An Analysis of the Equality Between Husband and Wife in Third World Countries

Categories: Sociology

In the United States, equality between a husband and a wife continues to progress, globally, especially in third world countries the oppressed position of women in the household continues to be a prevalent problem. 

In both India and Brazil, women are not equal to their male counter parts within the household. Factors that cause this inequality to manifest and continue can be attributed to, male dominant and patriarchal histories of the countries, employment opportunities, legal issues, especially the rights of women to control reproduction, educational opportunities for girls, marriage customs and vulnerability of women within the family due to fears of violence, domestic abuse and rape.


The colonization of Brazil occurred primarily by men of Portuguese decent. In creating this society, they instilled the values of machismo, which is highly prevalent in most Latin American countries. This concept provides men with both authority and strength while women are placed in a position of sub-ordinance and identified as weak (Aboim, 2004). The tradition of machismo as well as the patriarchy of the Catholic Church places men in dominance (Aboim, 2004).

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With this сosuperioritl comes the sexual double standard. Men are expected to demonstrate their masculinity and virility through premarital and extramarital sexual experiences. Women on the other hand are expected to remain virginal until marriage and to be faithful to their husbands throughout the union (Lewis, 1997). These values are difficult to put into practice at times because of poverty, isolation and unequal ratios of men and women. As a result, illegitimacy and prostitution are common.

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Although this paradox exists, the traditional view is the most widely accepted (ibid).

Women have, despite their oppression, been allowed open access to schools and employment, and in 1933 were granted suffrage on a national level. With this equality they were still not recognized as equal with men in matters of the home. Men were automatically considered the heads of household and women were legally subordinate to their husbands. Under a Civil Code reform put into place in 1962 women were considered to be in the same legal category as minors (Aboim, 2004). Women of middle and upper classes could not legally represent their family or administer the families assets. Nor were they able to work outside of the house without the consent of the male head of household (Alvim, 2000). Before the creation of the new Brazilian Constitution of 1988 which granted men and women equality under the law, the father or husband of a woman had the right to control any employment contract she entered into. If her work was thought to be interfering with the health or well being of the family these men had the right to abolish these contracts. The New Brazilian Constitution provided women with many triumphs in attempting to close the gap of inequality between men and women. A key aspect of this constitution was the redefinition of the family in a more democratic direction and redistribution of authority within the family (Verucci, 1991). Previously the only right given to women in constitutions was the right to invoke the protection of the state. This was only the case in families in which marriage vows had been taken. It therefore provided little comfort to women involved in common law marriages (Verucci, 1991). Divorce had only within the last decade become an option and even then, women were forced to wait years and had great difficulty in getting back any wages they had earned during the marriage (Blaney, 2003).

The New Constitution defined the family as the basis of society and it offered protection to the women, by the state, regardless of how the union was established. This ensured a stable union between men and women. The constitution went further finally revoking the husband or status as head of the household, and suggested that the rights and duties should be equally shared amongst a man and a woman (Verruci, 1991). Within the households of India, women are subservient to their male counterparts, or husbands, as well as, in traditional kinship structures, their mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, brothers-inlaw and the daughters of the household. Traditional marriage arrangements in India see that women, after marriage, move to live with their husband’s family. This is now only prevalent in rural India, because conditions in the cities are not conducive to this extended patrilineal living arrangement. In cases where the traditional pattern is followed, the wife is subservient to all members of the husband’s family, including other daughters-in-law that have been within the family for a longer period of time. Because the trend for residence and the household is changing to a more urban pattern, women now are often only responsible for the care of their nuclear family, inclusive of their husbands and children.

Women are ultimately seen as being responsible for the happiness of their husbands and the full functionality of their homes. You have to try so hard to protect your husband, yourself, your offspring and your home from evil. At every step of the way you have to look after your husband’s happiness; you have to work very hard to keep your husband’s love. Is all this an easy task? On top of that there are all these other things to consider family relations, male and female servants, guests and beggars, the cow and her young, society, the government and dharma (Walsh, 2004). Women are ultimately responsible for keeping happiness, order and full functionality of the household. It is seen as disgraceful to let any aspect of this suffer within the household. Divorce is legal in India, given the controversial statutes passed in The Native Marriage Act III of 1872 (Sarkar, 2001). Divorce, though, is looked down upon, and as social class rises, the rates of legal divorce decline. Women often leave their husbands for extended periods of time to take holiday with their families. Though they may return only briefly to visit their husbands, they do not seek legal divorce as it would bring shame upon both of the families.

