Discussion of findings in relation to the literature

According to Momsen (2010), gender is “the socially constructed form of relations between women and men” and is the “acquired notion of masculinity and femininity by which women and men are identified” (p. 2). Gender definitions have focused on gender relations - including relations of relative equality or inequality - that are culturally constructed and reproduced among women and men and are also subject to change (Dankelman, 2010).

The findings of this study reinforce the argument that the more pronounced the gender inequalities, the more vulnerable women are to climate-change impacts (Arora-Jonsson, 2011; Neumayer & Plumper, 2007). In the Co Tu case discussed here, with its strict patriarchal system, the impacts of climate change and other forces have disrupted long-practiced, self-sufficient livelihood activities, resulting in greater exposure to the mainstream Kinli economy and society as well as imposing new forms of gendered livelihoods on the community. Because of their roles and responsibilities, the women have been most directly affected by climate and accompanying changes and are now faced with much greater stresses and burdens than in the past.

This has had serious implications for both women and men and for relations between them. In the Co Tu case, the earlier complementary relationships between socially designated women’s and men's contributions have been entirely disnipted, leading to increased tensions, unequal burdens and new perceptions of “maladaptive” behavior, particularly those attributed to middle-aged and younger men.

The literature has shown that gender relations are contextually specific and vary in response to changing environmental and social circumstances, along with altering symbolic notions of masculinity and femininity (Moser, 1993). In this case, we see that both women and men can be seriously and negatively affected as their environmental and social circumstances change in uncontrollable ways, particularly if they are prevented from being able to meet social expectations and carry out their designated social responsibilities (Ashwin & Lytkina, 2004; Brittan, 2005; FAO & UNDP, 2002; Hoang & Yeoh. 2011; Kabeer, 2007; Salemink, 2003; Swinkels & Turk, 2006; Tran et al., 2006).

With respect to men in the community, this study found that men have been affected because they can no longer perform their traditionally designated roles due to the changes that have occurred in the past two to three decades. Under the impacts of imposed changes in livelihoods, reduced agricultural production due to climate and regulatory changes and increased impacts from the influence of the norms and values of the Kinh majority, a new set of priorities has come in based on the ability to make money rather than valuing the physical ability necessary to protect families from danger or secure agricultural and forest-based food and other necessities. Although the men are still struggling to find new roles while looking for new and better job opportunities, this study found that many men who were displaced from their traditional livelihoods initially spent a great deal of time drinking and being idle, contributing little to their families or communities.

Moreover, as noted in the previous chapters, in recent years the new value system has pushed men into a range of irregular activities for quick sources of cash. This appears to be a factor in less value being placed on women’s non-cash contributions, no matter how important and extensive the women's contributions are to both their families and communities. These forces have also had the effect of reducing mutual support and social solidarity in the community and, in many cases, resulted in greater psychological and social stresses in the face of rapid change.

The study thus found that, given the symbolic notions of masculinity and the perception of men as breadwinners, men are also suffering from this process of change because they are losing their power and status, even though they are resisting this change. As Connell discussed in “Change among the gatekeepers: Men. masculinity and gender equality in the global arena” (2005), in a patriarchal society, when masculinity is associated with being the breadwinner and being "physically strong” - which still holds tme in the Co Tu community - the increased role of women in the family and community often appears to challenge men’s dominant position. This may result in a fear of women gaining dominance in a continuing gender hierarchy, with men in a lower status, rather than being seen as a movement toward gender equality (i.e., without a hierarchy in which either men or women dominate) with positive dimensions for men as well as women. (An example of the fear of being dominated by women appears to be reflected in the comment, quoted in Chapter 4, of a male FGD participant about a local woman who had done well in business and whose husband “obeys her very much” - a description that belittles the man in this cultural context and appears to place him in a lower position in the gender hierarchy.)

In this way, we can see that women are not the only ones experiencing the negative impacts of climate and accompanying changes. Men are also struggling to adapt to the new gender division of labor and decision-making processes, which can lead to tensions and conflicts that affect their own wellbeing and. in turn, the wellbeing of women, children and others around them.

The study further found that in recent years, rather than remain idle and be left out of a cash-based economy (with the falling social status that implies), many Co Tu men have begun to compromise on their vision of masculinity as strong and self-determining; in other words, they do not want to be someone else’s employee, given their background as hunters and self-sufficient producers who freely determine when and where to carry out their livelihood activities. However, they generally camiot fulfill that ideal at the present time and instead have to take what they can find, as long as it brings in the cash that buys the items they now need and desire in the new money-based economy. The young men have also adopted this pattern, especially once they decide to get married.

The initial reluctance of middle-aged men to see themselves as "hired labor,” and the continuing reluctance of many young men to take on jobs that require regular hours with little day-to-day flexibility, could be analyzed in terms of a move from an agrarian to a more industrial lifestyle. Difficulties in making this transition can be seen throughout history in different parts of the world. However, the added dimension here is the gender hierarchy that drives middle-aged women and younger women to do whatever is needed while men are allowed more freedom to choose their course of action - including how, when and where to work. Women, in contrast, do not have the freedom (e.g., to choose to remain idle or to drink, sleep all day or play video games) that men - and even young men - have in a rigid patriarchal system. This often results in their facing serious challenges that, so far at least, men and boys are not generally expected or required to face.

