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Power and Independence of Hmong Women in Laos and America

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  1. Introduction
  2. Focus on the 'power' women have in Hmong society
  3. Power and independence
    1. Demonstrating the lack of power women have
    2. The patriarchal organization of Hmong society
  4. Childbirth
    1. The ability to reproduce and power
    2. The process of childbirth as a duty of a wife
  5. Divorce
    1. Something not common among the Hmong
  6. Courtship and dating
    1. The interpretation of the girl's role and feelings
  7. Conclusions
  8. Works cited

The Hmong are an ethnic group indigenous to the Southeast Asian peninsula. They typically live in the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They are rice farmers who are well known for their embroidery and the color of their dress, which gives its name to the different Hmong clans. During the Silent War in Laos, which was fought between the Communist party, called the PL, in Laos and the US American CIA, the Hmong aided the CIA by fighting on the ground as guerilla fighters. After the Americans lost the war, the Hmong were in danger of being put into re-education camps by the new communist government in Laos. Therefore, during 1975-2004, over 300,000 Lao, or 10% of the population, mostly Hmong, resettled in America (Cummings and Burke 2005: 31). Most of the Hmong immigrants moved to Stockton, California, Seattle, Washington, Lacrosse and Madison, Wisconsin and The Twin Cities, Minnesota, where they formed Hmong communities, usually with extended families living in the same apartment building, if not the same apartment. The Hmong have had some problems finding a balance between keeping Hmong culture and tradition and adjusting to American culture and traditions.

[...] Symonds, however, takes a different view: ?Because the sexual asymmetry of Hmong culture has been so frequently remarked upon, I would like to reiterate some of the areas of Hmong life in which power is associated with women,? (Symonds 2004:164). While she acknowledges that the patriarchal organization of Hmong society leaves women with overall less social power, women still have power in the family and in their relationships (Symonds 2004: 173). Although, it is not always evident how Symonds defines power, she believes Hmong women have power in nine realms ?reproduction, sexual freedom during courtship, the role of the sister, protest within marriage, divorce, bride-price, flower cloth, funeral rites, and cosmological beliefs,? (Symonds 2004: 173). [...]

[...] This power women have over some rituals is never more evident than in birth and death. Women are the guardians of the soul, such as when it passes between worlds during birth and death. Women are in charge of watching over the body of a deceased person until the body is buried; this is especially true when the deceased is the woman's brother (Symonds 2004: 168-169). Besides being guardians of the soul, women contain the essence of life. Women's menstrual blood and breast milk are both thought to be extremely powerful substances and are used in medicine (Symonds 2004: 166-167). [...]

[...] Therefore Donnelly focuses on the lack of power and independence women have in Hmong society. Symonds, on the other hand, refutes this belief by identifying several arenas in Hmong life where women hold power. These differences in Hmong women's power, or lack thereof, are outlined below with specific comparisons in the areas of childbirth, divorce, and courtship and dating. Power and Independence Donnelly's view of women in Hmong society in Seattle is that women are far inferior to men and have less power in relationships. [...]

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