Implications of gender and household roles in Indigenous Maya communities in Guatemala for child nutrition interventions

  • Heather Wehr University of Kansas, Department of Anthropology
  • Anita Chary Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine & Department of Anthropology
  • Meghan Farley Webb University of Kansas, Department of Anthropology
  • Peter Rohloff Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance, Santiago Sacatepéquez, Guatemala; Department of Global Health Equities, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston MA Medical Director, Wuqu’ Kawoq Department of Global Health Equities, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115


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.

Research Papers