The Hmong women used to give birth at home, just at the husband’s. It is prohibited for Hmong women to give birth in their natal home, since it will weaken their natal clan’s spirits. This is considered a serious matter in the Hmong culture (Rice, 2000:90-91). Nowadays, a few women deliver children at home, while most women of the two villages deliver children at the hospital. Some women prefer bearing the first child at home rather than at the hospital because they are afraid the physician will use surgical devices during childbirth. Since they attach importance to children, the Hmong have taboos to protect a new baby. The same convention can be found in the Hmong communities in Thailand and China. A pregnant woman is prohibited from entering the home of a new mother during her confinement period, the first month after birth, since the Hmong believe this might diminish the milk supply of the mother. This prohibition extends to the husband of the pregnant woman as well. The visitors who enter the house during the confinement period should not carry a bag or wear shoes. It is believed that these acts will also take away the mother’s breast milk. If visitors carry a bag or wear shoes into the house, they must leave their shoes and bags for one month with the host family.
The men usually exercise dominant power over women in terms of decision-making in family planning. If the couple have several children and feel the family is complete, or they would like to put a space before having additional children, they might use contraceptive methods. The Hmong prefer to use herbal medicines rather than contraceptive pills or injections to prevent pregnancy. In the Maesa Mai Village, contraception measures are almost always carried out by women, since most believe that birth control is a woman’s responsibility. Husbands tend to play a passive role in birth control since they follow a patriarchal ideology and fear a loss of their masculinity. Only in one case was it noted that a man was involved in birth control.
Education for Women and Gender Equality
Many of the disadvantages faced by women are associated with lack of education. Hence, the strongest way to improve gender equality is to raise the women’s educational level. The forms of available education include formal and informal education.
Gender difference in the Hmong educational levels
According to Thai scholars, there was a strong bias against education for Hmong females. In the 5 to 14 year age category, educational attainment remained low, with only 25.5 percent for males and 8.2 percent of the females having attended school. For those aged 15-34, only 27.7 percent of the Hmong males and 4.2 percent of the Hmong females had any education at all (Kamnuansilpa, et al, 1987: 26-27). This reflected the educational situation of Hmong before the mid 1980s. The table below provides a sample of Hmong educational levels in the late 1990s in Maesa Mai Village.