Relative Status of Men and Women

Unity-based equality marks the status of men and women. The equal value placed on males and females is deeply rooted in the world view that unifies male and female into dyads, in which the two sexes are evaluated according to their joint identity rather than being treated as separate social categories. According to such a dyadic perspective on gender, the foreign term "gender equality" is translated into Lahu as "men and women are the same" (Du, 2002) and is taken as a matter of course in many rural areas (Zhang et al., 1996, p. 119). Applying the dyadic world view to the life cycle, adulthood is defined by entering a monogamous marriage, in which the husband and the wife are bound as a team, sharing responsibility, authority, and prestige throughout their lives and in the afterlife. Joint gender roles are widely realized in labor allocation and household leadership, and to a limited degree in terms of village leadership. Structurally, bilateral kinship system and interhousehold reciprocity are oriented toward household head couples, empowering men and women as joint social entities.

The ideological and institutional emphasis on the joint identity of male and female in Lahu tradition minimizes differences in decision-making and the influence of men and women in subsistence and economy, family matters, community, kin group, and religion. Accordingly, men and women have neither different rights to important resources nor separate control of the fruits of their labor. As parents and elders, men and women jointly influence the sexuality, education, marriage choice, and divorce of their children and younger relatives. Increasing privileges (such as deference) are paid to a couple as a joint social entity as they are promoted throughout the substages of adulthood and in the afterlife. Despite the discrepancy between ideal and practice, shown especially in the increasing marital disharmony, conflicts, and divorce, gender equality still prevails in the social lives of many rural Lahu at the beginning of the 21st century.

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