Commercial Activities

Men and women behave as commercial actors and enter a wide number of economic activities, although, again, these appear to fall into gendered categories. Women enter a wide range of activities, including food processing, domestic work, and vending, while men will specialize in heavy labor. Men also produce items and vend, although they generally make and sell different products. Men and women both tend to extend their traditional activities outside the home and into the market (Babb, 1989; Bunster, 1983).

What of instances where the genders occupy quite different social spheres? Here, women extend their traditional economic work into the commercial realm while still remaining within the home. For instance, traditional Muslim women often live secluded in the household and work hard to earn a living while remaining in seclusion. Traditional Hausa women in Nigeria, who maintain complete seclusion and never leave the home, trade a variety of prepared snacks and meals, clothing and cloth, cooking oil, eggs, and compound sweepings that are sold as fertilizer. These women will also prepare food and/or sew clothes on commission, and cook at large events. They maintain their seclusion by selling their items out of windows in their homes, and using their children to deliver goods and solicit customers. Hausa women may sometimes become the primary support of their families, while agriculture becomes a secondary source of family income (Hill, 1972).

Similarly, high-caste Indian women in Naraspur make lace while remaining in seclusion. The Naraspur women in particular are able to earn a small income while continuing to observe seclusion and, again, are often the primary support of their families (Mies, 1982). Nonetheless, in this case the available skills of these women interact with religious and gender norms to keep earnings small; lower-caste women, who seek work as farm laborers and who do not practice seclusion, earn far more money and can provide more for their families.

In the Indian city of Lucknow some high-caste women embroider, but there the local embroidery called chikan is practiced by everyone, and higher-caste and Muslim women aspiring to a higher social class will observe purdah strictly and thus cannot market embroidery or enter other embroidery-related activities that might require them to leave home (Wilkinson-Weber, 1999).

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