Change in Attitudes Beliefs and Practices Regarding Gender

The Waorani maintain their traditional egalitarian gender relationships and women still have equal status in the community, in marriage, and in day-to-day activities and decision-making. Both genders are still expected to be self-reliant, independent, and autonomous. The influence of the less symmetrical gender relationships of the larger Ecuadorian society is evident, however, in the political organization of the Waorani and in employment in non-traditional occupations, which are more likely to be dominated by men. It is also evident in literacy. Although both boys and girl go to school, young males are more likely to go on to secondary school and university, and are more likely to be bilingual in Spanish and to be able to read and write well. It is unclear how much this is due to expectations of the kowodi, to the kind of jobs available (e.g., manual labor for the oil companies), or to the early marriage and child-bearing patterns of young Waorani women (e.g., more closely spaced births and higher fertility). It is clear that the Waorani are in transition. They embrace new knowledge and new ways of living while they simultaneously try to maintain aspects of traditional culture that are important to them. Their fierce independence and self-reliance may help them to maintain gender equity despite the outside influences that tend to undermine it.


Thanks go to Stephen Beckerman, James Boster, Rosemary Diaz, Jhanira Regalado, and James Yost for their comments, suggestions, and knowledge of the Waorani. Special thanks to James Boster for lending his orthographic expertise for Wao tedeo and to all the pikwnani who spent long hours telling us about their lives.

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