
woman aged 45, whose husband ill-treated behaving less violently. This change may
her. 'I cannot leave my children and I have have been due to fear of eviction, but was
no land... I will have only my cooking nonetheless appreciated by women. 'He
pots...' goes for beer less; now he ploughs.'
Resettlement Officers (ROs) who Did patrilineal and patrilocal family
administer the areas have near-absolute and kinship structures have any effect on
jurisdiction, including the power to adjudi- the outcome of the Zimbabwean land
cate disputes and to expel settlers deemed reform process itself? In my sample, the
to behave badly or not to work efficiently, percentage of polygynous marriages after
although such expulsion is rare. The main land reform was very high (34 per cent),
effects of the presence of the RO on family and almost certainly much higher than the
and gender relations are, first, that men are national rate for rural households. This
now more likely to participate in fieldwork may suggest that some male farmers are
and to undertake 'male' tasks such as able to use, and to distort, customary
ploughing (in Communal Areas, often left kinship and marriage norms to obtain a
to women). The 63 men in my sample labour force through marrying multiple
sometimes assisted with a wider range of wives. (In Zimbabwe, second and other
fieldwork and other tasks, such as fetching wives are not excluded from resettlement.)
fuelwood. Thus, although women's work Cheater (1981) and Weinrich (1975) have
Svimusi Co-operative members working their land, Cashel, Zimbabwe. Of the group's 25 members, nine
are women. They grow food crops for their own consumption and for the market. Co-operative land
tenure can have considerable benefits for women.
Land, families, and gender relations 41

found this on a larger scale in the few areas women - that this will be inefficient or will
where land was available in freehold to lead to subdivision of holdings, or that land
African farmers before independence. rights on this basis are 'unsocialist' - are
With this proviso, and despite the not applied when land is assigned to men.
exclusion of most wives from holding land, Although women may find it difficult to
the land-reform experience for women in cultivate their land on an autonomous
my survey was perceived by them to be basis, as several examples above indicate,
generally beneficial; however, the due to constraints imposed by patrilocal
Zimbabwean situation may be unusual in residence and by beliefs about appropriate
this respect. female work, this is no reason to further
disempower women. Agarwal suggests, as
have others (Lapido, 1981) that female
Conclusion agricultural co-operatives may be one
It is clear that kinship systems have useful strategy in helping women to culti-
significance in determining the outcomes of vate their holdings more effectively.
land reform processes. In particular, Women in the Bodghaya struggle in India
patrilineal and patrilocal kinship and (the first in which women and men
residence systems restrict the possibility of campaigned for women's independent land
female autonomy. The effects of land rights) saw that a struggle against kinship
reform policies which assign land to systems and patrilocality was a necessary
household heads differ according to the accompaniment to the struggle for land.
gender and kinship systems already in Of course, the existence of unequal
place. Women may lose rights, or their relations in families rest in part on unequal
rights may be largely unaltered. holdings. But would women's landholding
The alternative to policies assigning threaten the family per se? There is no
land to household heads - as Pankhurst reason to suppose this, and one might
and I have pointed out (1988) and Agarwal argue the opposite: that family stability
argues powerfully (1994) - is to assign land could be increased (Deere, 1990; Agarwal,
to women on the same basis as men, 1994). Women holding land are far more
whatever this may be in the particular easily able to feed themselves and their
society and situation (freehold, through children (Pankhurst and Jacobs, 1988); in
land permits, or through co-operative any case, many women are de facto heads of
membership). households. Women landholders within
Agarwal (Agarwal 1994) lists three families are likely to exert more influence,
arguments for female land rights: and to be able to counter ill-treatment, and
are less likely to be abandoned. Women's
• land rights reduce the risk of poverty and landholding rights, which are still a long
destitution; Agarwal argues strongly for way off in practice, are crucial in the
the benefits of land for increased struggle for 'democracy within the home'.
economic and food security;
• efficiency: land titles make it easier for Susie Jacobs teaches sociology at Manchester
women to adopt improved agricultural Metropolitan University. She has written on
practices and enhance their motivation as gender relations in Zimbabwe, and on gender
farmers; and issues of land reform. Address: Department
• equality and empowerment: land rights of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan
help to empower women in their University, Humanities Building, Rosamond
relationships within and outside families. Street West, Manchester M15 6LL, UK.
Agarwal also points out that the usual
arguments against assigning land to
42 Gender and Development

Notes Kelkar, G and Gala, C (1990) 'The Bodghaya

land struggle' in I. Sen (ed) A Space in the
1 Such systems are by no means completely Struggle, Kali for Women, New Delhi.
kinship-based: forces 'external' to the household
Lapido, P 'Developing women's cooperatives:
such as markets, landlords, and state policies
an experimentation in rural Nigeria' in N
may be equally or more crucial; however, they
Nelson (ed) African Women in the Development
are outside the scope of this essay.
Process, Cass, 1981.
2 Legislation in Zimbabwe means that women,
Lund, R (1978) Prosperity to Mahaweli: a Survey on
even those married under 'customary' law, now
Women's Working and Living Conditions in a
have the right to custody of older children
Settlement Area, People's Bank Research
(mothers always have custody of children under
Division, Colombo.
seven). However, most rural and many urban
women find it impossible to take advantage of Mpofu, J (1983) 'Some Observable Sources of
these new legal rights. Women's Subordination in Zimbabwe' Centre
for Applied Social Studies, University of
Zimbabwe, Harare.
References Palmer, I (1985) Women's Roles and Gender
Agarwal, B (1994) A Field of One's Own: Women Differences in Development: The NEMOW Case,
and Land Rights in South Asia, Cambridge Kumarian Press, Hartford, Connecticut.
University Press, Cambridge. Palriwala, R (1990) 'Introduction' in L Dube and
Cheater, A (1981) 'Women and their R Palriwala (eds) Structures and Strategies:
participation in commercial agricultural Women, Work and Family, Sage, New Delhi.
production' Development and Change, 12 . Pankhurst, D (1991) 'Constraints and incentives
Diamond, N (1975) 'Collectivisation, kinship and in "successful" Zimbabwean agriculture: the
the status of women in rural China' Bulletin of interaction between gender and class' Journal of
Concerned Asian Scholars, 7:1. Southern African Studies, 17,4.
Deere, C D (1986) 'Rural women and agrarian Pankhurst, D and Jacobs, S (1988) 'Land tenure,
reform in Peru, Chile and Cuba' in J Nash and H gender relations and agricultural production:
Safa (eds) Women and Change in Latin America, the case of Zimbabwe's peasantry' in Davison, J
Bergin and Garvey, New York. (ed) Agriculture, Women and Land, Westview,
Deere, C D (1987) 'The Latin American agrarian Boulder.
reform experience' in Deere and Leon (1987) Sanghatana, Stree S (1989) We were Making
Rural Women and State Policy: Feminist History: Women and the Telengana Struggle, Zed,
Perspectives on Latin American Agricultural London/Kali for Women, New Delhi.
Development, Westview, Boulder. Sobhan, R (1993) Agrarian Reform and Social
Deere, C D (1990) Household and Class Relations, Transformation, Zed, London.
University of California Press, Berkeley. Stacey, J (1982) 'People's War and the new
Deere, C D and Leon de Leal, M (1982) Women in democratic patriarchy in China' journal of
Andean Agriculture, ILO, Geneva. Comparative Family Studies 13:3.
El-Ghomeny, R (1990) The Political Economy of Stacey, J (1983) Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution
Rural Poverty: the Case for Land Reform, London in China, University of California, Berkeley.
Fapohunda, E (1987) 'The nuclear household Tadesse, Z (1982) 'The impact of land reform on
model in Nigeria' Development and Change 18: 2. women: the case of Ethiopia' in Beneria, L (ed)
Jacobs, S M (1989b) Gender Divisions and Land Women and Development, Praeger, NY.
Resettlement in Zimbabwe, D. Phil thesis, Wiergsma, N (1988) Peasant Land, Peasant
Institute of Development Studies at the Revolution, St. Martin's, NY.
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton. Weinrich, A K H (1975) African Farmers in
Jacobs, S (1992) 'Gender a n d land reform: Rhodesia, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Zimbabwe and some comparisons' International Wiergsma, N (1991) 'Peasant patriarchy and the
Sociology, vol. 7, no. 1. subversion of the collective in Vietnam' Review of
Kabeer, N (1985) 'Do women gain from high Radical Political Economics 23:3-4.
fertility?' in Afshar, H W (ed) Women, Work and
the Family in the Third World, Tavistock, London.

