What makes The Two-Headed Household unique—besides its findings of gender equality—is that the author finds that neither 'planned' or 'unplanned' development have served to undermine women's status within the household or the community. She also does an excellent job of locating her results in the relevant literature and in exploring the factors that have maintained gender equality in this region. The book's strength lies in the excellent use of ethnographic data to explore household decision-making processes.
The Two-Headed Household is an ethnographic account of gender relations and intrahousehold decisionmaking as well as a policy-oriented study of gender and development in the indigenous Andean community of Chanchalo, Ecuador. HamiltonÆs main argument is that the households in these farming communities are “two-headed.” Men and women participate equally in agricultural production and management, in household decisionmaking, and share in the reproductive tasks of child care, food preparation, and other chores. Based on qualitative fieldwork and regional household survey data, this book investigates the effect on women's lives of gender bias in agricultural development programs and labor and commodities markets. Despite household economic reliance on these programs and markets, there is extraordinary evidence of social and economic gender equality. Traditional Andean kinship structures enable women and men to enter marriage as materially equal partners. As seen in case studies of five women and their families, the author continually encounters joint decisionmaking and shared household and agricultural responsibilities. In fact, it often seems that women have the final say in many decisions. There is the belief that a dynamic balance of power between male and female heads provides an impetus toward mutually desired economic and social goals. Despite the strong influence of the patriarchal power of the hacienda system, Andean gender ideology accords women and men equal measures of physical, mental, and emotional fortitude. The belief that maintaining traditional forms of economic collaboration helped them survive on the hacienda was reinforced under the economic and political domination of the patriarchal systems of the landed elite, church, and state. Today, these people are proud of their strong women, strong families, and community solidarity which they believe distinguishes them from Ecuadorean and American societies. Hamilton suggests that women in developing countries should not be viewed as simply, or even inevitably, victims of gender-biased structural or cultural institutions. They may resist male bias, perhaps even with the support of local-level institutions. The Two-Headed Household demonstrates that analysis of gender relations should focus on forms of cooperation among women and men, as well as on forms of conflict, and will be of interest to scholars and students in anthropology, gender and development, and Latin American Studies.
The Two-Headed Household presents a thorough analysis of the theoretical and country-specific literature. The research is original and well documented and is unique in combining quantitative and qualitative approaches. It excels as an ethnography.
[A] rich ethnographic account of household relations. It will benefit researchers and students interested in learning about gender, household relations, and economic development in a cross-cultural perspective.
[T]he author presents convincing and significant conclusions that should shape the direction of future anthropological and historical studies and reorient developement strategies. . . . Labor historians, especially those concerned with the interplay of gender and capitalist development, will find Sarah Hamilton's intriguing and distinctive micro-study to be both important and insightful.
Sarah Hamilton is a sociocultural anthropologist specializing in the study of economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is director of the Women in International Development Program at Virginia Tech.