Gender & Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender.
Besides age, gender is the main way in which social roles and practices are organized. In Buddhism, men are the main religious leaders as monks, and while women can become nuns, it does not entail a sacred transformation. Women are the main everyday supporters of Buddhism. Shamanism among Lao is usually a prerogative of women. There are male shamans, but monks often traffic in magic and preempt their role. Among non-Lao groups, men play the main role as religious practitioners, usually practicing a form of shamanism. In rural areas there is no separation of tasks by gender, except for weaving, and, among the Hmong, sewing. There is a tendency for women to be concerned with household chores and \'lighter\' work. Women have played a major role in petty trade, and recently in long-distance trade. Men predominate in public political positions, but this is slowly changing.

The Relative Status of Women and Men.
Women were given full citizenship rights in 1957 when they received the right to vote, ten years after men attained that right. Since that time they have been formally equal in the eyes of the state. Socially and culturally, their status has been ambiguous. Among the Lao, women have considerable social and cultural status by virtue of the tendency toward matrilocality. This gathers together groups of related females and unrelated males and thus potentially strengthens female solidarity and influence. While men are considered culturally superior because of their ability to become monks this status is affected by social class. Men have status because they occupy key positions in the public realm. Women have relatively high standing in the private and civic realms. Among patrilineal groups such as the Hmong, women have less influence socially and culturally; among the matrilineal groups in the south, such as the Ta Oy, they have relatively high status. As these groups are resettled, however, that status rapidly collapses.