Front Cover
 Title Page
 Theoretical approach
 Agriculture in the Guayas river...
 Gender divisions
 Households in rural Vinces
 Appendix 1: Demographic information...

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Gender dynamics and rural household strategies
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081699/00001
 Material Information
Title: Gender dynamics and rural household strategies
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Phillips, Lynne
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: University of Florida.   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: South America -- Ecuador
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081699
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Theoretical approach
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Agriculture in the Guayas river basin
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Gender divisions
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
    Households in rural Vinces
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
    Appendix 1: Demographic information from survey
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
Full Text

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Conference on


Lynne Phillips

Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean,
York University, Toronto

Paper prepared for the conference Gender Issues in Farming
Systems Research and Extension sponsored by the Women in
Agriculture Program, -University of Florida, Gainesville,
February, 1966.


Most literature on the rural household has emphasized the

interaction between the life cycle or demographic composition of

the household and the household's relationship to valued

resources (Chayanov, 1966: Galeski, 1972: Shanin. 1971). This

literature implies that by correlating these two 'structural'

features, one is able to predict the form the rural household

will take in reproducing itself. If political criteria enter the

discussion at all it is only to argue that the household as a

solitary unit takes particular 'strategies' as these features

change over time.

Thus, despite the fact that household members may be involved

in quite different labouring activities, this 'consensus'

approach to the rural household assumes that all members are

equally willing to undertake a particular household strategy

because all have an equal share in its ultimate benefits for the

household. The 'internal logic' of the household thus takes the

form of 'self-exploitation' (Chayanov, 1966). That there is a

household head who seems to have authority over others in the

household is assumed to be necessary, even 'natural', since a

head is needed to organize and pool the labour of the household

and fairly redistribute goods to its members.

- 1 -

Chayanov, whose work has had a tremendous impact on theoretical

questions concerning Third World agrarian societies, has been

criticized for ignoring the degree to which the household head

(usually assumed to be male) derives power over other household

members by virtue of his position (Harrison, 1977). Noting that

sexual ana age inequalities seem to oe integra- to the strategies

of peasant households, more recent analyses have suggested that

the internal logic of the farm/household takes the form of

'patriarchy' (Friedmann, 1981; Middleton, 1961). Giving

centrality to such relations has helped us to go beyond the

treatment of the rural household as a 'black box' by identifying

the specific oppression of women and children in the reproduction

of different household forms.

However, the recognition that patriarchal relations are central

to peasant household production does not seem to have opened many

doors for further investigation into the internal functioning of

the rural household. This may be an indication of just how much

we would like to believe that a new label somehow makes our

previously unanswered questions unimportant, that it represents

sufficient proof that we now 'know' what goes on inside the

household. Critical of this perspective, in this paper I

emphasize the variability and complexity of social relations

within the rural household, characteristics which in many ways

defy a neat categorization of the household's 'internal logic'.

- 2 -


My perpsective on the household involves three basic

ercurents. Firet, It seecns to ie that we car.nrnt pre ct cr

assume the forms that rural households will take simply on the

basis of structural criteria such as land ownership or market

relations. Such an approach implies that internal soclai

relations specific to the household are irrelevant to its

analysis. Insofar as it ignores the extent to which household

strategies may be shaped by power relations internal to the

household, this perspective is clearly inadequate.

Second, to avoid the first problem by assuming male control

within the rural household is likely to help us little in our

evaluation of household strategies. Some feminist analyses

(primarily of capitalist societies) have already indicated the

dangers of employing patriarchy as a blanket term for all forms

of male dominance, irrespective of historical differences in

production systems, cultural norms, etc. (cf. Beechey, 1979;

Barrett, 1980). Before taking patriarchal relations as a given,

we need to document the kinds of variations which may exist in

household forms of oppression and exploitation ana examine in

detail the social relations of gender and age within specific


- 3 -

Third, few studies have recognized that inasmuch as the

household does involve sexual and age inequalities, it must also

be an arena in which ongoing struggles take place between the

generations, the genders, etc. In this sense there is no reason

for us to assume that household strategies (e.g., balancing

subsitence/cash crops, emplcying ma.l/fe/a;;e ieCa ec.

represent the consensus of household members of how the household

should respond to changes in the environment. Yet it cannot be

denied that at times household members ac appear to nave very

strong common interests and that certain strategies of the

household seem to satisfy the needs of everyone concerned.

