Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender, Households and Informal Entrepreneurship in the Dominican Republic

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender, Households and Informal Entrepreneurship in the Dominican Republic

Article excerpt

Since the early 1970's, debate has persisted concerning the effects of economic and social change on the well-being of women.' There is a growing awareness that development interventions which do not directly address the inequalities between men and women tend often to reinforce these inequalities (Weekes-Vagliani 1980; Staudt and Jaquette 1982; Carloni 1987; Blumberg 1988). Similarly, scholars have increasingly recognized that much of the negative impact of development efforts on women relates to the changes such efforts often provoke in family structures (Charlton 1984). By failing to take into account the position of women in households, many development approaches have resulted in increasing the workload of women while simultaneously undermining their economic autonomy and/or weakening their bargaining position within the home. Empirical studies culled from development projects in settings as diverse as Cameroon, Kenya and Guatemala confirm the negative impact of projects which bypass or undermine the work of women (Blumberg 1988). Furthermore, as experience with development strategies to direct resources to poor women and their children accumulates, planners increasingly acknowledge that such efforts must take into account how the basic socioeconomic unit-the householdfunctions (Safilios-Rothschild 1984).

Unlike more traditional analyses directed toward household relations which often depicted the household as a kind of "moral-economy" based on principles of reciprocity, consensus and altruism among members (Folbre 1988), it is now recognised that household organisation often involves hierarchies of power based on gender and generation (Poster 1978; Barrett 1980; Barrett and McIntosh 1982; Beneria and Roldan, 1987; Fapohunda 1988; Grasmuck and Pessar 1990). This means, for example, that men and women have most typically experienced household and family life differently and that to assume a harmony of interests among members glosses the important differentiation of experience which has historically characterized them (Tilly and Scott 1978; Hartmann 1981; Sen 1984; Mann 1986). More specifically, research carried out in diverse parts of the world has documented that resources such as food, education, and health care are unequally distributed within the household (Safilios-Rothschild 1984,1988; Maher 1984; Whitehead 1984; Papanek and Schwede 1988; Hoodfar 1988).

Beyond providing a theoretical framework which adequately accounts for power relations at the micro level, a focus on household dynamics is also important from a policy point of view. Policy makers concerned with increasing resources to the poor have sometimes noted theimportance of directing economic outlays (either as transfers or wage-earning opportunities) to female rather than male heads of households, since there is some evidence that women are more "efficient" utilizers of resources to improve the well-being of their children. As the primary guardians of the physical, emotional and social status of children, women's spending priorities often differ from those of men. Mounting evidence illustrates that women in varying social contexts devote a higher proportion of income to family well-being, especially children's nutrition, rather than to personal expenditures when compared with men (Beneria and Roldan, 1987; Blumberg 1988). Relatedly, it has been argued that children may fare better in female-headed households than in other types since women in control of their incomes devote a greater proportion of their income to children under these circumstances than in other household arrangements (Chant, 1985; Population Council and ICRW 1989). Some authors have also stated that even overall household income is not as significant a factor in improving the nutrition of children as the income of the mother (Safilios-Rothschild 1984).

Unfortunately, too much of the literature linking women's income with improved family welfare is plagued by inappropriate comparisons of women and men who work at different income levels. …

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