Women in Zimbabwe and the Work/life Interface: Western Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)
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Women in Zimbabwe and the Work/life Interface: Western Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in) Convinience ?. Virginia Mapedzahama (PhD) University of South Australia. Introduction: Background. Findings presented draw from a micro-level study for my PhD

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Women in Zimbabwe and the Work/life Interface: Western Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)Convinience?

Virginia Mapedzahama (PhD)

University of South Australia


Introduction background l.jpg
Introduction: Background Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

Findings presented draw from a micro-level study for my PhD

PhD study: a qualitative study that took a comprehensive comparative look at how mothers in different socio-economic and cultural environments negotiate, daily, the multiplicity of experiences between the ‘worlds’ of paid work and family

Interviewed15 women in each research site


Background cont l.jpg
Background (cont.): Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

Therefore the study was an exploratory one, particularly for the Zimbabwean side

As such, interested in/ starting point was the “everyday context”, how the women do it

This paper specifically draws only on interviews with the women in Zimbabwe


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Introduction: Aim of paper Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • The aims of this paper are twofold:

    1) illustrate that the difficult socio-economic situation in a failing economy in Zimbabwe introduces ‘new’ challenges for working mothers that impact on their work/life realities

    In so doing, the paper will:

    2) Challenge 2 common (mis)conceptions: that paid work and family linkages are unproblematic for women in Africa, ( and thus also illustrate the relevance of such research) and that work/life realities of women in non-western countries are vastly different from those of western women,


Women in meas l.jpg
Women in MEAS Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • What do I mean by MEAS (Multiple economic activities for subsistence)?

  • It is a term that I coined to describe a practice that I observed in Harare wherein women involved in formal sector paid workengage in other income generating activities (IGAs) in the informal sector supplement their income

  • Although the practice of engaging in small-scale informal sector activities to supplement meager wages from formal sector employment is not a new labour tradition, (see for example Brand, 1986: 58), it has not been the subject of much research.


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My Research: Women in MEAS: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • One third (n=6: 2 teachers, a clerk, a nurse, a data verifier and a personal assistant ) of the participants in the Harare group who were salaried or waged employees in the formal sector engaged in MEAS to cope with the intensification and persistence of economic crisis and to avert living in chronic poverty:


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Interview Excerpt: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • (y)ou find that this business of selling things on the side is what helps us make ends meet. The salary alone is not enough…Especially with baking, I never experience any [financial] loss; I always have some profit left to help me around the house. On the days that I don’t take my baked stuff to sell, my colleagues complain. They like my baking a lot. It’s not the same as all the other stuff they bake in bulk… [laughs]…plus I don’t charge as much for mine [laughs again].

    Chenesai, personal assistant and mother of 1, also involved in selling baked foodstuff


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Women Engaging in MEAS: Some Findings Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

MEAS as Gendered Activity

  • 1) it is undertaken by women: none of the women's partners also undertook multiple economic activities even when their earnings from their formal job were inadequate to sustain the family

  • 2) Women’s informal sector activities are linked to, or are extensions of the domestic realm, that is: the selling of prepared food (for example Chenesai’s activities), selling agricultural foods (for example Tendai and Tadiwa), or sewing (for example Hama) Informal sector activities of women involved in MEAS are concentrated in domestic work and petty trade, with very little representation in other industries, for example in small-scale manufacturing.


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Findings (cont’) Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

Long hours (cf women’s extended work day in Australia):

  • Hama’s story:

    She described her typical workday as one where she gets up at about 6.30 in the morning, gets herself ready for work and then gets her son ready for crèche. The paid domestic worker helps in the morning by preparing breakfast while her husband, son and Hama get ready to leave. When she returns home from work after 1 p.m, Hama usually starts her third shift by sewing (or making a cake if she has an order). She then prepares the evening meal at around 6pm and oftentimes will do some sewing again after supper, usually goes to bed at about 12 midnight

  • Acknowledged that having a paid domestic worker makes it easier for her to concentrate on her sewing, e.g. she helps with the child care, cleaning up after dinner etc.


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Findings (cont.) Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

MEAS as a “Third Shift”:

  • the women’s additional informal sector work because even though the women engage in income-generating activities on a part-time basis (usually after formal sector paid work), they are engaging in a third job that is separate from the one they perform in the formal sector (explained in detail below).

