|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
THE ILLUSION OF GETTING A JOB:
WOMEN' S WORK ON FLOWER PLANTATIONS
(A CASE FROM ECUADOR)
MARCELA ENRIQUEZ VASQUEZ
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Marcela Enriquez Vasquez
To my children Samik and Misael: intrepid readers,
tireless naturalists, and lovely supporters of my academic experience in Florida.
To my mother Dalila Vasquez, from whom I received the best lessons on feminism.
This work is the result of my field observations and also of the talented teaching I
received from professors; and the enthusiastic support of classmates and friends at the
University of Florida, who shared with me their knowledge and opinions. Therefore I
would like to thank to the following people:
I thank Dr. Tonny Oliver-Smith, Dr. Marinane Schmink, and Dr. Efrain Barradas,
members of my Tribunal; Dr. Alejandra Osorio, former Academic Advisor of the Center
for Latin American Studies; and Dr. Martha Hardman, consummate feminist without
compromising her fine academic work. I also thank Yolanda Hernandez, Victoria G6mez
de la Torre, and Erika Parra, classmates and friends, but over all a group of sincere
feminists. Kathy Dwyer Navajas and Berenice Astengo who helped me reading,
commenting, and correcting the grammar of my thesis. I am grateful the women and men
of Mulauco, who allowed me to know their lives and hopes, happiness and sadness.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF FIGURES ..................................................... .......... ................ viii
ABSTRACT .............. .................. .......... .............. ix
1 METHODOLOGICAL AND THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS.....................
R e search Q u e stio n .............................................................................. ................ .. 1
M methodology ............................................................... .... ..... ......... 3
F ieldw ork E x plan action ................................................................................ ...... ...6
M ulau co : Stu dy Site ................... .... ...... ...................... .... ......... .......... .. ....
2 INVISIBLE BUT INDISPENSABLE: WOMEN'S WORK AT HOME .................. 15
Women and Work: Always Together but Not Always Recognized...........................16
Latin American Peasant Women: Household and Work................ .............. ....22
3 FAMILY AND GENDER RELATIONS IN THE ANDEAN CONTEXT ..............26
Fam ily and Society in a M odem Context ..................................................................26
Family and Gender Relations in the Andean World..........................................27
E quality in G ender R elations................................................................... ......28
Inequality in Gender Relations...................................................................... 30
Com plem entry G ender R relations ........................................... .....................32
Gender Relations and Cultural Traditions ...................................... ............... 36
Gender Relations in M ulauco: An Overview .................................. ............... 39
4 GLOBALIZATION AND NTAEs: THE CASE OF THE FLOWER INDUSTRY
IN ECU AD O R ........ .. .. ............................................... ...... ....... 46
Economic Crisis and the Emergence of the Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports,
(N TAE s) ..................... ......................................... ... ...... .........47
Flower Agribusiness: The Most Successful NTAE in Ecuador .............................52
The NTAEs and Peasant W omen Households ....................................................... 57
The Gender-Oriented Work Force in the Restructuring of International Industry.....60
5 THE WORK OF PEASANT WOMEN IN FLOWER AGRIBUSINESS: THE
CASE OF THE COMMUNITY OF MULAUCO IN THE ECUADORIAN
A N D E S ............................................................................ 6 5
The NTAEs and Female Work: Experiences from Latin America...........................65
Household and Subsistence Economy Disruption in Mulauco.................................. 67
Leaving Home to Ensure Subsistence: Women's Decision to Work on Flower
Plantations ........................... .. .. ....................................... .... ... ...... 70
Flower Employment and Daily Life: Vignettes............................................. 73
T ere sa ............................................................................ 7 4
M a ria .....................................................................................................7 7
Z o ila ........................................................................... 8 2
6 EMPOWERMENT OR ADAPTATION? HOW JOBS IN THE FLOWER
INDUSTRY AFFECT THE FEMALE WORK FORCE IN MULAUCO .................87
Impacts of the Flower Industry in Ecuador ...... ........ ..........................................87
Which Outcomes are of Interest for Women Workers? .......................................92
Are Female Workers from Mulauco Being Empowered by Their Jobs in the
Flow er Industry? .............. .... ................................................ ...... ............. 94
The Impact of Employment on Women Workers.....................................................95
Family, Communal and Personal Gains/Looses of Women................................... 103
7 CONCLUSIONS ....................................... .......... .. .............107
The NTAEs and W omen: a Link at Stake ..................................... ............... 107
Empowerment / Disempowerment .............. ..............................................109
Incom e ............................ ... ............................ ..........110
Stability, Career Opportunities and Experience ........................... .................111
S o cial N etw o rk s ............................................................................. 1 1 1
K now ledge ............................................................................................... ....... 112
Social Security .................................... ........................ .. ......... 112
Is Flower Employment an Illusion for W omen? ................................... ................113
Suggestions for Future Studies ....................................................... .... ........... 115
A QUESTIONNAIRE TO INTERVIEW WOMEN FLOWER WORKERS.............. 117
B CUESTIONARIO PARA TRABAJADORAS DE FLORICULTORAS.................119
C LIST OF PEOPLE INTERVIEW ED ........................... ......................................121
LIST OF REFERENCES .................................................................... ............... 122
BIO GR A PH ICA L SK ETCH .................................... ............ ................ .....................132
LIST OF TABLES
1 Flow ers at a glance in Ecuador ........................................... ......................... 53
LIST OF FIGURES
1 M ulau co : Stu dy site............ ....................................................................... .. .... 10
2 Family, communal, and personal gains/losses of women .................................... 105
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
THE ILLUSION OF GETTING A JOB:
WOMEN'S WORK ON FLOWER PLANTATIONS
(A CASE FROM ECUADOR)
Marcela Enriquez Vasquez
Chair: Anthony Oliver-Smith
Major Department: Center for Latin American Studies
My study examined the effects of the flower industry (a Non-Traditional
Agriculture Export (NTAE) or high-valued agriculture) on the women of Mulauco, a
small Andean community in Ecuador. The NTAEs emerged because of the structural
adjustment policies ordered by the International Monetary Fund to equilibrate the
national economies of Latin American countries.
The flower industry, which appeared in the mid 1980s promoted massive
employment of rural women. Since most of these women had no previous work
experience, my goal was to show the effects of the transition from nonpaid home
activities to waged capitalist work. This transition is important for anthropology, because
it implies several socioeconomic transformations in which women become involved.
Among these transformations is the suppression of the social system in which the women
were highly involved, before they became waged workers. This socio-economic system
was based on subsistence agriculture, which provided livelihoods for peasant families for
centuries, in Andean rural areas.
Although work experience provides some benefits to women (cash resources,
increased self esteem, and greater confidence), the lack of stability, social security, and
other elements of empowerment could turn women's involvement in paid work into an
METHODOLOGICAL AND THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS
For centuries, women were simply nonexistent as a socioeconomic factor. When
governments around the world implemented development programs based on the theory
of modernization, women were neglected. Because women were responsible for
subsistence activities at home, women's work was not considered relevant. Although
such subsistence responsibility is an enormous contribution of women to development
efforts in all countries, this work was ignored in official statistics. This is what feminist
literature calls the invisibility of women.
Feminist concerns about the lack of real work opportunities for women, are
experiencing a change. In the last two decades, women (especially peasant women) have
been involved in waged work in most of the less-industrialized countries. For that
reason, the invisibility of women has evolved into "women as a target of development,"
the focus of my study. My study aimed to determine whether the available work
opportunities contribute to bettering women's situation and their social and family
Framed in these concepts, my study examined the impact of the Ecuadorian flower
agribusiness on the gender and family relations of peasant women workers. My
hypothesis was that income from labor in the flower industry promoted socio-economic
participation of women and caused some changes in gender and family relations; but it
does not promote sustained equity in the household. My study addressed the following
1. Why are women more likely than men to work in flower agribusinesses?
2. Are economic and material improvements from employment in flower production
transforming the traditional duties at home?
3. Do the earnings from employment allow female workers to improve their family's
4. Does employment in flower production contribute to greater equity in decision-
making relations in the family? Is employment in the flower industry promoting
equity in gender relations?
To analyze the involvement of women in paid work and its effects on gender and
family relations, I reviewed the most relevant literature on the involvement of women in
capitalist labor relations, and the rise of so-called nontraditional agricultural exports (the
economic process of which flower agribusiness is part). Then I examined whether
women are likely to improve their undervalued social and family situation and overcome
inequalities through involvement in paid work.
By working in flower agribusiness, women gained temporary equality and spending
power, and achieved some economic relief for their families. The temporary gender
equality that flower agribusiness wages promote is a kind of illusion for women. Such a
benefit is not sustained, because women cannot make careers as flower workers. Sooner
or later, they lose the job because of the institutional needs of flower agribusiness to
replace workers, and because of the exhaustion that the work produces in women. Thus
the women lose their temporary source of well-being. In addition, the psychological
freedom from male control that women experience when they are workers is not real.
They use the work as an excuse to escape patriarchal control; but even when they are
working, they are subject to the continued control of the flower company, which does not
allow them to interact with other workers or even to talk during work time.
Thus, despite the positive material effects, the involvement of women in paid work
means an ideological reinforcement of gender inequalities, and ultimately of the
patriarchal bias of the system.
Anthropological work is never about the study of a fixed set of social situations.
Instead, it is about the endless process of interactions in which people engage with social
or natural systems. This means that the strategy for studying these interactions should
never be the same. Every study should be designed on a case-by-case basis. Bernard
(2002:408) said, "anthropologists have been prodigious inventors, consumers, and
adapters of research methods." When researching social groups, it is important to assume
this to avoid the stress of trying to apply a fixed methodology (following its suggestions
step by step).
Planning my study became an introspective activity. A nonstop chain of questions
and answers about important and unimportant details began to emerge. I began to wonder
how to present the people who were the main target of my study; and how I could obtain
the information I needed. Thus, my first task was to understand methodological issues.
Hardin (1987) said that methodology is any technique used to collect evidence; which at
its basic level includes "listening to others, observing behavior, or examining historical
records" (Hardin 1987 cited by Whaley 2001:420). These three basic methods guided me
in determining the formal or material part of the method I should use.
As a formal methodological structure, I planned to apply semi-structured interviews
and to take field notes of my interviews, and also of relevant issues I could observe or
reflect on during my work. Before the field study, I prepared a questionnaire in which I
emphasized obtaining a social "picture" of the women I dealt with (Appendix A). As I
will explain later, this questionnaire was easily exceeded by the testimony of the women
interviewed, whose dialogues were filled with reflections on their own situation.
My main methodologic concern was on the conceptual framework in which I
should listen to and interview people during my study. My conviction was stated by Pini
(2003: 422): the "lived experiences of women represents a legitimate form and source of
knowledge;" a research project on women must aim to promote social change. Inevitably
these convictions led me to a feminist perspective. To justify this perspective, I must
explain why a feminist point of view is needed in this kind of research.
Some social scientists argue that no special affinity exists between feminism and a
particular research method. For example, while reflecting on the issues about method,
methodology, and epistemology used by social scientist to analyze women, Hardin
(1987:4) said "feminists have argued that traditional theories have been applied in ways
that make it difficult to understand women's participation in social life, or to understand
men's activities as gendered (vs. as representing the human)". Wondering how to correct
the partial and distorted accounts in the traditional analyses, Hardin asked "is there a
distinctive feminist method of inquiry?" Only three methods of social inquiry (listening
to or interrogating informants, observing behavior, and examining historical traces and
records) are used by both women and men. Hardin said that although there is not a
distinctive feminist method of research, it is possible produce to less partial and less
distorted descriptions, explanations, and understandings of women's issues.
In contrast to Hardin's viewpoint, several social scientists (Reinharz 1992, Bloom
1998) think that a feminist method exists to address issues involving women. This
method, which "promises a more interpersonal and reciprocal relationship between
researchers and those whose lives are the focus of the research," is better able "to break
down barriers that exist among women as well as the barriers that exist between the
researcher and the researched" (Bloom 1998: 2-3). A particular facet of the feminist
method is that it is a "way to know something", and also a way to "change something" in
the sense that feminism seeks to overcome a particular situation of social inequality
(Armstead 1995, cited in Pini 2003: 419).
My goal was to study a group of rural women and how a particular social process
has affected them. Therefore I was convinced that a feminist method is the most
appropriate approach to my study. Moreover, since the focus of my study was to
understand the output of a female social practice, using exclusively the viewpoint or
testimony of those women involved in such an experience, the most appropriate way to
obtain information was through interviews.
Bloom (1998) said that interviewing is a central process to research relationships in
feminist methodology, particularly when the focus is on collecting personal narratives.
Furthermore, Reinharz (1992) said that the basis of feminist methodology is the
conviction that "for a woman to be understood in a social research project, it may be
necessary for her to be interviewed by a woman."
Once I began fieldwork I had to become flexible enough to adapt my methodology
to the real situations I encountered. For example, it was not possible to formally
interview all of the women flower workers. By "formal" interview I refer to having a
conversation in a given place where both the parties involved could more or less follow a
guide for such interviews. I had previously prepared a questionnaire for the interviews,
but the interviews with these women turned into narratives in which they expressed their
experiences. Thus, I could not restrict these women to answering only my questions.
Then I understood that in this way of answering, they enriched me with more information
than what I asked for. Therefore instead of trying to follow my interview questions, I
encouraged them to freely express their point of view. Under these circumstances, I was
forced to alternate between semi-structured and unstructured interviews.
The feminist perspective used proved to be effective when the interviews turned
into friendly conversations between two women who shared similar concerns and needed
to express their feelings.
Concurring with the reflections on methodology, this study is based on qualitative
data collected during fieldwork carried out in Ecuador between July and August of 2003
in the rural Comuna of Mulauco, where semi-structured and unstructured interviews of
women flower workers were conducted. In addition to these workers, I also interviewed
some relatives of women flower workers, flower entrepreneurs, and scholars or officers
related to the flower industry. In total, I interviewed 20 people, including seven women
flower workers, and one former women flower worker; two flower agribusiness
representatives, and relatives of these workers.1
The semi structured and unstructured interviews were a particularly useful tool for
research because they permitted the interviewed women workers to express themselves
freely, and allowed me to explore particular details provided by these workers that I
1 See Appendix B for a list of interviewed people.
considered important for my work. This method was beneficial in achieving an
ideological identification with the interviewed women workers and an egalitarian
relationship among interviewer and interviewed.
Semi structured or unstructured interviewing, says Reinharz (1992: 18), "differs
from ethnography in not including long periods of researcher participation in the life of
the interviewee and differs from survey research or structured interviewing by including
free interaction between the researcher and interviewee." These characteristics of the
method chosen proved to be effective during my work. In this way, I could use
effectively the often-limited time of the flower women workers. Some of them I
interviewed on the way back to their homes. Due to the sensitive nature of the issues that
women flower workers have to face, some of the interviews I did became a narrative
experience for the women flower workers interviewed. Talking about their problems with
someone really interested in knowing them made the women flower workers feel more
comfortable. As a result they engaged in monologues about their lives, frustrations, and
hopes. This situation is what Cotterill (1992: 604) defines as indicators of friendship,
which occurs when "having someone to confide in and knowing that person will listen
sympathetically to what you have to say," and of reciprocity in that "confiding and
listening are usually shared activities between close friends. ." Of course, clarifies
Cotterill (1992: 599). "close friends do not usually arrive with a tape-recorder, listen
carefully and sympathetically to what you have to say and then disappear".
Through the use of the methodological approach described, I could maintain my
role of researcher, sharing my feelings with women and providing solidarity to other
women. The interviews I did allowed me to understand the women workers'
manifestations of agency and their achievements. They exercised a high degree of agency
when negotiating, managing, and prioritizing demands made by the new socio-economic
scenario they had to face as workers in a capitalist activity. Thus, when women workers
were interviewed, they not only answered my questions, but they also shaped the
conversations, to express everything they deemed important to talk about. They often did
not offer direct answers to my questions, but the majority of the time I obtained
information that I had not considered but which allowed me to better understand the
changes evoked by their work on the flower plantations. Interestingly enough, in some
cases, the women's husbands were also present during the interviews and they, like me,
learned about an unknown reality because their wives had never discussed it with them.