Women, the law, and the

family in Tunisia
Hafidha Chekir

This article considers the links between civil law, the family, and religious custom in
Tunisia, and assesses the status of women in the Tunisian family, suggesting ways in
which family life could be democratised to enable women to achieve equal status with
1956 while the Constitution appeared only

amily life moulds men and women,
and determines both where and how in 1959. Ironically, at the same time that the
they live. The family is, however, also State acknowledged the rights of women in
a nucleus of society. To organise the family the family, it excluded women from the
is to organise society, and to democratise political arena, by depriving them of the
the family is to democratise society. right to vote for members of the constituent
As in other Arab-Muslim countries, the Assemblee Nationale, the body drawing up
status of women in Tunisia bears the the new Constitution.
weight of Arab-Muslim culture, and is In organising the family before even
based on the superiority of male elders - organising the State, did the government
the 'patriarchal order.' However, the legal intend to make the family the basis of the
status of women in the family differs from new State? Or was this part of a social
that in other countries in the region, due to policy which sought to confine women to
the role played by the State, since Tunisia the traditional tasks of bringing up the
achieved independence in 1956. This children and housework, in conformity
difference is shown in regulations govern- with ancient Arab-Muslim traditions; and
ing the status of women, and the role of the to exclude women from the arena of
family in its relationship with the State, politics, which is dominated by masculine
which drives, supports, and protects the privilege?
patriarchal system.
The evolution of women's
State involvement with rights
family law
In the marriage contract, the 1956 Code on
On independence, the state of Tunisia the Status of the Person allows women to
involved itself in legislating on the status of agree freely and personally to their
women in the family, even before it drew marriage. This very important law gives
up the state constitution. The legal Code on men and women the same rights, by
the Status of the Person, which defines the removing an injustice to women who
status of women in the family, appeared in hitherto had been subjected to arranged
Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996
44 Gender and Development

marriage. The custom of arranged marriage matters and the proper upbringing of the
involved the concept of the 'representative' children, together with the management of
in the marriage contract: the woman did the children's affairs. Should the husband
not give direct and personal consent to the die, the wife automatically assumes the
marriage, but could only marry through guardianship of the minors.
her guardian, who acted as an inter- In the event of divorce, the wife can
mediary. This custom is based on a assume certain guardianship prerogatives
particular interpretation of Koranic law, if the male guardian has behaved improp-
and is still practised in some countries such erly, neglected to fulfil his marriage obliga-
as Morocco. tions, or absents himself from the home.
The Code set a minimum age for Following a divorce, the judge can entrust
marriage. Women can marry over the age children who are minors to the care of the
of 17, men over the age of 20. Only in father or the mother, depending on the
exceptional cases can a young girl get children's interests. If the children are
married before 17 or a young man before entrusted to the mother, she has rights to
20, on the authorisation of the judge. This certain guardianship prerogatives.
age limit prevents early marriages, which
permit sexual intercourse before partners
are physically or mentally mature, and
Protection against abuse
delays motherhood, thus reducing the The 1956 Code also legislated in three areas
number of children in a society where to protect a wife against abuse by her
around 50 per cent of the population are husband. First, polygamy has been
under 20 years of age. (Early childbearing, forbidden. This contrasts with the situation
before full physical maturity, is likely to in most other Arab-Muslim countries
affect the reproductive and sexual health of where polygamy by the husband is still
any woman, in addition to blocking her allowed and is based on a law whose
access to education and a profession.) origins are Koranic. The 1956 Code both
The Code also requires a pre-marriage forbids marriage to more than one wife,
medical certificate. The medical certificate and includes legal sanctions, which vary
is a guarantee against any venereal or from imprisonment to a fine for a man who
sexually-transmitted contagious diseases, undergoes a further marriage while still
to protect the physical and mental health of living with his first wife. By this prohib-
the woman, her children, and her husband. ition, the law has introduced to married life
Other features of the evolution of a certain equality between man and woman
women's rights regarding marriage include and a psychological stability for women
the right of the wife to consent to the who, particularly when they became sterile
marriage of her children when they are or began to grow old, lived in fear of seeing
minors, in the same way as the father or their husband marry a second, third or
guardian. This new right, which was only fourth wife.
recognised in 1993, marks the beginning of Secondly, divorce is now available to
the legal status of a mother in relation to both spouses. Before 1956, unilateral
her children. Consent is a legal require- repudiation, which is a widespread Muslim
ment, and if it is refused the matter is tradition, allowed a husband to divorce his
referred to a judge. wife freely and with impunity. Since 1956
Some duties of the wife in a marriage women have been given a guarantee, since
can also be considered as rights. Thus the divorce is now a legal matter: only a judge
woman can contribute to the costs of the can grant a divorce, and a woman can
marriage if she has the means. The wife can bring an action for divorce. There are three
co-operate with the husband in family possibilities of divorce: mutual agreement
Women, the law, and the family in Tunisia 45

by both spouses, or at the request of one difference of religions only appears to form
spouse because of the harm to which that grounds to prevent a marriage for women,
spouse has been subjected, or at the requestsince men commonly marry non-Muslim
of the husband or the wife. women. Thus, religion becomes a
When a divorce is granted, the woman determining factor in a woman's freedom
can demand compensation for any wrongs to chose a husband, even though men and
to which she has been subjected. She then women are equal in this respect in civil
has the right to an allowance, payable law.
monthly in arrears, which depends on the Another inequality concerns dowry.
standard of living to which she was The dowry is a condition of the marriage
accustomed during her married life, contract. It has to consist of lawful assets
including accommodation. This allowance, which have a monetary value. The assets
which is paid until her death or remarriage,may be in kind or a sum of money given to
can also be paid to the wife as a single- the woman. By law, the husband cannot
payment capital sum. consummate the marriage or force his wife
Thirdly, the rights of women to manage to do so as long as he has not paid her the
their own assets are protected under the dowry.
1956 Code. The legal regime, as in all Arab- There is also a continuing inequality in
Muslim countries, is that of the separation responsibilities between husband and wife.
of assets. The woman can acquire assets, Despite the elimination, in 1993, of the duty
manage them, and dispose of them without of a wife to obey her husband, he retains
the consent of her husband, who has no the headship of the family, and the family
administrative power over his wife's and paternal authority. The conjugal home
personal assets. belongs to him, and the children bear his
In addition to these rights, the law name. While the husband is expected to
recognises and protects other para-family provide for the needs of his family, his wife
rights. Thus a woman has the right to adopt and his children, at the same time, it is the
children, provided she is married. She has husband who has sole guardianship of the
the right to abortion, so long as it is children, even though they are entrusted to
performed in an approved hospital within the mother and father during the marriage.
the first 12 weeks. She can grant her This exclusive authority of the husband
nationality to her children, but with the has repercussions on the behaviour of the
consent of their father. wife, who while not subject to the duty to
obey, has to fulfil the conjugal duties
Barriers to the achievements required by habits and customs, conform-
ing to age-old patriarchal traditions. This
of the civil law confines her to a traditional role which
Despite the legal provisions of the 1956 places an excessive value on woman as a
Code, customs with a religious basis, which wife and mother, devoted to the service of
are embody a patriarchal concept of the the family, and sacrificing her personal
family, compromise equality and welfare for the happiness of her husband
democracy within the family. For example, and children.
even though the law has introduced the Despite the evolution and recognition of
idea that both spouses must consent to the rights of women in the family, there are
marriage freely and personally, never- still gaps and inequalities in the way these
theless the Code has been interpreted in laws can be used, which give rise to 'half-
ways which have led to the Minister of rights' or 'limited rights' for women in
Justice preventing a Muslim woman from many situations. I would argue that this is
marrying a non-Muslim man. But a largely due to the fact that family law in
46 Gender and Development