  • informal sector activities adds another role to the equation as a third shift in addition to paid/salaried work and work in the home


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Findings (cont.) Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

A counterintuitive finding?:

  • The women did not consider working in the informal sector an ‘additional burden’:

  • I wouldn’t say it’s a big burden, it’s no use complaining all the time while the family suffers from hunger. Things are better when I get the money from my sewing. When the money is not enough you have to look for additional income so that you can make ends meet.

    Tadiwa, midwife and mother of three


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A counterintuitive finding? (cont.) Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • emphasis is on the difference the income generating activities make to their survival in a harsh economy, and not on the incompatibility or conflict that engaging in multiple economic activities presented in her daily work/life negotiations.

  • a result of what Ayree (2006) calls ‘utilitarian familism’, “the tendency to place family interests above those of the individual, and to structure social relationships so that one’s familial interest is a primary consideration” which is characteristic of many cultures in Africa.


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Findings (cont.) Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

Meas and the work/life interface:

  • When probed further about how they felt about their work/ family negotiations, the all the women acknowledged experiencing some difficulties negotiating between paid work, informal work and family life:

    Sometimes I come home from school feeling very tired, my whole body aching especially if I have had a practical [lesson]… but then at the same time I need the money… andsometimes you already have the material [cloth] that someone has given you to sew, so you just have to work. Sometimes when I get on with the sewing I even end up sleeping around 12 midnight.(Hama, teacher)

    Sometimes the problem when you work for example as a teacher like me, is that after spending all day chasing after the students, when you get home you really have no more patience to deal with your own children. And then you need to be in the garden, and sort out things to sell; you can’t spend time with the children. You’ll be tired, so you simply let the domestic paid worker continue dealing with the children.Tendai, teacher , involved in selling fresh produce


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MEAS and the work/life Interface: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • The statements by the women in Harare question claims by some scholars that by doing informal sector work whose location is in the home or close to the home, women are better able to combine economic work with child-care, care of the old, disabled or sick as well as other domestic responsibilities (see for example, Elder and Schmidt, 2004: 10; Lingam, 2005: 6, Loewenson, 1998)

  • The location of the women’s income generating activity in the home where– as Franzway (2001) notes, “discursive paradigm of altruistic care predominates” (p. 110)– does not mean that they can care of her children while they are working. In spite of their working from home, there is a separation of their mothering roles from their income-generating roles


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Interview excerpt: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • Sometimes the problem when you work for example as a teacher like me, is that after spending all day chasing after the students, when you get home you really have no more patience to deal with your own children. And then you need to be in the garden, and sort out things to sell; you can’t spend time with the children. You’ll be tired, so you simply let the domestic paid worker continue dealing with the children. (Tendai, teacher, involved in selling fresh produce as third shift)


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MEAS and the work/life interface Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • As Kim and Ling (2001) report, women who have their own income generating enterprises, “often worked long hours which deprived them of the time… to spend with their families” (p. 205).

  • It can also be argued that the location of income generating work in the home brings is not only the blurring of the traditional boundaries between the economic work and family life, but it also diminishes the restorative function of the home. Home functions as a place that one ‘goes to’ after work to recuperate and restore.


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Some Conclusions: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)

  • research demonstrates that women in Zimbabwe do negotiate paid work and family in ways that are demanding and challenging, and that bear similarities with the women in the west where most work/life interaction research has been carried out.

  • It has highlighted the need to integrate work/life interaction research into research in the working lives of women in failing economies such as Zimbabwe


But the question remains african women western concept a marriage of in convenience l.jpg
But, the question remains: Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in)African women, western concept: a marriage of (in)convenience?

  • Many have argued that applying western concepts to “other” non-western situations ignores the socio-cultural and economic specificities of these non-western realities.

  • So, the question still remains: can the metaphor of work/life interaction/ negotiation, which originated with/in the western context(s) be applied to women in non-western, African contexts like Zimbabwe to produce meaningful and significant analyses that further understandings of African women’s work/life issues?


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…[A] Concept, African Women- A Marriage of (in) marriage of (in)convenience? (cont.)

  • I would claim that though “western” in origin, the metaphor can provide a framing device, a starting point from which to instigate effective analyses and comparisons of African women’s experiences

  • I am obviously not advocating here for complete transferability of concepts and theories, or for seeing African realities under western eyes.

  • (Indeed, my investigations show that women in Zimbabwe do experience work/life life in some ways not fully captured by western analyses).

  • Usefulwork/life metaphor in Africa would pay attention to particularities in African conditions, such as poverty, lack of government funded social security and thus the imperative for individuals to workintensively.