New Publication: Implications of Gender on Child Nutrition


Check out our newest publication by our research team!

“Implications of gender and household roles in Indigenous Maya communities in Guatemala for child nutrition interventions” in the International Journal of Indigenous Health. By: Heather Wehr, Anita Chary, Meghan Farley Webb, and Peter Rohloff


Guatemala’s Indigenous Maya population suffers from some of the highest rates of chronic child malnutrition (stunting) in the world. Most attempts to improve child nutrition in this context target mothers for behavioural interventions. In this study, we use focus group data from two Indigenous Maya communities to explore gender and intra-household power dynamics as they relate to child-rearing practices and to nutritional decision-making, including food purchasing. Findings of the study show that mothers are not autonomous with regard to child rearing and nutrition decision-making. In particular, paternal grandmothers are authoritative sources of knowledge and exert significant power over food-purchasing decisions. Furthermore, men overestimate the degree to which decision-making is shared with their wives, and the economic contributions that mothers make to household budgets often go unrecognized. These findings underscore that nutritional interventions in Indigenous Maya communities must be sensitive to the traditional intra-household authority structure and seek to engage not only mothers, but also fathers and paternal grandmothers in a productive collaboration. Furthermore, efforts must be made to increase recognition of the economic contributions of the mother to the household budget, and to recognize the implications of such economic work in terms of constraints on the mother’s availability for childcare.


An interesting quote from the article:

I think the responsibilities of the mother are greater than that of the father, because the mother loves the children more than the father. She is caring for the children, their hygiene, and she worries about their education because when they reach four or five years old she thinks, ‘Well, what do we do? Do we send the child to school or not?’ I think it’s also her responsibility to save money and spend sparingly when it comes to taking care of the children.

Important Conclusions from the Research

  • Encourage nutrition programs to take seriously the roles and responsibilities of family members other than mothers.
  • Constructively engaging paternal grandmothers, in particular, can lead to a greater recognition of their role as authoritative bearers of knowledge who can, through mentorship and counseling, support the increased role and decision-making power of their daughters-in-law
  • Caution: attempts to directly promote the autonomy of mothers that hinge on bypassing this traditional intra-household authority structure will likely lead to conflict
  • Nutrition programs should work with caregivers and community leaders to explore the discrepancy in perceived decision-making and economic contributions between men and women.
  • Although the economic role of women received little recognition from either the men or the women in our study, the latter are often busily engaged in the supplementation of household income, and this supplement may in fact be critical for maintaining child health.
  • From a programmatic perspective, failing to recognize the time that mothers spend engaged in economic activities may lead to unrealistic expectations of the time they have to commit to childcare and nutrition activities.

You can see the entire article here!