Gender Roles in Economics

There is a very clear gendered division of labor in Bali, with economic and noneconomic roles allocated along principles of gender complementarity. The "conjugal economy" (Jennaway, 2002, p. 80) means that both men and women need to marry—there is no socially respectable alternative, and indeed no material alternative. Public life requires input from husband-wife couples. Subscriptions for temple maintenance and support of village priests are calculated on the basis of the husband-wife unit; public works are performed by gender-specific work teams with participation and contributions counted in terms of husband-wife units; obligations for village ritual cycles and certain life cycle rituals (notably death ceremonies) are calculated in terms of husband-wife units and performed according to gender (usually for weeks before ceremonies women prepare offerings individually at home, and men prepare meat offerings communally and eat communally). In the absence of a state welfare system, it is the family that supports the needy, sick, or aged. Sons are seen as the principal source of support for the aged, and the principle of male inheritance is justified in terms of the expectation that sons will sponsor the ceremonies that will eventually transform parents into deified ancestors. Hence procreation within marriage is the guarantee of security in old age and in the afterlife.

Some public roles have male and female counterparts; for example, the position of priests for village temples (pemangku) is occupied by a married couple. Much public and private work is divided along gender lines: women harvest, thresh, and carry the rice crop, and men plant, plough, irrigate, and weed; women raise pigs and chicken, and men raise cows, buffaloes and ducks; women carry sand, rocks, and bricks to serve the men building temples, houses, and public buildings; women spend an inordinate amount of time preparing incredibly ornate offerings from rice cakes, fruits, flowers, and leaves, while men spend much less time preparing offerings made of meat.

Some scholars have seen a high level of female autonomy in economic matters. Certainly, women enjoy personal sources of wealth—raising pigs for market, weaving or other handwork, the operation of food stalls—they dominate village markets, which are largely a female territory, and they control the household purse strings. This means that they are in charge of everyday family finances for food, clothes, amenities, schooling, and so on, but also it often means that they have to support their families. Since men control expenditure on large items (e.g., cars and motorbikes), kin-group rituals (especially cremations), and public buildings (e.g., village temples), inherit land and house-yards, administer the markets, dominate cash-crop markets, and are notorious for their lack of financial responsibility (being famous gamblers), women's economic "power" often does not translate into any significant control of resources. Further, women's economic work is ultimately the production of wealth for the patrilineage.

This is perhaps less obvious today as inherited land becomes less important as an economic resource. Now there is much investment in education for young people and in more ephemeral sources of income (minibuses, motorbikes, businesses). This can have the effect of shifting resources away from the patrilineage to nuclear families and individuals, though status competition between these larger groups remains a feature of Balinese social life, much in evidence at huge wedding receptions and internationally televised cremation rituals.

In the more modern and formal sectors of the economy, there is a gendered division of labor which bears much similarity to international patterns. In the government sector, women work primarily as nurses, teachers, and lower officials in the bureaucracy; men tend to work as doctors, teachers, engineers, managers, and higher officials. The national pattern of male domination of the higher ranks of the civil service obtains in Bali, and is partly the product of educational disparities. Educational levels in Bali have been low compared with national figures, with gender differences more pronounced than national averages indicate. It remains to be seen whether the dramatic improvements in literacy and schooling levels for girls will translate into more rewarding employment opportunities compared with those available to boys.

The growth in tourism and other tertiary industries has enhanced female labor force participation and income-earning, but men dominate control and ownership of businesses, decision-making, and more formal authority. Gendered divisions of labor are more apparent in the higher-class hotels and more specialized businesses such as diving and cruise charters, with women dominating housekeeping, restaurant, and accounting sections, and men taking up positions as guides, waiters, managers, drivers, guards, and maintenance and grounds staff. In the more informal sector of home-stays, handcraft businesses, and art shops, there are opportunities for women to be joint owners of family businesses with their husbands, and much expanded opportunities for mobility and income-earning, but these are often offset by heavier workloads, the reinforcement of existing gendered divisions of labor, and the persistence of male-dominated access to and control over decision-making and community management (Long & Kindon, 1997, p. 107).

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