Our Lives as Women: An Analytical Framework of What Makes Q'eqchi' Women Sick


Medical Anthropology
Gender Roles

How to Cite

Natalya Jones. (2022). Our Lives as Women: An Analytical Framework of What Makes Q’eqchi’ Women Sick. Pathways, 3(1), 14–28. https://doi.org/10.29173/pathways34


The global pattern of women suffering from worse health than men, based on cultural, economic, and biological factors, was found in a small group of Q’eqchi’ women in the Toledo district of Belize. This research follows the health narratives of 20 Q’eqchi’ women to determine what they believe causes their poor health. Through in-depth personal interviews Q’eqchi’ women shared that they suffer from backaches, headaches, pain in their bones, and heavy bleeding. Further, the women also reported ‘thinking too much’ as a factor in their health caused by their reproductive roles. Through thematic analysis and an extensive review of varied literature, this research found that the colonization-rooted Latin gender roles of machismo and marianismo work to sustain Q’eqchi’ women to the domestic sphere. Based on the fact that most Q’eqchi’ women are mothers and wives, these women are stripped of opportunities to obtain education and gain employment, leading to high stress levels and a dependency on their partners for socioeconomic support. Moreover, Q’eqchi’ women’s domestic responsibilities involved arduous physical labour with little rest or help from their male spouses. This labour, combined with the pressures and responsibilities associated with their sex, results in their somatic and psychosomatic expressions of sickness. The research presented in this paper underpins the significance of women’s sex and cultural systems when analyzing global health outcomes. More nuanced considerations of cultural structures, like those mentioned by Q’eqchi’ women, need to be prioritized by policymakers and global health initiatives internationally to better support women’s health.




Ardren, Traci. 2002a. “Women and Gender in the Ancient Maya World.” In Ancient Maya

Women, edited by Traci Ardren, 1-11. Walnut Creek, CA: Altimira.

Baines, Kristina. 2016. Embodying Ecological Heritage in a Maya Community: Health,

Happiness, and Identity. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Belize, T. S. I. of. (2018, January 2). Statistical Institute of Belize. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://sib.org.bz/

Berry, Nicole S. 2006. "Kaqchikel Midwives, Home Births, and Emergency Obstetric Referrals in Guatemala: Contextualizing the Choice to Stay at Home.” Social Science and Medicine62: 1958-1969.

Braveman, P., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The Social Determinants of Health: It's time to consider the causes of the causes. Public Health Reports, 129(1_suppl2), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/00333549141291s206

Braun, V., Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3:2, 77-101, DOI: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Braun, V., Clarke., V. (2014). What can “thematic analysis” offer health and wellbeing

researchers?, International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-

being, 9:1, DOI: 10.3402/qhw.v9.26152

Da Silva, N., Verdejo, T. R., Dillon, F. R., Ertl, M. M., & De La Rosa, M. (2021). Marianismo Beliefs, Intimate Partner Violence, and Psychological Distress Among Recently Immigrated, Young Adult Latinas. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(7–8), 3755– 3777. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260518778263

Díaz, Esperanza, Smith-Sivertsen, Dan Pope, Rolv T.Lie, Anaite Díaz, John McCracken, Byron Arana, Kirk R. Smith, and Nigel Bruce. 2005. “Eye Discomfort, Headache and Back Pain among the Mayan Guatemalan Women Taking Part in a Randomised Stove Intervention Trial.” Epidemiology 16(5): S49.

Ehlers, Tracy Bachrach. 1991. “Debunking Marianismo: Economic Vulnerability and Survival Strategies among Guatemalan Wives.” Ethnology 30 (1): 1-16.

Hosseinpoor, Ahmad Reza, et al. "Social Determinants of Self-Reported Health in Women and Men: Understanding the Role of Gender in Population Health." PLoS ONE, vol. 7, no. 4, 13 Apr. 2012, p. e34799. Gale Academic OneFile Select, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A477130641/EAIM?u=usaskmain&sid=bookmark- EAIM&xid=d9e3e276. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.

Kaiser, Bonnie M., Emily E. Haroz, Brandon A. Kort, Paul A. Bolton, Judith K. Bass, and Devon E. Hinton. 2015. “’Thinking too much’: A Systematic Review of a Common Idiom of Distress. Social Science & Medicine 147: 170-183.

Kockelman, P. (2014). Language, culture, and mind: Natural constructions and social kinds. Cambridge University Press.

Murray, K. (2020). Pregnancy Is Not A Sickness: Maternal Health Knowledge, Well- Being, And Decision-Making Among The Q’Eqchi’ Maya (dissertation).

Oliveras-Ortiz, Y., & Hickey, W. D. (2020). Educational leadership in a Mayan village in southern Belize: Challenges faced by a mayan woman principal. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 23(1), 40–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555458919874420

Organization, P. A. H. (2012, January 1). Faces, voices and places. Belize. Faces, Voices and Places. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://iris.paho.org/handle/10665.2/7691?show=full&locale-attribute=es

Pinos, Pinos, G., Baitar, R., Jerves, M., & Enzlin, P. (2016). Perception of gender stereotypes, machismo and marianismo in Ecuadorian adolescents: A focus group study. MASKANA, 7(2), 17–28. https://doi.org/10.18537/mskn.07.02.02

Re Cruz, Alicia. 1998. “Maya Women, Gender Dynamics, and Modes of Production.”

Sex Roles 39 (7/8): 573-587.

Wands, and Zoe Elspeth, and Tolib Mirzoev. 2020. "Intimate Partner Violence against Indigenous women in Sololá, Guatemala: Qualitative Insights into Perspectives of Service Providers. Violence Against Women. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801220981145

Warner, Faith R. 2007. “Social Support and Distress among Q’eqchi’ Women in Maya Tecún, Mexico.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 21(2): 193-217.

Waters, W. F., Ehlers, J., Ortega, F., & Kuhlmann, A. S. (2017). Physically demanding labor and health among indigenous women in the Ecuadorian Highlands. Journal of Community Health, 43(2), 220–226. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-017-0407-7

Yarris, Kristen Elizabeth. 2011.“The Pain of ‘‘Thinking too Much’’: Dolor de Cerebro and the Embodiment of Social Hardship among Nicaraguan Women.” Ethos 39 (2): 226–248.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2022 Natalya Jones