Social appearance for a family in India is extremely important. The family that I stayed with in India had their eldest daughter return, as they stated, from her marriage. She traveled only about twice a year to socialize with her still legal husband and his family. The marriage customs of Brazil are not very different from those of the United States. The Roman Catholic traditions are similarly put into practice in both countries. Brazilians are known for very festive weddings. The bride’s maids are called madrinhas and the groomsmen, padrinhos and their responsibility is financial as well as spiritual. They usually help pay for the party. The major difference of marriage in Brazil occurs between classes. Members of the upper class usually throw elaborate church weddings. Many Brazilians do not have a church ceremony or a reception. After seven years, a couple who is living together (and often share children with little concern to legality or morality) are wed under the eyes of the law. (McCann, 2004). Although after marriage the bride joins the husband’s family the strength of kinship is not quite as intense as the system established in India. Dowries are common in India, where a bride’s family must give a gift to the husbands family when a daughter is given in marriage.

Complications in dowry giving are common, and can lead to abuse and even murder, when a dowry is seen as insufficient. According to the 1998 United Nations Human Rights Report, as many as 3,260 dowry deaths occurred in 1996 (UN Human Rights Report, 1999). These murders are often portray[ed) as a suicide or kitchen accident. These deaths are often not properly investigated by police or other authorities, and thus husbands are often not found responsible for these murders. In fact, the first suspect of these crimes is the husband’s family, if the couple has been married for less than seven years (UN Human Rights Report, 1999). This again shows the vulnerable position that women are exposed to once they enter a marriage. Because of marriage practices in India, women are subservient to the husband. Women are married off to a man, of an equal class or caste, and are then no longer regarded as members of their own family. Though a woman may visit her family for a holiday period every year, upwards of a month, the woman, once married ultimately belongs to her husband and his family. Though love marriages, where a male and female pick each other as marriage partners, are becoming more common, especially in urban India, arranged marriages are still common. An arranged marriage is the union of a male and female usually arranged by either an older aunt in the family, or by a hired matchmaker. Because women have no legal right to property, or land, they, once married, become dependent upon their husbands for survival (Walsh, 2004). Given this dependence, women serve to meet their husband needs and desires. A woman constantly seeks the approval of her husband, and in cases where she lives with his family, their approval as well. In regards to a womans plight, They can think of nothing else their husband’s love seems to be the only purpose of their life (Walsh, 2004). Once a woman is married she becomes dependent on her husband for survival. Because of this dependence, men essentially dominate the power within the domestic spectrum even though they usually work outside of the home, and women are left to perfect the household. 

The instillation of the 1988 constitution suggested that women for the first time had the right to make decisions about the family. Family planning, as a result, became a constitutional right. At the same, time individual rights to reproduction were still to be respected, and family planning was in no way to be coerced (Verruci, 1991). There already exists in Brazil a state-sponsored program for women medical care through which contraceptives and information are supposed to be made available to the public. But this program has not yet succeeded in reaching large numbers of women due both to lack of funds and the opposition of the Catholic Church. In the last few decades families have changed a great deal. Most notable is a significant decline in the nation’s birth rate (World Bank Group, 1998). In 1965, the fertility rate was 5.7 children per woman, today it’s 2.3 (Alvim, 2000). This decline can be attributed to the fact that 99.6% of Brazilian women are aware of some type of contraception. Still, the most frequently used type is sterilization. Four out of ten sexually active women of childbearing age have been sterilized (ibid). Approximately 27.3% of women in Brazil choose sterilization as opposed to a much smaller percent of 7.6 in developed countries (ibid). As is the case in many countries, funding from the government in areas that assist the poor and women is very minimal. The public health sector of Brazil has indeed failed to install a health care program for its women.