The concept of household hegemony (or power-associated

consensus) helps to resolve the 'struggle vs. consensus' dilemma

and may be the key to developing a clearer theoretical

understanding of household strategies. This concept assumes that

there is always a degree of tension involved in the form the

household takes and thus in the strategies which are undertaken

by the household over time. This approach effectively opens a

new area of investigation into the kinds of political alliances

which are forged by women and men within the household, the kinds

of tensions resulting from gender and age inequalities which pull

at its boundaries and the extent to which these alliances and

tensions are important to resulting 'household strategies'.

1. Schmink (1984:95-6) makes this point for working class
households in urban Latin America.

- 4 -

Although at this point we lack the research tools needed for

evaluating the on-going negotiations which take place within the

household, I suggest that we begin by re-thinking the concept of

the division of labour by sex. For example, rather than viewing

the sexual division of labour within the rural household as a

given an immutable aspect of householdo logic' let us

consider it a political relationship: not simply a relationship

whereby men 'have power over' women, but one which is dynamic and

changing, involving the active participation of both women and

men. Given this perspective, the household becomes defined not

only by structural determinants (i.e., the household as a unit of

production and consumption) but also by the different struggles

waged by the household's political actors.

Emphasizing the political dimension of the household is not an

irrelevant consideration for policy development (for rural

extension projects, etc.). For example, it suggests that we may

not be able to create desirable household strategies simply by

manipulating land distribution (through agrarian reform) and

demographic patterns (through population control). Without a

thorough familiarity with the sorts of struggles which are waged

within the household, it is impossible to predict the ways in

which the household will deal with new contradictions arising

2. For a view of the household as a unit of production and
consumption, see Bouquet (1982), Chayanov (1966), Friedmann
(1980). Sanjek (1982) considers household members 'political
actors' but fails to deal sufficiently with the issues of gender

- 5 -

from this kind of intervention. Furthermore, if those projects

interested in promoting greater gender equality are to avoid

endangering what little power rural women may already have

negotiated within the household, a recognition of the specific

form that gender struggles take within the arena of household is


In this paper I demonstrate the usefulness of the approach

introduced above with reference to work done in the Guayas River

Basin of rural coastal Ecuador. First, I provide information on

the agrarian structure in the region and outline important

features of the division of labour by sex and household

reproduction. Then I present three case studies of households.

Here we find that the activities undertaken by households in this

area vary considerably with the kinds of resources to which a

household has access but that, since these variations are

mediated by the different interests of household members,

political factors become equally important to consider in an

evaluation of household strategies.3

3. Note that for reasons of space, and in keeping with the theme
of the conference, I focus in this paper on gender inequalities -
and specifically the struggles of adult women against such
inequalities excluding, for the time being, the issue of age.

- 6 -


The Guayas River Basin, a fertile river valley in southern

coastal Ecuador, has been a target for one of the two agrarian

reform programmes implemented in the country over the last two

decades. The Basin contains a wide variety of production

relations including cooperatives, small farms, and large

capitalist farms. The principal crops grown in its tropical

savanna climate are cacao, rice, corn, plantain and bananas.

My survey of households was undertaken on the outskirts of the

old cacao capital of Vinces, in the province of Los Rios.4 This

is an area where market relations are extremely important to the

reproduction of farms, one indication of this being that while

most everyone consume at least some of the products they grow,

only 6.2x of the land5 in Vinces parish is devoted to

subsistence production. Many farmers who grow rice must also


4. My analysis of households is based on 7 case studies and a
questionnaire administered to 106 dwellings in 1980-81 and
participant observation in the area at various times between 1960
and 1985. For demographic information obtained from the
questionnaires see Appendix 1.

