Findings from Dar es Salaam
In 1894, Dar es Salaam was a minor settlement with 10,000 inhabitants. By 1957 it had grown to 130,000 (Leslie 1963). Today, the population has grown to close to 2 million. In the 1950s men in the capital far outweighed women. Today there are only 0.9 men for every woman. About thirty per cent of the sexually active population is HIV positive (Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey 1996; UNAIDS Update 2002).
In 1978, 84 per cent of the men in Dar es Salaam had formal employment (Tanzania Population Census, 1982). In the 1980s large numbers of workers lost their jobs, and today only a small fraction are employed in the formal sector. Salaries, though, are far from enough to support a family. Thus, the informal sector has become overcrowded with myriads of market vendors—men and women. As in Kisii, the ideology of men as breadwinners is forcefully alive. Stereotyped notions shared by both genders are that “a man should be the head of his family”; “he should provide a house (and land), pay school fees and clothes for wife and children”. Such a man has social value and respect. However, a majority of men suffer the same fate as those in Kisii: they cannot fulfil expectations and withdraw from household responsibilities. Even if many men use enormous amounts of energy and ingenuity to get an income, it is well known that it can only feed a family for a few days. Consequently, men cannot fulfil their breadwinning role, and men’s status as head of household is seriously challenged. However, when asked about their ‘status’ in the household it was obvious to all 53 men interviewed that they were the ‘born’ heads of household. That was a ‘God given’ fact. Just like “women are like children and should be guided by men”. “Men are the lions, and women are the sheep”. Nevertheless, women accused men of being irresponsible husbands and fathers avoiding the claims of children.
As in Kisii, most men and women in my research areas also lived in more or less informal/passing unions. If a couple had lived together for two years they were registered as ‘married’. A proper marriage, though, still requires the procurement of bride price. This was already a problem fifty years ago (Leslie 1963), when men at that time were also not able to pay the bride price. The implications are that women’s security is at stake—and so is male control over women’s sexual (and reproductive) powers. In Tandale—one of the study areas—‘divorces’ (changing registration) filed by women had become increasingly common. On the one hand, divorced women interviewed said that they felt much better off on
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their own even if they were then sole providers for their children. On the other, they also felt moral judgement and jealousy from other women. A few hopeful women would still maintain that it was better to have a husband ‘in case of emergencies’ (though they were perfectly aware that in such cases they could not count on ‘husbands’).
While women would often express self-limiting culturally accepted expectations of them as women, in practice, they would be very entrepreneurial agents struggling for survival. The majority who referred to themselves as ‘housewives’ were actively involved in the informal sector, baking and selling manda%is (small sweet buns), preparing ‘lunches’, selling second hand clothes etc. Both men and women interviewed agreed that women are much harder working and enduring than men. Therefore, when women enter the informal sector many are often able to earn more than their husbands. In 1993/94, contrary to expectations, female headed households in urban Tanzania constituted 18 per cent of the highest income households, and only 13 per cent of the poor households (World Bank 1995). The fact that women are becoming increasingly economically independent is a serious threat to men. “As soon as a husband starts declining economically, his wife will take advantage and go out to look for other men to satisfy her material needs”, men would argue. Successful businesswomen in Dar es Salaam are even said to pay younger men for sex—a new situation and a new threat to men. Both men and women agreed that a man’s honour, his reputation, his ego are severely affected if he cannot control his wife.
While most men, therefore, had a negative attitude towards women’s activities most men and women interviewed agreed families cannot survive unless women contribute income. Most women would say that husband and wife should decide together on the use of ‘household’ money. In practice, though, what women had earned, they kept for themselves and they decided how to use it—not their husbands. Nevertheless, husbands would always be expected to provide rent, money for food and school fees even if this was honoured more in theory than in practice.