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Gender Roles &
Division of Labor
By Namgyal Tsepak

The interior arrangement of the tent reflects and reinforces social and cultural gender roles and orders. First and foremost, the interior is divided into three fundamental spheres.

The innermost area along the back side of the tent is reserved for food storage and displays of sacred religious objects. One often finds sacks of food—tsampa, dried cheese, flour, tea, butter, etc.—lined along the back edge of the tent. In front of the food sacks or sometimes on top of them and often toward the center, one will find religious images, daily water offering bowls, and an incense tray taking the most prominent place.

Toward the middle, the interior of the tent is primarily divided into two parts with a central stove or fire pit in the middle. An opening in the tent cover from the front entrance to the center is held together by hooks drawn through short loops of rope. When it’s raining or snowing, there is an extra woven flap that can cover the gap. This opening, which primarily functions as a chimney and skylight, can be regarded as a dividing line that coincidentally mirrors gender division and therefore division of labor between the genders.


From the entrance, the left side is primarily the domain of women. It contains milking buckets, milk churning crates, containers for water storage, cooking utensils, and so on. Women have an extremely busy life in a nomadic community—including milking, cleaning, cooking, fetching water, churning milk to extract butter, and collecting firewood or yak dung and drying them for fuel. Women’s labor is almost non-stop in the busiest times of the summer.

The right side is the domain of men: honored guests like monks, relatives, or officials would be invited to sit on that side. The right side has carpets, cushions, quilts, mats, and other sitting and sleeping necessities. Elder men might sit on a cushion or a yak-pelt mat to engage in regular prayers. Men’s life is relatively relaxed compared to women’s. Men often engage in trade that requires distant travel and communication, and they are often in charge of the herding, hunting, tanning, and making preparations for religious offerings and festivals.

In a way, the interior arrangement of the tent reflects the division of labor between the two primary genders.

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