Relative Status of Men and Women

Both men and women hold formal positions in the public arena, including political offices and secret and title societies, and positions in church hierarchies, but men have considerably more opportunity than women to exhibit public leadership. The paramount chief (mfen, mfo, orfon), his council of nine nobles (nkam be'e), royal retainers, and most other title-holding nobility are all men. The duties of the queen mother (ma mfen) and title-holding women included advisory roles in statecraft in the past, but are increasingly limited to ceremonial and honorary roles. Over time, men in these public positions have gained more authority, while women's opportunities for formal participation in the public arena have diminished. Highly educated Bamileke women, mostly migrants to the major cities, who are developing successful careers in the Cameroonian civil service and the liberal professions (medicine, law), are the exceptions to this trend. Women's position in church hierarchies is ambiguous; they are the most frequent and dedicated churchgoers in all denominations and practice considerable leadership there, but do not hold the highest positions within any of these churches. Within subsistence and the economy, men's and women's activities and budgets are quite separate, giving both considerable autonomy in many realms of economic decision-making. Among rural agricultural Bamileke, men and women control the fruits of their labor, with men selling cash crops to parastatal coffee and cocoa cooperatives and women selling surplus food crops in local markets (occasionally in wider regional and national markets as well). However, owing to deeply felt responsibilities, Bamileke women tend to invest in the immediate needs of their domestic group while men invest in longer-term business ventures or building a house. This leads to inequalities in men's and women's access to resources, as well as to authority within the household. Men have final authority within the household and kin group, and expect deference from their wives and daughters in particular, but also from junior men. Women, particularly wives in a polygy-nous household, do exercise some informal power through symbolic acts such as serving meals prepared without oil, cooking strikes, or refusing sex. Both men and women can initiate divorce, and there are no rules regarding child custody following divorce. However, there are strong societal pressures against divorce, and it is relatively rare among Bamileke couples.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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