Women’s organizations, researchers, and even several government officials criticize the nation’s abuse of sterilization. In 1986 a program intended to address not only the contraception issue but also reduce illness and deaths among women and children was created. This program, PAISM (Program of Integral Attention to Women’s Health) has not yet been properly installed. As a result maternal mortality is extremely high. The ratio of deaths to births is a shocking 150 to every 100,000 births. This ratio is in contrast to only 10 to every 100,000 in the United States (Gall, 2004). In addition to death during the actual birth of a child, another 10,000 women die every year because of illegal abortions. With such a strong Catholic sentiment throughout the nation, abortions are still considered illegal and about 1 million underground abortions are estimated to be performed each year. Abortions have only recently become legal in the case of rape or risk to the woman’s life (Alvim, 2000). In India, women are often submissive to their husbands in regards to their own sexuality and control of their reproductive rights. As seen in the movie Dadis Family, one of the women stated that though she would only have chosen to have two children, her husband wanted three, and thus she had another child. Women often have their first child before reaching the age of twenty-two, due to the fact seen as having little control over their fertility and reproductive rights (Menon-Sen, et al, 2001). On average, women in India have three children (CIA World Factbook, 2004). This number may be higher in rural areas, and lower in urban areas. Male children are typically celebrated while female children are not so.

In India there are 927 women for every 1,000 males (Menon-Sen, et al, 2001). The reason for this disparity is that many women die before they reach adulthood or are never actually born. The Indian government is taking measures to prevent abortions of female fetuses, after publicly realizing the problem in 1994:Owing to the prevalence of female foeticide, the central Government enacted the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in 1994, which will have precedence over the existing legislation on sex determination tests in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab and the proposed legislation in Haryana. The new legislation states categorically that those conducting the diagnostic procedure should not communicate to the woman or her relatives the sex of the fetus. Misuse of the diagnostic procedure could result in imprisonment of three years and a fine of Rs 10,000 and suspension of the registration of doctors convicted for abuse of the new technology (United Nations Human Rights Report, 1999)

.Premature death of women, also contributing to the survival of only 927 females for every 1,000 males can be attributed to mal-nutrition, anemia, and what is termed nutritional discrimination (Menon-Sen, 2001). The idea of nutritional discrimination is that male members of the family always eat first, while female members eat what is left after the male members of the family are through eating. For women it is seen as unacceptable to eat large amounts. Although Brazilian women seem to have more rights than Indian women in the household, the constitutional laws of the Brazilian household are generally practiced mostly in theory not in actuality. The male may not be legally supported as head of household, but he certainly continues to be the dominant figure in society. The oppression of woman in Brazil is looked upon almost blindly by the nation’s government. Domestic violence is extremely common in Brazil. In fact, statistics suggest that every 15 seconds a woman is beaten and 43% of Brazilian women fall victim to domestic abuse (Blaney, 2003). Machismo and impunity continue to be root forces contributing to the increase in violence against women.

Recently men were protected under the law for the mistreatment of women describing domestic abuse as crimes of passion and often acquitted of any punishment. Feminists involved in the Brazilian Women’s Rights Movement have tried to organize an effort in which public policies can be more effectively implemented so that Brazilian woman can feel confident that domestic violence will not be tolerated and Brazilian men will know that they will be held accountable for violence within their household. Statistically in India, rape, molestation and sexual harassment are also common (Menon-Sen,et al, 2001). Rapes are rarely processed through the court systems, and men are not usually arrested for their behavior. In some cases, where men are accused of rape and hold high social positions within the community, they are simply asked to resign from their position (United Nations Human Rights Report, 1999). Results from the United Nations Human Rights Report showed that 30% of married men admit that they are violent toward their wives. Though domestic abuse is prevalent, women often feel that they have nowhere else to go. Because there are not laws established to protect women in their rights to hold property, they are often discriminated against in marital matters, without due recourse (Menon-Sen, et al, 2001) and left without anywhere to go outside of their marriage. Traditionally parental wealth is handed down to a son rather than a daughter, thus this traditional pattern of inheritance only exacerbates the issue of discrimination against women. From this research, coupled with my observations while in India, it appears that class and social status are a very important factor within a woman’s life.