Tunisia is based on patriarchal culture, We also have to fight the dominant idea
marked with the stamp of religion, which that the only framework for men and
recognises only legitimate marriage as a women is the legal family. An egalitarian
framework for cohabitation and sexual approach would allow a free choice of a
relationships; it ignores alternative ways of family structure, including structures
life, such as celibacy and non-marriage, by which could currently be classified as legal,
demonising celibate women and outside the law yet allowed by custom
unmarried mothers. (since the family is today's guardian and
protector of traditions and customs), or
illegal. There should be legal recognition of
Building democracy in the all existing forms of family structure, so
family that all mothers and their children born
It is imperative to develop another within or outside of marriage, are legally
conception of the family, which is based on recognised and protected.
democracy and equality. It is necessary for We must also call for the indivisibility
women to claim a civil right, based on and interdependence of the rights of
egalitarian principles and legal women. Women must have all their rights
instruments, aimed at combatting all forms in all domains: public and private, family,
of discrimination against women. To do professional and political. It is incoherent
this, there needs to be a clear distinction to recognise laws in certain circumstances
made between religion and politics, since only, while half-recognising them or
as long as the patriarchal order continues ignoring them altogether in others, in order
to be connected in people's minds with to avoid going against tradition.
religion, attempts to combat it are Finally, it is imperative that women are
hampered by the fear of attacking people's allowed a real role in political, economic,
faith and religious freedom. social and cultural development, so that
What steps need to be taken to ensure they can move beyond the traditional
that the family is no longer the framework framework where they have been confined
for patriarchal and unequal practices? First, as wife and mother, since above all a
an egalitarian approach should be woman is a person, entitled to human
developed which would change the rights, and a citizen, aspiring to political
authority of the father to the authority of and socio-economic democracy.
the parents, and the paternal responsibility
Hafidha Chekir is a Tunisian feminist, and one
to a parental responsibility. This approach
of the founders of the Association Tunisienne
should give both spouses the same rights
des Femmes Democrates. She is Professor of
and the same duties as regards both
Law at the University of Tunis. Address:
conjugal responsibilities and responsi-
Faculte de Droit, Campus Universitaire, 1060
bilities concerning the children. Tunis, Tunisia.

Marginalisation and gay

families in Latin America
and the Caribbean
Dinnys Luciano Ferdinand

This article discusses different family forms in the Dominican Republic and
surrounding region, -particularly addressing the marginalisation of lesbian and gay
people from existing research into the family.

teachings suggest that such a life-style -

o speak about families, it is necessary
to look at the different ways in which whether this is lesbian, gay, single mother-
economic, emotional, and erotic hood, or divorced - is immoral. Through
needs are expressed in domestic life. such social pressure, images of ideal men
Expanding the traditional concept of and women and their relationships with
family, Marcela Lagarde (1990) points out children and wider society pass into myth,
that the domestic unit is based on the co- while the reality of diverse family forms,
existence of a social group - not necessarily gender identities, and sexuality remains
related by marriage - which wishes to unspoken.
reproduce and maintain itself. In this sense,
a domestic unit can take the form of a
commune, a traditional family, a group of Visions of sexuality in the
families, or a group of relatives. It could family
also be people living together in a variety The reason why idealistic concepts of
of institutional contexts, including a sexuality in domestic groups is questioned
nursing home, a prison, an orphanage, a in family studies is because ideas about
hospital, or a religious community. gender identity govern ideas about the
The Jewish-Christian tradition influ- sexuality of women and men, and these
ences most of the predominant ideologies play an important role in creating these
of the Latin American and Caribbean ideal images.
region, which promote an 'ideal family', in Feminine and masculine sexuality can,
contrast to the reality of life for the obviously, be expressed in many different
majority, and also denies that 'family' can ways in families. These range from active
exist in other forms. In addition, it presents sexual behaviour (heterosexual or homo-
the only allowable model for human sexual) among adults within a shared
sexuality as monogamous and hetero- domestic environment, or a similarly stable
sexual. erotic relationship with a partner who does
Much distress is caused by children's not share the same dwelling, to the
realisation that the lifestyle of their parents sexuality which is inherent in power
does not fit into this rigid model, and relations between people of different sex
conservative political and religious and age, which may be expressed with
Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996
48 Gender and Development

sexual violence, including incest and child zones, and has been steady for the last ten
abuse. years. The proportion of extended homes
Feminine sexuality, within the domestic (homes which include parents, children,
environment, plays a fundamental role in and other relatives) have reduced signifi-
determining ideas about women's practical cantly and the compounded homes (homes
roles, and the symbolism attached to them which include non-relatives as well as
as mothers and wives. The predominant nuclear and extended family members)
social ideology in Latin American and the have increased
Caribbean defines women mainly as There are no statistics in the Dominican
mothers and sexual objects, giving Republic in relation to homosexual and
women's sexuality a connotation that lesbian families. The researchers continue
increases their vulnerability. As Lagarde to see them as compounded home or
states: monoparental, or just 'two women or men
women's job, and more widely their activities, living together'.
consist in reproducing others not only The free union or 'concubinato' is the
physically but also subjectively in their view of predominant pattern in the Dominican
the world, in their affective, erotic and political Republic. According to the 1991 Health and
needs. It also consists, every day, from birth to Demographic Survey (ENDESA-91), more
the end of life, in humanising the human being than 60 per cent of Dominican women have
in its own culture, in the epoch, according with married before the age of 25, the age of
its gender, with its group and traditions marriage being lower in rural areas than
(Lagarde 1990, 355). urban areas.
In the Dominican Republic, the relations
Although, some important changes in of married women are more stable than the
women's status and day-to-day lives have relations of women who live in a consens-
taken place, the domestic sphere has ual union. According to ENDESA-91, only
changed more slowly than the public 22 per cent of married women had
sphere. Isis Duarte and Ramon Tejada dissolved their first relation, compared
(1995) have argued that the ideal family with 53.3 per cent for the consensual
does not exist in modern society, and even unions. Also, one in ten married women
less in the uncertain environment of the had had more than one union, in compari-
Dominican Republic today, because it is the son with four out of ten for those women in
result of a series of intrafamily factors and free unions.
socio-cultural, economic, and political
conditions. Yet data from the Dominican
Republic shows strong evidence of the
Gay families and
ideal family, at least in terms of the nuclear marginalisation
household; the results of the study on the In the region, in common with other areas
'extended home' (Hogar Ampliado), from of the world, the likelihood is that there are
the 1991 Health and Demographic Survey more lesbian couples with children than
(ENDESA-91), shows that 55.3 per cent of gay male couples with children, because in
rural homes and 49.8 per cent of urban legal and cultural terms, women are seen as
homes are of the nuclear type. responsible for raising children. Many
Duarte and Tejada point out that 42.4 lesbians are socially and statistically
per cent of the homes in the Dominican considered as single mothers, rather than
Republic are 'nuclear biparental' (with the as part of a couple. This is due to the social
presence of both spouses). The percentage stigma attached to same-sex couples, and
of homes with just one resident is about 8 the fact that their existence has been denied
per cent, both in the rural and in the urban or ignored in family research in the region.
Marginalisation and gay families 49

Family group, Dominican Republic. 'The family is a wider concept which must ultimately be defined by
its members.'

