Gender Roles in Economics

Time-allocation studies showed that the Bakairf spend most of their time engaged in three major types of activities: (1) interacting with each other in some kind of social activity, (2) engaging in an economic activity, and (3) doing housework. About 47% of Bakairf time was spent on tasks that involve productive labor, which ensured the survival of the household, or reproductive labor, which allowed society to continue over generations. The former included activities such as gardening, hunting, wage labor, and fishing, while the latter involved childcare, cooking, and household construction. About 43% of the rest of Bakairf time was spent resting, socializing, and attending to personal needs (Picchi, 2000).

Men, in general, are three times as likely as women to be found doing garden work. One reason that women are not involved more in these activities is that most Bakairf gardens are located far from the village. Women, who are generally the primary caretakers of young children, find it difficult to travel such long distances regularly. If they did, they would either have to carry their children or leave them with others for long periods of time. In addition, only men leave the reservation to work for wages on nearby ranches. They tend to be gone from the village for about 2 weeks at a time.

Gender determines other kinds of economic contributions. Men are responsible for hunting, fishing, manufacturing certain goods such as baskets and bows, and dancing inside ritual masks. In addition to child-rearing, women plant, weed, and harvest crops, and they process food, cook, wash clothes in the river, fish, manufacture goods such as hammocks, keep the house clean, and teach male mask dancers the songs of the masks.

A clear distinction exists between most work done by men and women, and there is little overlap in these cases. Women do not perform such activities as cutting down trees or hunting, and men do not cook or wash clothes in the river. There is also a distinction between work done by adult men and young men. Boys under the age of 15 are not involved in heavy farming work or ritual dancing. These activities are the sole purview of men—15 years and older.

The cycle of a day is organized differently for men and women. Bakairf days begin early by most American standards. People wake up at about 4 a.m., and by the gray light of dawn they are on their way to bathe and get water from the river. Women heat up coffee and food such as rice or manioc from the day before. By 7 a.m. the men have gathered at the men's house or are on their way to the gardens. They clear their fields of brush, weed, plant new crops of cotton, move manioc cuttings around, and harvest manioc tubers to take home with them. If they do not need to go to the garden to weed or harvest crops, then they go fishing or work on projects such as basket-making. Women do housework, sweeping a layer of dust from the hard dirt floors with palm fronds. They may go to the gardens with their husbands if there is weeding or harvesting to do. If not, they go down to the riverbank where they spend hours washing clothes, watching the children play, and visiting with their kin and friends. By noon, most people return to the village to eat something and then to rest during the hottest part of the afternoon. Women and men both work on projects such as hammock-making and bench-carving.

By about 3 p.m., it begins to cool off and the pace of the village noticeably quickens. Everyone goes down to the river to bathe before engaging in mask dancing, if they have ceremonial obligations, or in visiting friends and family. A light meal is usually eaten as twilight sets in. If it is a moonless and rainy night, people turn in early, sometimes at 7 p.m. right after it becomes dark. They rest, chatting and swinging in their hammocks. Elderly men and women tend to smoke a cigarette they have rolled themselves from tobacco they grow in their fields. They smoke only at night, using the substance as a soporific. If it is a bright moonlit night, people sit out in front of their houses and visit with each other. Young men gather in front of the men's house and sing, and children run around and play.

Land in the reservation is communally owned. However, during the last 20 years, FUNAI cattle herds have distributed to families and kin groups now own them. It is not clear how they will be passed down from generation to generation since there is no precedent for this type of situation.

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