Dani Gender Roles

The Dani gender system provides a third example of the segregation of male and female roles and activities already document among the Akan and Turkish villagers. The actual norms of gender division differ. Dani women are perhaps in the least enviable position, lacking the independence of Akan members of their sex or the exemption from strenuous agricultural tasks enjoyed by Turkish wives.

Dani domestic organization is based on strict spatial separation of the sexes. The adult males of the household sleep and spend much of their time in a common men's house. Their wives and other adult women are assigned individual huts around the edges of the compound. Men will visit their wives during the night but sexual intercourse is limited by a lengthly post partum (after birth) sexual taboo and by a moderate rate of polygyny.

Work responsibilities are divided along gender lines. Men are required to do the physically more demanding work of clearing fresh farm plots and maintaining irrigation ditches. Women are assigned the tasks of planting, weeding, and harvesting, along with child care and pig feeding. They are also responsible for producing salt, which is both an important domestic need and a trade item. Although these tasks are somewhat lighter they are involve more regular labor demands and longer hours. The ability to carry out this range of task is hindered by the practice of finger amputation, to which girls, but not boys, must submit as part of Dani mourning rites.

Men spend a good deal of time engaged in public activities such as warefare, ceremony and trade, for which women's participation is peripheral. Wives can martial a certain degree of power over their husbands by threatening to leave the marriage. Separation is an easy procedure and involves the withdrawal of a man's major source of agricultural labour.

© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Date Created: October 1, 1997
Last Updated:
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