“But I have to get married!” An intersectional analysis of ethnic minority Hmong women-headed households and their livelihoods in Northern Thailand

Authors: Jennifer Langill*, McGill University
Topics: Women, Asia, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Hmong, gendered livelihoods, women-headed households, lived experience, Thailand
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The social organization of ethnic minority Hmong households and communities, as practiced in the Southeast Asian Massif, is usually highly gendered. Hmong beliefs of life and death are distinguished by gender, Hmong cultural practices have gendered components, and the expectations of household and community members are highly correlated to gender. In the Southeast Asian Massif, where Hmong populations are believed to have originated from, and where over four million Hmong currently live, insightful research has investigated how gender differences co-produce Hmong livelihoods. In this paper we extend this important, albeit limited literature, to question the interrelationships between women’s subjectivities, Hmong culture and identities, and livelihoods for women that do not have a male partner in their household. Employing an intersectional approach, we draw on ethnographic case studies to analyze the experiences of women who, for different reasons, undertake their livelihoods, including both productive and reproductive activities, independently from a male counterpart. This analysis draws on research conducted in northern Thailand in 2020, where Hmong livelihoods are further complicated by state-minority relations, environmental change, and market dependence. This paper directly responds to Hmong feminist calls to question Hmong knowledge and ways of living from women’s perspectives, as opposed to the overwhelming tendency to equate all Hmong perspectives with those of men. By analyzing a group of Hmong women’s differentiated lived experiences, we seek to further feminist livelihood literature that goes beyond traditional male-female analyses, addressing a larger empirical lack of intersectional analyses, while simultaneously contributing to disaggregating Hmong women’s lived experiences.

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