To experience for myself the things I heard from the women workers, I visited a
flower agribusiness company where I was able to observe the women's work site and
meet the manager and owner2 of that company. I also interviewed a flower trader
centered in Quito with business connections in the US and Italy, from whom I learned of
the exchange processes and trade logic of the product. During my work, I felt that all the
people I met were in a kind of race for profits. Unlike other export businesses in
Ecuador, flower cultivation is highly demanding, precise, and unstable. To maximize
profits, it is necessary to carry out all operations in as little time as possible. To race
against the clock, both flower products and markets are quite fragile and must be handled
with extreme care.
2 This flower plantation is called Arcoiris, and is located in Alpamalag de Acurio.
Mulauco: Study Site
This study was conducted in the rural Comuna of Mulauco located about 40 Km
east of Quito, the Ecuadorian capital3 (Figure 1). Administratively the Comuna Mulauco
is part of the parochial seat of Pifo,4 which is within the Metropolitan District of Quito.
Besides Mulauco, there are other communities in Pifo. These are Virginia, Sigsipamba,
and Tabl6n, which are located in the flanks of the Real or Oriental (East) cordillera.
Pifo is part of the Tumbaco-Guayllabamba valley complex, which surrounds Quito
at the Eastern and Northern part of this city. Due to altitude, weather, and soil conditions,
this valley has developed an important agriculture activity, and since the 1970s, flower
plantations have used this valley. According to the flower agribusiness trade association
this area of Quito encompasses 24.9% (812 hectares or 2,092 acres) of the total area of
flower plantations in Ecuador. Quito and other cantons of the same province5 share 62%
of the national flower plantation area estimated in 3,262 hectares (7,828 acres)
The Comuna of Mulauco6 is mainly composed of descendents from indigenous
workers of the surrounding hacienda Mulauco.
3 As part of my study, I also visited the area of Alpamalag de Acurio located 100 km south of Quito, where
I visited a flower plantation and met its manager.
4 Pifo is a rural parish located at the North East part of Quito, 35 kilometers from this city. Pifo lies at
latitude: 0013'60 S, and longitude of 78019'60 W. Its altitude is 2770 m, and its average temperature is
120C. Pifo's populations is 9,005 inhabitants, with a density of 01-05 inhabitants per hectare (1 hectare =
2.4 acres) See: Quito, Distrito Metropolitano,
5 Quito belongs to the Pichincha province.
6 For the Description of the Comuna Mulauco I use the information gathered from my interviews with the
following people, member of the Comuna Mulauco: Susana Quilumba, Patricio Collahuaso, Maria
Dianacallo, and her father Jose Dianacallo. Susana Quilumba is a former flower worker, and Patricio
Collahuaso still works in the flower industry.
7 Hacienda is a big piece of land (usually more than 150 acres), dedicated to growing products for local and
regional consumption. Traditionally indigenous people, who lived with all their families in small parcels
named huasipungos, composed haciendas' labor force. Haciendas' production system became obsolete
Figure 1. Mulauco: Study site
The Ecuadorian Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization8 divided this hacienda in
the mid 60s as part of its program of land redistribution. Hacienda Mulauco was a big
estate dedicated to cattle ranching and some products like potatoes, corn, and onions,
which were sold in Quito and other towns at the weekly fairs. Due to the socialpressure,9
the agrarian reforms process1 promoted by the Ecuadorian government in 1964 affected
and owners eventually sold their land to high intensive capital agriculture or converted them into tourist
resorts and other economic activities linked with new economic paradigms.
8 Institute Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonizaci6n, IERAC. This organization was changed by the
current Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario (INDA).
9 Social pressure was one of the conditions of the Agrarian Reform Law to affect rural lands. It consist in
the existence of high number of people without land around poorly used estates.
10 This process was aimed to redistribute lands among peasants, the ban of non-capitalist work relations in
rural areas, and to promote the economic use of agriculture lands. Under the agrarian reform law, when a
this hacienda by 1966.11 As a result, part of the Hacienda Mulauco was distributed
among the huasipungueros,12 who created the Comuna Mulauco, and the rest remained in
the hands of its owner's successors.
The Comuna Mulauco distributed land plots among its family members. These
plots' extensions varied between 4 to 6 acres, but now due to the inheritance process,
they are smaller. Currently the comuna has about 500 inhabitants. After the creation of
the Comuna, some people continued working for the remaining haciendas of the area, but
most were completely involved in subsistence agriculture. The household livelihood
strategy in Mulauco was based in subsistence agriculture, in which all the people were
involved. Due to economic constrictions such a strategy eventually was combined with
increasing employment since the early 1980s. Nowadays, the household economy in
Mulauco does not depend on local agriculture but on external artisan employment,
principally in Pifo, and other towns in the valley, and even in Quito. Flower plantations
located in the Pifo's area, and housekeeping, are the main employment sources for
women from Mulauco.
Mulauco has one elementary school where children of the area attend from 7 am to
2 pm every weekday. Besides the comuna organization, the Comite de Padres de
Familia of the school, is a place to gather people from the community.13 During these
meetings parents receive children's reports and organize school festivities. The dominant
religion in Mulauco is Christian. There are two churches, one Catholic and another one
estate was not used in full, the unused land was targeted for expropriation and redistribution among local
peasants. Normally the benefited peasants were workers of affected estates or haciendas.
11 Interview with Susana Quilumba.
12 huasipungueros, "peasants who contributed permanent quotas of labor in exchange for small subsistence
plots (called huasipungos) and low wage supplements" (Zamosc 1990).
13 The comite gathers at least once every trimester (Ecuadorian school system is divided in three trimesters
that go from October to June).
Protestant, where masses are carried out on Sundays (at 10 am the Protestant, and at 5 pm
the Catholic). Generally Sunday morning is used by the "Mulauquenses" to go to Pifo
for grocery shopping.
When an economic crisis started in the country in the mid 1980's,14 Mulauco's
peoples experienced a shift in their economic patterns: from working in subsistence and
small-scale agriculture to more urban activities. Like many rural families in the highland
Ecuadorian Andes, they have had to look outside their Comuna for additional earnings.
The most affected were urban and rural people without permanent jobs. The inhabitants
of Mulauco lacked sufficient land to generate family income through agriculture.
Therefore, they searched the urban areas for something that could offer a wage to bring
home. The primary family income came from work carried out by the men in Quito or
surrounding areas as masons, carpenters, plumbers, and other more seasonal work.
Women, who up until then had worked primarily at home caring for domestic animals
and small crops, also had to find some income-generating occupation and thus, they got
involved in housekeeping and childcare activities in the neighboring towns of Cumbaya,
Tumbaco15 and the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, where families could afford to pay a
regular salary for such activities.
14 Like most of the countries in Latin America, Ecuador was severely affected by the so-called external-
debt crisis, which led to the most far reaching structural reforms in the country being privatization of state
owned industries and decentralization, among the most visible effects of the reforms. (see: Comunidad
Andina 2001) On March 6, 1987, the Northeast part of Ecuador also suffered a grade VIII earthquake,
which killed about 300 people and destroyed important components of the TransEcuadorian Pipeline,
which at that time transported all the Ecuadorian oil for export. Ecuador lost oil income for several months,
which increased the negative effect of the disasters (Resumen de efectos de los terremotos de Grado VIII,
15 Like Pifo, Cumbaya and Tumbaco are rural parishes of Quito. But these two towns have become
residential areas for prosperous families. Cumbaya and Tumbaco are 5 and 10 km. distant from Quito and
30 and 25 km. distant from Pifo respectively. Every day during working hours the transportation is
frequent between the corridor Quito Cumbaya Tumbaco, and Pifo.
In the mid 1980's, in accordance with the new national and international economic
logic to diversify areas where the country could compete in the international market,
national and international investors bought land in rural areas to establish flower
plantations. Generally these lands belonged to the haciendas, but often also buying small
pieces of land from peasants who were previously engaged in subsistence agriculture.16
The high costs of agricultural supplies like seeds, and pesticides, forced some peasant
families to sell their croplands and then to find other ways to get earnings for subsistence.
Objective and subjective factors worked together to convince local people that
flower plantations, the new agricultural businesses installed in their area, were the best
and most important employment source. Proximity, easy accessibility, regular wages,
and stability that flower plantations provided were the main factors to get people
involved in this new production system.
The appearance of new economic activities and the contact with urban areas due to
improved roads and transportation have sharply changed the local socio-economic
landscape of some rural areas like Mulauco. In this Comuna, people have shifted their
focus from local traditional activities like communal and religious meetings, sports, and
recreational events to more external issues like music programs or shopping.
Participation in some Mulauco traditional activities like "comitepro-mejoras", mingas,
religious festivities, and others that were central to social life,17 have sharply declined.
16 One of the goals of agrarian reform process promoted by the Ecuadorian government since 1964, was the
promotion of change in the agrarian markets. A side effect of this goal was that many big landlords were
forced to sell all or part of their haciendas, which were further used for capital-intensive agriculture
purposes. (See Barsky 1990: 25)
17 In research on flower plantation indigenous women workers, Korovkin (2002) also found that some
traditional forms of social organization were declining. Of course that might not necessarily be related with
flower activities, but with the wider socioeconomic changes that Ecuadorian rural areas are experiencing.
While previously women and men from Mulauco's society had been able to work
together to sustain their families' livelihood, there is now evident an increasing tendency
to exercise individual livelihood strategies. Families, whose members were willing to
seek any income-generating activity, were more apt to diversify income sources,
combining different strategies like waged work, family crops, and occasional work. In
the previous social structure, families concentrated on working the family's cropland and
on trading their products at the weekly fair. The main products grown were potatoes,
corn, green beans, onions, and vegetables, which provided a basic diet for family
consumption and some surplus production to sell in local market (Interview with a 71
year old flower worker's father).
The change in family survival strategy was a local response to the new economic
context in which Ecuador got involved after the debt crisis in the early 1980s. This new
economic environment was characterized by increasing trade liberalization, foreign
investment, and privatization, promoted by neoliberalism, which has become the
predominant paradigm in the Ecuadorian economy.
INVISIBLE BUT INDISPENSABLE: WOMEN'S WORK AT HOME
Academic and political discussions on gender inequalities have devoted
considerable amount of analysis to the link between women and work. Work has been
depicted as one of the most important aspects in the unequal relations between women
and men. The first aspect to consider in this topic is the ideological blindness of society
toward women's unpaid work. As has been abundantly studied, women perform some of
the heaviest social works, which is the group of basic activities that the whole economic
system needs for social reproduction. This means that women are responsible for three
forms of reproduction at the household level: biological reproduction (bearing children);
daily reproduction (the maintenance of family members through domestic tasks for
subsistence; and social reproduction (the extra productive tasks for maintaining the social
system) (Jelin 1991). Because of all these home and social reproductive activities that
are unpaid and unrecognized, men are able to work outside the home in paid work.
Although women's work has an important social value, it has not been considered
relevant for development by multilateral and development organizations. This is what
social scientists have called invisible work (Otegui Pascual 1999).
The work of rural women in Latin America, and particularly in the Andean region,
has been depicted in more or less the same terms of invisibility. But in these areas,
women not only perform reproductive activities, but productive ones also. Along with
the traditional home tasks, women in rural areas are responsible for substantial amounts
of productive activities, particularly in agricultural matters for family consumption. And
although the work of rura 1 women is also unpaid, unrecognized, and considered as
irrelevant for development, these women are managing households and performing
productive activities in the same way the men do.
The analysis of the traditional role of women at home and how it is socially
considered is important to determine the changes that paid work produces in rural
women. In this Chapter, I analyze the traditional social understanding of women's
unpaid work at home, which has been depicted as unproductive and irrelevant for
development. Since the economic system of waged work was designed only for men,
there was a process of incorporation of women in capitalist activities as a way of seeking
As a form of understanding the nature of the role of peasant women in the
household in the social and geographic area in which this thesis is framed, I will review
the role of women's work in the household in the Andean area. This review will be of
great importance to determine the direct and indirect impact of the incorporation of
women in waged work, which will be analyzed in Chapter 5.
Women and Work: Always Together but Not Always Recognized
One of the most interesting topics in gender studies is the discussion of women's
transition from being household and unpaid workers to being paid workers in capitalist
relations of production. In most of the world, culture has assigned household
management to women and, as is generally agreed, their work has never been perceived
as social labor or real work. Hence, it has been viewed as not relevant for development
(Hardin 1998; Safilios 1998). Women in non-industrialized societies spend their lives at
home and are generally responsible for survival tasks like child rearing, preparing food,
and caring for crops and domestic animals (Boserup 1970). This situation is the basis for
the conventional ideology of women's images of "good wife" and "good mother, which
are a part of popular culture and permeated official political decisions of both national
and international development agencies (French and James 1997).
Women's activities at home deprived them of the opportunity to work for
economically accumulation or productive purposes, but at the same time that work at
home was not seen as something valuable and socially necessary. Since household work
was outside of capitalist relations of production, women were considered "unoccupied"
and "economically inactive" by the official understanding. Only when women leave
home to work in paid activities does their work become "real" and as a result considered
relevant for development (Charseworth & Wright 1991). Recognizing money as the only
official measure of labor is a masculine biased concept, because most men do not work at
home. But domestic work is in fact labor and it takes its toll on the people who do it.
According to Nufio Gomez (1999) women spend between 9 to 10 hours per day in non-
paid tasks that are completely essential for family reproduction.
Charseworth and Wright (1991) assert that women were seen as merely responsible
for domestic tasks like caring for children, providing food and running the households or
they were portrayed in an elaborate metaphor, as "the guardians of national culture,
indigenous religion, and family traditions". The main consequence of this unconscious
and prevailing reasoning is that, because of gender inequality and social exclusion,
women were largely ignored by development plans. Moreover, literacy and job-training
programs were designed for men only. Therefore the whole concept of modernization
and development was biased to award men access to income generating work (Harding
1998). By "leaving women out" of paid work, national economies took advantage of
women's unpaid domestic labor, which allowed men to work effectively in paid jobs.
This fact is now being officially and politically recognized in some countries where
policies on women reasoned that despite the lack of social recognition,
Women play important physical and symbolic roles at home where they are
bringing up children while their husbands work, and socially, the invisible work of
women is contributing to sustain the socio-economic environment of surrounding
societies in such degree that the economy would collapse without women's unpaid
labor (Advisory Council 2003).
Commenting on the Marxist economist Ernest Mandel, Benston (1969) clarifies
that despite its import to social production, women's work at home is not seen as relevant
for capitalist economy due to the fact that it does not have an exchange value, but only a
use value. What is important in capitalist society is the production of exchange value
commodities. Cooking soup, sewing a button on a garment, or caring for children
"constitute production, but it is not production for market." (Benston 1969). Therefore,
by ignoring women's work at home, the capitalist system takes advantage not only of a
worker's surplus value, but of the free work of women also.
To amend the practice of ignoring women in national policies and to promote a
better position for women at home, one of the aims of development projects in non-
industrialized countries during the 1980's and 1990's, was the incorporation of women,
especially from rural areas, into the labor force (IADB 1987). The main concern
regarding this policy was on the effects that the proletarization of women could have on
their family and, of course, their personal well-being.
People are divided on this issue. For some, income from paid work helps women
achieve personal realization and improve both self-esteem and decision-making capacity
within the family where gender and family relations tend to get better (see USAID 1999).
But other authors think that the involvement of women in capitalist work relations does
not have a clear positive effect on the improvement of gender or family relations,
personal self-worth, or her decisional capacity within the family (Carr and Chen 2001).
Since women's earnings from paid work allowed them some degree of well-being
and security, social researchers were convinced that women's access to independent
income could promote the rise in their status and a decrease in female/male disparities
(Safilios-Rothschild 1988 cited in Byron 1999). Marxist thinkers also thought that the
situation of women would improve by granting them access to paid work. Lenin was
aware that women are doubly oppressed: by the system and by men. To liberate women
from both forms of oppression, he thought that it was necessary to allow women to work
in conditions equal to those of men (Lenin cited by Zetkin 1971).