5. Figures on land distribution and use are taken from the
country's agricultural census. The accuracy of the census (INEC
1974) is not above suspicion, but it is the most recent census

6. Vinces parish, within which the survey was conducted, is one
of three parishes in Canton Vinces. Canton Vinces, with an area

- 7 -

purchase it later for household consumption at inflated prices,

since they are often forced to sell their harvests immediately to

the town merchants to whom they are indebted. All families are

highly dependent for their consumption needs on purchased goods

and spend anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 sucres a week on

groceries. For most families, 'sencilla' (store credit) is ihe

only way to ensure that 'la Plata alcanza' (the money lasts).

While the country's agrarian reform programme has been

successful in placing some land in the hands of once landless

precaristas (tenants), land in the area is still very much

concentrated in the hands of a few. A mere 1.1% of the

agricultural production units (UPAs) in Canton Vinces own 42.8%

of the land (in units larger than 200 hectares), while 68.8% of

the UPAs own only 5.2% of the land (in UPAs under 5 hectares).

Although UPAs sized 20 to 49.9 hectares take up a healthy

percentage (20.7%) of the total land area in the canton, 22.3% of

the land is still in UPAs over 1000 hectares. This is more than

twice the percentage of UPAs in the greater-than-1,000 hectares

of 104,755 hectares and a population of 66,000, is one of seven
cantons in the province of Los Rios.

7. The wage for agricultural labourers in July, 1965, was S./150
to S./200 for a half-day's work (7:00 noon); few people other
than those who work in banana plantations are hired for a full
day. The sucre was equivalent to a little less than an American
dollar at this time.

8. The UPA (Unidad de Produccion Agropecuaria. or Agricultural
Production Unit) is the land category used by the Ecuadorian
Censuses and is not meant to be equivalent to 'household'.

- 8 -

category for the province as a whole.9

Although unutilized land is unusual in this area, it is

important to note that at least half of the land in Vinces parish

is devoted to pasture. A favourite saying in the area is that

only cattle valen (have value) these days. Yet, because cattle

represent a substantial investment, the majority of people in the

area depend on crop production (rice, cacao, corn and plantain)

for their livelihood. All these crops, save cacao (which is

exported), form an important part of the rural Vince'o's diet.

With the exception of bananas, the planting, threshing and

harvesting of crops are done by hand, although tractors are often

rented for ploughing the land and insecticide is used by almost

all farmers. Growing rice is the most labour intensive activity

of the crops produced in the area, most farmers growing both

winter and summer rice (summer rice requires the added labour

time of transplanting). Rice is most likely to be grown on a

small plots (less than 1 hectare); of the 106 households in my

survey, around 1/4 rent, on a cash basis, small plots of land


9. Of course these statistics only give us a general picture of
land concentration in the area and very little idea of actual
property relations: people may be tied to the same amount of land
under quite different circumstances (see Phillips, 1985b).

10. Many large landowners switched to cattle-raising in the hopes
of avoiding government intervention through agrarian reforms.
The percentage of pasture land in Canton Vinces as a whole jumped
from 24.4% in 1954 to 40.4% in 1974.

11. Most small producers have been forced out of the banana
market because of demands for heavier investment in technology.

- 9 -

from landowners in the area (often 'kin') in order to grow rice.

The marketing and credit systems for rice production in the area

strongly discriminate against small farmers, ensuring their

dependence on local comerciantes or merchants (Phillips, 1985c:

Redclift, 1978).

Given the pattern of land distribution and use (i.e., the

importance of pasture over crop production), rural employment is

by no means guaranteed and small farmers and agricultural workers

alike attempt to balance as many jobs as possible. Most try to

rent a small plot of land (from family or friends) to work on in

the afternoons, but others go fishing to supplement food

supplies, do some small job for a neighbour or pick fruit. Many

men in the area claim that they simply 'don't work' in the

afternoons, but the relationships to other households in the area

are very subtle in this respect. For example, a man in one of my

case studies had always denied that he had any access to

agricultural land. One day I arrived on his doorstep to find a

pile of degrained corn. When I asked him where he got it he

said, "Well, there is just little piece of land that a friend

gave me for the winter to plant rice and corn. When my friends

have a little extra space they sometimes let me use it, but it's

not anything really."12

12. The practice of 'giving away' small plots of land is fairly
common. Although only ten of the households in my survey openly
admitted to having 'free' access to land from parientes ('kin')
or generous landowners, the practice is in fact more widespread.

