The Co Tu of Ca Dy Commune: vulnerabilities in the face of rapid change

Impact of regulatory and socioeconomic changes on women’s and men’s work in Ca Dy Commune

As discussed in the previous chapters, climate change has had a serious negative impact on livelihoods and survival strategies in the Ca Dy Commune region. Other compounding factors have also contributed to ending the self-sufficient form of production and relative isolation of this community, including sudden regulatory and socioeconomic changes. These have, in turn, compelled major changes in gender roles and relations. We will begin with a look back at previous gender patterns and contrast them with the new gender-related roles and responsibilities that have suddenly emerged in recent years, leading to unanticipated challenges to existing gender hierarchies.

Women’s and men’s work in earlier decades

For generations, the Co Tu of Ca Dy Commune have been fully reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. Unlike many communities located in other communes nearby, in earlier decades villagers in this area cultivated the so-called long-term rice variety that took at least six months for one crop to mature. The women and men of the community also farmed cassava and corn crops, raised livestock, planted fruit trees and fished in the local river, mostly for their own use. Throughout these years, upland rice had been the most important crop, which 20 years ago could provide enough to make up the villagers' main source of food for the whole year. As emphasized by a 63-year-old man, “We have cultivated rice for generations, only to meet our food demand. Rice is critical for our survival.” Another woman respondent affirmed this, stating, “With a poor rice crop, we will face hunger throughout the year.”

In general, cultivating upland rice crops involves three major steps: (1) preparing the cultivated land before planting a new crop; (2) seeding and weeding; and (3) harvesting. The Co Tu of this area normally start preparing the land in February after Tet (the Lunar New Year), beginning with cutting and burning trees and branches and clearing the fields. Seeds are usually sowed in this area from April to

May, and weeding is done mainly in July and August. The rice flowers in August, and it can be harvested in September or October.

Clearing forestland and preparing the land for a new crop was traditionally assigned to men while women were responsible for cutting down small trees, weeding and burning to clear the land before cultivation. Within this division of labor, the men's role was critical to crop cultivation since cutting down large trees was seen as requiring a great deal of physical exertion. After being sown, crops were "left to nature’s care” along with the weeding and other activities carried out by women. The women's hardest task was then harvesting the crops at the end of this production cycle.

In the past, both women and men engaged in collecting non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Regarding livestock raising, however, these activities have traditionally been assigned to women, a girl child, or an elder; when Co Tu men took part in raising livestock, they would consider it as helping their wives, not as their responsibility.

Regarding men's work in earlier decades, back in the 1980s, Co Tu men were well known for being good hunters. They used to consider hunting their main, and by far their favorite, livelihood activity. It was socially designated strictly as a male task. In those years, both hunting and the cultivation of rice crops started in February or during the spring season of each year. For this reason, women took care of farming activities at this time while men focused on hunting.

When the hunting season began, men formed groups to go into the forest together, where they could spend days or weeks hunting. It was not only a livelihood activity, it was also and more importantly a passion of the Co Tu men. It represented a symbol of masculinity. More than just meeting food needs, it was also viewed as a means of protecting their families and community from animal attacks.

Hunting is thus a reflection of one’s masculinity as a protector and provider in this context (Luu, 2007). During hunting season, the Co Tu people could have a good number of meals relying on the meat of the animals they caught. Hunted or trapped animals that were large - such as deer, bear, or wild pig - were often shared with the entire village. Small animals, such as porcupines or rabbits, would be used for the hunter and his family’s daily meals. The meat was also dried or smoked to save for special occasions. Respondents referred to this time as the “old happy days” when people were not exposed to the cash economy and enjoyed sharing with each other, ensuring close and interdependent relationships (and, one might add, these were also the days of closeness after earlier years of war and separation had come to an end).

All of this started to change in the 1990s. In the next section, the key regulatory changes from the 1990s onward will be summarized, and their impact on men's and women's livelihood activities will be introduced. This will be followed by a discussion of other sociocultural and economic changes that have had a significant impact on gender relations, and it will be argued that all three driving forces - climate change, regulatory change, and socioeconomic change - have had a major

The Co Tn of Ca Dy’ Commune 69 impact on transforming gender roles, relations and hierarchies in the Co Tu community of Ca Dy Commune.

 
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