There is a lack of research into altern- into a homosexual identity. There are many
ative family forms, even by liberal research- lesbian mothers, but they seem invisible,
ers. The maternal and paternal roles are because they fear harassment and want to
commonly viewed as incompatible with shield their children from stress.
homosexuality and lesbianism. The term
'lesbian mother' or 'gay father' link a pro- Women as heads of
creative identity with an incompatible
sexual identity. However, while marriage households
as an institution can be defined in a narrow The myth of the male breadwinner is
legal sense by a marriage certificate, the widespread in the region, although recent
family is a wider concept which must data shows an increase in women-
ultimately be defined by its members and maintained households. Paid employment
their actions. Gay men and lesbians who has long been viewed as one way of
wish to have children have no legal access breaking down women's isolation and
to becoming foster carers, or to surrogate dependence on men. Paid employment is
parenthood, adoption, or artificial insemin- expected to give women greater economic
ation. They are declared, implicitly, to be autonomy, to increase their consciousness
unfit for parenthood. of gender and class subordination.
Meanwhile, it is impossible to say how However, there are many obstacles to
many children in the Dominican Republic achieving such goals, including the segreg-
already have a gay or lesbian parent. ation of women into poorly paid, unstable
Children of gays and lesbians are most jobs (such as export processing), their
often born within heterosexual marriages, double burden of wage work and domestic
to parents who subsequently 'come out' labour, and gender ideology that continues
50 Gender and Development

to portray women as 'supplementary' Granada, Monserrat, San Vicente/

workers, even when they are becoming Granadinas. According to data from the
increasingly important economic contrib- 1970s, Santa Lucia and San Cristobal/
utors to the household economy (Safa, Nevis.
1995: 4).
b. Countries with a high prevalence
Women-headed households have
(between 30 and 40 per cent): Dominica,
increased significantly. For example, in the
Guadalupe, Martinica, and Turks/ Caicos.
Dominican Republic, the percentage of
According to data from the 1970s, Cayman
homes led by women, increased from 20
and Jamaica.
per cent in 1971 to 29.5 per cent in 1991.
The statistics show that in 1991, 69.2 per c. Countries with moderate prevalence
cent of women heads of households did not (between 20 and 30 per cent): Bermuda,
have a companion, while 86.1 per cent of British Virgin Island, Cuba, Las Antillas
male heads were married or in a consens- Neerlandesas, Puerto Rico, Dominican
ual union. Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The families with a woman as head According to data from the 1970s, Guyana
have fewer working members than those and Belice.
headed by men. This is one reason why
d. Countries with low prevalence (less than
women's economic burden is greater than
20 per cent): Mexico, Costa Rica, and
men's. Women heads of households are
also older than male heads; their level of
education is lower and fewer of them
participate in the paid economy. Suggestions for policy
The most typical home with a woman Traditional definitions of family ignore
as a head of household is the expanded reality and serve to exclude large numbers
home or the monoparental home. Duarte of people. There are some benefits and
and Tejada (1995) say that this situation rights that go to those who fit society's
probably implies that these women traditional definition of the family, but
organise their families around a more state policies, in the Dominican Republic as
complex system, which includes more than in other states, deny those rights to the
one generation of women (mother, families who do not fit this restrictive
daughter, grandmother, friend, etc.) definition. Taking this into consideration,
including also the male members, such as the priorities for the region are, first, to give
brothers, uncles, cousins and in-laws. On support to families which have particular
the other hand, in several Latin American needs, including families which have a
countries and in the Caribbean, some woman as head, either in a compound or
women live with their children in expanded family.
expanded homes without being the head of It is critical to promote the visibility of
the household. These women, who create a the variety of different forms of family,
home within another home, are mainly including lesbian couples. Social conditions
single mothers. must be created to protect their rights,
In a study by Ariza, Gonzalez de including legislation. Social attitudes need
Huerta and Oliveira, (1994) Central to change; even when family relationships
American and Caribbean countries were are stable in themselves, a parent's
grouped according to the prevalence of unconventional sexuality can complicate
women-headed households: life for both the children and the adults in
a. Countries with a very high prevalence their role as parents. Support from the
(more than 40 per cent): Barbados, community is needed for families which
Marginalisation and gay families 51

have an unconventional gender identity, the ethical basis of the reform of the state, is
since constraints may exist which may recognised, this would deepen the
curtail or restrict their ability to join in understanding of human development, and
economic, political and social activities. help to break down the barrier between the
Lesbians and gay men have interests as public and private spheres, redefining
women and men, and interests as gay politics, democracy, and development
people, and if they have children, interests policies. Finally, we need to take action to
as parents. Development agencies need to promote a greater involvement of men in
involve them in their planning for human domestic and reproductive activities What
development by understanding that these is needed is a campaign to raise awareness
different interests exist and identifying of the importance of both parents sharing
policies and programmes which do not responsibility for the domestic work of the
marginalise them, or make them worse off. houshold and the socialisation of children.
Research should be carried out into the The aim should be to create a system of
needs of different domestic groups and, family law which takes a gender
therefore, different family types, which perspective.
exist in Latin America and the Caribbean,
Dinnys Luciano Ferdinand is a psychologist,
to inform policy development and to
therapist, and researcher, and a consultant on
enable women to confront the consequen-
gender and development. Her particular
ces of the control of their sexuality, their
health, personal development, educational interesta are violence against women, and
opportunities, and social participation. women's health. She is a university teacher and
works at the Centra de Apoyo Aquelarre, an
In the Dominican Republic, the
NGO working in the field of women's health
women's movement should prioritise the
and reproductive rights.
study of the family and its political rele-
vance to dominant religious and cultural
ideologies. National campaigns are needed References
about different forms of family to gain
Duarte, I and Tejada, R (1995) Los Hogares
greater legitimacy in the mass media, civil Dominicanos: El Mito de la Familia Ideal y los Tipos
organizations, government services, and at de Jefaturas de Hogar, Instituto de Estudios de
community level. Changes in social Poblacion y Desarrollo, Santo Domingo.
attitudes towards 'alternative' family forms IEPD, USAID, ONAPLAN, DHS-Macro
could lead to collective action to promote Internacional, Inc. (1993) Republica Dominicana:
the needs of these families. Encuesta Demografica y de Salud, 1991, Santo
Maybe some might argue that the cost Domingo.
of extending family benefits to more people Lagarde, M (1990) Cautiverios de las Mujeres,
will put undue economic pressure on the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico Coleccion
government. NGOs are advocating Postgrado, Mexico.
increased government support for families. Safa, H (1995) The Myth of the Male Breadwinner:
In the Dominican Republic, the state bears Women and Industrialization in the Caribbean,
Westview Press, San Francisco.
little responsibility for families. When
parents divorce, one of them has to pay
maintenance for the children which the
other is caring for: a legal recognition of the
myth of the male breadwinner and
unproductive housewife. If the importance
of the private, family sphere for human
development, equity, and equality, and as