Nonetheless, this study suggests that this process of change has not been altogether negative for women in that the changes have presented new opportunities as seen in, for example, the women's increased self-confidence as they gained greater roles in the market.1 The changes have by now opened up new opportunities for younger women as well. These new roles and activities are, at times, accompanied by greater decision-making power and recognition, both inside and outside the household, compared to their earlier status in the self-sufficient economy.

As noted previously, the women's rise in status has not gone unchallenged. In this case study, we see that even though women have had to take on greater livelihood and decision-making responsibilities, household members as well as the general population in the community continue to see men as heads of households and the primary decision-makers. Therefore, a persistent patriarchal system has hindered the women's progress toward gender equality, and once again we see that social change often takes place in complicated non-linear ways.

The future of gender roles and hierarchies in this community is not entirely clear, as livelihood patterns and the behavior of new generations continue to evolve. It appears that to some extent the middle-aged men in the community continue to fit Li’s description of surplus populations in that their traditional livelihoods have been taken away, and they either have no access to stable work or are unprepared to engage in the work that is available on a regular basis (Li, 2010). Moreover, some members of the community have expressed a particular concern regarding the generation of young men who so far have been unable or unwilling to work in regular long-term employment and after marriage tend to follow their fathers into short-term employment for temporary and seasonal sources of cash-based income (choosing to work only as much as required to meet certain household expenses and their own consumption needs). They may be adopting new symbols of masculinity: Rather than the physical strength admired in the past, the new symbols may have more to do with earning and spending the new cash income, owning new commodities, using new “technologies” and behaving in ways that reinforce their sense of how men in the community are supposed to - and are allowed to - behave. They may not be doing this explicitly as a way to remain on top of the gender hierarchy but rather because they see it as "natural” for men to act in this way.

Whatever the motivation, it appears that at the present time both middle-aged men and married younger men have decided to contribute to livelihood activities in new ways but on their own terms. They do not appear to feel the pressure that is placed on women and girls to provide for their families in regular, consistent and ongoing ways, as reflected in both the paid and unpaid work that women are required to carry out. Again, these latter activities tend to be seen as a "normal” part of women's responsibilities in the community and are generally not valued in the way that men's earnings are valued. This may reflect the way most non-cash-earning activities are devalued in primarily cash-based economies throughout the world (often neither men nor women see these non-cash activities as centrally important, even though they are). However, this tendency to undervalue women’s contributions may also be due, in the Co Tu case, to the higher status traditionally accorded to men’s activities in this historically strict patriarchal context.

In spite of the persistence and even reassertion of local gender hierarchies, with men in higher positions, this study found that Co Tu women and girls are starting to question the rationality of the imbalance in this gender division of labor and in gendered decision-making processes. Their roles and voices in the family are generally much stronger than had been true in the past. In addition, awareness about gender equality and inequality has been raised in the community, examples from outside are being introduced, and the idea of women as submissive and inferior is no longer necessarily seen as being "natural” or inevitable.

Over time, the definitions of men’s work and women’s work, and women’s and men's “proper” roles in their families and communities, may change as the community continues to be exposed to and participate increasingly in the mainstream economy and society. We see other cases of major changes in the gender division of labor, which indicate that such change in gender roles and hierarchies is possible, even when strongly resisted. For example, in a study of long-term changes in gender relations and economic roles in coal mining areas of the UK, when men lost their identities tied to their jobs and earlier lifestyle patterns, there arose paid job opportunities for women. The study found that the men’s initial reactions to the change in the gender division of labor were almost universally antagonistic (McDowell & Massey, 1984). They considered women taking paid jobs to be an affront to men’s masculinity and dignity. In the beginning, men stayed home but refused to help with housework while women took jobs outside their homes. Nonetheless, there was a process of gradual change with men progressively entering new forms of employment as well as increasingly helping with the reproductive sphere due to the influences of the work of community organizations, the media, the educational system, and other sources of change. Although the “working class culture” in the area was still said to be male-oriented (or male dominant) at the time of that study, traditional gender patterns had already been modified substantially. Similar changes have been noted in other case studies toward "more equal sharing of housework and child care” (Connell, 2005).

This may also happen in the Co Tu conununity as the area becomes less isolated, new ideas enter and new opportunities arise for both men and women. This transition, however, is not likely to be an easy one, particularly given the continuing pressures on the community tied to climate change and other rapid and unanticipated changes that have so disrupted the community, forcing it out of its earlier well-established practices and relationships in such a short period of time. The willingness of many young women and the reluctance of many young men to respond to new opportunities for study and full-time employment may signal that unequal gender hierarchies and strongly-held concepts of masculinity and femininity (and male entitlement) have not changed as much as might be expected, even under strong and increasing pressure. How these patterns change in the future will depend not only on factors outside the community’s control but also on many factors under their control that can help reduce the community’s vulnerability and may also be able to help reduce tensions and conflicts as well as move toward more equal gender relations in the future.

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