Panel 30

Poverty and gender in Sub-Saharan Africa

Panel organiser: Laura Stark, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

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Although there is widespread recognition of poverty’s impact on gender relations and women’s rights, many of the problems which impact women more than men in Sub-Saharan Africa are still blamed primarily on local gender concepts or cultural practices. There is still insufficient in-depth analysis of how poverty and inequality as structural factors are the main drivers shaping such cultural and gendered practices. There is also insufficient analysis of the factors beyond simple measures such as employment and income (such as unequal access to space) that give rise to poverty in the first place.

This panel invites papers dealing with how poverty affects gendered concepts, relations and practices in Sub-Saharan Africa to contribute to this discussion.

Approved abstracts Panel 30

1. Men-engagement in women’s poverty reduction: a study of Ubudehe participatory practices in Rwanda

Author: Asasira Simon Rwabyoma (University of Rwanda, Rwanda)

Poverty remains the global development challenge in the 21st Century, despite the overall achievements in some regions such as Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia that have halved the extreme poverty rate, unlike sub-Saharan Africa. Most poverty assessments have relied heavily on the multilateral agencies to measure and understand poverty, such as, the poverty line designed by the World Bank. This study will focus on innovative approaches to address poverty in Rwanda, that build on the high women parliamentary representation of 64% and men-engagement approaches to mitigate the exclusion of women’s poverty. The major aim of this study is to understand how Ubudehe as a cultural practice in Rwanda is used to identify the categories of the poor based on participation and collective action of men and women. The specific objectives of this study will include; finding out how Ubudehe is applied to challenge the norms and attitudes that sustain poverty in Rwanda; and to understand how men-engage approaches are being practiced to challenge cultural practices in Rwanda’s agricultural sector which employs 86% of women who are the poorest and vulnerable. The study is part of a Ph.D. research project in Gastibo District in Rwanda, which is applying a combination of qualitative and participatory research methodologies while drawing upon feminist methods of research. Semi-structured interviews with women/men and focused group discussions, and key informant interviews are being carried out. In sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda is dismantling farming cultural practices such as, denying women to milk cows as a cultural taboo, which was regarded as the work of men. Gender equality is crucial for the social and economic empowerment of women, through men-engagement approaches that enhance women participation in the economic growth and development of sub-Saharan Africa.

2. The role of civil society in prevention of child marriage prevalence in Southern Africa

Authors: Olivia Lwabukuna, Olga Bialostocka and Sylvester B. Maphosa (Africa Institute of South Africa in the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa)

The practice of child marriage is a persistent problem across countries, cultures, and religions. It is deeply rooted in gender inequality and low value placed on girls, with traditions and cultural norms typically ‘blamed’ for the phenomenon. Structural cleavages, such as poverty, insecurity, and conflict exacerbate the problem and undermine development initiatives, thus impeding progress toward more equal communities.

Africa does not suffer from the dearth of policies prescribing the rights of the child, and protecting the girl child. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) prohibits practices that affect the dignity and development of the child. The African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights (1981) addresses gender based violence against women through the Protocol on the Rights of Women, which calls for elimination of harmful practices affecting women, and provides for legislatively backed equality within marriages. In Southern Africa, the above policy positions have been echoed through the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (2008). Nevertheless, the said instruments have all provisos where the underage girl child may be married without her consent.

It is illuminating that civil society has been involved in gender-based violence prevention activities in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia for a long time. However, the scourge of the problem remains. Using Bourdieu’s theory of practice, Galtung’s symbolic violence, and Bronfenbrenner’s social ecology, the discussion will examine how social settings in which child marriages occur maintain gender inequality and reproduce poverty. While it is important to acknowledge that the complex child marriage prevalence scenario in the three countries is an outcome of many factors, it is imperative to explore the extent to which civil society organisations have played a role in gender-responsive mitigation of the problem, and how their efforts can be scaled up and enhanced.

3. Space, gender and livelihood practices in a Tanzanian slum

Author: Tiina-Riitta Lappi (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

People living in an informal neighbourhood face multiple challenges caused by lack of residential planning and their possibilities to make any kind of living are strongly affected by extremely difficult economic, environmental and spatial circumstances. Poor women’s livelihood practices and survival strategies are closely connected to the immediate informal spaces because the majority of them spend most of their time, whether working or not, close to their homes. Urban poverty also has a distinctive gendered aspect, especially as it places a disproportionate burden on women, who are responsible for unpaid caregiving work. Drawing on in-depth interviews in a chronically poor neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam this paper focuses on two questions: How are women’s livelihood practices formed in dialogue with the spatial possibilities and limitations of their physical environment and the ways in which this environment is socially understood? What is the role of gender-related practices and cultural norms when women seek for livelihood opportunities? In this paper I’m arguing that women’s livelihood strategies differ from men’s in significant ways and that these differences are closely linked to ideas and practices regarding space and gendered agency.

4. Questioning Poverty: Experiences of women in South Western and North Central Nigeria

Authors: Lohna Bonkat (University of Jos, Nigeria)
Asaaju Morenikeji, (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

The issues of poverty and gender are long standing social problems that permeate every society (UN 2009). Although men and women experience poverty differently. The question of poverty and gender relations is a topical issue particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, beyond factors such as cultural practices, unemployment, low income amongst others are also issues of insecurity, violent conflict, instability to mention a few, have further entrenched poverty and continuously affected gender relations.

