Shifting Roles in Gender, Kinship, and the Household: Women's Empowerment in Matrilineal Malawi Open Access

Kuzara, Jennifer Lynn (2014)

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Gender roles, including by definition women's rights in relation to family and home, have been a fundamental subject of anthropological inquiry from the birth of the discipline. The efforts of social anthropologists of the early- and-mid twentieth-century to study and catalogue kinship systems resulted in elaborate detail across numerous cultures on questions of how natal and marital kin formally and informally negotiate rights to children, property, and self-determination, and enabled cross-cultural comparison of facets of household life; in other words, definitional correlates of women's empowerment. The present study examines this question empirically in contemporary Malawi. First, the study explores theories of whether matrilineality is empowering for women. It then contextualizes Chewa matrilineality against a period of rapid historical and demographic change, seeking to reconstruct Chewa gender norms over time. The primary analysis assesses women's relative empowerment across critical individual, relational, and social domains, and compares correlates of empowerment in women in two districts in Malawi, one historically and ethnographically matrilineal (demographically majority Chewa), and one historically and ethnographically patrilineal (demographically majority Ngoni), including a direct measure of whether women reported living in a household that was matrilineal or patrilineal, the composition of their households, and characteristics that map onto historical features of Chewa matrilineality, such as ownership of land and other assets, female household headship, and whether husbands reside with them. Matrilineage membership among contemporary Malawians was not found to be associated with the features that were once described as part of Chewa life; neither did it associate with ethnicity or district as would have been expected from historical practices. However, the features that were historically described as characteristic of Chewa life explained variation in empowerment outcomes across many of the domains included in the study. Moreover, the findings give reason to question narratives common to development that view household-headship and responsibility for farm labor as disempowering for women, rather than understanding them as potential sources of independence when they co-occur with cultural gender norms that endorse women's rights to control their own property and wealth.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction. 1

The cultural context of a social analysis. 1

The significance of women's empowerment and gender equity in anthropology 10

The significance of women's empowerment in intervention design. 19

The case for revisiting study of kinship systems in light of development and health interventions to empower women. 19

A review of the chapters. 22

Chapter 2: Key features of matriliny. 25

Distribution and history. 25

The "Matrilineal puzzle". 27

Kinship as adaptation. 38

Marital versus natal residence. 46

Cooperativeness in matrilineality. 49

Matrilineality and social well-being. 50

Chapter 3: The relationship between women's autonomy and empowerment and gender norms in Southern Africa. 53

Introduction. 53

Pre-colonial gender traditions. 54

Colonial influence on gender relations. 61

Early anthropology of matriliny in Malawi 66

Contemporary gender policy in Malawi 74

Chapter 4: Measuring women's empowerment 83

Introduction. 83

What is empowerment?. 84

Women's empowerment versus gender equity. 84

National-level indices. 87

Social choice theory. 91

CARE's frameworks. 94

The Women's Empowerment Multi-dimensional Evaluation of Agency, Social Capital, and Relations. 95

Agency. 96

Social capital 101

Relations. 106

Chapter 5: Context of women's empowerment outcomes and autonomy in rural Malawi 109

Economic independence. 109

Employment and form of earnings. 110

Control over earnings. 116

Education. 120

Gender attitudes and beliefs. 121

Household decision-making. 121

Right to refuse sex. 123

Experience of violence. 124

Tolerance of intimate-partner violence. 124

Physical violence. 126

Sexual violence. 127

Control in marital unions. 128

Intimate Partner Violence. 129

Summary. 131

Chapter 6: Results of women's empowerment survey. 133

Independent variables. 138

Women's empowerment domains. 157

Associations between matrilocality and women's empowerment outcomes 169

Summary. 170

Chapter 7: Association between matrilineal residence/community and women's empowerment across the domains. 172

Results: 173

Chapter 8: Conclusion. 215

Introduction. 215

Hypotheses. 218

Methodology. 220

Results. 222

Agency. 232

Summary of results. 232

Limitations and Future Recommendations. 236

Applicability of findings for global health and development interventions 245

Findings in ethnographic context 248

Bibliography. 251

Annex 1: Women's Empowerment--Multi-dimensional Evaluation of Agency, Social Capital, and Relations (WE-MEASR) Survey Tool 265

Annex 2: Distribution of Responses to WE-MEASR Sub-Scales. 306

Annex 3. ANOVA results for model selection. 333

Annex 4: Model Selection. 335

Annex 5: Comparison of Results Across Models. 371

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