Gender Roles in Economics

Tannese have a gendered although flexible division of labor. Men frame houses and women weave coconut frond thatching for roof and walls. Men hunt the occasional wild pig, fish with spear guns, and also go to sea in canoes to fish, while women fish from shore or gather shellfish on the reefs. Women do laundry and much of the day-to-day household cooking, although men help prepare earth ovens and butcher pigs and cows cooked therein during feasts. Men carve bows and make arrows, while women spend much time weaving bark skirts, baskets, and mats for everyday use or ritual exchange. Islanders practice swidden horticulture, clearing away secondary forest growth each year for new plantations. Men are primarily responsible for "slashing and burning" the forest, although women help prepare cleared fields for burning. Both men and women plant, tend, and harvest crops, but women shoulder most of the weeding duties. Women also undertake much of the work of feeding the family's pigs, although men and children pitch in as well. Women do much of the petty marketing, selling produce, kava, crafts, and other goods at roadside stands or at the island's weekly marketplaces.

There is also a division of labor within the commercial economy. Slightly more boys than girls go on to higher education, but some educated women work on Tanna as teachers, nurses, shop and bank clerks. Men dominate public works jobs and monopolize opportunities to drive vehicles and equipment. Many Islanders have migrated to the capital and engage in a variety of wage labor. Men once practiced "circular migration," leaving the island temporarily in search of work. As more people are establishing permanent careers off-island, increasing numbers of women are also migrating up to Port Vila and beyond. Many male migrants work in agriculture, construction, and taxi driving. Women without education often find work in town as "house girls" (maids and nannies).

Gender inequalities characterize the island's inheritance system. Men acquire rights to land through their personal name; most male names give title to garden lands, forest, and village house sites. Female names, however, have no entailed land estate and women acquire access to land first through their fathers, and then through their husbands. Most families have little permanent inheritable property, although when they do (e.g., a vehicle), sons inherit more than daughters.

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