Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities

A Feminist Nirvana Uncovered
Kanchana N. Ruwanpura
A study of Muslim, Sinhala, and Tamil households in Sri Lanka that examines the commonality of the patriarchal structures and economic problems in such households


Kanchana N. Ruwanpura is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Hobart and William Smith.

Praise / Awards

  • "Kanchana Ruwanpura provides an astute analysis of patriarchal structures and resistance among female-headed households in eastern Sri Lanka. Her work decisively debunks the conventional wisdom that Sri Lanka is a "feminist nirvana" that war is the primary reason for growth of female-headed households, and that economists cannot do solid qualitative work. Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities makes an important contribution to feminist economic analysis of household structures, development, and the importance of ethnic differences."
    ---Randy Albelda, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Massachusetts-Boston
  • "This is a welcome reminder to all economists that modelling of intra-household decision-making is a great deal more complex than the dichotomy of unitary versus bargaining models. Ruwanpura powerfully demonstrates that female-headship, its interaction with ethnicity, and the powerful role played by community norms circumscribe women's decision-making in Sri Lanka in ways that can not be easily understood using standard economic theory. Instead, she demonstrates the power of her multidisciplinary approach to understanding complex gender relations. Despite impressive aggregate indicators, she also confronts us with the reality that women's achievements in terms of rights and power still leave much to be desired in Sri Lanka."
    ---Stephan Klasen, Professor of Economics, University of Gottingen, Germany
  • "Ruwanpura weaves a tapestry of economics and anthropology, feminist theory and critical realist meta-theory, quantitative and qualitative analysis, gender, class and caste to provide a rich explanation of changing household formations and social relations in female-headed households in Eastern Sri Lanka. This sophisticated analysis allows Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities to delve beneath the quantitative analysis that often portray Sri Lanka as a "feminist nirvana" and reveal, not only women's poverty and patriarchal domination, but also practical ways in which these problems might be challenged and circumvented."
    ---Steve Fleetwood, Lecturer, Lancaster University
  • "Ruwanpura challenges mainstream accounts (both neoclassical and feminist) of gender and development in Sri Lanka which view the country as an exemplar of human development through a case study of Sri Lankan female heads of household. She provides a useful summary of the literature on female headed households that helps to situate the study theoretically, and in-depth specifics on female headship in Sri Lanka across ethnic and religious communities. Ruwanpura's innovative feminist methodology provides us with a lens for understanding the way that gender, politics and culture are always intertwined with economics, making an important contribution to understanding cultural differences across households."
    ---Suzanne Bergeron, Associate Professor of Women's Studies and Associate Professor of Social Sciences, The University of Michigan-Dearborn

Look Inside


Acknowledgements     vi

Introduction: Unpacking A Feminist Nirvana     1

Diverse Households: Literature on Female-headship     14

The "Grand" and "Meta" Narratives: Situating Sri Lankan Female-heads     29

Matrilineal Muslims: Female-heads in the Muslim Community     51

Variation on a Theme: Sinhala Female-heads in Hybrid Lineage Systems     71

Matriclan Ideologies and Patriarchal Structures: Female-headship among Tamils     95

Dutiful Daughters, Sacrificing Sons     117

Juggling Acts: Political, Economic and Social Realities     144

Nearing Limits or Pushing Boundaries?     174

Conclusion: Interested Engagement---Feminist Issues in Development Economics     204

Appendix A
Map of Sri Lanka     213

Appendix B
Sample Questionnaire for Female-headed Households     215

Appendix C
Data Analysis: Methods, Motivations and Outcomes     226

References     232 

Product Details

  • 5.5 x 8.5.
  • 256pp.
  • 1 map, numerous charts and tables.
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  • Paper
  • 2006
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  • 978-0-472-06977-4

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