- 10 -


Within this general region, rural men identify themselves as

acricultores (farmers), while women invariably consider

themselves domesticas ('housewives'). The division between

domestic and agricultor is not a division which is considered,

in any clear-cut way, exploitative or oppressive by either man or

women. However, given the strong dependence of the rural

population on the market, we can point to some features which

clearly have created structural inequalities between women and


For example, while everyone in the area insists that men and

women inherit land equally, it is important to note that only 26'

of the UPAs in the 1982 Vinces cadastral records were owned by

women. Furthermore, these figures are not in any way an

indication of who controls land since it is usually brothers or

compromises (mates), who actually manage the land.

Farming is considered 'too difficult' for a woman; even life in

the countryside is considered by some to be too dura for women.

Only five of the landed households in my survey involved women

13. Legal marriage is not common in this area. Instead unions
called compromises are formed. Here, as is commonly said, "la
mu3er se casa atras de la puerta".

- 11 -

who make most decisions concerning their property (what to

produce, whether or not to hire workers, whom to hire, when to

harvest, etc.). However, it is significant that all them are

widows. Also, women who do try to manage their farms have a

difficult time doing so, many complaining that someone is always

trying to 'steal' their land away from them.

There are only three households in the area involving women

working in the fields for pay; in these cases the women are

household heads, widowed and poor. The only other opportunity

for a woman to earn an actual wage in the countryside is through

the washing of clothes for other households, an activity which,

although undertaken often enough, no women admit to doing. It

should also be noted that men maintain tight control over their

wages, to the extent that men, not women, go to town to purchase

household needs. Given these rules, which prevent women from

controlling the key resource of land, publicly participating in

paid employment and controlling household income, it is not

surprising that women in the area say that 'life is black without

a man'.

This is not to argue that these women do not 'work', as is

often claimed by agricultural technicians who are familiar with

the region. However, because women do not receive a wage for

14. There is one exception of a woman living with her compromise
who consistently works in the fields (because, as she puts it,
she 'likes hard work'). However, she is talked about by people
in the area for wearing pants and acting machona ('mannish').

- 12 -

most of the work they do, the precise way in which their labour

contributes to the household has remained unclear.15 For

example, women in this area have a central role in maintaining

networks which are essential for household reproduction (such

networks being a source of important employment, agricultural and

general community information and usec for economic support

during times of crises; see Phillips, 1985a). These women also

undertake many activities within the household which are more

traditionally defined as 'productive', from degraininc the

household's corn to drying rice and cacao in the sun before they

are consumed or sold. Such activities are undertaken over and

above the more strictly 'feminine' tasks of cooking, washing

clothes, cleaning the house and caring for the children.

Furthermore, most rural women have their own small-scale necocsoa

(raising pigs and chickens for the local market: selling

cigarettes/candies/soft drinks in their homes). The money made

from such necocios, small as it is, is considered a woman's own,

although it is almost always spent on one's children (for

clothing, education, etc.).


15. In fact the evaluation of such labour by development experts
themselves does not seem to have changed much in recent years,
e.g., note that the Minimum Farming Systems Data Set, which is
apparently meant to help us in making comparisons between
different types of farming systems, leaves no room for the
reproductive labour requirements of the farm, labour which is
most often undertaken by women.