In the capitalist system, the involvement of women in paid work is often explained
as a step on the path to full democratization in terms of declarative equality of rights
(Inter-Parliamentary Union 1997), but some authors like Beneria and Sen (1977) point
out that involving women in paid work was a process initiated to gain access to
inexpensive labor. If that is true, the massive influx of women into capitalist work
relations sustained after World War II in urban societies reveals only a case of the
"effectiveness" of the capitalistic system in maximizing profits, and not an advance in
Other scholars offer additional perspectives on the nature of women's incorporation
into waged work. Diaz Mufioz, (1978 cited in Herrera 1999) explains that in rural areas
women likely to become paid workers are principally those whose families lack land for
agriculture. Under the assumption that women do not have alternatives, factories and
other businesses hire them at low wages (White 2000). Herrera (1999) asserts that
another consideration in hiring women is the notion that women are docile and easy to
supervise; Hancock (2001) concurs that businessmen assume that women are "more
easily exploited, less likely to strike or form membership organizations, are
comparatively free from family responsibilities, and more adept at doing repetitive and
But going beyond the unconscious prejudices that explain women's experience
with paid work, their involvement in capitalist relations of production was supposed to
improve gender equality and family relations (Inter-Parliamentary Union 1997). This
same reasoning continues to inform the policies of decision makers in non-industrialized
countries that promote female job sources by expanding non-traditional economic
activities in rural areas (Korovkin 2002).
In opposition to the idea that paid work will help women, some authors think that
the incorporation of women into capitalist relations of production is instead promoting
more inequality and lowering their economic position (Charseworth & Wright 1991).
According to these authors, despite the obvious economic benefits, capitalist work has
not led to better gender and family relations.
Slater (1999) considers that the participation of women in wage labor does not
necessarily provide them greater control, power, or social representation. Their income
goes directly to supplement the very low contributions of their spouses. Therefore, it is
committed to subsistence needs. Criticizing the capitalist attitude toward women and
accepting the limitations of opening jobs for women, Lenin was clear that by working as
waged laborers only, women could not overcome the old right of husband over wife,
which will persist (Lenin cited by Zetkin 1971).
Contrary to development theories, the incorporation of women into paid work does
not necessarily guarantee their liberation nor increase their economic independence or
social standing and has little impact on women's equality (Charseworth & Wright 1991).
In non-industrialized countries, the increasing economic reactivation has brought greater
employment opportunities for women, but they are found at the lowest paid and lowest
status jobs without career paths (Charseworth & Wright 1991). Women carry the weight
of gender inequality into the work place and the situation is reinforced in the new work
position (Roldan, 1986, cited in Herrera 1999). In this sense, the potential for paid work
to increase the inequality of women and lower their economic position is high.
In Latin American countries, and especially in rural areas, the deep economic crisis
is pushing women to become involved in income-earning activities to meet the increasing
cost of household survival (Pearson 2000). Contrary to the industrialized countries, where
industry was the main source of jobs for rural people, in the Latin American industry
plays a secondary role in providing jobs. Most of the work sources are provided by so-
called non-traditional export agriculture, consisting of_crops like flowers, fruits, and other
agricultural products that sell easily in international markets.
In conclusion, the waged work in which women are increasingly being engaged is
part of the expansion of the capitalist system and not necessarily related to a social
process to achieve democratization nor to equalize gender relations. Therefore, the
pattern of gender inequalities that has characterized human history, particularly in so-
called western culture, is being reinforced despite the potential for positive social change
inherent in the incorporation of women into the paid workforce.
Latin American Peasant Women: Household and Work
As all the cases of women's activities, rural and indigenous women work was
traditionally invisible to western understanding. National governments, multilateral
organizations, and development agencies have assumed that peasant women were not
productive agents of the economic cycle. This assumption is true to the extent that
women's work in general is not recognized either. As in other aspects, the role of peasant
and indigenous women tends to be analyzed with the same lens used to view urban
Rural families' production was traditionally more oriented to household survival
than to surplus accumulation. The type of activities peasants do are in the realm of
subsistence agriculture, which has supported rural culture for hundreds of years. As
noted by Mandel (cited in Benston 1969), this subsistence economic system has been
ignored by capitalist society or at least not taken as "real work" because it is not an
exchange value activity. It is for self-consumption. In this way, subsistence agriculture
and women's work at home share exactly the same situation in capitalist society: both
play important social roles, but are deemed irrelevant by the official economy.
In a comprehensive understanding of rural socioeconomic reality, the family's
production was an important economic support to national economies in the sense that
such production maintained a whole social group, without significant state participation.
1 Indeed, the subjugation of peasant and indigenous people in Latin America is broadly accepted. As
discussed in Chapter 3, Hardman (1979) explains that these comments respond to distortions due to the
theoretical frame used, which employs European patterns to conceptualize social situations involving
women. Observers tend to utilize patterns values and prejudices from their own cultural background, and
as a result, what women have preserved from their own culture has been obscured by a foreign framework
for analysis or simply ignored (Hardman 1979). Jelin (1990) also critiques the "opposition between the
domestic / females / powerless domain and the public / male / powerful as fundamentally cultural and
ideological" which is commonly accepted for Latin America.
Without rural families' participation in self-subsistence agriculture, the reproduction of
rural society would not be viable.
Women in rural areas have had direct access to the land as mean of production. As
abundant literature suggests, rural women have traditionally had an active role in the
household economy. They are effective household managers, with a wide degree of
decisions making power over the tasks under their care. This role is stronger in
indigenous populations where even after a long history of cultural distortions, women
generally possess a clearly defined role in the household. Chapter 3 of this thesis shows
how the active role of women in the household is part of cultural identity in several cases
in the Andean world, including the Ecuadorian area.
Deere's (forthcoming) comments on a survey on the participation of rural women
in subsistence agriculture in Ecuador confirm the importance of women in household
agricultural activities. The results of the study show that 70% of rural women in the
Andean area, and 20% on the coast, are involved in that kind of agriculture. Moreover,
agriculture was the primary sector of activity for 72% of women in the sierra compared
with only 47.5% on the coast.
In the more specific situation of indigenous families, although some of them were
part of the obsolete hacienda system labor relations, in that context women were also
important agents of household reproduction. Women's role in the huasipungos2 were
directly associated with the economic sustenance of the household, while their husbands
were laborers on the hacienda's land.
2 As explained in Chapter 1, huasipungos were a small land parcel (about 1 2 acres) that indigenous
people were assigned from big landowners (hacendados), as part of the wage labor in the haciendas.
Huasipungos were used to grow agricultural products and domestic animals for indigenous family
sustenance. The huasipungo system was part of indigenous household and was mainly carried out by
women, while men were working in the hacienda's land.
Beyond agriculture, several studies have demonstrated the important role of women
in natural resource management. Chiappe (1995:294) relates the link that rural women in
Latin America have with forests, from which they obtain firewood, medicinal plants, and
fodder for animals. Due to proximity to natural ecosystems in rural areas, women have
learned to deal with natural resources and how to take advantage of them to fulfill family
necessities. Chiappe also comments that due to the men's emigration to urban areas
seeking jobs, women often take control of the entire household management, including
home and agriculture tasks.
Analyzed in the abovementioned terms, the socio-economic role of peasant and
indigenous women greatly differs from that passive role attributed to urban women. In
contrast to rural women, urban women are economically isolated at home, where they
work to allow the regular reproduction of the male labor force, which normally is
performed outside the home. Therefore, non-working urban women have not had direct
contact with the means of production, except through the husband.
The main conclusion of the analysis of the household role of Andean peasant
women is that it has not been "invisibilized" by traditional societies. This role was
recognized and respected in their community. This recognition is part of a strong cultural
background, which is still pervasive in most of the rural areas of the Andean area.3
Although the important role of peasant women in the household is recognized, it is
relevant to consider that the debt crisis of the 1980s, and subsequent economic failures,
promoted a new economic paradigm in the region. The new economic paradigm was the
reduction of the public sector and the expansion of private sector, which defined among
3 This cultural background and its impact in the gender relations will be analyzed in Chapter 3 of this
other trends, the introduction of capital-intensive agriculture activities in rural realities.
As discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, this was the key measure that provoked a substantial
change in women's role in the household, and their involvement in waged work.
FAMILY AND GENDER RELATIONS IN THE ANDEAN CONTEXT
Cultural and economic environments shape family and gender relations in all
societies of the world. These two social elements are fundamental to determine the level
of equity/inequity that exists within families and between genders. Since this study is
based on a society that belongs to a particular cultural, social, and economic background,
it is important to review the patterns that culturally shape the area where this study is
The people of Mulauco, the small rural neighborhood from which women flower
workers provided the elements for this study, are rapidly adopting western urban forms of
life. However, the Mulaquenses are still part of the indigenous population of Ecuador.
This cultural belonging links these people with Andean culture, which is a prevalent
ideological notion in Ecuador and neighboring countries.
As a form of establishing a cultural context to analyze the impacts of the
involvement of women in waged work, on family and gender relations, in this chapter I
will review these types of relations in the Andean world. With examples from different
Andean countries, I will show how indigenous people's concepts of family and gender
relations are strongly rooted in cultural and historical perceptions.
Family and Society in a Modern Context
Family has been defined as an intergenerational system based on blood kin
relations, and marital relationships (Gimeno,1999). As a hub of social learning, family
systems entail several interrelations not only with other groups, but also among its
members. The family involves a structure, a hierarchy, and roles for every member,
which is defined by their position in the structure. These family relations have been seen
as something natural or defined by biological determinism (gender, age), but feminist
thinkers view family as a "strong mechanism of class position and an efficient method of
creating and transmitting gender inequalities." (Barrety & Macintosh 1995).
In Ecuador, the basic family structure lies in a core relation: the mother-child, link,
which is strengthened and reinforced as the child grows up. In addition, the family has a
function of connecting its members to society, being a bridge between the individual and
collective realms (Adelina Gimeno,1999). Family plays a strong role not only in
members' self-perception, but also in the shaping of values, beliefs, and attitudes related
to society, nature and environment, culture, work, and other elements of social life.
However as I will describe later, in contemporary Latin America, particularly in Ecuador,
the concept of the urban family is quite different than that of the rural and/or indigenous
families of the Andean area. In urban areas, where the mainstream Andean society
principally lives with mixed indigenous and European descent, the concept of family is
rooted in Western and Christian traditions.
Although there is a long history of sharing culture and geography, the indigenous
family is quite different from the mainstream Ecuadorian family. Traditionally,
indigenous people's culture, and socioeconomic life have differed greater from that of the
urban society where European notions are prevalent.
Family and Gender Relations in the Andean World
Family and gender relations in the Andean world are a complex and debated issue;
thus, explaining them is not a risk-free task. The mere geographical reference to the
territory is problematic: although the Andean region comprises all or part of the territorial
areas of seven countries in South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia,
Chile and Argentina), culturally this region has been restricted to the area ruled by the
Tahuantinsuyu Empire of the Inca more than five centuries ago. Currently, the area
encompasses territories from northern Argentina to northern Ecuador.
Despite the fact that there are many differences based on particular historical,
economic and geographical backgrounds, there are some aspects in which Andean
peoples have a strong common cultural background. The main ones are that the local
people speak Quichua,1 tend to live in communities, and preserve cultural values based
on Incan culture or other pre-Columbian societies associated with that empire.
Although it is imprecise to generalize about Andean gender relations, it is possible
to detect some general patterns in rural Andean culture. Despite the immensity of its
geographical area, which covers about one million square miles, some scholars have
studied and articulated these patterns, which could be summarized in three broad types of
gender relationships: equality, inequality and complementarity.
Equality in Gender Relations
Gender relations of equality are those in which women and men indistinctly share
roles at home and do not pretend to exercise any kind of power over each other. This
means the assumption by both women and men that they have same rights to determine
all the issues that pertain to the family. To illustrate gender relations of equality I will cite
the case of a rural Ecuadorian community named Chanchalo, a small village in the south
1 There are two dialects of the Quichua language. The Ecuadorian-Argentinean type, which is spoken in
Ecuador, the south of Colombia, and the north of Argentina; and the Cuzco type, which is spoken in Peru
and Bolivia. The name of the first one is written "Quichua," and the second, "Quechua" (Carpenter 1982).
In local contexts there are also other type of this language. In Ecuador there are the highland and
Amazonian Quichua types. In Peru there are the Northern and Southern Quechua types.
Analyzing work practices in this village, Hamilton (2001) noted that there are no
differences between women and men. They both work hard in the agricultural activities
that are the source of subsistence of this village. Without gender biases, women and men
manage household resources, make decisions on both productive enterprises and
reproductive activities, and participate in community development. This all seems to
happen without regard to whether one is the wife or the husband, female or male
After women and men work in the field, taking care of the family's animals and
crops, they both prepare meals, put children to bed, wash clothes, and clean the house.
Both engage in all types of work without a discernible division of labor. The decision-
making process in the household for most issues, such as the children, crop mix and
schedule, technology input, and household expenditures, is also described as consultative,
consensual, and egalitarian. Who actually handles the household's cash flow in this
household is also consistent with the pattern among households in this community: all
income is pooled, and the wife manages the farm and household income, expenditures,
and savings. The control of land, income streams, technology, and labor is gender-
neutral, that is, both spouses have equal control over resources and participate in
Variations that account for gender differences in studies of other communities and
societies, such as age, wealth, status, and access to wage labor opportunities, seem to be
irrelevant in Chanchalo. Hamilton demonstrates in detail, that young and old women in
both wealthy and poor households, those with more or less education, with higher or
lower status in the community, who have temporarily migrated, or who have never left
Chanchalo, behave as equals with their husbands and are treated as such, within and
outside the household. As a result of this practice, men and women enter into marriage on
an equal basis. When they are asked which spouse is the household head the universal
response for both wife and husband is that their households have "dos cabezas" (two
heads), not just one (Hamilton 2001).
According to Hamilton, Chanchalo has resisted the prevailing patriarchal culture of
Ecuador and the rest of Latin America thanks to the absence of development projects in
this village. Being ignored by development, Chanchalo was not influenced by the
gendered ideology of the predominant culture of Ecuador.
Inequality in Gender Relations
Gender relations of inequality are those where one partner (generally the man), uses
any form of power over the other part to determine the different issues pertaining to
family like size, productive activities, expense allocations, etc. Doughty (1971 cited in
Stein 1972), comments that within the family unity it is the husband who gives "orders"
and is considered "more valuable" than his wife, whose ideal role is conceptualized as
essentially passive in nature, "like the soil in which man plants his seeds so they are fed".
At meals, women and girls serve the men their food, and then eat elsewhere. Likewise,
women walk behind their husbands to show their respect in public.
Here the rural Andean woman is depicted as humble, obedient, and completely
controlled by men. Bourque and Warren (1981) who studied women in Moyobamba,
Peru (about 100 km from Lima), and Stolen (1987) who studied gender relations in the
community of Caipi, in Machachi, (about 50 km from Quito), confirm this pattern of
inferiority in rural Andean women.
Bourque and Warren (1981: 114) observed in Moyobamba that women tend to be
responsible for childcare and the household, and take part in agricultural activities, which
are typically masculine. Although women's work in agriculture is notable, men minimize
it and consider women's place to be in the house. This masculine perception creates an
imbalance in women's access to the means of production, particularly to land, where
women are less likely to receive a parcel. Women in this village are accepted as
"comuneras"2 only when they do not have a husband, father, or son. In this example,
despite the economic help women provide to the family, they are in a position of
In her study in Caipi, Stolen (1987) manifests that women do many tasks at home
and in the predominant economic activity of agriculture. Plowing is the only task women
do not perform, not because of any taboo, but simply because they lack the skill (some
men cannot use the plow either). Women in Caipi can do any kind of work without
affecting their feminity. However, men cannot perform certain tasks like washing the
clothes or cleaning the house. Otherwise they could lose prestige.
The role of women in Caipi is that of mother and wife. The stereotype of the "true"
women is of one that is a ". .. worker, shy, aloof, particularly with men outside the
family, and faithful" (Stolen 1987: 92). Girls learn that they will be "conquered" by a
man, but this will be allowed only if the man is an appropriate match and of a suitable
age. Before that, young women must avoid masculine friendship.
The first years of marriage are particularly painful for the women of Caipi, because
they suffer from the jealousy of their husbands, who mistreat them and usually are
2 Member of the Comuna, the indigenous organization that manages land, production and other
socioeconomic issues of the community.
involved in infidelity. The ideal of men is to have a son, which is part of masculine
identity. If that does not happen, the relationship deteriorates (Stolen 1987: 83). Women
always lose their friends after getting married, but men are allowed to maintain their
circle of friends.
The differences between masculine and feminine are accepted as something
natural, as coming from the biological differences created by God. From this "natural
order, women accept their fate and teach their daughters to accept it as a reality. Women
do not question the behavior of their husbands, nor attempt to change their sons (Stolen
Complementary Gender Relations
Gender relations of complementarity are those where women and men divide their
roles and respect each other. In this type of relation, which is probably the most extended
in the Andean area, women and men make decisions without interference by spouses.
