Accepted paper:

Revisiting the patriarchal bargain: The intergenerational power dynamics of household money management in rural Nepal


Lu Gram (University College London)
Naomi Saville (University College London)
Dharma Manandhar (Mother Infant Research Activities)
Joanna Morrison (Institute for Global Health)
Jolene Skordis-Worrall (Institute for Global Health)
Jenevieve Mannell (Institute for Global Health)

Paper short abstract:

Analysing the power dynamics of money management in rural extended households in contemporary Nepal, we found that junior wives and husbands often became secret allies in seeking financial autonomy from their in-laws and renegotiating the terms of Kandiyoti's (1988) 'patriarchal bargain'.

Paper long abstract:

Although power struggles between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law in the South Asian household remain an enduring theme of feminist scholarship, current policy discourse on 'women's economic empowerment' in the Global South has tended to focus on women's power in their spousal relationship to the neglect of intergenerational power dynamics. The aim of this study was to describe and analyse such power dynamics concerning money management in the contemporary rural Nepali household. We conducted a grounded theory study of 42 households from the Plains of Nepal involving semi-structured interviews with 15 mothers-in-law, 3 elder sisters-in-law, 22 junior daughters-in-law, and 20 husbands. Our study uncovered multiple ways in which junior wives and husbands in the extended household became secret allies in seeking financial autonomy from the rule of the in-laws. Most prominently, husbands sometimes secretly transferred part of their income to their wife to save up for a household separation from the in-laws. Anticipating such a move by the junior couple, extended household members closely policed the junior couple's access to cash, which only further strengthened their incentive to separate. We argue these secret financial strategies constitute a means for daughters-in-law to renegotiate the terms of Kandiyoti's (1988) 'patriarchal bargain' wherein junior wives traditionally had to accept subservience to their husband and mother-in-law in exchange for economic security and eventual authority over their own daughter-in-law. Researchers, activists and policy-makers concerned with women's economic empowerment in South Asia should consider the impact of intergenerational power relations and unexpected allies on women's control over cash.

panel E09
Gender Inequalities in South Asia