Gender Roles in Economics

Within Na household and village economies, both genders are active and important. While gender-specific labor is readily described, practice shows fluidity, and men often engage in work outside the recognized domain of men's labor. Na men are responsible for building and plowing; women are responsible for everything else. Women are generally considered responsible for all field-work, digging, tilling, planting, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and food processing. They are likewise considered responsible for feeding animals and livestock, although men are generally responsible for herding. Although butchering and funerary work are considered men's duties, most informants neglected to mention these unless specifically asked. Similarly, virtually no respondents replied that men's work includes protection or soldiering. Trade within Na areas is conducted by men and women. When speaking of the past, Na also mention long-distance trade as men's work. This sometimes kept men out of the village for months on end. However, the majority of men remained within the village. Currently, both young men and women are migrating out of rural Na areas to work in county or district cities. Women are perceived as having an advantage in finding service work in the tourism industry. However, women are generally paid less.

One of the interesting things is how ¬ę¬ęgendered much labor is. Men and women will both contribute to accomplishing many of the daily tasks of farm work and food processing (although perhaps not equally). This is especially true as household sizes shrink. Even in domestic chores, such as bringing in water, firewood, and meal preparation, men often contribute. Women's work seemed more difficult for respondents to define because it was so all-encompassing. Respondents sometimes laughed and said women did everything. Women still have much longer workdays than men, and still shoulder more than 50% of the farm labor and much of the household work (which includes long-term food storage and preparation, preparing and storing grain supplies, animal husbandry, and other tasks).

While Na discuss the jobs of plowing, construction, and butchering as men's work, usually women offer important assistance in accomplishing these tasks, often engaging in some of the most heavy labor involved. Plowing seems to be the single village activity that solely men engage in. Before farm work was collectivized, women and men plowed together using large plows drawn by two oxen. Women would walk behind and guide the plow, while a man would lead the plow and guide and control the oxen. It appears that during the era of collectivized farming, plowing shifted to being a task exclusively for men and at the same time the type of plow changed. In the past, hunting was almost exclusively a male task, but there is very little hunting now due to lack of game.

In general, men will engage in "women's work" without shame if there do not seem to be enough women to complete certain tasks. Women almost always serve meals and wash clothes. One of the few activities I was told that a man should not do is wash a woman's garments that have been soiled from menstruation or childbirth. Assistance in delivering a child comes from one's female relatives.

Shared labor will be organized for large projects, such as construction or planting seedlings. The woman of the house who has senior status and is still actively working will organize the appropriate amount of neighbors required for the activities. She keeps a mental tally of which households contributed which labor. This tally will be referred to on future occasions when reciprocity is called for. The same woman will generally decide how and when to give gifts or support to other households.

Traditionally, personal property included jewelry, knives, occasionally tools or musical instruments, and clothes. Clothing and other personal goods are often burnt with a corpse, but jewelry, knives, tools, and musical instruments are inherited by the remaining members of a household.

The position of household head will pass to a member of the household who is perceived as competent and stable. In practice, this often occurs while the elder household head is still alive. She or he may retain the title of household head, while the junior member has in effect taken on much of the management of the household.

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