In the Andean cultures, gender relations are seen as the realm of sexual opposition
and complement, which has been called the "Andean dualism" (Isbell 1977). This
conceptualization of female-male relations was a way of keeping a natural harmony, as
the "day/night forces that are different but complementary"(Alderete 1992). These
relations were based on a horizontal structure, where reciprocity played an important role
not only within the family, but in the community as well (Isbell 1973). This perception
of gender relations was the opposite of the western conception, where everything was
necessarily singularized and hierarchized (Condori 1986).
Cases of complementary gender relations are not scarce in the Andean region, as
evidenced by examples from Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The first example is the
Salasaca community in highland central Ecuador, in the province of Tungurahua, where
women are influential members of the society (Poeschel 1988). As in other Andean
communities, they are responsible for managing the household economy and deciding
how the income will be spent. Despite the fact that women perform an important role in
agriculture, which contributes to household income, they do not have an equivalent
public participation. Local authorities, for example are always men. This is interpreted
as a point of gender equilibrium, so that the economic power of women at home is
counterbalanced with the political power of men outside the home. Poeschel (1988: 134)
notes that Salasaca women enjoy a remarkable social prestige and effective power
because of the following factors:
* Women's economic contribution to the household through their work at home
* Their role as spouse and mother, which is highly valued;
* The socializing environment and the strong and long-lasting ties with children that
* Social practices, like solidarity, reciprocity, and access to the means of production,
and inheritance, etc.
Salasaca women are also a kind of cultural refuge for men, who tend to go outside
the community to work. Once in the Ecuadorian mainstream society, they feel insecure
because of language and cultural barriers. Women, on the other hand do not like to go
outside and are less likely to speak Spanish. As a result, males rely on women to
preserve the culture. They value women's role in cultural resistance and integration.
In contrast with the Salasaca women who do not like to leave their community, the
Quichua women from Pastaza, in the Ecuadorian Amazon area, are generally chosen by
their community to represent them in outside events. For example, women of this area
have played an important role in the protest that for several years this community has
pursued against the Ecuadorian government in order to prevent oil companies' activity in
their territory. Due to their social prestige, Quichua women perform most of the political
activities aimed at convincing local authorities to ban oil exploration and exploitation in
the Quichua territory. They are usually selected to denounce the oil development invasion
in their lands to international organizations. An illustration of this fact was the visit to
the University of Florida by a Quichua woman several months ago. She brought attention
to the social and environmental impacts caused by oil exploitation in the indigenous
territory3 to the campus.
Peru offers another example of gender complementary relations in the highlands of
the Andes. Describing the subsistence economy of the indigenous community of Huaro
near Cuzco in southern Peru, Nufiez del Prado Bejar (1975) explains that there is a clear
work division among women and men. Men are responsible for agricultural production
on the family parcel while women are in charge of managing the crop and distributing the
harvest. Women are in charge of storing and selling the production, and managing the
money. It is socially accepted that women are skilled and honest financial managers.
Nufiez del Prado Bejar relates an anecdote in a communal meeting where a man was
proposed as the community treasurer. The proposal caused hilarity among the people
since it was understood that only women could handle such responsibility correctly. Men
from Huaro cannot take part in any realm reserved for women; otherwise they will be
ridiculed and nicknamed "guarmichu" o "guarmishina" (like a women).
The decision making process is another example of complementarity in Huaro.
Women's participation in communitarian meetings is only as mere observers. However,
even though women do not express opinions publicly, they promote family decisions at
3 Cristina Gualinga, member of the Quichua people of Sarayacu, visited the University of Florida's Center
for Latin American Studies on September 20, 2003.
home. Then men express these decisions in the communal meetings. There are cases in
which a man has had to publicly retract an opinion if it was not uttered as was agreed at
home between woman and man. This cultural manifestation, which is also common in
rural areas in Ecuador, could confuse experienced researchers that might see only docile
women attending these meetings.
A final example of gender complementarity relations is from the Laymi of Bolivia,
studied by Olivia Harris (1978, 1980). Harris explains that for Laymi people marriage is
a way for getting cultural completeness. It is the fruitful cooperation of man and woman
that produces culture, in contrast to unmarried people who are not considered cultural
entities. Culture is based on duality, in contrast to someone what has remained single
when s/he should have been paired (Harris 1978: 28).
Marriage is considered not simply as a means for women to achieve cultural
completeness, but also as a way to domesticate sexuality, which does not have any kind
of taboo.4 Before marriage youngsters have sexual relations outdoors (savage) but after
marriage only within the communities (cultured).
Among Laymi, gender complementation is not only a human but also a divine
need. Their gods need life partners as well: besides the Inti, the God Sun that protects the
moral order, there is the Moon, which is feminine. Pachamama, the mother Earth, the
symbol of inhabited and cultivated land, is the partner of the kumpriras, the savage
mountain. In Laymi rituals female-male unity is related to the use of both hands: left for
women and right for men. Highlands are considered masculine and valleys are feminine.
4 This differs from notions of Latin American urban areas. Dussel (1975 cited in Poeschel 1988) explains
that the Latin-American male, descendant of Visigoths, Christians, and conquerors, sees erotic relations as
a conquest and seeks a position of dominance. As a result, as described by feminists, in the Latin American
concept of family the women is assumed to be an object, and conjugal sexuality is basically masculine and
dominating, which produces a family structure that tends to be oppressive to women.
As discussed later, this dualism is part of Quichua linguistic postulates and thus present
in most Quichua speakers (Hardman 1985; Carpenter 1982).
The examples of complementarity in gender relations show that there is a trend in
Andean traditional culture to practice gender relations in a horizontal social, economic,
and political perspective. There is a consistent tendency to assign women and men
different but complementary family and social responsibilities. The most important
feature from Andean gender relations is that no matter what kind of work either men or
women do, it is valued, counted and has a special place and recognition the family and
community, which confirms an equilibrium in gender relations.5
Gender Relations and Cultural Traditions
Equity and complementarity seem to be the predominant trend in gender relations
in the traditional people of the Andean area. An explanation of this trend could be the
shared culture of Andean people based on their linguistic roots. Quichua and Aymara, the
main languages these people speak or are familiar with, have in common some linguistic
postulates that explain the culture. Hardman (cited by Carpenter 1982: 100) states that
linguistic postulates are "those recurrent categorizations in the language which are most
directly and most tightly tied to the perceptions of the speakers, those elements which,
while language is imposed, are so well imposed that speakers consider them just naturally
part of the universe..." Among the postulates of Quichua and Aymara are bipartition,
duality, and humanness.
5 The gender equilibrium of non-western societies was also perceived in indigenous peoples in North
America, particularly the USA. According to Lucrecia Mott, pioneer in the feminist movement, the
subordination of women to men in the USA was promoted by the legal and religious perspectives that
practically turned wives into their husbands' slaves. But indigenous societies in this country did not
experience such discrimination against women (Wagner 2001). Wagner (2001) affirms that the
Haudenosaunee women (Iroquoians) enjoyed balanced gender environment, without domestic violence or
male oppression. For that reason, the first women's rights activists in the USA were inspired by Iroquoian
The linguistic postulate of duality, present in Quichua and Aymara, is a
representation of how the societies that speaks such languages acknowledge/construct life
as something that needs to be complemented. Harris (1978 cited in Dean 2001) discusses
the notion of chachawarmi among the contemporary Aymara-speaking Laymi of
Bolivia. Chacha means "man" or "husband," while warmi means "woman" or "wife,"
and she explains that this term operates to identify the pair bond as a single, distinct unit.
(Dean 2001: 176). Other expressions of dualism in Andean societies are in the
distribution of power between women and men, where social power corresponds to men
and the economic power to woman. Dualism is an important principle in the Andes,
reflected in society, geography, and gender relations. In all the representations of Andean
culture the concept of dualism is omnipresent and is manifested in the concepts of
yanantin and yanapaque, which refers to mirror imagery and symmetry. These applied to
gender relations represent an ideal complementary and equality in the couple6.
Another consequence of the linguistic postulates is the lack of gender related
articles in Quichua. There is no difference between masculine and feminine, which is
common in Indo-European languages. This linguistic feature is an indication of how a
society establishes differences based on gender. In all the Indo-European languages, for
example, it is linguistically correct to use the masculine to refer to both masculine and
feminine genders, but the opposite is not possible.
Although the cultural worldview of indigenous communities that allows equity and
complementarity in gender relations is strongly connected to cultural roots, it is subject to
distortions or even disappearance. This could occur especially due to the imposition of
6 To review the linguistic postulates in Andean languages see: Carpenter (1982), and Hardman (1985).
alien values by the dominant culture of Andean countries. As Hamilton (2001) explained
in the case of Chanchalo, this community was protected from unequal gender relation
values because of the lack of developmental projects in its area.
According Silvia Arrom (cited in Deere and Le6n 2002), the concept of the legal
inferiority of women in Latin America was implemented during colonial times, and
combined restriction and protection (Deere and Le6n 2002). Until only a few decades
ago, legal codes kept married women in a state of powerlessness, the same status
assigned to minors and the insane. The system of gender relations prescribed the
seclusion of women in the private sphere while men were assigned to the public, which
was a kind of work division: women were assigned to the household work, and males to
outside work. The first is characterized as being unpaid, invisible, and underestimated
while the latter is paid, visible and socially valued (Nufio G6mez 1999). But the
acculturation process is most visible in urban societies.
According to these views, it could be said that unequal gender relations are part of a
process of acculturation of traditional and indigenous communities through contact with
colonization by western society and more specifically through their contact with capitalist
relations of production (Babb 1980). Deere and Le6n (2002) confirm these ideas,
commenting that Andean gender relations were traditionally immersed in a dynamic of
complementarity. But these relations went through a transformation affected by the
expression of hierarchy, based on Christian principles.
Alderete (1992) asserts that women in the indigenous movement are aware of the
ideological distortions that colonization has caused. And they consider it necessary to
recover traditional culture in order to restore the power that women enjoyed in traditional
societies. Although multiple cases of inequality in gender relations have been reported in
Andean areas, Hardman (1979) explains that in some cases there is a distortion in the
analysis due to the theoretical frame used, which employs European patterns to
conceptualize social situations. Observers tend to utilize patterns, values, and prejudices
from their own cultural background societies, and as a result, what Andean women have
preserved from their own culture has been obscured by a foreign framework of analysis
or simply ignored (Hardman 1979).
Gender Relations in Mulauco: An Overview
Mulauco is an indigenous community, but the local culture is not entirely
traditional. During the field research carried out in this Comuna, I found what I could
call both equal and unequal gender relations. Although Mulauco's way of life has been
greatly affected by the proximity of urban areas, including Quito, which is about a one
hour and a half bus trip, it still shows strong accents of the indigenous background of its
population. Due to economic transformations in Ecuador, Mulauco's society has been
slowly absorbed into the mainstream society of this country in the last decade. The fact
that now practically all the families depend on earnings that come from outside the
community, explains how integrated this community is with the national society. This
reality also explains some mixed cultural features regarding gender relations in which is
possible to observe traces of traditional indigenous dualism / complementarity, and an
urban type of unequal gender relations.
As explained in Chapter 5, when Muluaco's economy was based on subsistence
agriculture, women and men equally controlled the household. Both women and men
were in the same decision-making level regarding the household's wealth and work
responsibilities though there was a specialization on some tasks. In an interview
conducted with a 76 year old woman, she relates that she was responsible for childcare,
food preparation, cleaning house, washing dishes, laundry, and other house chores. In
addition, she fed small animals, and took care of the family agriculture plot. Her
husband was responsible for activities like watering, plowing, cutting firewood, making
fences, caring for cattle, and house building and repairs.7 These strength-required tasks
were physically carried on outside the house, which could denote the traditional
separation of the private and public, the female / male realms.
Men also were in charge of allocating the family's agricultural production surplus,
which was traded in Pifo's weekly market, or sometimes bartered with neighboring
peasants for other agricultural products or even for work. Men controlled household
money but under the understanding that such money belonged to both wife and husband,
because women also worked to grow agricultural products. Here the elderly woman
explained that since the money belonged to both, the decision to spend it was taken also
by both, women and men.8
Once the subsistence economy was overridden, women lost control over the
household economy. Since men started to become involved in paid work, they began to
control income, and allocate it for family needs according to their criteria. The 76-year-
old women remembered that when the harvest was not enough to cover family's needs,
her husband had to find a paid job on the nearest hacienda. She could not control his
earnings because she did not participate in making the money.
7 Among the indigenous people's traditions is the building of the family's house according to traditional
8 This perception of sharing power over money or the economy at the household level by women and men
is maintained today by most of married women flower workers who said to me that they put together their
own earnings with the husbands' earnings and decided what to do with that money.
When the Mulauco's men were more involved in paid work, husbands used to give
women an amount of money every week for shopping for food. Although the
expenditures with this amount were the exclusive decision of women, this was so tied to
the household's needs that women in practice did not have any chance to make real
decisions over expenses. The continued devaluation of the Ecuadorian currency over the
last two decades, made the rural household acquisition power shrinks quickly. Women
had to manage to combine some household raised food products (mainly potatoes,
carrots, corn, and garden beans) with market obtained products (sugar, salt, rice, noodles,
bread, soap, oil etc.).
The loss of economic control over the household due to the decline and
disappearance of the subsistence economy is one of the aspects of gender relations that
women most lamented in Mulauco. All the women interviewed explained that the goal
of "having some money in hand" is very important for them, because with money one
could manage many situations, especially those related to health and food necessities,9
without waiting for their husbands' arrival home.
With the involvement of women in paid work, they manage their own money as
men do with their earnings. But in some cases it is customary to join the incomes of the
women and the men. They then decide what to do with the money. In other cases, there
are explicit agreements for deciding about certain kinds of expenses for women
(especially food, medicines, school supplies, etc.), and others for men (tools, home
improvement materials, utility bills, etc.). But expenses of great value are agreed upon
by both women, and men, especially for furniture, some appliances like stereos, TVs, and
9 Particularly painful for women is recalling situations when they had to control a high fever or even bone
fractures of their children at home because they did not have any cash to take a taxi or to buy medicines.
so on. In both cases it is possible to see an idea of sharing economic decision making
between women and men. This aspect of equality in gender relations reflects the
indigenous background of this community.
Another aspect of equal gender relations of equality in Mulauco is in decisions for
activities of long lasting consequence. For example, when building the family house or
improving/repairing it, men who are generally masons, work according the women's
suggestions regarding the arrangement of rooms, kitchen, windows, doors, etc.
Under the inheritance system, women and men are considered equally. They do
not make any distinctions among children, but in some cases women are more favored for
land inheritance.10 This happens when a daughter is a single mother and the parents
consider that she could be socially and/or economically weak.1 In this case, despite the
fact that parents could be upset because their daughter has a child without a stable or
legal relation with a man, they usually give a better portion of land to her. This is a way
to compensate the defenseless situation that the lack of a husband could imply for
Agricultural activities are still general in Mulauco where most of the families have
crops for family consumption. Raising a few animals like cows, goats, chicken, and
rabbits, is also frequent. In these activities, women and men take part equally, though
men are in charge of the most strenuous activities.
Childcare, health, education, feeding, and recreation have been and are women's
responsibility. Men could help in these tasks, but always upon women's request.
10 In this case it is important to consider that gender equality in inheritance is part of the Ecuadorian legal
system, so it cannot be assessed as an exclusive cultural feature of indigenous people and peasants. See
Ecuadorian Civil Code.
1 Of course, the wife's argument is decisive to decide a better part for a daughter.
Women sometimes manage these responsibilities, exercising different tasks at once. For
example, it is typical that children do school homework on a kitchen table, so the mother
could control and guide them while she is cooking. Even when women have some free
time, they try to combine it with home tasks. For example while watching TV, women
iron or arrange clothes. The workload increases when women work outside the home.
