Unpacking Widow Headship and Agency in Post-Conflict Nepal


Ramnarain, Smita. 2016. “Unpacking Widow Headship and Agency in Post-Conflict Nepal.” Feminist Economics 22 (1): 80–105.


Feminist scholars have highlighted a rise in “non-traditional” household structures, as exemplified by female- and widow-headed households, as a consequence of war. This study points to the necessity of disaggregating female headship to trace the contours of household vulnerability of widow-headed households, a subset of female-headed households. The inadequacy of surveys in explaining the interplay between economic vulnerability and social norms is ameliorated through the use of ethnographic data and the narratives of widow heads collected through fieldwork in 2008–9 and 2011. The study traces key coping strategies of widow-headed households in Nepal to provide insight into the processes by which widow heads mediate social institutions and patriarchal norms in their everyday struggles for survival, and the spaces of agency that emerge herein. The study concludes with implications for prevailing understandings of household headship and agency that development practitioners must be attentive to in devising policies to support widow heads.

Keywords: agency, violent conflict, qualitative methods, female headship

Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Nepal

Year: 2015

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