Coming from a family of three sisters and no brothers, I’m always excited to find cultures in which a strong respect for women is core to the social fabric since we’re so often reminded that we live in “a man’s world.” The Naxi people are an ethnic minority in China originating from Tibet and based in Lijiang for the past 1,400 years, who traditionally have a matriarchal family structure. Women are the heads of family and the primary breadwinners, inheritance of property is matrilineal, and disputes are adjudicated by female elders in the community. One of my favorite tidbits from our guidebook about how the Naxi language reflects the culture -- the words for female and male are used to modify nouns to show more or less importance, so a “female stone” signifies a boulder and a “male store” represents the idea of a pebble.
Though the culture has changed over time, the traditional culture is still evident in everyday life. Guesthouses are run primarily by Naxi women while their husbands serve in support roles, waitresses at restaurants address the women at a table first, and the majority of taxi drivers we saw were female. What a refreshing change after seeing the challenges that women face in other cultures around the world.