When women work, they spend the same 44 hours per week as men. But after paid work,
women have to keep working at home for about 4 hours everyday in their regular
Considering free time and recreational activities reveals a huge difference between
men and women. Activities like sports and chatting with friends seem to be a male
privilege. They spend several hours every weekend playing soccer or ecuavolley.12 This
activity is scheduled generally on Sunday afternoon. Men also have the "right" to have a
weekly beer drinking party with their workmates. It is common that after finishing work
on Friday, men go with friends to a tavern to drink beer or aguardientee." 13 Those
meetings usually last until midnight. In some cases when they get home they accuse or
fight with their wives over real or imagined conflicts, and occasionally physical violence
ensues. At the same time, women do not have an equivalent "right" to meet and enjoy
time with their friends. This aspect I interpret as an effect of the division of the
household's economy, and the men's understanding is that since they "alone" earn the
money in their work outside home, they should have some privileges. The number of
tasks assigned to women at home, and the male advantage of the use of free time are a
particular aspects of gender inequality in Mulauco. Sometimes men decide to perform a
12 It is a variant of volleyball, played by three players in each team. This sport is very popular in
Ecuadorian rural areas and poor urban areas.
13 Alcoholic drink made of sugar cane.
house project like house repairing or improving, carpentry and so on. Those projects are
done on weekends, and although they take most of the day, do not equal women's daily
effort in home tasks.
A related situation about the use of time reveals that men can decide the use of their
free time in "recreational activities" but women cannot, because they have so many
responsibilities that it is physically impossible for them to have free time. In addition,
some men get mad if their wives ask them to collaborate in house chores instead of going
to play soccer or ecuavolley.
Contrasting women's disadvantaged situation at home that has sharply increased
since the disruption of the subsistence economy, they are better positioned in the social
sphere. Women are decisive in social events like mingas, comuna festivities, school
meetings, and other public gatherings. Moreover, women can hold leading positions at
the Comuna. The current president of the Parents Committee ofMulauco's School, is a
woman,14 and the Vice-president of the Comuna Mulauco15 for the period 2002 2004, is
also a woman. As shown before in this chapter, this is a traditional role of women in
Andean rural communities.
Traditionally, women and men participated together in family and communal
celebrations. Generally women are responsible for the preparation of food, which usually
take several hours. Men are responsible for arranging decorations and beverages.
Sometimes men arrange the traditional "palo de naranja"16 (orange stake), for the
enjoyment of the children.
14 Dofia Ines Haro, Presidenta del Comit6 de Padres de Familia de la Escuela Mulauco.
15 Dofia Cristina Yanacolla, Vicepresidenta de la Comuna Mulauco period 2002 2004.
16 A standing pole with gifts organized on the top. To get the gifts children must climb the pole, which is
usually oily to make difficult get the gifts.
This description of female / male gender relations revels the socioeconomic
changes that Mulauco underwent in the last two decades. From complementary gender
relations while there was a subsistence economy, there has been a change toward a
mixture of equity and inequity in gender relations. The explanation as to why people of
Mulauco now mix aspects of equity and inequity in gender relations might be found in
the increasing assimilation into urban realities and the national economy.
GLOBALIZATION AND NTAES: THE CASE OF THE FLOWER
INDUSTRY IN ECUADOR
As explained in Chapter 2, peasant women traditionally have had a major role in
subsistence agriculture in Ecuador and other countries, which was severely affected by
the change of economic paradigms that occurred over the last two decades. While
subsistence agriculture was fading during the early 80s, another economic activity was
emerging, favored by the same conditions that determined the disruption of domestic
In this chapter I will explain the economic and political conditions that provoked
the emergence of the NTAEs, which has produced changes in women's activities and in
households. Stressing the analysis in Ecuador, I will describe the measures framed in the
globalization and neoliberal processes that have promoted the emergence of flower
agribusiness, the main NTAEs in Ecuador. I will also describe the potential threats that
could determine the decline of this industry as a leading source of national earnings.
Finally I will discuss the link between women and flower agribusiness, which is part of
the international trend of the gender oriented workforce of NTAEs.
The importance of the analysis about the loss of the peasant subsistence economy,
the emergence of NTAEs, and women's involvement in this new trend in agrarian
production is to show how peasant women are deprived of one of their realms of
Economic Crisis and the Emergence of the Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports,
Globalization, which could be defined as "the rapid and massive movement of
capital, goods, people, ideas, institutions and images across the globe" (Fakir 2001), and
neo-liberalism have close ties in the sense that both economic processes are congruent in
their goals of free markets without government "interference", freedom of trade in goods
and services, freer circulation of capital, and freer ability to invest (Robbins 1999).
These two processes are reshaping Latin America's economies.
The failure of the import substitution paradigm and the debt crisis that has affected
the Latin American countries since the 1980's were two of the main factors that provoked
an array of economic measures taken by these countries. In addition, politically the
world was experiencing a big change during these years. From the Keynesian ideas of
active government participation in the market economy, which were commonly followed
by most of the governments in the non-communist system, there was a shift to the neo-
liberalism that has dominated thinking since the 1980's.
The most important proponent of neoliberalism, and also the controller of the debt
process, was the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF imposed certain
conditions on indebted countries. To keep a status of loan eligibility, these countries
have had to follow the so-called "structural adjustments" measures. These measures
were basically the following: unilateral opening to foreign trade, extensive privatization
of state enterprises, deregulation of goods, services, and labor markets, liberalization of
capital markets, reduction of public outlays, downscaling state-supported social
programs, and the end of "industrial policy" and any other form of state capitalism
(Portes 1997: 358, Deere and Leon, 2002: 6).
The main objective of the neo-liberal prescriptions was to achieve free trade in all
the countries of Latin America.1 Latin America should open up their trade limitations to
allow more imports in, and export more of their commodities such as raw materials, and
labor-intensive products. Trying to reverse the economic crisis, governments encouraged
foreign investment in an effort to help make the region's economies more efficient and
globally competitive (Purcell 1999). As a result the Latin American countries tended to
orient their economies toward businesses in which they could use their comparative
advantages, such as activities related to the use of renewable natural resources, which
were strongly promoted (CEPAL 2002). An additional aspect of the policies designed
to reverse economic problems generated by the crisis, was the encouragement of foreign
investment (Purcell 1999). Through foreign investments, governments tried to make the
region's economies more efficient and globally competitive.
Instead of improving the industrialization process in which most of the countries
were embarked until the 80s, the rationale of the process was to provoke the
modernization of the economic areas that are needed for international trade, such as
manufacture, agriculture, and other labor-intensive activities. Among the economic
developments that fulfilled both the conditions of the "structural adjustments" promoted
by IMF, and the socio-economic conditions of the region, were capital-intensive
agricultural activities, known as "non-traditional agricultural exports", NTAEs (Thrupp et
al, 1995). These activities, which were backed by World Bank and the U.S. Agency for
International Development, fit very well with both IMF impositions, and local socio-
economic conditions. NTAEs allowed the flow of foreign investments, and concurred
1 But the process of neoliberalism is not restricted to Latin America; it is also sought for the rest of the
countries of the world.
with the Latin American governments' interest in shifting national economies toward
businesses in which they could use their comparative advantages: abundant natural
resources and manual labor, low wages, and low operational costs (CEPAL 2002).
As a result of trade liberalization, which is the main purpose of structural
adjustments, traditional agriculture was severely affected. Traditional agriculture, the
activity in which peasants were mostly involved in Latin America before the 80s, was
exposed to global markets by an intensified export thrust and an inundation of imports
from countries that often provide generous agricultural subsidies to farming sectors. This
trend provoked an asymmetrical competition among agriculture goods produced by non-
developed and developed countries, the latter being benefited by the exchange. Due to
subsidies still applied in many cases, processed and non-processed agriculture products
from rich countries were less expensive than those from poor countries. In addition, the
costs of transport, seeds, pesticides, nutrients, and other imported products used in
agriculture by peasants were increased due to devaluation of national currencies and new
terms of international trade. The consequence of this situation is that peasants of poor
countries could not pay these costs, and thus, they were displaced from their habitual
agriculture activities. This tendency explains why peasants have had to move from
subsistence agriculture to waged work, usually in industrial agricultural plantations, and
even to sell their lands for these activities.
Another purpose of trade liberalization was the deregulation / liberalization of labor
and capital markets. To allow the flow of capital as foreign investment, countries were
prompted to reduce or even eliminate some labor benefits traditionally scheduled for
workers such as work security, fixed wages and work time, etc. Controlling these factors,
international capital could move from country to country in search of the lowest wage
rates, and minimal labor benefits. This circumstance of trade liberalization was a direct
negative impact of globalization on workers, who were subjected to disadvantageous
working conditions (Carr and Chen 2001).
As a result, the direct effect of the structural adjustments was a change in the Latin
American industry. Capital goods, technology, design, and other manufactured goods lost
importance, and the production of commodities (especially by maquiladora industries),
and the processing of natural resources gained importance (Katz 2000). Despite the fact
that authors like Sunkel (2001) think that in the era of globalization "the primary sectors -
agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining-are losing importance, while the secondary
sectors industry- and the tertiary sectors services- expand more than proportionally
and become increasingly important", in Latin America a "re-primarization" of the
economy is happening (Lysiak 2002). This means that natural resources are still playing
an important role in the economy of these countries. The premise of the new trend for
Latin America is to use its comparative advantages: natural resources and a low-cost and
abundant labor force. A study done by CEPAL in nine Latin American Countries,
including Mexico, Brazil and Chile, the main economies of the region, concluded that the
volume of primary products exported between 1985 and 1995 tripled, and except for
Mexico, all these countries were shifting to an intensive specialization on natural
resource exploitation. (Schaper 1999)
Chile, one of the most successful countries in Latin America in applying the neo-
liberal agenda and competing in the global economy, exemplifies the conversion of the
region's economy. "Two decades of trade liberalization and economic reform have
helped fuel Chile's enviable growth rate and contributed to lower inflation. The Chilean
economy has grown by 6% a year since 1990. However, the World Trade Organization
notes that despite diversification Chile's trade balance remains heavily dependent on
copper exports. Primary goods, including copper, fruit, wine, forest and fish products,
represent 85% of exports. Only about 10% of Chile's exports are manufactured, mainly
from natural resources. In addition, a dualism has appeared in Chilean agriculture
between the efficient fruit and forestry export sectors and less competitive domestic
production" (Rojas 2002).
Because of this new trend toward economic specialization an increasing number of
natural resource related projects are appearing or resuming in the region. Among these
projects are: flower agribusinesses, palm oil monoculture and the mining industry in
Ecuador, flower agribusiness in Colombia, timber extraction and conversion of natural
forests in Bolivia and Chile, among others. In all these cases, the imperative is to extract
greater quantities of natural resources such as water, food, wood, minerals, and energy
from increasingly larger areas and wider territories, both national and international.
(Sunkel 2001). Through these agriculture projects that seek to intensify the national
export thrust, countries have tried to gain a place in the global markets.
By returning to the primary sector, some national economies are covering trade
niches that allow them important earnings. Flowers, shrimp, palm oil, fruits, and other
non-traditional primary products are among the first source of national earnings in most
of the Latin American countries. The new policies lead to new economic activities based
on the intensive use of natural resources, which are known as non-traditional agricultural
exports, NTAEs (Katz 2000).
These activities, spawned in the last two decades, took advantage of low land prices
in economically depressed areas, abundant and cheaper non-qualified labor, and
sometimes, governmental benefits aimed at reactivating national economies.
Given that the benefits established to attract foreign investment meant a decrease of
worker's salaries, it also implied/provoked/made necessary a change in labor force
reproduction, which shifted from the state to the household, and within the households
from men to women (Deere and Leon, 2002:5). Since the new economic paradigm that
structural adjustment promoted looked for cost optimization in all production steps, it
was necessary to incorporate non-qualified labor to do some tedious and time consuming
tasks needed in the NTAEs. Women became the first choice for these activities.
Flower Agribusiness: The Most Successful NTAE in Ecuador
As discussed before, the economic trend promoted by neoliberal policies favored
the development of productive activities related to products easily marketable at
international markets, and based in agriculture modernization, which is known as
NTAEs. Flower agribusiness is one of the more successful examples of non-traditional
agricultural exports. Initiated in the late 1970's, it has become one of the most important
export activities of the Andean countries, due to favorable climatic conditions and long
sunlight exposure. In contrast to the poor results of most of the traditional economic
activities in these countries, flower agribusiness has emerged as a leading source of
national earnings and as an important source of employment.
In Ecuador, flower agribusinesses are principally located in the Andean region
where flower plantations found inexpensive land and abundant non-qualified labor
(Herrera 1999). The Andean rural areas have a traditional economy with very few cash
generating activities, and flower agribusiness represented the most accessible and
attractive economic alternative available locally, especially for women (Table 1). Before
the flower plantations arrived to the Andean region, the people in this area worked in
subsistence agriculture and had weak economic exchanges with the national society
Flower agribusiness ranks as the third most important non-traditional export
product in Ecuador (Palan and Palan 1999). Between 1990 and 1993, this NTAE grew by
154% (Noel 1998:22), and the country now ranks as the fourth world exporter of flowers,
after the Netherlands, Colombia, and Kenya. In 2003, flower exports of Ecuador were
worth US$ 309 millions (see Table 1)
Table 1. Flowers at a glance in Ecuador
Workers Area Exports
Years Females Males (acres) (US $)
1997 15,230 10,153 N/A N/A
1998 21,248 14,168 6,666 160,951,000
1999 21,469 14,313 6,923 179,857,000
2000 21,698 14,466 7,350 193,848,000
2001 21,915 14,610 7,923 233,038,000
2002 21,915 14,610 8,054 289,343,000
2003 N/A N/A 8,538 309,597,000
Source: Expoflores 2003, Regiones de Mayor Crecimiento.
In addition to the environmental and social benefits that Ecuador provides for
flower agribusiness-great sun exposure and low work wages-there are also some
economic benefits resulting from measures of international and national policies that
helped the blooming of NTAEs. The most important of these measures is the Andean
Trade Preference Act (ATPA) enacted by the US government and aimed to provide duty-
free treatment for all products imported from Andean countries, except for textiles,
footwear, petroleum and petroleum products, certain leather products, watches and watch
parts, canned tuna, rum, sugar, syrups and molasses. Flowers and other NTAEs, were
among the products that obtained the benefit of free access to the US market. Signed into
law on December 4, 1991, the ATPA (19 U.S.C. 3201) provided tariff benefits to
Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia and was scheduled to expire on December 4,
2001.2 This decision has enabled Ecuador's flower trade to take off in the world market
(Holt 2000), and has enabled the Ecuadorian flower industry to allocate about 70% of its
production to the US market (Mena Pozo 1999).
The easy commercialization of flowers in the US market as a consequence of the
ATPA, allows this industry a short time of investment return. Mena Pozo (1999) states
that investors are encouraged to invest in flowers due to the average of 3 years in which
they could get back all their investments.3 Favorable measures for NTAEs were arranged
in the Ecuadorian realm also. Among these measures is the so-called "tercerizaci6n,
which was a regulation that allowed NTAEs to temporarily contract workers on their
plantations, without offering_social security and other standard benefits scheduled for
workers in Ecuador. This policy permitted greater control over salaries by flower
agribusiness, which was important to keep competitive prices of the product in
A final advantage for NTAEs in Ecuador, particularly the flower agribusiness, was
the favorable conversion between the currency used to pay services and the one obtained
from trading the product. At the time of the rise of flower agribusiness, during the 1980s
and 1990s, the exchange rate fluctuated from 60 sucres4 in 1984 to 25,000 sucres in 2000.
2 The renewal of the ATPA with regard to flowers was resolved in 2002. This decision will need to be
made again in 2005 (Anderson 2003).
3 Korovkin (2002) says "in 1983 the initial investment per one hectare of roses in Ecuador was $300,000 as
compared to $1,300,000 in the US and the Netherlands, and $600,000 in Israel (Korovkin 2002: 5).
4 Sucre was the currency of Ecuador since its republican inception in 1830 until 2000 when this country
officially adopted the US dollar as national currency.
This unbalanced conversion was extremely favorable to flower agribusiness men who
paid worker salaries, utilities, and other services in inexpensive sucres, but obtained high
valued dollars from exporting their product. But this advantage was turned into a
disadvantage when Ecuador decided to use dollars in national business contexts.
The advantages that flower agribusiness enjoyed fueled a great development of this
industry in Ecuador, which is now one of the four major world flower producers. But
despite the economic boom of flower agribusiness, it is a very sensitive industry and has
to face some drawbacks that could threaten its entire economic structure.