Child care and

the benefits trap:
a case from the UK

Annie Oliver's testimony work, and doing something positive. I'm

not saying that mothers shouldn't have the
I'm going to talk about the lack of decent, right to say that they'd like to stay at home
affordable child care, from my experience with their children - it's a personal thing.
as a single parent. My little boy is four, and As far as single parents are concerned it
starts school on Monday. But first, I'd like doesn't seem to matter what we choose to
to say that when I'm talking about child do - it is always wrong.
care, I'm not only talking about the needs 'I think that there's been a whole
of single parents, but about child care for campaign of discrimination against single
every parent in this country. I don't want parents, because we are a useful scapegoat
single parents to be set up against other when somebody is needed to blame for the
families, because I think the state already massive cost of state benefits, or the lack of
tries to do plenty of that, as a tactic of council-houses for decent young families,
'divide and rule'. When I say that decent, or delinquent youth - whatever the issue,
affordable child care should be available single parents are a pretty good target.
across the board, I think maybe this could 'I don't really think that the state wants
be achieved with a sliding payment to help us to work, or come off benefit at
scheme, but I haven't thought about that all. According to the state, we live a good
too much. life on our seventy-odd pounds a week,
'I think single parents in the UK are and we don't want to work, study or train.
constantly discriminated against; mostly, at I think those in power truly believe that we
the moment, they are criticised for living enjoy being trapped in poverty and being
on state benefits which cost society too dependent on benefits. In fact, I would like
much. For me, the answer to that criticism my son to have the best of everything, as
is so simple it's just unbelievable - I can't far as I can manage - and I don't just mean
believe that I am still talking about it. If I material things. I mean good education,
had been offered good quality child care at good life experiences, travelling and that
a low cost, I would have been working for kind of thing, that all cost money. If the
the last four years - as I was before I had child care was adequate in this country I
my son. I don't want income support or would 'pay my way', as they say. I think
benefits, I want a career; but I'm only that my son would have a better quality of
prepared to work if my son is properly life.
looked after. I've done voluntary commun- 'I've spoken to some other single
ity work ever since I've had him, because I parents in the organisation with which I do
want him to see his parent going out to voluntary work, to see if they feel the same

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, ]une 1996

Child care and the benefits trap 53

way as I do. One of them said, "the lack of we would prove our resourcefulness as
child care keeps me in poverty. I won't let students and employees, I'm sure.
my kids go with anybody, and I can't 'A lot of single parents are forced into
afford good quality child care. Because I low-paid, 'back-hander' (illegal, informal-
don't get a break from them, I'm stressed, sector) jobs, in bars, cleaning, or worse. The
which means the quality of time with them wages are appalling. Maybe a neighbour
is not always one hundred per cent good. will look after their children for a bit, so
It's not that I'm not a competent mother - I that they can have a little extra money. But
just get short-tempered. Because I'm this sort of situation means that you are
always at home I can't work, and I can't always looking over your shoulder; you're
afford outside interests. The knowledge always frightened that someone might
and experience I can offer my kids is inform the Department of Health and
limited. Children need good quality care Social Security; you're frightened a social
and education. Learning is important. And worker is going to knock on the door
being with other children and adults helps looking for your kids, and the neighbour's
to improve social skills." door; you're frightened that you might lose
'Another single parent said that because your little two-hours-a-night job because
she can't get child care, she can't train, she your kids are ill and you can't go, and
can't go to college, and she can't return to you've started to rely on that money -
work. She says that since the Children's Act you've got used to having the heating on
it's increasingly difficult to leave her for an hour extra a day, or buying a bit of
children with people, as she can't afford to extra fresh fruit for the children (that's
pay a professional child-care worker. She what that two hours a day spent working
thinks parents want and need outside means).
interests and training, which would 'It's a terrible way to live. That fear - it
improve the quality of their own lives and, weighs you down and makes you
in the long term, those of their children; depressed. I just can't understand why
that children need stimulation. That's true women can't have the child care we need;
for all children, not just children from why we're not given the opportunities to
single-parent families. do the things we want to do. It doesn't
'When parents don't get a break from make sense.'
child care, they feel isolated, depressed,
and stressed, which is obviously bad for Annie Oliver was speaking at an event
the children. I think all parents are in organised by the National Women's Network
agreement that we would like more (NWN). The Single Parents Action Network
nursery provision from the time our (SPAN) is a national multi-racial organisation
children are about three years old; after- working to improve policies and practice for
school and holiday clubs; and more work- single parents and their children, and to
place nurseries. support single-parent self-help groups in
'Single parents in particular would like different parts of Britain. SPAN was set up
more recognition of our skills, because under the Third European Poverty Programme
coping alone with kids is hard work, and in 1990, and is also doing work on a European
most of us manage very well - and also level to improve policies across the European
have to cope with the stigma attached to Community. Its aim is to empower single
single parenthood, and the resulting parents to work with statutory and voluntary
discrimination. We are very resourceful agencies to improve the conditions of life for
people: we have to be. If colleges would themselves and their children.
provide creches, and employers would be
more flexible and maybe provide nurseries,


Maria Isabal Plata, Executive Director of Profamilia, talks to

Caroline Sweetman about the work of the organisation in

Could you tell us about your organisation's What is Profamilia's perspective on how
involvement with the issue of the family in economic and political forces are affecting the
Colombia? What sort of work do you do, and social formation of family in Colombia?
with whom? Please let me answer from a legal perspect-
PROFAMILIA was founded in 1965 as a ive, since I am a lawyer by training. The
private, non-profit, family-planning final recognition of equal rights for men
organisation. Today, it is responsible and women in all fields of law came in
directly and indirectly for nearly 70 per 1974; in 1991, there was a constitutional
cent of all family-planning activities in prohibition on discrimination against
Colombia. The association is also involved women. In theory, these measures have
with sexual and reproductive health ensured the full social and economic
programmes, and services directed to participation of women in the country. Yet,
women, men and adolescents. The health at the same time, neo-liberal economic
activities and services are complemented policies have affected women in
by, among other things, a legal service disproportionate ways, for women are the
programme, an evaluation and research first to lose their jobs or become heads of
programme, and a documentation centre. households on family breakdown; it is they
The legal programme offers legal who carry the weight of social responsi-
orientation and aid to those in need of bility for the family, but without equal
advice about family law, and help for economic opportunities.
victims of violence. It takes cases to court, The participation of women in the paid
and its lawyers also participate in legal labour force was a trend which started here
research projects on women's issues, in the late 1950s, and it has certainly
human rights, and sexual and reproductive changed the traditional concept and
rights. organisation of the family. The liberation of
PROFAMILIA works with and for women from only taking a role in the
women, men, and adolescents of the lower private sphere has definitely changed the
middle class and working class. The main family, but women have not yet achieved
objectives of the association are to provide equal responsibility with men for family
and defend the basic human right of family chores. Sex stereotypes are still common,
planning in Colombia, and to work and are in fact still required by traditional
towards achieving better sexual and social rules of conduct.
reproductive health by offering
information and other services.

Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996

Interview 55

At the UN Fourth Women's Conference at The struggle to get 'developing

Beijing last year, some felt that Northern countries' to recognise the importance of
participants spent too much time stressing the safeguarding reproductive rights and
centrality of safeguarding reproductive rights sexual rights, and banning violence against
and sexual rights and banning violence against women, is crucial, for it will give women
women. Did the Conference fail women and the chance to become full-time citizens,
their families by giving too little attention to the who will exercise their rights and power to
economic poverty which many women in so- bring attention to the economic poverty
called 'developing countries' would regard as they and their families face. Only when we
their major problem? (as women) are able to freely exercise our
No. The economic poverty and inequalities sexual and reproductive rights, will we be
faced by women in the global system will able to move from our traditionally
only diminish when women in those assigned activities in the private sphere
societies are ensured their sexual and into public roles.
reproductive rights, and are allowed to
exercise them freely. Unless women start to Do you find contradictions between 'women's
demand economic equality and fairness as rights' and the interests of the family? Will the
individuals, as persons with rights, the interests of conservatives, in the Catholic
men and the governments of our societies church and elsewhere, be always opposed to the
will not pay full attention to poverty as an interests of women?
important issue for women. So it can not be Feminist perspectives on 'the family' allow
seen as an 'either/or' situation. the possibility of analysing and studying

Children at La Peninsula day-care centre run by a group of mothers from the community to allow other
mothers to go out to work. The centre also provides preventive health care for preschool children. It is run
by a local organisation, Bienestar Familiar, which is closely associated with PROFAMILIA.
56 Gender and Development

the individuals who make up the family. When Colombia recognised the right of
They allow us to see the woman as a whole women to live without violence, it opened
person, and not only as a part of a family. the legal doors to fight the drunken
Looking at the family from this perspective husbands demanding sex. Of course this is
has allowed us to ask new questions, and just the beginning, for law alone is not the
demand new rights, for example sexual solution.
and reproductive rights.
When the family is studied from the Has Beijing's outcome suggested new directions
perspective of women's rights, there is for feminist research and work on the family? If
always a contradiction with the concept of so, what are these directions?
the traditional family. As long as the In general terms, from a Latin American
traditional concept of family, be it religious perspective, the focus will move to the
or social, remains, there will be a topics of full citizenship for women and the
continuing disregard for the value and democratisation of our societies.
rights of the people who make up families,
and societies will continue to oppose the NGOs concerned with development and
interests of women. empowerment often assume that the nuclear
family is the normal - and most desirable -
How likely is it that progress towards form for the family to take. How do you feel the
recognising women's rights within the family, perspectives of the women's movement on the
made at Beijing, will lead to real progress for family should inform the work of NGOs
women at grassroots level? To give a concrete concerned with development and
example, what good will recognising women's empowerment? What opportunities are there in
right to live without violence do when a woman Colombia for the women's movement and
is faced with a drunken husband demanding development organisations to work together?
sex? The experience in Beijing, in the sense of
We have no doubt that the recognition of the women's groups working with
women's rights within the family, which governments when possible, and leading
started with the United Nations governments on basic issues in other cases,
Convention on the Elimination of All has opened the door for local national
Forms of Discrimination Against Women women's movements to consider working
(CEDAW) in 1979 and continued in Beijing with development organisations. Today,
in 1995, will lead to real progress for this collaborative work is a real alternative.
women at a grassroots level. Why? Because
when one has a chance to act as a person PROFAMILIA can be contacted in Colombia
who has fully-recognised human rights and at. Street 34 no. 14/52, Santa Fe de Bogota,
the possibility of exercising them, one Colombia. Tel: 00 571 287 2100, Fax: 00 571
becomes an actor in society, and no longer 287 5530.
a victim.

In recent years, social science research

has increasingly grappled with AIDS as a
development issue. There has been a
growing recognition that, although it is
medical science which will have to find a
Kampala Women Getting By: cure or vaccine, the socio-economic and
Weil-Being in the Time of AIDS human impact of AIDS demands the
Sandra Wallman in association with attention of social scientists (Blaikie and
Grace Bantebya-Kyomuhendo, Solveig Barnett, 1992). The consequences of AIDS
Freudenthal, Jessica Jitta, Frank for households directly and indirectly
Kaharuza, Jessica Ogden, Valdo Pons. affected by the disease, its effect on
(London: James Currey, forthcoming agricultural production and the availability
1996) of labour, and the position of orphans, are
some of the issues dealt with in recent
Since 1983, when HIV/AIDS was first social-scientific literature.
documented in Africa, it has come to the Sandra Wallman's book Kampala Women
forefront as an issue of immense social and Getting By; Well-being in the Time of AIDS is
human importance. In most instances, the a welcome contribution to work on AIDS
disease strikes men and women between from a multi-disciplinary perspective.
the ages of 15 and 45, their most productive Although the book is informed by an
working years, fatally destroying their anthropological approach, medical doctors
immune system. In Africa, it is spread and researchers from diverse academic
predominantly through heterosexual backgrounds worked on the study in
contact and is usually closely associated Kampala on which the book is based. The
with other sexually transmitted diseases, book is an illustration of the manner in
such as syphilis, which increase the which inter-disciplinary co-operation can
likelihood of infection by the HIV virus illuminate the complex issue of how
(Essex, 1994). In developing countries, communities are affected by and cope with
AIDS is an additional burden upon the AIDS epidemic.
communities which are already faced with The book explores the contexts within
poverty and in which human labour is which women recognise, and seek medical
essential for survival. This disease treatment for, their own symptoms of sexually
challenges us to look again at issues of transmitted diseases, and the symptoms of
poverty, economic inequality, medical care other illnesses in their children aged under
and gender relations. five. The book is based on a two-year study of
Gender and Development Vol 4, No. 2, June 1996
58 Gender and Development

Kamwokya parish, a densely populated rendering themselves more vulnerable to

suburb of Kampala where more than a infection by the HIV virus. Furthermore, by
quarter of the households are headed by exploring the range of informal treatment
women. This urban environment is an options open to women and the extent of
important focus of the book, which aims the interaction between these informal
specifically to understand health care systems and formal biomedicine, the study
decisions in such settings. hopes to suggest possible areas of priority
It is recognised in the book that towards which scarce resources may be
responsibility for the health and well-being channelled.
of members of the family tends to fall to Wallman provides a detailed and
women notwithstanding the presence of a comprehensive account of Kamwokya and
man in the household. It is women who the people who live there, explaining the
notice signs of illness in their children and socio-economic and historical context; and
who care for them at home until such time demonstrates how a vibrant and pluralist
as they regard the symptoms as serious economy has sprung up in the provision of
enough to seek further treatment. health services in Kampala. The collapse of
The book assesses two steps in women's the formal economy in Uganda by 1975
decision-making about health. Firstly, was accompanied by the disintegration of
which environmental, economic or cultural the country's health-care sector. This has
factors determine when a set of symptoms been further exacerbated by the recent
are regarded by women as serious enough strains being placed on the system by the
to merit treatment outside the home? The conditionalities imposed by international
following factors which affect women's donor agencies. The stringent economic
decisions are documented: the resources prescriptions of the International Monetary
and infrastructure of the area in which they Fund and the World Bank have led to
live; the treatment options available within severe decreases in health expenditure in
the area or accessible outside it; women's Uganda. Most Ugandan hospitals and
own assessments of the options themselves other health-care facilities now demand a
(such as how feasible, appropriate, private formal user fee which clearly puts these
or shameful they might be); local services beyond the reach of the poorest
perceptions of the symptomatology and and most vulnerable. The collapse of a
aetiology of serious infection; women's formal state health system has led to a
access to resources which enable them to boom in private clinics and drug stores,
act (such as time, information and and an increase in the number of
confidence); and, finally, the extent to individual, and presumably unregulated,
which women are constrained in their practitioners working from their homes.
decision making by, for example, the need Although Wallman touches upon the
to obtain their husband's consent.The impact of structural sdjustment pro-
second step in women's decision making is grammes on Uganda, in my opinion she
the choice between different treatment does not give the issue the attention it
options which are available. These include deserves. The collapse of the health care
indigenous and herbal treatments and system is an important element of the
biomedical treatments. context within which women have to make
In relation to HIV/AIDS, the objective treatment decisions about themselves and
of the book is to contribute to the their dependants. This is not addressed
prevention and control of the disease by explicitly by Wallman. Clearly, as the
identifying factors which may impede health system deteriorates, the choices
women from seeking early treatment of facing women become severely limited and
sexually transmitted diseases, thus indeed one may well question the concept
Resources 59

