On the balance of power in household decision-making: A gender analysis in southern Sulawesi

To be published

Colfer C, Achadiawan R, Roshetko J, Mulyoutami E, Mulyana A, Yuliani L, Moeliono M and Adnan H.

Women are often portrayed as homemakers and passive victims of gendered oppression in the literature on gender, forestry and agroforestry. Earlier studies aimed at including women in development have to some extent fed into this bias, focusing largely on women’s contributions in the productive, traditionally ‘male-coded’ spheres, rather than appreciating women’s roles in the reproductive, private spheres. This paper aims to examine the ‘experienced involvement of women and men in decision-making in management of natural resources, and especially within the household’. To capture the gender dynamics at play, 15 male and 15 female respondents (not married to each other or part of the local elite) were chosen. The authors tried to replicate existing ethnic variation in the research population. Five study sites were chosen across south and southeast Sulawesi. The data was originally collected in order to provide indicators of change over time, working together with communities towards locally defined goals. To complement the participatory and survey work, the authors reviewed social science literature on the research areas. This allowed them to critically assess global theories in the light of the local contexts, especially with regard to traditional Southeast Asian gender roles.

The respondents were asked to rank their level of involvement in decisions about food production and consumption; money management; life changes (e.g. choice of partner); and to describe their attitudes towards domestic violence. With some regional variation, the authors found that men seemed to dominate decision-making on upland fields and orchards, while women had a strong voice in the use of home gardens and food choices. Women also seem to dominate financial management, as it is an area that is traditionally disvalued by men. Income generation is broadly considered to be a right of both genders, while decision-making power about life changes varies regionally. In many cases it is not determined by gender, but by other hierarchical structures found within the families or in the communities. Both men and women generally disapproved of domestic violence (even when it was broadly defined).

These findings imply that strong female voices in local decision-making can be found, making a case for a meaningful inclusion of women in landscape-
and national level decision-making. This would require men to take more responsibility within the household, thus breaking down the gendered public/private dichotomy. Communication of results and discussion of alternatives with end users are crucial for the attitudinal change needed. Interestingly, of the groups studied, the least economically sophisticated were among the most inclusive in terms of decision-making. These systems need more attention in further research in order to both increase our general understanding as well as to do no harm.

To learn more about this project, contact Carol Colfer, c.colfer@cgiar.org