The most critical threat that the flower industry must face is the end of the trade
preferences under the ATPA, which could produce a contraction of the US market for the
Ecuadorian roses that comprise 70% of total production. In the round of negotiations
toward the free trade agreement that Ecuador has been discussing with the United States
during 2004, some flower agribusinesses have raised concerns regarding the economic
sustainability of the flower industry. The main issue that could constrain flower
production is the expiration of the duty-free status in the United States on products
imported from Ecuador and other Andean countries, which was scheduled for December
2001, but delayed due to a renewal approved in 2002. This renewal will last until 2005.5
If the duty-free status expires, it could result in disadvantageous trade conditions, not
only for flowers but also for a whole range of commodities exported by Ecuador to the
United States, including bananas, oil, minerals, and coffee. These concerns arose during
the fourth round of negotiations toward the Free Trade Agreement between the United
States and the Andean countries held in Puerto Rico during the second week of
5 The consensus to obtain a renewal of the ATPA in the US Congress was hard to reach due to debates on
the damages caused by no tariff in local flower industry.
September 2004. A possible imposition of taxes for flower imports could signify the loss
or severe contraction of the US market by the Ecuadorian flower industry. Requests
from US flower producers to protect national production are also likely to determine an
end to tariffs benefits that favor flowers from Andean countries.6
Anther problem that the Ecuadorian flower industry has to face is the use of
pesticides. Pesticides are used to maintain the aesthetic quality of the flowers. This use
is an increasing economic burden for flowers producer who have to pay high import costs
for the pesticides they use (HOY 2004). But on the other hand, concerns have also
appeared due to the high levels of pesticide residue on the petals of roses, which
according to the US Environmental Working Group is fifty times greater than that
allowed on food imports. Ecuadorian rose producers use on average 6 fungicides, 4
insecticides, 3 nematicides, and several herbicides (Holt 2000). Moreover, an
Ecuadorian environmental group has accused flower industry of using banned pesticides
(Alerta Verde 2000). If concerns about misuse of pesticides in Ecuadorian flowers
increase, this industry could face an embargo in the US and other main markets.
Another problem that threatens the flower industry is the high cost of transport of
flowers from Ecuador to the international markets. According to flower agribusiness
representatives, the Ecuadorian flower industry pays an average of 30% more in air
transportation to US and Europe, than Colombia (Palan and Palan 1999, and HOY 2004).
6 Section 204(d) of the Andean Trade Preference Act determines that the the US President is granted power
to suspend duty-free treatment to any articles if there is adverse affect due to the increased competition. In
addition, US producers of perishable products may also appeal to the United States International Trade
Commission for emergency relief if they are being negatively impacted by the added imports (See
7 Embargos to products imported by US due to environmental or food security concerns are a potential
measure. Chilean grapes were embargoed in 1989, banning such fruit in US markets. Chile lost about
US$400 million due to this embargo. (See Engel Nd)
These transportation costs erode the competitiveness of Ecuadorian flower industry, and
reduce its earnings.
A final problem of the Ecuadorian flower industry is related to the one that a few
years ago was supposed to be one of its major benefits: the currencies used in trade and
payment of services. As explained, when Ecuador used the sucre as national currency,
flower producers were greatly benefited by the favorable exchange rate between the US
dollars received from international markets and the Ecuadorian sucres used to pay
salaries and local services. But now that Ecuador uses US dollars as national currency,
the cost of labor, utilities, and other services are higher in comparison with other flower
producing countries. In addition, countries like Colombia, where there is control of
local currency, use devaluations as a policy to control prices, including salaries, which
become flexible enough to allow local industry to florish. Since Ecuador does not control
local currency, it cannot use devaluations to balance the internal economy and allow local
industry better terms of trade.
All the problems explained above pose a risk to the economic sustainability of the
Ecuadorian flower industry. These problems could work together or separately and
create instability to this industry, which like other boom like activities, could decline and
lose economic importance. If this situation occurs, the illusion of stable jobs for thousand
of women would end.
The NTAEs and Peasant Women Households
Structural adjustments provoked by neoliberal policies have affected peasant
households from Ecuador and all over Latin America. As analyzed in Chapter 2, peasant
households have had a well-established subsistence production system in which women
have played a determinant role. Deere (forthcoming) explains that this system was
diminished by a combination of economic crises and unfavorable policies for domestic
agriculture under neoliberalism. As a result, peasant households could no longer sustain
themselves on the basis of agricultural production alone.
At the same time that unfavorable policies for domestic agriculture were enacted,
national governments established favorable conditions for industrial agriculture
(NTAEs). This concomitant process at the time that it sank the peasant household source
of income, conveniently provided an economic alternative to rural people through
NTAEs. Having no chance to continue playing a role in the subsistence agriculture
system, as a natural process, women were attracted by the emergent NTAEs.
Thus, the impact of neoliberal policies on peasant households was double. First,
the household was deprived of its subsistence economy; and second, income of the men
of the household shrank as an effect of the crisis. This meant that to offset the
household's income losses, women had to work outside the home. This is part of what
Deere (forthcoming) calls "the transference of reproduction costs," which were
transferred "from the state to households, and often to the women within them both
because of their primary responsibility for domestic labor and because the crisis has
required their growing participation in the labor force".
This process of dismantling subsistence economies was associated with the
restructuring of the international economy in which women's employment has been as
the "reserve labor army, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing goods such as
electronics, garments, and sportswear" (UN 1999 and Pearson 2000). The new areas of
development that require female work were those resulting from the structural adjustment
programs ordered by the IMF, like the so-called maquiladoras and NTAEs.
The predominant fact in this economic scenario is that women are preferred for
working in these new production areas, and the evidence is that women are still largely
confined to lower paid occupations (Pearson 2000). Indeed, a feature of contemporary
globalization is the trend towards the flexibility of labor, including part-time, casual, and
informal sector jobs (including home-based work). Women are over-represented in all
these sectors (UN 1999). The lower wages offered by the new economic development, is
part of the strategy of maintaining competitiveness in international markets. To achieve
such competitiveness, these economic activities must take advantage of all the
environmental, legislative, social, or gender issues that can be translated into less
production costs. The imperative to reduce production costs has even opened the way for
child labor. In a report of the International Labour Organization's International Program
to Eradicate Children Work (IPEC), the use of boys and girls in two of the main flower
producing provinces in Ecuador could increase to 80% of adult workers (Castelnuovo
1999:20). This work is hidden in the category of "helpers".
Thus the incorporation of women into the labor market is a strategy to take
advantage of the vulnerability of a social group that has few job options and must accept
the poor economic and social conditions of their employment. This incorporation of
women in capitalist work relations is a kind of proletarization, the consequence of which
is the growing dependence of nuclear households on wages. Deere (1978) notes that this
process is the conversion of the household from a unit of direct production to one of
As in other export activities promoted by trade liberalization measures, it is a
debated issue whether NTAE jobs have empowered women. For organizations
promoting free trade liberalization and NTAEs, like USAID, which showed that women
employed in agribusiness not only controlled their own earnings but also, due to their
status of 'income earner', they had "raised their self-esteem and increased their
household influence." (USAID 1999). However, as Carr and Chen (2001) point out,
"research elsewhere has highlighted the fact that, because the work on NTAEs is
seasonal, there is no sustained increase in women's status."
The Gender-Oriented Work Force in the Restructuring of International Industry
The NTAE work opportunities for women are a milestone in the relation between
development and women. As has been widely reported, for different reasons historically
there was a reluctance to offer paid work to women. Boserup (1970:114) reports that
laws banning overtime work for women, providing pregnancy and maternity benefits, and
other direct or indirect for women, and even social prejudices against female labor have
keep them away from employment opportunities in low income countries. This could be
part of the unconscious trend to considerate traditional activities at home as a women's
realm and capitalist waged (modern) work, as male's realm.
Contrary to such a capitalist trend, NTAEs appeared in the last two decades that not
only are willing to provide employment to women, but also appear to be based on
women. In Ecuador and elsewhere, women are the main source of workers for the
NTAEs. This tendency has not been yet explained, and in some way could be
constructed as a mechanism to make economically visible to women. Other explanations
for the preference for women workers could rely on biological-psychological, moral-
ideological, and economic considerations.
The patience and manual skills attributed to women are among the features that
move flower agribusiness in Ecuador to target principally young women when hiring.
Women in this country are most likely to be enlisted as workers in virtually all flower
production processes (Palan 1999). The preference for female labor in production work
in Ecuador is explained by the idea that flower care is similar to child care, where women
assume the responsibility for the entire process of growth, up to harvesting and packaging
(Palan 1999:14). Mexican flower producers sustain the same idea. Razavi (2002)
transcribed the comment of a female flower manager who stated "plants are like children
and must be cared for in order to grow into beautiful plants" (Razavi 2002: 94)
Referring to the Mexican experience, Lara Flores (1995) explains that flower
agribusiness managers prefer women because they are more flexible, and they easily
accept organizational changes and increased work times, which is important for some
rush periods like Valentines and Mother's Day. In addition, flower agribusiness prefers
young women workers because they are flexible enough to rotate into different tasks and
even different plantations (Lara Flores 1995: 29).
Another explanation why women are preferred for work in some sectors of the new
work scenario in Latin America is the idea that women are more responsible. Analyzing
women's situation in the "maquiladoras" industry in Mexico, Iglesias Prieto (1999)
explains that there exists an ideologically constructed perception of the essential nature of
women, which implies their putative inferiority as intellectual and political actors. This
supposition underlies women's vocation for and justifies their employment in tedious and
repetitive labor (Iglesias Prieto 1999: 29). An Ecuadorian flower agribusiness manager
summarized this prejudice saying that "las mujeres son mds detallistas" (women are
more detail oriented) to justify why they are preferred at his plantation. Women's
responsibility, delicateness, docility, confidence, and submission, which in the words of
flower businessmen translated into high levels of productivity, are "feminine qualities"
that are an advantage in comparison with male workers (Mena Pozo 1999: 83). These
supposed female traits have been used to justify women's indispensability in some phases
of flower production. Noel (1998) relates that efforts towards mechanization have been
unsuccessful in Ecuadorian flower plantations due to the delicate nature of the product
which requires more sensitive handling than machines have been able to provide (Noel
The extremely fragility of flowers and the specific standards of the flower market
force the flower agribusinesses to maintain a work team flexible enough to perform
repetitive and tedious tasks. For example, once harvested, a flower cannot remain in
storage more than 24 hours before being shipped to the international markets. If that
happens the product must be discarded. During such time, flower's quality features
(color, size, freshness, etc.) must be checked one by one, and workers must be willing
and able to deal with such tiresome tasks. Women workers carry out these activities in
physical isolation and rarely interact with other workers for hours at a time. Mena Pozo
(1999) claims that such tasks are given exclusively to women workers due to their
agricultural experience and lower level of education (Mena Pozo 1999: 45).
But the "indispensability" of women for some flower production phases can be
unmasked by the fact, as explained by Mena Pozo (1999), that in some flower plantations
with advanced technologies, where workers have better labor guarantees and salaries, the
presence of female workers is not as preponderant as on other plantations (Mena Pozo
1999: 85). That means that flower agribusinesses use positive and negative gender biases
to justify both the contracting preference for women and their lower salaries. Some
authors think that the incorporation of women into capitalist relations of production is not
due to women's' particular innate skills, but to gain access to inexpensive labor (Beneria
and Sen 1997, Deere forthcoming). Under the assumption that women do not have wage
work alternatives, factories and other businesses hire women at low wages (White 2000).
The lack of (capitalist) labor experience is also a justification for paying women below
the regular wages for the same tasks men perform (Lara Flores 1995: 29). Eraydin and
Erendil (1999) explain that the volatile conditions of globalized markets have forced
producers to seek flexibility to adapt to such conditions. Due to both the bias for women
and their unlikely chances of finding other work, they are more likely to accept such
flexibility, which means insecure, unhealthy, and lower paid work. The disadvantageous
position of women is part of the structure of the labor market itself.
According to this perspective, the labor market is divided between a primary sector,
required to meet the technological needs of producers, and a secondary labor market
consisting of other workers whose particular skills are expendable and who must,
therefore, accept lower wages and insecure conditions. Women are generally confined to
the latter (Eraydin and Erendil 1999: 260.) Deere (forthcoming) explains this aspect as a
tendency to reserve permanent jobs for men, and to concentrate women in temporary
jobs, which is a continuation of the gendered ideology that has pervaded modernization
and development paradigms.
Since women are likely to accept lower wages, insecure and unstable work
conditions, and still perform the assigned tasks well, there is a preference for economic
activities linked with the production of export goods. To have workers that accept such
poor work conditions is an economic need to keep factories' profitability at a level that
allows them to be competitive in the international markets. In conclusion, prejudices
against women are used in the globalization era to keep international business afloat.
THE WORK OF PEASANT WOMEN IN FLOWER AGRIBUSINESS: THE CASE OF
THE COMMUNITY OF MULAUCO IN THE ECUADORIAN ANDES
Thus far in this thesis the economic, political, and social conditions that have
provoked the involvement of rural women in paid work, particularly in the so-called
NTAEs, have been examined. Before analyzing the determinant conditions that drove
women from Mulauco to work in the NTAE-flower industry, I will show some Latin
American experiences of female participation in these types of industry.
Additionally, in this chapter I will analyze the disruption of the traditional
household economy in the Mulauco community. This dynamic process will be helpful in
the understanding of the involvement of women in flower work since the early 1990s. In
the last part of this chapter I will review the changes that the life of the peasant women
has experienced due to flower work. This section is based on field-research done in the
Comuna Mulauco. As was explained in Chapter 1, this field research was conducted
using semi-structured and non-structured interviews, which were carried out with 20
people that include current and former women flower workers, some relatives of these
women, and flower agribusiness managers.
The NTAEs and Female Work: Experiences from Latin America
In the last two decades, numerous case studies have been published on the impacts
on rural women in Latin America of paid work in Non Traditional Agriculture Exports
(NTAEs). These analyses, which describe the positive and negative impacts of wage
labor on rural women, are relevant to the situation of women from Mulauco, a
community in Ecuador, who work in the flower industry. The studies summarized below
by way of introduction, were carried out in Chile, Colombia and Mexico.
Four case studies exist on the experience of Chilean peasant women in NTAES. Of
these, two conclude that the integration of rural women in the labor market is completely
positive. The workers were employed in fruit production. They have positive feelings
about their transformation into wage laborers, a role that has allowed them to discover a
new dimension of social life through regular interaction with other women with whom
they share experiences, something they had not been able to do as easily prior to joining
the work force (Lago Campafia 1984 and Lago Olavarria 1986, cited in Herrera 1999).
But in the other two cases, wage labor has had either no effect or a negative effect on
women's situation. Bee and Vogel (1997, cited in Dolan and Sorby 2003) found that
despite the increasing participation of women in the fruit industry, traditional household
gender relations remained largely intact. In another study in the same industry, Aranda
(1982, cited in Herrera) reports that women do not feel quite right working outside the
home because the long workdays exhaust them and produce social exclusion and social
under-valuation (Herrera 1999).
Silva and Medrano (cited in Herrera 1999) studied Colombian women who work in
the flower industry. According to the researchers, women's participation is seen as a
"mal necesario" (necessary evil). While women appreciate the income they earn, they
know that by becoming wageworkers, they also experience disadvantages in society at
large and in the family.
Because of the Mexico's long experience with industrialization in rural areas,
peasants have had more contact with different levels of paid work. Roldan (1982, cited by
Herrera) indicates that female proletarization cannot be understood only in terms of the
labor / capital relation, but also in terms of other hierarchical relations that influence
women's integration into the labor force. These relations that include gender, ethnicity
and race, help us to understand gender roles in the local and national contexts (Roldan
1982, cited by Herrera). In addition, the effects on rural women are different depending
on whether they are married or single. For married women, working as a wage laborer
implies a responsibility added to their domestic tasks, thus doubling their workload. This
means not only physical but also social displacement because of the pressures that
women feel to do their tasks well and on time (Roldan 1982, cited by Herrera).
The cases transcribed eloquently exemplify how complex the participation of rural
women in the capitalist workforce is. In the following sections I will describe the
experience of such work participation in the community of Mulauco.
Household and Subsistence Economy Disruption in Mulauco
The household in Mulauco has experienced a sudden transformation in the last two
decades. As in all Ecuadorian rural areas, households from Mulauco have relied on
subsistence agriculture, which was the predominant system until 1980. Although men
were, and still are, the household heads,1 women's agency was important for the
maintenance of the subsistence system. Under their responsibility were some aspects of
agricultural activities, which included feeding animals, cropping, harvesting, milking,
etc.2 Before the trend of working outside the community, some men were linked to the
1 In some cases women are the heads of households. This happens when men are gone due to divorce or
long absences for work in other regions of the country, especially in the Amazon area and Coast.