Though women may experience discrimination based on their sex no matter their social standing, it seems that the women in the most vulnerable positions are those in poverty. Because women have few options for control, and women do not control the finances of household, wealth and social standing can offer women opportunities to rise out of complete oppression. The shift from rural population centers to a more urban landscape has allowed some women, particularly those with resources to attain an equal level of education with men in their same class. Women in higher classes also have time to pursue their own desires, as they are able to hand the responsibility of their household to a domestic worker. Domestic abuse is also a more prevalent happening in lower class families, and fewer disturbances over dowry gifts are reported from those in upper class families. It appears that the more resources a female child in India is born with, the better her chances will be at avoiding the oppression felt by women in lower social classes than her. The patterns of poverty that are seen in India I found to be complex, especially given the outdated and outlawed differentiations made through the caste system. Because of the caste system, in the past, vertical mobility in India was not easily achieved.

Though the caste system has been outlawed in name, it seems to remain in existence in practice. Especially for poor women, vertical mobility is rarely ever achieved, unless a woman can marry above her class. These opportunities are rare, especially given the predominance of dowry gifts, and the expenses of marriage incurred by the bride’s family. As one woman discussed, if she is not able to go to her job as a domestic worker, she sends her daughter as a substitute. This substitution comes out of fear of losing her job, but this woman fails to act upon the fact that with her nine year old daughter receiving no education, she is guaranteeing a similar position and employment schematic for her daughter. Poverty, especially for women and female children appears to be cyclical. The educational opportunities between Brazilian and Indian women differ greatly and are illustrated through the disparity in literacy rates of women in these two countries. The equality created amongst men and women in the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 has granted women the same access as to education as men (Encarta, 2004). Children are expected to receive primary education from the ages 7 to 14. High school is 4 years, and the education throughout these years is free. In 1971 there was a major reform of the academic system resulting in a basic education of 7 years consisting of a common core of studies (ibid). Surprisingly the performance of women and the number of years they spend in school is greater than men especially at the university level. Today nearly all children complete both primary and high school. Although this is true there are considerable variations that exist in opportunity between urban and rural children and amongst social classes. The reconstruction of the school system has resulted in an increase of the countries literacy rate of adults over 15 from 50% in 1950 to almost 87% today. Additionally the level of adult literacy between sexes does not vary significantly (ibid). 

On the other hand women in India face extreme challenges in educational opportunity. While 70.2% of the male population is literate, only 48.3% of the female population is literate, based on data collected by the CIA World Factbook. Though upper class women are often educated in fine institutions, and when questioned, their husbands feel that women should be educated, this is often only found as the opinion of either upper class Indians, or reform minded men (Walsh, 2004). Compulsory education is guaranteed in India for all citizens, male and female alike, until the age of fourteen (Status of Women in India, 1975). India has not achieved the goal of educating all of its youth through this program of free education. It is seen that though attendance for girls at the youngest age is often about two thirds, or 66% enrollment, this figure drops considerably as girls age. By the time girls are between the ages of eleven and fourteen, the enrollment rate is only approximately 22%, while the enrollment for boys is more than double this figure (ibid). Within higher educational institutions, such as university, the percentage of women in attendance is even lower, and is seen as only attainable for upper and upper-middle class urban Indian women (ibid). According to a survey conducted by The National Committee on the Status of Women in India, only 16.8% of respondents felt that women should receive no education at all. 64.5% felt that girls should be educated only through the primary school level, despite their aptitude for scholastics (ibid). 

Girls are often excluded from educational attainment because they have to take on household/domestic responsibilities. Girls from a young age may have to look after their siblings, or help with other domestic chores including cooking and cleaning, fetching fuel for cooking or gathering water, though this usually only occurs in lower class families (ibid). As one domestic worker, and mother notes, in regards to her employment in the home of an upper class family, I am sick, I try to send my daughter to substitute. She is only nine but she helps (Roy, 2003). Because the domestic responsibilities of women are so great, especially for those in the lower classes, responsibilities are often passed on to the female children, thus excluding them from attending school. Given limited educational opportunities, women are thus precluded from the upper echelons of employment opportunities. 

