During their early years in the United States, from 1976 to 1980, Hmong utilized the services offered by various volunteer resettlement agencies (Volags). They also competed with them by establishing nonprofit mutual assistance associations (MAAs) that provided some of the same kinds of help directly to refugees. The officers and board members were initially exclusively male. Hmong females educated in Laos formed affiliated organizations that focused on the needs of women. Cooperation between the male- and female-run organizations was sometimes tense. New female leaders began to emerge from a widening base as more women acquired the requisite education and experience in the United States.
Governmental agencies and private foundations pressured their Hmong grantees to give important roles to women. Hmong MAAs responded by recruiting female board members and upper-level staff. Women now exercise considerably more authority within these organizations, but men continue to hold most of the top leadership positions.
Males functioned as the heads of Hmong villages. They also received appointments to district, provincial, and national offices from a government that needed Hmong political and military support after 1961. Several Hmong, including one woman, were elected seats to the National Assembly in Laos. The bureaucratic and legal structures that Hmong instituted at their military bases in Laos and later in Thailand refugee camps were male dominated. Hmong in the United States are just beginning to run for political office outside their local communities, and women are leading the way. A Hmong woman was elected to the St Paul, Minnesota, Board of Education in 1992, and was succeeded by a Hmong man 3 years later. A Hmong female attorney, who is also a wife and mother, became a Minnesota State Senator in 2002.
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