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close this bookWomen in Informal Sector (Dar Es Salaam University Press, 1995, 46 p.)
close this folderTHE SOCIAL DIMENSION
close this folderThe Limits
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View the documentEducation and Time
View the documentMarkets
View the documentWork Burden
View the documentSecurity and Health
View the documentFirewood Collection
View the documentOpen Space Cooking
View the documentBeer Brewing
View the documentFeminization of Poverty

Feminization of Poverty

Researchers and consultants have now found out that issues of children, women and environment are areas which get a lot of money from the funding agencies. Because women have been identified as a poor social group, they deserve all the assistance to alleviate/mitigate their poverty and ultimately improve their wellbeing.

Policy statements have consequently been repeatedly made; programmes have been established; projects have been conceived and planned for; funds and institutions have been established in the name of poor women. However, there is a tendency to overplay this issue and get into “informal sectorism” which Davis (1978) cautioned as the “excessive and uncritical enthusiasm”. We need to go into the root causes of the development of the informal sector among the poor people so as to bring about real development among them by dealing with the root causes rather than treating the symptoms.

We have reached a stage where we cannot talk about development without women (Swantz 1987; Dines 1977). At least people now have realized that women issues are important if any meaningful development is to be realized. However, many people have not critically evaluated whether by promoting women issues in development without at the same time evaluating the linkages of exploitation and oppression (Mbilinyi, 1984) which come in new and different forms in our societies, we are actually addressing the problem correctly. For example, it is fashionable nowadays to have WID offices or women’s desks or even a ministry (as in Tanzania) without considering the competence and ability of those who are supposed to serve the women. Or take another example, have we really examined the mushrooming NGOs in the country, which use the name of poor women in the informal sector as their launching pad and employment bureaux? It is an open secret that some people in the country have established non-governmental organizations for women as old age security system or retirement plans. These are not necessarily for women’s development. Women activities in the informal sector have all the potentialities to continue getting financial support for the next ten to fifteen years after retirement! So a founder of an organization dealing with women’s activities has nothing to worry for his/her future is well secured. Ten years after retirement? Afterall that is the maximum period they expect to live after retirement.

Writing about women’s support in development through taxation Bujra (1990:50) has shown how WID divides women into social classes. Expatriate women join the local women elite through organisations and study groups or networks. But by doing so, they separate themselves from the poor women they came to serve. Both the expatriates and the local women elites use the poor women to meet their own social ends. It is not the poor women who are the beneficiaries but the elite and expatriates.

Women’s activities have also been used as an employment bureaux for men. Since some projects or programmes have technological packages, and since many women lack skills and knowledge in these areas, men are employed to handle them (Omari 1989b). As a result women do not control or manage their projects; men speak on behalf of the women, while at the same time giving priority to their own interests. Women are being used and the informal sector may have been popularized for this reason. No wonder more and more women prefer working on their own rather than joining any organized group in the informal sector (Omari 1989a).

Another aspect of how women’s informal business has been used by opportunistic men comes from the local milk production activities. Mlambiti’s (1985) study on agricultural development in Kilimanjaro region shows how milk production, traditionally the domain of women, has now been taken over by men as a result of commercialization of the product. In many instances men only allow women to carry on with the informal business as long as it is not expanding and remains for household consumption only. Once it is lucrative, and has cash income, it becomes a man’s domain! What a way to transform marriage into an economic project!

At another level, we have an example from pottery. After the introduction of new technology in pottery men are now encroaching on the pottery business which has traditionally been a women’s domain among the Pare (Omari, B. 1975). It is also known that some of those projects and programmes have not originated from the grassroot level. Some people assume that because they have the financial ability, they can introduce informal business projects among the women without seeking their participation at grassroot level or without involving them in deciding what activity should be introduced.

A good example comes from the Southern Highlands where projects for the women were introduced by foreign sponsors without even consulting the women who would have been the beneficiaries. Currently, there are about 140 different women’s groups dealing with informal business in Dar es Salaam. I am not sure whether all these emanated from below or have been superimposed on the women’s groups because of the availability of funds.