- 13 -


We can delineate, on the basis of their relationship to valued

resources, three basic types of households within tnia agrarian

setting. There are households which: 1) have accumulated

sufficient capital to make necessary the hiring of wage labour on

a permanent basis 2) control some resources but occasionally

these may be insufficient for household reproduction (thus, at

such times some members must sell their labour power) or may be

too demanding for household labour to manage (thus, the hiring of

labour may be necessary), and 3) have access to unstable and/or

very few resources and rely mainly (or entirely) on the wage

incomes of household members. Roughly speaking we can think of

the first type as a 'capitalist' household, the second type as a

'peasant' household (or'simple commodity producer'),16 and the

third type as a 'proletarian' household.

However, it is important to note that mating strategies (e.g.,

16. While Friedmann's (1980) work (which differentiates the
concept of simple commodity producer from a peasant producer) is
an important theoretical contribution, in practice it is often
very difficult to appreciate the difference between a wealthy
peasant, for example, and a simple commodity producer. The
problem stems in part from the fact that Friedmann maintains that
true scp's are independent of all ties save the market, but there
is little documentation of such situations. See Hedley (1976),
Glavanis (1984:34), Long (1984:26-7) and note case study #1 in
this paper.

- 14 -

establishing plural unions or visiting unions) often overlap or

cross-cut structural differences between households. If men can

afford to, they often establish more than one compromise at the

same time, usually taking up with a younger woman who is

financially supported once children result from the union. This

strategy modifies the use of household income, access to

employment/labour networks, internal household relations in

short, the household itself. On the other hand, given that life

can be 'black' without a man, women do not hesitate to employ

their own strategies in attempts to prevent a man from

'wandering' to another woman, strategies which also tend to

modify the form that the household takes.

A visiting union (sometimes but not always linked to a plural

union) involves an established compromise where the man and woman

do not live together on any permanent basis. This is an

arrangement which effectively gives a woman some independence

from the man who is likely to be economically supporting her.

However, because ideologies concerning gender relations in the

area inhibit the expression of any antagonism towards women's

economic dependence on men, women generally do not view the

situation in this way. Rather, they express their rationale for

visiting unions in terms of 'not liking' (no me ensena) the

place/people/house where the other person lives. Yet there are

clear emotional and economic exchanges in visiting union

situations, a fact which makes it more difficult for us to define

the household simply as a 'co-residential group of persons'.

- 15 -

What follows are three case studies which focus on the

'politics' of rural households with qualitatively different

relationships to agricultural resources.7

Julia and Roberto ('Simple Commodity Producers')

Julia lives with her compromise Roberto, and three small
children; she daily juggles the conflicting expectations that
although women are not supposed to 'work' in any obvious, public
way, they should support their compromises and ensure their
families a future. However, as a small landowning family with a
store which stocks a limited number of goods, Julia's household
tasks necessarily bring her into the public eye (she minds the
store and prepares the household's agricultural products for
sale) and typically her day is an extremely busy one.

Julia's household varies considerably from season to season and
year to year because it is closely tied into the cycles of the
product market. These variations can radically affect Julia's
activities. During rice harvest, for example, Roberto usually
hires someone to help him for a couple of weeks, a period during
which Julia has an extra mouth to feed. Also, a bad year for
Roberto in terms of agricultural production usually means a bad
year for other people in the area as well. Rather than risk the
possibility of alienating her customers (and friends) by becoming
more demanding when debts are not paid, Julia usually closes up
shop during those periods when "la gente es pobre".

17. These households are not necessarily representative of the
'class' labels attached to them (e.g., the average capitalist
household is much wealthier than Isabel and Javier's household),
but these cases are typical in terms of the kinds of problems
they encounter and the strategies they employ and they do
reproduce themselves in structurally different ways: while Javier
would strongly deny that he is a capitalist, he does in fact hire
a number of labourers on a permanent basis (something which
neither Roberto nor Dora could afford to do) and, unlike Roberto
or Javier, Dora's landless household must reproduce itself
through the permanent sale of labour power, despite the fact that
it has access to some land.

- 16 -

Julia's activities can also be modified by strategies undertaken
to buffer the household from the unpredictability of the market.
Before Julia and Roberto had decided to move to this particular
spot five years ago specifically in order to set up a store by
the road Julia had few worries about the family looking
'presentable'. However, now that they are in the 'public eye',
she finds herself not only washing and mending clothes more
often, but less willing to take on certain agricultural chores
such as helping Roberto harvest. In the latter case, Julia says
it would give her verquenza ('shame') to do such things now.