2 Interview with Maria's mother.
neighboring hacienda,3 where they spent most of the day. The rest of the men performed
subsistence agriculture in their own land.
The economic transformations that started in the early 1980s, and affected
substantially the subsistence agriculture systems in all Latin American countries, forced
men and women from Mulauco to leave the community. As in most of the cases of
indigenous people, Mulauco's subsistence economy could not survive the effects of the
structural adjustments ordered by the IMF and implemented by the national government.
As explained in Chapter 4, the traditional economy was undermined, and peasants had to
face new economic relations, new social paradigms, and new forms of maintaining the
household. Although subsistence agriculture remained as important household's activity,
it could not meet all the family's needs. In this new scenario, women were the most
affected. The transition from subsistence economy to a dependent economy affected
women in many ways. First, they were left alone with the remaining family agriculture
activities4 while men had to work outside home. Second, women were responsible for all
the reproductive needs of the family. And third, they eventually also had to leave home to
find paid work. Remnants of subsistence agriculture are still performed in Mulauco,
where families use their small parcels5 for crops of corn, beans, potatoes, lettuce, and
carrots. Some animals also are frequently in the comuna's households, such us pigs,
goats, sheep, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and chickens.
3 Mulauco was the name of the Hacienda, which disappeared after 1964, when an agrarian reform was
promoted by the Ecuadorian state. As a result, part of the Hacienda Mulauco was distributed among the
huasipungueros, who created the Comuna Mulauco. The rest of the hacienda remained in the hands of its
owner's successors, who live from Quito. (Chapter 1).
4 Although agriculture lost its value as main household livelihood, rural families maintained this activity for
producing some vegetables and breed some minor animals.
5 Family parcels in Mulauco vary from about 16,140 sq. feet (1,500 m.) per family. These lands are
becoming smaller due to continuing subdivisions among children.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, men started to work outside of the community
as peones orjornaleros (day laborer) in surrounding towns including Quito. In the
beginning of their waged work experience, men from Mulauco targeted the building
industry for work,6 but they also worked as caretakers, gardeners, and so on. Working in
flower plantations was another important occupation for men in Mulauco. Preparation of
greenhouses, pesticide application, loading and unloading products, were their main
tasks. Some men even decided to work in the coastal and Amazonian regions of Ecuador
in banana production and the oil industry, respectively.
By the mid 1980s, some women started to work outside the home, generally as
housekeepers in urban houses in Tumbaco, Cumbaya and Quito, and by the late 1980s,
all the households heads were involved in work outside the community and many women
were also working as housekeepers in nearby towns. Women working as housekeepers
could have more stability than some men who worked in construction activities, but the
pay was lower.
The mass involvement in flower work in Mulauco began in the 1990s, when the
boom of flower plantations occurred in Ecuador.7 At the time of the expansion of flower
agribusiness in the early 1990s, Mulauco's households were completely dependent on the
external economy, which was in a very unstable situation due to currency devaluations
and increase of the cost of mass consumption products. In this scenario, Ecuadorian
national household income was in a critical situation. Reports of the crisis in Ecuador
(and elsewhere in Latin America) during the 1980s and 1990s reflected the very difficult
6 Customarily this job is performed weekly and at non-dependant labor relation status. Contractors offer
jobs on Monday and they finish on Fridays. This kind of workers whom are called Jornaleros, could
change job every week, depending how much other contractors are paying for a given week.
7 As explained in Chapter 4, the boom of flower activity was generated due to governmental incentives and
the US government Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) signed into law on December 1991.
situation of peasants. Indeed, many peasants could not cope with the crisis, which
eventually provoked a massive national and international migration to cities and foreign
countries, especially to Spain.8
The difficult socioeconomic situation described for Mulauco, was generalized in all
Ecuadorian rural areas during the 1980s and 1990s. This situation ensured for flower
agribusiness and other NTAEs an eager and abundant workforce disposed to work at
virtually any price. Of this workforce, women were the less likely group to find jobs, so
any chance of a job offered to them was very welcome.
Leaving Home to Ensure Subsistence: Women's Decision to Work on Flower
As Pearson (2000) explains for the Latin American situation, the impoverishment
in rural areas has meant that women as well as men have had to develop a portfolio of
income-earning activities, including petty trade, services and artisan production, to meet
the increasing cost of household survival, a task made all the more difficult by the global
trend towards user charges on basic social services, including education and health care.
In Mulauco, the increasing cost of household survival was also the detonator that pushed
men to go to urban areas to find job opportunities in the early 1980s. There, they worked
principally as masons. Few men remained in Mulauco working on the few haciendas still
active in the area, where they took care of crops, animals, and other related activities.
With few exceptions,9 women were confined at home involved in domestic activities,
8 About 2 and a half million Ecuadorians live outside Ecuador, principally in the United States, Spain, and
Italy (Lucas 2002).
9 In the early 1980s, there was a temporary involvement of women in a flower agribusiness, but this was a
short experience in a small flower plantation named "Hiperactive", involved in the production of hipericos
(Hypericum perforatum), a plant used to make flower bouquets. This plantation principally contracted
men as workers, but there were some women as well. After few years of activity, this plantation faced
bankruptcy, and then all the workers lost their jobs.
caring for the small land plots growing basic food crops and caring for small animals for
Although most of the men from Mulauco were involved in more or less stable jobs,
their income never could cover family needs as the subsistence economy did before. This
difficult household situation was an effect of the crisis on the national level. During the
1980s, the Ecuadorian government should have taken economic measures to cope with
the external debt crisis and two major natural disasters that occurred during these years.10
Among the economic measures taken during these years were the national currency
devaluation,11 and the increase of the price of gasoline. These measures resulted in
higher prices of transportation, food, medicines, and other products of mass consumption.
In these conditions, the rural households were in a calamitous situation and it was
necessary to improve the household's income so far brought in only by men. At this
point, the objective circumstances for women entering in the paid workforce were ripe.
As the economic crisis deepened, the female population of Mulauco was the most
affected. All the tasks of reproduction under their responsibilities (preparing food, caring
for children, health, education, etc) were achieved with a tiny budget. The obvious
solution in this condition was to reduce the quality and quantity of the family's pattern of
consumption. Meals and medicine were held at minimal levels. Many processed foods
were kept off the shopping list, and most of the daily meals were cooked with the few
products of the family plot. Usually women even ignored some medicines prescribed by
10 In addition to the global economic conditions that lead to the crisis during the 1980s, Ecuador faced the
negative effects of one of the strongest ENSO (El Nifio Southern Oscillation) during 1982-1983, and an
earthquake in 1987, which caused several hundred deaths, and the destruction of important parts of the
national pipeline. These natural events worsened the economic crisis in the country.
1 To combat the inflation at least temporarily, Ecuador made periodic devaluations of the Sucre, its former
currency. In 1980, the Ecuadorian sucre / US dollar conversion was 27 sucres = 1 US dollar. When sucre
was suppressed, the conversion rate was 25,000 sucres = 1 US dollar.
doctors and only bought those affordable by the family income. Since family welfare was
in a very risky situation, women were forced to find a source of an additional income.
Many of these women began to work as housekeepers in Quito, Tumbaco and Cumbaya
areas. Housekeeping was the first job women sought in the first wave of paid work
involvement during the mid 1980s, and was opted for only by those families in extremely
poor conditions. Since the housekeeping labor force offered during these years was
abundant, this activity was kept at a very low payment.12
When the flower industry boom started in the early 1990s,13 it offered attractive
salaries. This salary was higher than those offered to women as housekeepers. So, women
decided to apply forjobs, leading to massive female involvement in flower work. Due to
appropriate climate conditions of the area, several plantations were set up in Pifo, where
Mulauco is located.
The underlying motive that moved women from Mulauco to work in flower
plantations was exclusively the lack of income brought home by men. All the women that
started to work on flower plantations in the early 1990s were concerned about the
family's survival, and not in getting independence from men's influence or achieving a
better social status. Former female flower workers I interviewed said that they started
working in plantations with the idea of temporary work. They thought of their jobs as a
way to provide concrete temporary necessities of the family, such as to pay an overdue
loan, house repair, to increase the family land, and other specific expenses. This
12 During the 1980s and early 1990s, the difference of wages between housekeeping and flower work was
substantial: Housekeepers earned about US$ 40 and flower workers about US$ 100. Nowadays, such
difference is minor: housekeepers earn from US$120 to 140 monthly, and a flower worker earns from
US$140 to 280, including overtime. Due to work conditions, some women have withdrawn from flower
labor and now work as housekeepers (interview with Susana Quilumba).
13 As explained in Chapter 4, the boom of flower activity was generated due to governmental incentives and
the US government Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) signed into law on December 1991.
conviction of temporariness, which also has been noted in other studies on women's work
on flower plantations in Ecuador, made women more tolerant of the exploitative
conditions of the flower plantations (Dolan and Sorby 2003:32).
But although the work conditions were difficult, women experienced a new and
favorable situation: having their own earnings and control of income. With their income,
women could not only obtain material improvements like better family meals, but also
reinvent themselves as social actors, and achieve some individual improvements like self-
esteem, and self-security.
In the following section, I will transcribe the experiences of the women from
Mulauco as workers in the flower industry. These experiences are more focused in how
the women's life has been transformed in the two most important realms, personal (the
women for themselves), and family.
Flower Employment and Daily Life: Vignettes
As part of the research for this thesis, I interviewed seven female flower workers,
three single women, two married women, one single mother, and one former female
worker. The information from these women gives an idea of how flower work has
transformed the daily life of women. I decided also to interview a former flower worker
to have a perspective from a different angle of flower work experience.
Since the responses about the personal perceptions of being flower workers were
comparable among the interviewed women, I decided to consolidate the responses of the
single women and married women under one vignette for each group. The names
correspond to the woman worker which responses covered deeply the questions on the
situations of interest for this thesis. Therefore, what follows are the narratives of Teresa,
Maria, Zoila, and Rosa, about their perceptions on how the flower work has changed their
Single women workers are generally between 18 and 23 years old and live with
their parents. One of the single women flower workers I met is Teresa who is the most
representative case in the group of single workers.14 She is 19 years old and lives in her
parents' house, and has been working in a flower plantation for 9 months. She studied
until the third course of high school, and then took some sewing classes. After that, when
she was 17 years old, she found work as a housekeeper in Quito. Once there was chance
to work at a flower plantation, she quit that job because the plantation is closer to her
home, and she envisaged a better future working in a flower company. As she told me,
she liked to work in flower activities because "it belongs to companies", denoting with
this statement the importance for her to be a part of an institution, that is not personal
Since Teresa is working in the flower industry, her life has experienced some
important changes that allow her to have better conditions than what she could have
without a job. These changes are related to income, self-reliance, opportunities to
socialize, and to enjoy free time.
The amount of money that Teresa earns every month is probably more than what
she needs, considering that she lives in her parent's house. For that reason she does not
have major fixed expenses such as rent, utility bills, etc., so her wages allow savings of
14 The other women workers were Paulina and Emperatriz.
15 Although young women could refuse to be housekeepers, other women that have already experienced
flower employment, like to work as housekeepers because of the salary and because less effort is needed.
(Interview with Susana Quilumba).
small amounts of money periodically. Due to this advantage, Teresa was able to help with
some house necessities. For example, she goes grocery shopping twice a month, bringing
home rice, sugar, beans, noodles, etc. She also gives some money to her mother. She
contributes occasionally to the maintenance of the house like roof and plumbing repairs,
painting, and other necessities. She feels that this assistance is much appreciated by her
parents, who show some additional affection and a kind of pride in their working
daughter. She likes to help not only because she feels it is a moral obligation, but also
because by doing that, her parents are more permissive with her, especially if she wants
to go to meet friends, to parties, and other enjoyments.
Teresa spends the rest of her wages buying clothes, and in fixing up her bedroom,
which includes a stereo, TV set, etc. Her room is different from those of other family
members', which are simpler. Now, she feels secure to go to a store and buy something
she likes, even if the price is beyond her monthly income, in which case she can buy on
installment. Occasionally she goes to a bar or movie with other workers. Since Teresa is
out of the home during the day, she avoids some home duties typically done by young
women like cleaning the house, helping in the kitchen, caring for minor animals, etc. On
weekends she gets involved in some house chores like cleaning, or washing clothes.
Besides her purchasing ability, Teresa is happy to have the chance to socialize. The
flower work provides her an opportunity to leave home and be away from parental
control. Now she attends parties, meetings, and sport events organized on the flower
plantation. Within her family, the social gatherings she could attend were basically in the
village and family parties. Now she feels more secure to go to meetings and parties,
which was not the case in the past. She remembers that even when she worked as a
housekeeper, she never went to a party alone without a relative.
When I asked how does she think the community sees her since she is a flower
worker? Teresa responded that she thinks the community assumes that now she can stand
by herself, which mean that she can buy her own things, attend meetings and parties
alone, and use her own money. As a consequence, people tend to be more polite and
respectful with her. Sometimes Teresa is asked to give a contribution for a communal
event, which could be interpreted as forms of recognizing her new role.
The work in the flower plantation itself provides Teresa a sense of security or
empowerment that she did not have when she was a housekeeper. Actually she did not
consider housekeeping a "real" job, as is the flower industry occupation. While a
housekeeper, she was only in contact with the family where she worked. Now she has
several friends to meet every day.
Since she works for a flower plantation, Teresa cannot attend communal activities.
Besides, she does not consider it important to attend mingas, and comuna meetings
because her parents do that for the family. Actually, family heads generally perform
communal activities, so young people like Teresa do not yet have a specific responsibility
within the organization.
Regarding problems that Teresa could point to from her flower work, she explains
that the only thing she dislikes is doing tiring activities like standing in a static position
all the time in front of a table classifying flowers, or kneeling on the ground caring for
growing flowers. Working in these positions produces physical pain. Working over time
is not a problem for Teresa, even if it is at the night. She likes these opportunities
because she earns extra money.
To my question about whether she feels that she has learned something new by
working in a flower plantation, Teresa thinks that she has learned many things that help
her to be better prepared to face life in the future. For that reason, she would like to work
as long as possible in the plantation. It is not in her plans to quit her job soon, and
indeed she does not know what she would do if that happens. She seems surprised
thinking about a possible interruption in her job. She does not seem to have any plan if it
Teresa does not know about health problems due to pesticide contamination. When
I asked her if she cares about this, she says that she is not afraid of that because where she
works there is no use of pesticides.
I interviewed two married women. The first one is Maria.16 She is the most
representative in terms of how women can manage their job and home duties. Maria17 is
27 years old and she works in a plantation near to Mulauco, where she enrolled one and a
half years ago. She is married to Manuel, who is a mason and works mostly in Quito in
temporary jobs. They have two children. The girl is seven, and the boy is eight years old.
Both of them attend school in Mulauco. They live in a 2-room house on a 1.500 m218 of
land. On this land, Maria's family has some small plots of potatoes, carrots, beans,
onions, and corns. These products are for family consumption. They also have two cows,
16 The other married woman worker interviewed is Hilda.
1 Maria was my main acquaintance in Comuna Mulauco. I met her the first time in the summer of 2002,
when I was searching for places for my fieldwork. Maria helped me to contact women flower workers of
the area. Since the best time to meet with women workers was at night, I decided to stay at Maria's house,
which provided me an opportunity to share and understand her daily life.
18 Little bit less that half an acre.
several hens, and rabbits. Occasionally, when there are products to spare, they are
bartered with relatives and neighbors for other products.
Maria wakes up every day at 5:00 am to have enough time to prepare breakfast for
her family, school- lunch for her kids, and to prepare the children's clothes for the day.
Both Maria and her husband head to their jobs at 6:30 am. The children study from 7:00
am to 1:30 pm. When the children come back home after classes, their parents are not
there yet. After school, before their parents arrive at home, the children usually play with
other children around the neighborhood or visit relatives who live close by. Maria gets
home around 5:00 pm. Her husband arrives around 6:30 pm. After preparing food and
doing some home tasks, Maria's family goes to bed around ten at night. However, she
sometimes stays awake until 11:00 making sure that everything is ready for the next day.
Maria works from 7:30am to 4:00pm19 in Sigsapamba, which is 20 minutes by car
from Mulauco. She spends around one hour and a half everyday traveling from her house
to her work and back. Since her house is not close to the road, she needs to walk about
20 minutes to get the bus. The flower company provides transportation only when there
is overtime work at night.
