Gender Roles in Economics

Women are responsible for preparing meals, keeping the house and courtyard in order, and most childcare. Men are responsible for keeping the house, roof, and fences in repair, for providing food and other necessities for their family, for maintaining dikes year round, and for carrying out the religious ceremonies necessary for maintaining the family's well-being. House work-groups are integrated, though tasks are assigned by sex. For example, all residents will work together to build a house: women carry the mud to the site, while the men mold the mud into walls.

All participate in rice cultivation, but tasks are gender specific. Men maintain the dikes, prepare the paddies, and help with harvest. Women transplant rice from nurseries to the fields, thresh the grain at harvest time, and transport it to granaries.

Usufruct rights to rice fields are distributed by headmen to both men and women, although men, as heads of households, generally have more and larger fields. Wives often have their own rows, granted to them by fathers, uncles, husbands, or sometimes aunts or mothers; they then also have their own granaries. However, they also work in their husband's fields and contribute to his granary.

The introduction of cashew plantations has lessened the economic importance of rice. Men plant the trees, but women gather and transport the nuts. Men also earn extra cash by collecting and selling palm wine. In coastal areas, enterprising women get up before dawn to meet non-Manjako fishermen, just back from a night of fishing, to buy fish and resell it at the market. They may also sell other produce there, such as sweet potatoes, peanuts, eggs, or bananas.

Traditional weavers are men; traditional potters are women.

Since the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 1900s, Manjako men have sought to profit from new economic opportunities. Male emigration is rampant, especially to Senegal, Portugal, and France, where men work in factories, construction, and the service sector. Most Manjako families have at least one member living abroad; in some areas, a very high rate of emigration has led to the demise of the traditional rice economy. It is also now common to find men who retire in their home village after working abroad for 30 years, living off a foreign pension. Women sometimes accompany their husbands abroad, and many women also find work abroad and become financially independent.

Prostitution is also an option for women of the coastal Manjako lands (Buckner, 1999). It offers an alternative lifestyle to women who do not wish to bend to a father's or a husband's will. A woman may work as a prostitute for a few years in order to earn money to compensate a man who has performed brideservice for her but whom she does not wish to marry or whom she wishes to divorce. Also, a woman may enter prostitution if her husband emigrates or dies and leaves her without resources. Women may work for just a few years or may make prostitution a career. Women from families with prostitutes are more likely to work as prostitutes themselves. At all times, the women are in complete control of their practice; they alone decide where and how often they work, the prices they charge, and what they do with their earnings. Manjako women who practice prostitution are almost always at least in their mid-twenties, and they can be as old as 60. They are mothers, grandmothers, single, or divorced; a few are married.

In the most common scenario, a woman rents a room in a house in a city (the women never practice in their home villages), sometimes with other family members. At night, she receives clients there. Exchanges are short, and a woman may have several clients in one night.

This kind of prostitution has probably been going on for well over half a century. It contrasts with a "modern" kind of prostitution by much younger women (usually not Manjako) who attract well-to-do clients at hotels and discotheques and spend the entire night with a single client.

Manjako women who practice prostitution continue to maintain strong ties with their home villages. They send money home and visit there for funerals and other important events. They are not generally stigmatized, especially if they use their economic success to benefit their family and community. Women who once worked as prostitutes often (re)marry and return to live in the home village where they take on traditional roles of wives and mothers.

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