On the other hand, however, the specific activities and interests
of Julia can mediate the form that these variations takes. A clear
example of the household's variability and its effects on Julia
occurred a couple of years ago when the household's profits for
the year were fairly healthy. Roberto seemed quite keen to
publicly display the profits, by investing in transportation (he
bought a truck) and establishing another compromise a
luxury which he would be able to afford, it should be noted, only
because Julia had devoted an extraordinary amount of free labour
to the household.

Julia worried much about the compromise situation and sought
support and advice from her family network. It is not incidental
that her family has, in fact, been very influential in giving
Roberto his 'start' as a farmer. For example, Julia's parents
gave Roberto 5,000 sucres to buy his first plot of land in
1976, two years after he began living with Julia. Roberto also
was able to rent rice land from a large landowner in the area due
to the close relationship of the landowner with Julia's parents.
Julia's mother also relieves Julia of child care whenever
necessary and store items are constantly exchanged between the
two families (her parents also own a store in the countryside).

Roberto never did establish a permanent relationship with another
woman. Yet, it is interesting that the next year the household
went into debt and Roberto had to give up any ideas about
'expanding' his family anyway (he also withdrew from the
transportation business because he couldn't keep up payments on
his truck). Julia, in order to absorb the household's losses that
year, extended her economic activities by breeding pigs through
an arrangement with her uncle.

Isabel and Javier ('Capitalist Household')

Isabel, who lives with her five children and compromise,
Javier, feels strongly that women should support the work of

- 17 -

their compromises as much as possible and not be egoista,
or individualistic. Her explanation for the poverty of some
families in the area is that "the women don't help their men
enough. They view certain property as theirs alone and don't act
united with their compromises."

Yet, Javier a medium-sized landowner with a (shared) family
cattle business complains often about Isabel's reluctance to
do more than the expected domestic chores of rearing children,
cooking meals, washing clothes, and cleaning house. Javier's
position seems to stem from his ambivalent feelings about the
household's dependence on the hiring of wage labourers (whom he
calls 'friends') and his self-definition as humble farmer, not
wealthy landowner. He feels that Isabel should be more willing
to 'work with her hands', although Isabel's family has never had
to do so (her father being a hacienda administrator all his
life). However, although Javier insists that "the whole world
has to work...even the women in the United States!", Isabel
consistently defends her position by claiming that she always has
"enough work to do".

And Isabel does in fact undertake activities over and above those
normally associated with 'domestic work'. She feeds Javier's
workers every day; she makes and sells bolos (flavoured ice)
to passersby; she socializes with Javier's workers by playing
cards or inviting them to watch their battery-operated
television. Perhaps most importantly, she will also soon inherit
land. Although it is unlikely that she will keep the land (she
has a brother and sister living with her parents who are eager to
do so), she will in fact receive its cash value. In keeping with
Isabel's philosophy of 'teamwork' with one's compromise, this
cash will most likely be used by Javier to purchase yet more land
for the household.

One of the more unfortunate features of Isabel's emphasis on
immediate family ties to the exclusion of others is her almost
complete distrust of other women in the area. Although she
claims that she is "not the jealous type", she assumes that all
women are out to 'steal' other people's compromises. For
example, she would heartily disagree with my criticism of men for
their polygynous tendencies by claiming that "It's the
women...the women here are terrible!" She also claims
that if Javier ever took on another compromise she would
"kill the woman". This comment reflects Isabel's general concern
that Javier may indeed take on another compromise in the
future, but it also reflects how effective household hegemony
can be in terms of determining the political strategies of women
within the confines of the home. Although Isabel's occupation as
domestics is the same as other adult women in the area, her
apparent allegiance to Javier's interests allows her to deny
the fact that she may have anything in common with them; to her,
they are the 'enemy'.

