30 October 2007

Gender And Development 1

A concept that pops its head up regularly in community development is gender. Now, the word gender usually brings to mind images of glass ceilings, sexual harassment cases, and transvestites. The truth is, gender is by definition a topic of the mundane -- of grocery shopping, of changing diapers, and of signing checks.

Now, it seems impossible that any academic can discuss gender without opposing it to sex. The generally accepted idea is that gender is all of the cultural baggage (from cooking to crying) attached to a gender. I guess that’s right, but I really think that gender is just one more thing that flavors our relationships – with men, women, boys, girls, and ourselves. Anyway, I figured I’d put up a blog about gender in Guatemala.


Some economists claim that 95% of all productive work done in the world is done by women.

all, I want to say that Guatemala is not behind the United States or any other country when it comes to gender. That seems to suggest that some enlightenment exists, and that we already’ve got it. It also suggests that they’re bound to get there, which one should never assume about rights, as ideas about equality and rights have fluctuated throughout history with dictators and demands.

Men's Lives
Men in my community are the leaders of their family. They hold the final word on where the money goes, where it comes from, who goes to school, and who is old enough to date. They are the tortilla-winners, the deed-holders, and the meat-carvers. It is both their right and responsibility to provide for their families and make good decisions on their best interest. Men aren’t particularly active fathers. They are, however, expected to help care for their parents when older. Men are usually more literate than their wives, speak better Spanish, and are expected to manage any business that requires a signature or reading something. Boys often complete to sixth grade, and are often favoured in the classroom.

Men own 99% of the world's land.

Boys often start working for an income at a young age and are in charge of having the initiative regarding dating. A successful man is considered a man who makes money. His peers see his success through the man in town – what he buys, what he wears, if he owns a car or motorcycle instead of taking the bus or walking.

Women's Lives
Guatemalan women stand by their man. One marries a man that one thinks will be able to provide for you and your children. If men are the breadwinners, women are the bread-makers. Women do all of the work that doesn’t have a monetary value – making the meals, raising the children, and keeping the house clean. Some women cannot leave the house without permission. Women also often hold some official economic job on the side, such as raising chickens, selling their husband’s produce in the market, selling tortillas, or another way of gaining a small income. Women are expected to be good caretakers of their husbands and children. Food must be ready for their husbands when he wants it, children must be clothed, fed, and punished when necessary. Within the community, women maintain the community ties and news. Interfamilial ties are often maintained by women washing their clothes together or visiting each other. Women, it appears, maintain larger familial ties, as well. Two sisters-in-law are likely to be much closer than two brothers-in-law. Women never have their own bank accounts, own their own land, or run their own businesses. This would not only be an affront to tradition, but would suggest that her husband is incapable of providing. A women’s success is seen through her house and her children – their clothes, what she feeds her family, what she has in her house.
Now, no matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to explain the two roles with seeing how these two roles could end up unfair.



As with most cultural pressures, they’re unreasonable to attain. No man can provide everything his family needs and will make every decision in the form in the best interests of the wife or child and ignore his own personal preferences. Simply as the bearer of the money and land, it’s likely he’ll buy a cold drink on a hot day even though he doesn’t buy one for every one of his family members.


One may argue that each has particular powers –women have power over social affairs and how to raise the children, after all. This is true, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the person with the house and money holds the trump card to any major disagreement.


Review: Women are the caretakers, manage daily goings-on, more strongly affect children, and have a weaker ability to make major decisions. Men decide what to do with most disposable income, are more educated, know how to conduct business, and have the final say.


Now, when working in community development, you have to decide how to follow the cultural rules and how to break them. You can’t entirely break the rules, or nobody will listen. However, if you follow all of the rules you’re not really bringing about any change – even poverty is part of the cultural norms. Now, in culture, I want to demonstrate how the cards for economic development begin stacked against women and children.


Suppose that all the income in a small town comes from farming potatoes, and a group comes in and promises to teach the farmers make 30% more potatoes on the same land. The community project is approved by the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development because it requires the farmers to invest some of the time and money themselves, and it teaches the farmers. This is lauded as a move towards sustainable development. The donor, however, accepts the town’s gender roles and doesn’t want to be seen as forcing their culture on the town. . The donors expect income to go up, and measure their success using the percentage of malnourished children and number of children completing the 6th grade.


Five year later, the plan is a success and each farmer is making roughly 25% more every year. In the town, income has increased, school attendance has increased slightly, and malnutrition is roughly the same. Donors don’t understand why the school attendance is up only a little and confused why nutrition is no different, but consider the project a success, because it does has some measurable impact.


What’s the story through the lens of gender? Men were given the opportunity to make more money. They go to classes, making them around the house slightly less and temporarily making less money. Men then make more money. They initially spend a large portion of their new income on luxury (as we all do) and then increase a portion of their luxury and a portion of what goes to the family. They even learn that education is valuable, since education enabled them to grow more potatoes. They send their sons to further schooling to speak better Spanish and maybe acquire a technical skill to possibly get a good job in the town. The daughters do not receive more education, because minimal literacy and arithmetic is all one needs to care for children and the house. Daughters leave school by 3rd grade and never are fully comfortable writing or reading.


Now, the interesting part of this scenario is that no moral criticisms can be made. A person received more money, used a portion for luxury and a portion for necessities and investment in their children. The money for investment in the future went to more or less replicate the situation. Had a woman received a greater income, her disposable money would have gone to buying more meat for her family, a bed, and new clothes for her children. In addition, the situation would be further replicated. If schooling was necessary, more girls may go to school. If freedom from the house was required, women would receive greater ability to go outside of the house.


Many fear that by changing ideas about gender, class, and race, we’re imposing Western ideals on other countries. While yes, we are impressing different ideals, development projects always affect culture. Any project that does not challenge a cultural norm is going to reinforce it in some form. While projects can’t seek to massively change cultural norms, one must be aware of how it is reinforcing and challenging cultural norms.


It is often argued that gender, race, and class should be considered in development work on moral grounds. The best argument for considering these components of a culture, though, is because development projects that understand them are more likely to succeed in whatever their goals are.

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