of 'choice' of treatment in these circum- recent cuts in state expenditure on health

stances. It would be interesting to assess and the attempt to promote increased
the impact of the collapse of state health home-based care for the sick (World Bank,
services on women's decisions, a historical 1992), the burden which these policies will
perspective which is perhaps lost because impose on women becomes clear. Inter-
of the book's otherwise unproblematic national donors regard decreases in the
strategy of 'freeze-framing' Kamwokya in amount of time a patient spends in hospital
1994. as a means of increasing efficiency and
Various methods were employed in the saving costs. However, it is clear that this
study, and the book uses data from both efficiency is achieved by transferring the
quantitative and qualitative sources, burden from the formal economy to
relying on surveys, interviews, group dis- women whose work is unpaid. Thus,
cussions, and case and situation analyses. although the cost per patient for a hospital
The women participating in the study were may fall, the unpaid work of women in the
selected by reason of their residence in household rises (Elson, 1989). Seen in this
Kamwokya rather than such factors as the light, it is clear that increased home-based
state of their health or their membership of care will add to the work of women who
a high-risk group. The value of an promote the well-being of their family in
approach which does not focus on the the widest sense by providing their labour
'problem cases', so to speak, is that it and time, as well as tending to the material
enables us to develop a sense of how needs of the household.
women as ordinary citizens of this densely Wallman's study clearly reveals that
populated urban environment may negot- when women are faced with scant
iate the AIDS epidemic and other crises. resources, they prioritise the needs of their
In chapter five, the notion of 'well- children and members of their household
being' referred to in the sub-title of the above their own need for treatment. The
book is elaborated. While the English provision of food and clothing for children
language separates the idea of health from takes precedence over the good health of
that of well-being, in Luganda the word the women themselves. It was found that
bulatna encompasses both terms. Thus, even when women acquired money, they
when researchers in Wallman's study would use it for household consumption
asked "What is/are the major health rather than to treat their own illnesses;
problems in your household?" they were sexually transmitted diseases often remain
commonly met with 'lack of money' among untreated.
the responses (Wallman, 1996, 90). An issue which appears to fall outside
The significance of this interpretation of the scope of this book, but which nonethe-
well-being for women should be recog- less must have an impact on resources
nised. Women who perform the task of available for treatment is the illness of other
caring for members of their household see members of the household. For instance, it
their role not simply as one of tending the is estimated that a patient in the advanced
sick but, more widely, of providing labour stages of AIDS may require up to 280 hours
and services to the family. Thus, all of home care each year in the two years
women's work, such as growing and prior to their death (World Bank, 1992). In
preparing food, cleaning the house, and such instances, women must stretch their
gathering fuel, is considered by them to be resources to provide for the sick, often to
a necessary contribution to the well-being their own detriment. The presence in the
of the family. household of an AIDS patient will no doubt
If this expanded definition of 'caring' have an impact on treatment decisions
for the family is explored in the context of which it would be instructive to study.
60 Gender and Development

By providing a full description of 'what initial results and implications of a study in

goes on in the arena of health and Uganda', Social Science and Medicine 31.
treatment', Wallman clarifies important Mamdani, M (1990) 'Uganda: contra-
issues in order to offer some possible dictions of the IMF programme and
answers to the question 'what (most) needs perspective', Development and Change 21.
doing?' The findings of the study will thus Sparred, P (1994) Mortgaging Women's Lives:
be of interest to researchers, policy makers, Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment,
and planners, who are provided with a Zed Books: London.
sophisticated account of women's health- World Bank (1992) Tanzania AIDS
care decisions in this book. Assessment and Planning Study World Bank:
Washington DC.
Wallman suggests that studies of
health-care decisions in other urban
settings will be carried out, and such
further comparative work on this subject
will be useful. In addition, because there is
no reason to suppose that the conclusions
to be drawn from Wallman's work may be F R Elliot, Gender, Family and Society,
applied to rural women, who confront the Macmillan Press, 1996. Examines the
AIDS epidemic in an altogether different relationship between family, gender and
environment, it is hoped that the book will sexual structures and some major Northern
prompt thought about the context within concerns: ethnic differentiation; shrinking
which rural women decide how, where, labour markets and high unemployment;
and when to seek treatment for themselves sexual violence and abuse; and the AIDs
and members of their household. epidemic.
This is a detailed and well-researched
book which will prove to be an important J Bruce, C B Lloyd, A Leonardo, with P L
resource for practitioners and academics Engle and N Duffy Families in Focus: New
alike. Perspectives on Mothers, Fathers and Children,
The Population Council, New York, 1995.
Reviewed by Ambreena S Manji Examines recent trends in family forma-
tion; the economics of motherhood with
Ambreena Manji is carrying out doctoral particular reference to the increase in
research at the Faculty of Law, University of mother-supported families; fathers as
Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 parenting partners; how family relation-
2TT, UK, on the impact of AIDS on women's ships affect children; and the weaknesses
legal status in Kagera region, Tanzania. and strengths of family-related policies.

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Population and Development in Cairo, this K Amup (ed) Lesbian Parenting: Living with
bibliography contains details of reports, Pride and Prejudice, Gynergy Books,
papers, and books on population and Canada, 1995. Essays describing proced-
development, family-planning services and ures for lesbian pregnancy, and legal and
programmes, and reproductive health and social recognition of lesbian parents;
rights. involving men in parenting; the lesbian
mother; and the role of feminism.
Raymond and Smith ed. The Matrifocal
Family; Power, Pluralism and Politics, International Human Rights Commission,
Routledge, 1996. Essays including Unspoken Rules: Sexual Orientation and
discussion of family and kinship in the Women's Human Rights, USA, 1995.
Caribbean; the Negro family in Guyana; Overview of gay and lesbian rights in 31
hierarchy and dual marriage systems in countries, details of laws on lesbian
west India; and how changing family marriages, the adoption of children by
structures in West Indian society affect lesbian couples, and custody rights for
social policy. women with children in lesbian
relationships. Information on organisations
L Sarkar and B Sivaramajaya (eds) Women for lesbian and gay issues in these
and the Law: Contemporary Problems, Indiacountries.
Association of Women's Studies, Vikas
Publishing House, India, 1994. Essays Reports
including discussions of Muslim family UNESCO Final Report on 1994 International
law, marital rape, state responses to rape Year of the Family (IYF). UNESCO's
and dowry, and the custom of sati in India objectives during IYF, including increasing
today. awareness of family issues among
governments and NGOs; strengthening
62 Gender and Development

institutional capacity to implement and Population Council/ICRW, USA, 1990.