- 18 -

Unlike Roberto, Javier is more concerned to downplay the
importance of his wealth, and the question of his establishing
another compromise has not arisen. However, this situation
seemed bound to change when Javier and Isabel decided to buy a
solar in town. This sort of move is usually undertaken 'for
the children', since it is considered impractical to live in the
countryside if one wants one's children to do well in school, but
living in town is also considered a more comfortable existence
for women. However, what often happens in such cases ia that once
men have established their 'first' compromise and family in
town, they take on another compromise who lives in the
countryside. That Isabel still has not moved to the soaer
three years later can be seen as an indication that this was not
a sacrifice she willing to make.

Dora ('Proletarian Household')

Dora, one of a number of women in the area who have never had a
permanent compromise, heads an all-female household. She
lives with her daughter, Theresa, who also has never had a
permanent comoromiso, and Theresa's daughter who has a child
from a visiting union (with a son of a small landowner in the

Theresa's daughter receives some money from her compromise
and this is considered household income, income which she is
likely to receive at least while her child is still young. Both
Theresa and Dora have been involved in the same sort of visiting
union situation in the past; in Dora's case the three fathers of
her children supported her financially until the children were
old enough to be responsible for themselves (and thus for Dora as

No one living in Dora's house owns land, but Dora and her
daughter have been 'given' a small portion of land from a
'friend' (a medium-sized landowner) for whom one of Dora's
grandchildren works as a vacuero (cattle hand). This land and
the visiting union income are insufficient to maintain all the
needs of the household and Theresa and her daughter must also
bring income to the household by "working like men" (as they put
it), as agricultural labourers.

While it is considered quite acceptable for women to head
households in this area, ideological restrictions placed on
women's employment make it extremely difficult to maintain an
all-female household. Traditionally Dora and Theresa have made
pottery to sell to the people living in the area, but their sales

- 19 -

have been undermined considerably by the cheep aluminum pots and
pans which have become available to rural residents via
merchants. Dora, who once worked in the fields alongside
Theresa, is now in her 80's and has also become too old to wash
clothes for other people, although her expertise as a micwlie la
still occasionally requested by local women. The household keeps
some chickens and two pigs and the women maintain essential
connections to the cooperatives in the area through which they
can obtain inexpensive fooc.

These three cases illustrate that the sorts c e-ruccle e.-.c

contradictions associated with both gender and class relations

help to shape a household's strategies over time.

We have seen that the activities of Dora's all-female visiting

union household are modified by the fact that it has access to

only a few unstable resources. Such a situation demands a

flexibility in the household and even a violation of gender

rules if household members are to survive in an unpredictable

economic environment. Thus, the struggle for economic security

has meant that the members of Dora's household have had to set

aside, if not deny, their identity as women. In this sense the

visiting union has become an integral component of the

household's strategy since it gives the household access to some

male income without its members being directly subject to the

same rules as live-in compromises (e.g., that women should not

work in the fields).

Julia's labour, on the other hand, is clearly modified by the

annual fluctuations in the product market. Like Dora, Julia too

must confront the ideologies of gender prevalent in the area.

However, because of Julia's dealings with merchant capital (the

- 20 -

store), her role as 'wife' in public and the threat of Roberto

taking on a second compromise factors not relevant to Dora's

situation this confrontation takes a slightly different form.

Julia basic interest is to buffer the household from the

unpredictability of the market by fulfilling the contradictory

demands of doing a full day of 'non-work' (work which includes,

among other things, strengthening her support network outside the

household). Yet this strategy may create new contradictions

within the household, the most basic one in this case being that

the intensification of Julia's labour, while it helps the

household to survive, also contributes to the possibility for her

mate to establish another compromise.

On the other hand, Isabel's external support ties are very weak

(perhaps because such ties are more expendable for households

with access to resources such as cattle which are not as subject

to the variable cycles of the product market) and thus her

struggles must be negotiated more directly within the compromise

relationship itself. This more limited arena becomes a problem

when a contradiction arises between her 'teamwork' approach to

the compromise relationship and maintaining her gender and class

identity. Although the control which Isabel has negotiated

within the household (via Javier's workers, her land, etc.)

seems to be an effective insurance that the household's income

will not be 'shared' elsewhere (i.e., that she remain his only

compromise), the fact that Javier's interests fit in quite nicely

with Isabel's in this respect cannot be overlooked.

