Sociocultural Perspectives on Gender Relations of the Hmong in Thailand
This study explores and describes the Hmong gender relations through traditional marriage systems, birth culture, socio-economic change and modern educational development, and how they influence issues of gender. The Hmong society is stratified by both age and gender. Women are considered inferior to men in the Hmong traditional society. The prototypical gender image of man and woman in the Hmong culture is the father and mother. Marriage is regarded as a precondition, and giving birth is the mark for a woman to shift her social status. There was a strong bias against education for the Hmong women in the past. The Hmong women’s access to education has increased with recent developments in the socio-economy and modern educational system. Today, there seems to be little discrimination against women in continuing their education beyond the compulsory level. However, the conventional ideas that ‘marrying early, bearing early, and having many children are blessings’ are popular in the Hmong community. Many girls of school age have left school for marriage. Traditional convention is a tough obstacle to the female’s continuing education. Adult and vocational education is an important way to improve the Hmong women’s educational level and skill for making a living. Nowadays, the Hmong’s traditional subsistence economy has changed. Hmong women are actively involved in business. For the Hmong, improving women’s educational level and income-earnings is beneficial for gender equity.
Gender issues are related to human rights, population, ethnicity, and poverty. Gender impacts on both scholarship and social practice, a focus well prioritized in the modern societies. Gender studies are also an important topic for anthropology and sociology. The study of minority women and gender is significant, especially for developing multi-ethnic countries where one of their strategies for sustained development covers such measures as raising minority women’s educational level, and changing the women’s disadvantaged status. In Thailand, much research on women and gender has been concerned with the majority Thai people, and only limited research is concerned with the Hmong people. The Hmong have a long history and unique culture, and are found in China, Southeast Asia and recently, in some western countries. In Thailand, Hmong are the second largest highland ethnic minority group.
The Hmong have been subjected to ethnic discrimination and labeled “backward”, “forest destroyer”, “drug addict” and “revolt to Thai state” (Hengsuwan, 2003; Leepreecha, 2001), and their voice generally has not been heard. This is particularly true for the Hmong woman. The Hmong ideology stresses male dominance and female submission, and obedience and deference from the young to the elders. (Symonds, 1991：115). Women are considered inferior to men in the Hmong traditional culture.