Compounding the lack of education in attaining a professional job for women in India is the attitude that a woman’s place is in the home. Though some women in upper classes are able to attain high levels of education, and then often have professional jobs, their participation in the market often wanes after the birth of their first child. For those women who are not from upper classes, traditional thoughts leave them with only their domestic responsibilities. Especially in rural areas, where women would have to commute from villages into the suburbs or cities, men feel that these activities are not appropriate. They in fact should be in the home. As one man from a rural town, Canning, states,  have been commuting to Calcutta for fourteen years to sell vegetables at the Chetla market. But my wife and children stay in the village. That is the proper place for theml he continues on to say, in regards to women who commute to Calcutta, But it not right that all of these women come to the city every day.

They are ruining our society. They have left their homes and are now roaming the city. It is a moral catastrophe (Roy, 2003). Given the predominance of traditional minded men, especially within the more rural sectors of India, women seeking a job, other than in the informal market, are met with opposition. Traditionally a womans role is within the household, and many men work to keep this attitude alive. Given the high unemployment rate in India, 9.5% (CIA World Factbook, 2004), men too are seeking jobs. Given the competition with men, women find it very difficult to obtain a job within the formal market sector. Often the only jobs that women can get are either in agriculture or as a domestic worker in the home of a wealthier family. When women are able to find employment, they are not compensated in wages at the same rate as their male co-employees, especially when women are involved in agricultural work (Menon-Sen, et al, 2001). Regardless of the mans ability to control womens participation in the labor market of Brazil, today women are able to openly enter the workforce.

However, the conditions under which they labor are still very unequal in comparison to those of men. In 1970 only 18.5% of Brazilian women worked outside of the household. In opposition to India it is noted that nearly 41% of the Brazilian work force today is female (Alvim, 2000). Even though women compose such a large part of the labor force there is a significant wage gap between the men and women. Women of the labor force earn anywhere from 42 to 77.8% of the male wages depending on their location in Brazil. (Lewis, 1997) This contributes to male domination in the household because it keeps women from being the breadwinners. The increase in female participation in the labor force can partially be attributed to the notable increase in the service sector of the Brazils industry. Approximately 84% of women in the labor force work in jobs involving some type of service. (Lewis, 1997) The most obvious of these occupations is domestic service. Laws have been created in an attempt to protect all laborers of the Brazilian economic system. Often these domestic workers are not registered in the workforce and therefore do not benefit from these legislations even though they are the ones who need it the most. The conditions of these workers have often been described as resembling those of slavery.

Although the participation of women in these low wage sectors of the labor force can be seen as one of the primary reasons for the wage gap, another is simply blatant discrimination against women. Women’s participation in executive positions in trade unions has historically been very minimal. Trade unions, with the lack of female influence, failed to recognize women as political subjects and failed to acknowledge their achievements in the area of labor relations. (Martens, 1994) However, as the women’s movement of Brazil continued to strengthen, the issues of gender discrimination in the work place, the double working day of employed women, and men lack of housework and child care was publicized strengthening the relationship between trade unionists and feminists.

As a result many of the trade unions and central organizations began to implement gender policies (ibid). Although the plight of women in India and Brazil is different the oppression of women in both countries remains a primary concern of feminists worldwide, especially in matters regarding equality within the household. Both countries historically are patriarchal which proves to be the root of the problem. In India the kinship system and dowry exchange make rise from oppression that is impossible to change without further legal reform. Although the kinship structure has weakened in Brazil, the traditional value of machismo keeps women in a less extreme, though similar situation to that of their Indian sisters. Employment opportunities are equally significant forces of oppression for women in both countries. Recent accomplishments in gender equality in Brazil have allowed women open access to the labor market, but advances in narrowing the wage gap have proved to be unsuccessful, thus ensuring the place of men as the primary source of income for the family. In India, women make up a smaller percentage of the workforce and are expected to be more concerned with matters of the home.