monitor family policies; and enhancing Discusses five questions: the usefulness of
local and national family programmes and the concept of female headship; the social
responses to family problems. Details of significance of the female headship trend;
UNESCO's family-related programmes. the relationship between female headship
and poverty; the welfare implications of
D Lewis, Going it Alone: Rural Female- female headship; and policy dilemmas and
Headed Households and Their Dependents in options.
Bangladesh, Centre for Development
Studies, University of Bath, 1992. A report
to the Overseas Development Agency
analysing female-headed households and
their importance for poverty-focused
development because they highlight the
problems faced by all women in poor
households in Bangladesh. Caribbean Association for Feminist
Research and Action (CAFRA)
Papers A network of researchers, activists and
N Folbre Women on Their Own: Global women's organisations who define feminist
Patterns of Female Headship, International politics as a matter of both consciousness
Center for Research on Women, USA, 1991. and action. CAFRA is committed to
Recent research on women-maintained understanding the relationship between the
families in developing countries: how oppression of women and other forms of
'headship' is conceptualised and measured; oppression in society, and working for
what determines the incidence of female change. CAFRA, P.O. Box 442, Tunapuna,
headship across countries and over time; Trinidad and Tobago.
and the economic consequences for women
and children. Confederation of Family Organisations in
the European Community (COFACE).
M Buvinic and G R Gupta, Targeting Rue de Londres 17,1050 Brussels, Belgium
Female-Headed Households and Female- United Nations International Research
Maintained Families: Views on a Policy and Training Institute for the
Dilemma, Population Council/ICRW, USA, Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)
1994. The policy implications of targeting Prior to the International Year of the
interventions to woman-headed house- Family (1994), INSTRAW produced an
holds and woman-maintained families, Occasional Paper Series on the family, and
drawing from experiences in the US, Chile, conducted four preparatory conferences in
and India. the lead up to the World NGO Forum
Launching of the International Year of the
J Bruce and C B Loyd Finding the Ties that Family 1994. Over 1000 participants from
Bind: Beyond Headship and Household, nearly 100 countries met in Valletta, Malta
Population Council, USA, 1992. Builds the from 28 November to 2 December 1993 at
case for a new research focus on the family the World NGO Forum. More than 200
rather than the household, and a policy NGOs signed the Forum's Malta Statement
focus on family relationships. agreeing that stable, self-reliant families are
main agents of sustainable development
M Buvinic The Vulnerability of Women- that are entitled to 'maximum protection
Headed Households: Policy Questions and and assistance to fulfill their roles for the
Options for Latin America and the Caribbean,well-being of the individual members of
Resources 63

society'. They urged that policies that The association also offers a legal service
empower families be enacted and the programme, of advice on family law and
diversity of the world's family forms help to victims of violence. PROFAMILIA
recognised - provided they are fully also organises evaluation and research, and
consistent with fundamental human rights. runs a documentation centre.PROFAMILIA
DCI-1106 United Nations, N.Y., N.Y., Street 34 No. 14/52, Santa Fe de Bogota,
10017, USA. Colombia.

International Center for Research on Southall Black Sisters

Women Currently coordinating a campaign to
An NGO dedicated to promoting social and abolish the British immigration law that
economic development with women's full forces people who have come to join their
participation. ICRW works in collaboration spouses in the UK to remain within the
with policy makers, practitioners and marriage for at least one year before they
researchers throughout the developing can apply for permanent residency.
world in formulating policy and actions Women are not entitled to basic welfare
concerning women's economic, social and services during this period and are
health status; women's critical contribu- therefore unable to leave violent marriages.
tions to development; and policy and Brent Asian Women's Refuge, Kalayaan,
programme features that improve the Asian Women's Resource Centre, Waltham
situation of poor women. ICRW's pro- Forest Ashiana, Newham Asian Women's
gramme consists of policy-oriented Project, Akina Mama Wa, Rights of Women
research, programme support and analysis, and the Joint Council for the Welfare of
and communications forums. ICRW list of Immigrants are also members of the
publications can be obtained by writing campaign. To lend your support, contact
to:1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Suite Southall Black Sisters, 52 Norwood Road,
302, Washington DC 20036, USA. Southall, Middlesex, UB2 4DW.

International Gay and Lesbian Human The Women and Development Unit
Rights Commission (WAND)
A San Francisco-based NGO that primarily A regional development agency, which
works to monitor, document, and mobilise promotes analysis and action on women's
responses to human rights abuses against role and participation in Caribbean
lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered development. Its aims are to empower
people, people with HIV and AIDs, and women to contribute to Caribbean develop-
those oppressed due to their sexual ident- ment in the region; and to strengthen the
ities or sexual conduct with consenting capacity of institutions and programmes to
adults. 1360 Mission St., Suite 200, San address the needs and concerns of women.
Francisco, CA 94103 USA. Tel: (1)-(415)- WAND, University of the West Indies,
255-8680. Fax: (l)-(415)-255-8662. E- School of Continuing Studies, The Pine, St. Michael, Barbados.

PROFAMILIA Women Living Under Muslim Laws

PROFAMILIA was founded in 1965. Today, A network of women whose lives are
it is responsible directly and indirectly for shaped, conditioned or governed by laws,
nearly 70 per cent of all family-planning both written and unwritten, drawn from
activities in Colombia. It provides sexual interpretations of the Koran tied up with
and reproductive health programmes and local traditions. Provides and disseminates
services for women, men, and adolescents. information for women and women's
64 Gender and Development

groups in Muslim communities, supports Work-place Nurseries

and publicises women's struggles within A short documentary produced by the
Muslim countries, and provides channels Work Place Nursery Campaign. Parents,
of communication. Main Office: Boite employers, politicians and campaigners
Postale 23, 34790 Grabels, France. Asia agree that nurseries subsidised by
Office: 38/8 Sarwar Rd., Lahore Cantt., employers for employees' children are
Pakistan. beneficial for all concerned. They allow
women to carry on working after they have
Women and Law in Southern Africa had children; and help employers to retain
Research Trust (WLSA) valuable employees, which means that they
WLSA is a non-profit organisation based in don't have to spend funds on retraining
Zimbabwe that is currently focusing on new staff. More information on work-place
family law and the position of women in nurseries can be obtained from the Work
the family, with special reference to access Place Nursery Campaign, Room 205,
to, and control of, resources. Reports on Southbank House, Black Prince Road,
these issues in Zimbabwe, Zambia, London SE1 7SJ. Video is available from
Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Oxfam Information Services, Oxford.
Botswana will be completed by 1997.
WLSA has an extensive publications list,
including reports such as 'Parting Grass:
Revealing and Conceptualizing the African
Family,' 'Uncovering Reality: Excavating
Women's Rights in African Family Law,'
and 'Beyond Research: WLSA in Action'.
All these publications can be obtained from
WLSA's national office: PO Box UA 171,
Union Avenue, Harare, Zimbabwe. Tel.:
263-4-729151. Fax: 263-4-729152.

People Like Us
A 27 min. video that tells the story of three
mothers living in desperate poverty in
Ecuador, interspersed with interviews with
a random sample of British women
expressing their views on poverty. Can be
rented from Oxfam, Oxford, UK.
Your Child Too
A 23 min. documentary produced by
WLSA on maintenance law which won a
Women and Development award through
the British Council. To obtain a copy,
contact WLSA at the address, fax or phone
number provided in the NGO portion of
this resources section.