The decision to work at a flower plantation was agreed upon between Maria and
her husband, but she took the initiative. She decided to undertake this activity since her
husband's earnings were not sufficient to cover the family's basic needs. She was
attracted to work on flower plantations because of the pay. Before the flower job, she
worked occasionally on a nearby hacienda for a few hours a day.
The schedule at the flower plantations does not allow women to effectively
combine work and motherhood duties. When children get sick it is hard to get time off.
19 Before special dates like Valentines' and Mother's Day, the workday can last about 12 hours.
In the case of Maria, she only asks for time off when her kids are seriously ill. This is
generally when children have a high fever, or are complaining of severe headache or
other pain. When the children have a cold or the flu, which are common in the cold
season, Maria does not get time off and must go to work. In these cases, Maria usually
asks her neighbors to keep an eye on the sick child. Maria's husband cannot stay at home
and care for the children when they get sick. He works in construction in Quito where
every day workers are selected. If he is absent, somebody else could replace him. The
difficulty of staying at home more time is something really stressful for Maria, because
she is conscious that her children are not having enough care from her. The lack of time
to be at home longer makes Maria frustrated because she can hardly care and control her
children's activities, especially school homework.
On Saturday, Maria works from 8:00 until noon. After work, she does grocery
shopping in Pifo town and she comes back home around 3:00 pm. Then she feeds her
kids and asks them to do their homework to be free to play the rest of the weekend. On
Sunday, Maria tries to do some house tasks that cannot be performed during weekdays20
She cleans the house, washes the clothes, and cares for the domestic animals and the
family crops. But the day becomes short with all these activities that she would like to
accomplish at home. As a result, she often does everything with less attention than when
she was not working in flower plantations. As a way to share time with the children,
Maria watches TV with them while she irons the clothes.
20 Dolan and Sorby (2003:44) cite a study on Ecuadorian flower workers where over half of the women
interviewed, spent 3 to 4 hours every day performing domestic tasks in addition to wage employment in the
Maria manages the money she earns21. Maria spends her salary completely on
family needs, principally on food, medicines, and clothes for her children. Before her
work at the flower plantation, she used to ask for money from her husband for every
house necessity. Generally he was reluctant to give money for something he considered
unnecessary, or that he thought was already purchased. Now, Maria does the grocery
shopping, and pays other expenses after receiving her salary, before going home. Her
husband pays for utilities bills, materials for home maintenance, small appliances, and
some school supplies for their children, etc. Both make the decision to undertake special
expenses like buying a TV, furniture, or a piece of land. These shared decisions
happened very often, even when Maria was not yet working.
Normally Maria and her husband get along well. But occasionally, when he is
drunk, disagreements can happen. This occurs often on Fridays. When it happens, it is
likely that the drunken husband behaves somewhat irrationally and even violently. This
behavior was more frequent before Maria got a job at the flower plantation. Now it
occurs sporadically. Family disagreements also arise when her husband cannot find a
job. In such cases, Manuel tries to search for a job in nearby towns. If Manuel does not
find a job for several days, he becomes irritated and is likely to start arguing with Maria
for any minor reason.
Because of Maria's employment at the flower plantation, she explains that her
husband appears more attentive with her. Although he is not involved in some house
tasks because he does not see them as part of his role, he tends to compensate by
increasing his own tasks. He tries to engage in some home improvements in which he
21 Another woman worker I interviewed used to "put together" her money with her husband's money, then
both decide house expenses.
becomes enthusiastic. For example while I was doing my field research, Maria's
husband, who is a mason, was building a home extension to have two additional rooms.
When Maria started working, her dream was to raise money to make some house
improvements and buy some more land, so she could start a small business raising pigs,
chickens, or rabbits. Her idea was that once she achieved these goals, she would quit the
flower work and be more involved in a household business. But her ideas have changed
after she realized that what she earns does not allow for any savings. Besides, she feels
that as a worker, she has an important role, which is significant for her and for her
Although Maria is conscious that being a flower worker, a mother, and a household
worker is somewhat overwhelming, she likes to have the chance to work. She resents the
lack of time for her children. She feels that it is her fault. However, the cost/benefit
calculation she makes suggests that she keep working. She reflects that the current
economic situation offers two options: staying at home to care for her children, and
suffering deprivations, or going out to work, decreasing time for the children and
obtaining some cash to provide them better food and education. Both decisions have a
high cost, but she prefers the second option that permits ensuring household subsistence,
despite the distress of leaving her children alone.
Maria considers that flower work has not offered her any special knowledge,
because everything she does there, she used to do at home. While she is not necessarily
interested in continuing working for the flower industry, she would like to always have a
job in the future.
From brochures that she has read recently, Maria knows about the use of dangerous
pesticides in the plantations. Even though she is concerned about being affected by
pesticides, Maria thinks that it is more dangerous when women are pregnant, which is not
Another women worker I interviewed was Zoila, who is 22 years old and a single
mother. She has a 2-year old boy. Zoila has worked in a flower plantation for one year.
She decided to work there due to the restricted income in her parents' home where she
lives. Zoila's parents are displeased that their daughter has a child without being married
or at least in a de facto relation. After the child was born, her parents have accepted this
situation with a better attitude. Since Zoila has a baby but not a husband, her parents
acquire a kind of right to control her social activities and to demand certain behavior
For Zoila, the opportunity to find a job in flower plantations was extremely
desirable. For her, it is not only an economic necessity, but also a psychological one.
Since her parents control her, she needs any excuse to leave home every day. Zoila
spends work earnings principally on her child's needs. These could be food, medicines,
clothes, toys, and recreational activities. In addition, she contributes to some household
needs like food (rice, sugar, noodles, and others), utilities bills, etc. and gives a small
amount of money to her mother every month. When possible, a small part of the wage is
deposited in a saving account in a cooperative (credit union), but any accrued sum could
suddenly be used in a single necessity only, like bringing Zoila's child to the emergency
room,22,or shopping for Christmas.
While working, Zoila leaves her child at home with his grandparents. But, as she
says, some working mothers bring their children to work. If the child does not walk yet,
he/she is carried on the mother's back covered with a blanket, in the particular way
Andean mothers carry their children when they are babies. If the child is walking, s/he
will spend her/his time by the mother's side playing with a toy.23 Otherwise the child will
be in a nearby shady place while the mother is working.
Although the flower job takes most of her time and is the cause of some stress,
Zoila likes the job. What she earns from her job is enough for her current necessities.
She would love to have a better job, but at this time she is happy with what she has.
Besides the bi-weekly check she receives, the flower work keeps her in touch with the
world. She thinks that without a job, her life would be dull at home. She would spend
her daily life only caring for her child, doing tedious house chores, and basically being
under her parent's surveillance all the time if she did not have a job. Besides, her boy
would suffer a lot of material privations.
The unmarried female worker with children presents a different personal situation
as a result of being waged worker. She needs to combine her condition of single mother,
worker, and member of the extended family in which she still lives. In the case of Zoila,
she has a vital responsibility that she cannot avoid. She needs to feed her child, prepare
food, and do other regular tasks at home. Fortunately the kinship network performs some
of her home tasks. Workers' parents, siblings, and other relatives care for her child while
22 That happened when the boy got bronchitis.
23 Not all the flower agribusiness allows single mothers to bring children. It appears that only small flower
companies are willing to accept that, due to the fact that most of them lack childcare facilities.
she is at work. Such transferring of childcare responsibility is extremely helpful for
Zoila, and is the only way she could work. However, her involvement in waged work is
stressful because of the difficulties of managing her child and work responsibilities. She
cannot refuse such ajob opportunity because it is the only chance to earn some cash that
provides a certain sense of independence.
Zoila, who is the only single-mother women I interviewed, explains that she
decided to work basically to alleviate the economic burden on her parents in whose home
she lives. By working, she makes up some of the trouble that having a baby without an
established marital relation meant. Her parents see the fact that she is working as the
achievement of a kind of security. I interpret this as an unconscious representation of the
"absent husband." In other words, parents assume wage work to mean family security.
With the same workload as single workers, the single-mother flower worker has a
different mind set. Zoila lives to provide her own children's necessities and to appear
responsible to her parents who are likely to censor every demonstration of agency by her.
A particular concern of Zoila's parents is that she expends time after work in trivial
pursuits like shopping or socializing with friends. Her parents would like her to use her
free time as much as possible caring her child and helping at home.
Like all the women workers interviewed, Zoila controls what to do with her
income. She spends her wage buying clothes, toys, medicine, and other products for her
child. Sometimes she buys a fashionable piece of clothes for her child in the town's
store, which generally is paid in installments over two or three months. Of course she
must also contribute monthly to house expenses. Zoila has also managed to save some
money at the local credit union.
Work involvement on the flower plantation is an important thing in Zoila's life.
She thinks that this experience is helpful for the future. Due to her age, and this being her
first job, Zoila feels that she has learned a lot of useful things at the flower plantation.
Among these useful things she mentions understanding and following some regulations
to conduct her work, and coordinating her work with other people toward a common
goal. Zoila seemed puzzled when I asked her about future plans. She hesitated to
respond. Then, she said that she would like to keep working on a flower plantation as
long as possible.
As will be discussed later, the different social circumstances in which the three
types of women I interviewed are immersed generate different social outcomes. Age and
marital status are among the main definers of satisfaction as a result of work experience.
Of course, beyond these personal situations there could be other definers of the self-
perceptions regarding working experience.
Despite the different social circumstances and outcomes, the three types of women
I have interviewed share some similarities in self-perception and work experience. The
most notable aspects in which these women are similar are in wage management. All the
interviewed women manage their salary for themselves. In the case of married women, it
is unconsciously assumed that the money they earn corresponds to their realm in the
household (reproductive activities like providing food, medicines, etc.). This aspect is
more or less common among the Ecuadorian women flower workers24 and could
correspond with the traditional gender relations and roles of women in household. In
24 In a study on women flower workers carried out in 1993 it was recorded that more than 80% of women
working in the Ecuadorian flower industry managed their own wages (CEPLAES 1993, cited in Dolan and
some cases in Mulauco, the earnings of the two spouses are combined to create a single
fund to cover family necessities.
Another aspect in which all types of female flower workers shared similar
perceptions is regarding the importance they give to working in waged work.
Recognizing the difficulties undergone by working in a demanding and exhausting
activity, they still feel personally gratified with the working experience. They are aware
that the economic situation in the country is not easy, so they could be worse off if they
did not have a job.
A final perception of women workers is that although some would like to withdraw
from flower work due to the extended schedule, difficult work conditions, and low
salaries,25 all of them have decided to keep working in paid work. This decision is
unanimous and independent of how much husband's or parent's income is. The words of
one of my interviewed workers who explained to me that she "does not like to lose what
she has achieved", are noteworthy. She meant that her involvement with paid work has
exposed her to broader social and economic realities.
25 Salaries if flower industry for women workers range between US $140 and $180, without overtime.
EMPOWERMENT OR ADAPTATION? HOW JOBS IN THE FLOWER INDUSTRY
AFFECT THE FEMALE WORK FORCE IN MULAUCO
Access to wage labor does not automatically improve the situation of women, nor
does it always disrupt the social fabric. Nevertheless, the consequences of women's
participation in the work force, both for society and the individuals involved, can be
affected by prevailing social, economic, and cultural conditions. As explained in Chapter
2, waged work has been an element in the change of traditional female roles, particularly
in rural areas in Latin America where the situation of women is firmly rooted in cultural
In this chapter I will discuss how work in the flower industry has positively or
negatively affected women from Mulauco. To understand the weight of the flower
industry in the national context, I have included in the beginning of this chapter, a review
of the economic, social, and environmental impacts of flower plantations.
To place the positive and negative impacts of flower work on women in a
theoretical perspective, I also review the empowerment of women framework, and
discuss the elements that should be understood for the achievement of such
empowerment. I finalize this chapter with a schematic view of the family, communal
and personal gains or looses that women experience from their work participation.
Impacts of the Flower Industry in Ecuador
As with any social process, the growth of the flower industry and the subsequent
generation of job opportunities for peasant women in Ecuador have different outcomes in
economic, social, and environmental terms. These outcomes have an impact not only on
the local level but also throughout the country.
Since the flower industry appeared in Ecuador during a period of crisis manifested
in much higher prices for consumer goods and the loss or decrease in other job
opportunities, people from rural areas saw this business as a lifesaver. Korovkin (2002)
mentions that flower agribusiness compensated for the effects of the deepening crisis of
peasant agriculture, and was also the first economic activity that offered jobs for women,
the social group least likely to find a job in rural areas. The job market created by the
flower industry has also reduced the migration of rural people to urban areas (Mena Pozo
1999). While traditional agricultural activities provide jobs for 0.3 to 3 people per
hectare, flower plantations require from 11 to 13 people for the same area (Mena Pozo
1999). This job-generating characteristic of flower agribusiness cannot be matched by
any other public or private sector activity in rural Ecuador. Based on studies by the
Corporaci6n Financiera Nacional (the Ecuadorian investment and finance entity), Palan
& Palan (1999) cite that around 30,000 workers are indirectly employed in various
flower- related activities, including the plastic, paper, cardboard, lumber and agro-
chemical industries, as well as transport and services. For every job generated in the
flower industry, 1.5 are created in collateral industries, whether as input suppliers or
service providers. Such indirect employment is significant for the country, given that the
products do not lend themselves to further processing. Forest plantations, for example, as
a result of being integrated into a wider production chain, generate four indirect jobs for
every agricultural job (Palan & Palan 1999: 17).
Another contribution of the flower industry, described by Palan & Palan (1999), is
the impact of flower plantation employees on the country's development through changes
in consumption patterns. Sales of electrical appliances and other consumer goods have
increased in flower industry areas, where large discount stores have appeared. In
macroeconomic terms, flower plantations contribute significantly to the national
economy. Flower producers claim to be a leading source of income generation.
According to Exploflores, an organization representing flower growers in Ecuador,
flower exports have increased in the last five years from $160,951,000 in 1998 to
$309,597,000 in 2003. The industry is thus in third place, nationally, as a generator of
But the positive economic impacts of the flower industry are accompanied by
negative social, environmental and health impacts, especially for the rural areas directly
influenced by this activity. Violence and delinquency have been associated with the
flower industry. With an increase in job opportunities, there is an influx of people from
other places of the country into flower growing areas, and this has increased violence in
traditionally peaceful areas, as well as prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases
(Castelnuovo et al 2000: 74).
The flower growers' increasing demand for land also causes social problems,
including intense pressure on indigenous and peasant people to sell their lands.
Castelnuovo et al (2000) point to the existence of "industrial terrorism" to scare
indigenous people into selling their farms. Flower companies also employ divide-and-
conquer strategies in their dealings with indigenous organizations to convince members
of communes to sell land that is collectively owned. For instance, companies allow some
comuneros (community members) to independently contract workers from the indigenous
community for the flower plantations. These indigenous contractors receive a portion of
the low wage offered, giving rise to a new social class and disrupting unity in the
community (Castelnuovo et al 2000: 82), a practice that undermines the traditional value
of solidarity in indigenous communities.
Cultural changes also have been linked to the flower industry. Communal activities
strongly immersed in local culture have been affected by the presence of the flower
industry. Cultural celebrations or gatherings, such as mingas (communal work activities),
are diminishing in importance due to the introduction of activities related to the flower
industry, such as sports, parties and Christmas and other celebrations. Peasant flower
workers cannot attend local gatherings due to their work schedule. Of course, this
cultural loss is linked not only to the flower industry, but to the general process of
development and economic crisis, which plays a pervasive role in undermining cultural
practices. One of the women I interviewed1 explained that due to the economic situation
in Mulauco, the priostazgo,2 a distinctive aspect of local culture, has been lost in the last
few years. The importance of Corpus Christi, a traditional religious celebration in
Mulauco, is also declining.3
The increasing use of land by flower growers also leads to the reduction of other
economic activities. For example, in flower growing areas, the production of milk, meat,
potatoes, and other agriculture products has declined.
1 Interview with Susana Quilumba.
2 Aprioste is a man who presides over a yearly communal festivity, generally religious in nature. The
position is an important one, bestowed annually on the head of a household recognized in his community
for his honor and prosperity. Besides presiding over the festivities, the priostes must cover a good portion
of the cost of the communal celebration, including food, contest prizes, the mass offered, etc. (Interview
with Susana Quilumba).
3 Interview with Susana Quilumba.