However, in both countries women are the most prominent in the service sector of the labor market. The most disturbing condition of women in the household is domestic abuse. In India dowry deaths are of extreme concern, especially because the majority of these crimes are not investigated as murder. Although nothing of this manner occurs in Brazil, 43% of women are abused in the household. And with legislation allowing these incidents to be labeled as crimes of passion, the abuse of women will only continue. This is the worst mechanism of oppression expressed by the men of these countries. The biggest accomplishment of women in Brazil is their advancement in education. This, perhaps, is the ultimate vehicle to help women rise from a position of sub-ordinance to one of gender equality. Unfortunately, women in India have been unable, so far, to acquire educational opportunities similar to those available for women in Brazil. The expectation of Indian women to handle all domestic responsibilities of the household has made furthering education of young women, especially poor women, nearly impossible. 

As women in both India and Brazil struggle against the forces of oppression, we see throughout the world, even in the United States, the social acceptance of men as the head of household enables patriarchal values to continue. Patriarchy in India and Brazil is unmatched in first world nations. We end by asking ourselves and others, is it easier to fight the patriarchal society when met with overt sexism, or are we better off here in the United States, where the covert practices of patriarchy are covered by a notion of equality?

Works Cited for Brazil Country

  1. Study Aboim, Maria Luiza, Brazil: Domestic Violence and Women’s Movement., Family Violence Prevention Fund: 2004[This article was the most comprehensive found on the Women’s Movement. It discusses the history of the movement as well as future challenges that it faces.
  2. Gall, Timothy L. Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations 11th edition, Thomson Learning Inc.: 2004.[A compilation of country articles, this resource was used to find statistics about Brazil and then compare them to those of other countries.]
  3. Blaney, Joanne. Womanâs Blues in BrazilBrazzil: 2003.[This article was created to discuss issues still plaguing Brazilian Women, in observance of International Womens Day. Some of the issues discussed are low wages, gender inequality, machismo, and domestic violence.] 
  4. ABITAL. Abuse and Impunity in Brazil. Brazzil: 2004[An article based on many facts from the Perseau Abramo Foundation. It is an excellent source for statistics concerning domestic violence.] 
  5. Alvim, Marta.  Turning the Tide.l Brazzil:2000[This article discussed the history of the feminist movement and applied this movement to the current status of women in areas such as politics and health.]
  6. Kramarae, Cheris. Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women. Routelede: New York, 2000.[This is a series of four books that instead of breaking down into each country discusses topics and how they effect certain countries. It was good for comparing statistics as well as finding information about the status of women in Brazil particularly in politics.]
  7. Lewis, Jone Johnson. Encyclopedia of Womenâs History: Brazil. About, Inc: 1997[This website is a complete encyclopedia of women’s history and the article about Brazilian women is important because it examines the existence of the patriarchal society and how it oppresses Brazilian women in terms of wage, politics, and education.]
  8. Martens, Margaret H. Women in Trade Unions: Organizing and Unorganized, Geneva, Swiss: International Labor Office, 1994[This novel was a collection of case studies of women in both developed and undeveloped countries on organizing women at all levels. It was useful in providing how womens lack of representation in labor unions had a very adverse affect on their work conditions.]
  9. McCann, Gilman. Tangent. November, 9th 2004. On this informative tangent Professor McCann enlightened us of the Latin American custom cohabitation in which two adults may live together and bare children out of wedlock without concern to morality.) Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Brazil. 2004. Available online [The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia provided me with an informative country study of Brazil. And made breaking down the social issues of women easier.]
  10. The World Bank Group, Brazil: A Country Study. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress: circa. 1998. [This is a comprehensive country study on Brazil and was the source of most of the basic information not pertaining to women which I used about Brazil.]
  11. Trafficking in Women, Children, and Adolescents for Commercial Sexual Exploitaion[This is a PowerPoint presentation that I found online that had many charts and graphs, (one of which is on page 12) that I found useful in discussing the sex trade in Brazil.]
  12. Verucci, Florisa. Women and the New Brazilian Constitution., College Park: 1991[This essay was written by a woman describes the intentions of the new Brazilian constitution and how it changed women roles in Brazil.]

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An Analysis of the Equality Between Husband and Wife in Third World Countries. (2021, Sep 11). Retrieved from

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