- 21 -


In the development of policy for Third World agriculture, we

have come to recognize the importance of differentiation within

the agricultural 'community'. However, little progress has been

made in adopting a similar consideration for the internal

differentiation of the rural household. While we may have

recognized the importance of the sexual division of labour (and

even sexual inequality) to the survival of the rural household,

we have very little understanding of how rural women deal with

these inequalities and what forms their own struggles for

survival may take.

Here we have attempted to view the sexual division of labour as

a power relation, constantly being negotiated on very subtle

levels by both women and men. Viewed in this light, it is

difficult to maintain the image of the male-controlled rural

household when women can hardly be classified as powerless, even

in this region where women are prevented from controlling what we

would normally pinpoint as the key resources in the area.

Furthermore, we have seen that, by virtue of these on-going

negotiations, women's interests and activities are central to -

and can even modify household strategies.

The case studies have confirmed how important it is to consider

- 22 -

the political dimension of the household. We have seen that

household strategies vary not simply with the amount and types of

resources to which a household has access, but with the stability

of resources external to the household to which a woman has

independent access, the convergence or divergence of interests

within the household and the nature of the compromise

relationship itself.

These conclusions have some implications for rural development

and policy design. We have seen that the relationship between a

woman's struggle for economic survival and her struggle against

conditions which result more specifically from gender

inequalities is a delicate one. Sometimes there is a convergence

of women's interests with the interests of men within the

household, but many times there are not. By insisting on a

'consensus' approach to rural household strategies, we conflate

women's interests and the household's interests and thus run the

risk of underestimating the importance of gender oppression

within the household. On the other hand, if we are not sensitive

to the fact that the ways in which women struggle with that

oppression can take different forms (which follows from an

approach which generalizes about the nature of patriarchal

relations within the rural household), we may find that

intervention in household strategies only serves to undermine

important bases of power negotiated by rural women themselves.

- 23 -

Appendix 1: Demographic Information from Survey

Within the 106 dwellings sampled live a total of 761 people,
with the number of people living in each dwelling ranging from 2
to 18 at the time of the interview, an average of 7.1 persons per
dwelling. A total of 341, or 44.8%, of the landgroup population
is under the age of 15, while only 75 people (9.9%) are over the
age of 54. The remaining population (45.3%) falls between the
ages of 15 and 54, with men outnumbering women only slightly, 175
to 170.

Eighty-four (or 79.2%) of the households are headed by men. I
considered the "household head' to be the person who, according
to those people living within the dwelling at the time of the
interview, was the jefe of the familiar, whether or not that
person lived in that dwelling. The overwhelming majority (92.8%)
of these involve men living with a wife or compromise, whereas
none of the 22 female household heads were living with a husband
or compromise at the time of the interview. Fifteen of the
female heads are 'widows' (although of these, four women have
children from more than one compromise) and the other seven women
have been abandoned or simply have never lived with the fathers
of their children.

Forty-four of all the households in the study include
non-'nuclear' family members, especially grandchildren. However,
only 20% of these 44 dwellings involve a true extended family
situation in the sense that more than one couple and their
families reside together (i.e., a set of parents, their children,
and their children's spouses and children; see Goody 1972).
Within such situations, there seems to be no correlation of
family 'type' to the relative wealth of the people living in the

It is perhaps worth noting than 29 (27%) of the 106 households
do not own land (but may have access to land through rental or
other types of agreements), 11 are now landless but will inherit
some land in the future (many of them living on their parent's
land at the time of the interview), one occupies and manages land
without legal title, 17 have shares in cooperative land, 28 have
less than 5 hectares of land and 20 have more than 5 (up to 120)
hectares of land (N.B. footnote 9).

- 24 -


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