With particular focus on Abeokuta (South Western) and Jos (North Central) as case studies, we explore other factors for poverty and its effects on gender relations and practices. We further discuss strategies and opportunities to reduce poverty and enhance gender relations. Using information drawn from semi structured interviews, archival materials and content analysis of existing literature as sources of data. This article draws a link between poverty and gendered relations besides cultural practices which has been overemphasized.

Keywords: Cultural Practices, Gender Relations, Nigeria, Poverty, Africa

5. Gendered political crisis: The materiality of the everyday matters in female authored Zimbabwean novels

Author: Faith Mkwesha (Abo Akademi University, Finland) or

The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how gender relations were transformed during the male engineered Zimbabwe crisis and how the crisis reconstituted modern post-colonial subjectivity. The primary texts are Valerie Tagwira’s The Uncertainty of Hope, Virginia Phiri’s Highway Queen and No Violet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names which represent the unmanageability of everyday life during the male engineered Zimbabwean crisis. They depict every day realities of the crisis on marginalized townships and communities in their daily struggle to provide a decent livelihood for their families. I am more interested in how the materiality of the everyday affects the choices, decisions and practices of the characters. I posit that while the crisis created a space for women to forge new gendered identities, and to intervene in the politics of masculinity to renegotiate and challenge the unfeeling African masculinities. I argue that while male characters are immobilized by economic disenfranchisement and alienation from their gender roles as providers, protectors and fathers, literary Zimbabwean women are being forced to make “choice-less” choices to provide the materiality of everyday needs for their families during the Zimbabwe crisis. I examine how gender relations and roles are redefined by the crisis, through more flexible definitions of the terms and roles of bread winner, fatherhood and motherhood. I propose that the female writers (Tagwira, Phiri and Bulawayo) position themselves as gender activists and human rights advocates.

6. Gendered access to urban living and livelihoods: A case study of livelihood opportunities in two emerging urban centres in rural Tanzania

Authors: Susanne Haunstrup Kirkegaard and Jytte Agergaard (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

The urban change sweeping across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), is not merely taking place in cities, as small to intermediate urban centres continue to be the fastest growing in most Africa nations and they also contain the majority of urban residents. Focusing on the smaller segment of small towns, this paper focuses on villages transitioning into small town. These small towns which we refer to as emerging urban centres (EUC’s) due to their transitional phase of becoming towns create intrinsic complex webs of rural and urban lifestyles merging, changing and challenging current social structures and gender relations. The paper explores how gender dynamics are played out in places undergoing urban change, through an investigation of gendered access to livelihood opportunities and gendered mobility practices in two EUC’s. The paper will through an examination of livelihood and mobility practices demonstrate how gender, generation and socio-economic status interact in the construction of EUC’s. By exploring the livelihood practices of people, the paper analyses how (im-)mobility and notions (non-)progress are deeply intertwined into people’s notions of urban development and urban living while the access to these urban livings are intersected by gender. The paper suggests that a gendered perspective on access to livelihood opportunities in EUC’s, provides important insights into how urban changes and gender dynamics are unfolding in rural Tanzania. The paper is based upon data collected in relation to the research project, Rural Urban Transformation: Governance, Mobility, and Economic Dynamics, in Emerging Urban Centres for Poverty Reduction (RUT), including a household survey among 740 households and two months of in-depth field study of two EUC’s, collecting information on household and individual livelihood practices, migration trajectories and daily mobility practices in these EUC’s.

7. Bridewealth: Gender roles and poverty

Author: Diana Raitala (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

‘You have no rights, you have no say because he pays the cows [bridewealth]’ Even though she is mistreated she cannot go back to her natal home because there is so much poverty that her father could not feed her, besides he would have to return the payment made for her, she could not burden her family with it. Therefore, she has to accept being her husband’s property. This was told to me by Jane (pseudonym), a Luo woman, in order to explain some aspects of bridewealth on my ethnographic trip to eastern Kenya.

My research for my Master’s thesis shows that gender roles are determined by bridewealth, a cultural practice which legalizes marital union. This practice confers rights on husbands such as ownership of their wives and custody of their children. At the same time, women’s rights are violated because due to this practice women are not allowed to own property as they are considered the husband’s property themselves; for the same reason women should accept physical and psychological abuse. Poverty plays a major role in the dynamics of bridewealth since i) usually a wife has to accept abuse from husband because if she leaves him, he could demand that her father repay the brideweath, and often the father has no means of doing so; ii) children are wanted because they are responsible for the well-being of their parents when they grow older. In a poor country like Kenya where basic needs such as potable water, food, medical care and housing are not met by the state, children have a moral duty within their financial possibilities to provide for their parents. Bridewealth is traditionally paid to obtain a wife who produces children for her husband and his kin.

8. Poverty, education, and child marriage in Dar es Salaam

Author: Laura Stark (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

The UN and other international agencies define child marriage as involving spouses under 18 years of age. In many African societies, such marriage is still common, despite strenuous efforts to eradicate it. Using over 250 interviews with residents of a chronically poor neighborhood in Dar es Salaam between 2010 and 2015, this paper asks: how are early marriage practices grounded in local concepts of childhood and adulthood? Does early marriage deny girls the chance for education, or is the situation more complicated than this?

According to older cultural norms still prevalent in Tanzania, children are seen to become independent adults at roughly age 15–16. It would be wrong to conclude that Tanzanian parents who push or force girls into early marriage at this age do not recognize the dangers or risks in such marriages, or consider their daughters to be worth less than sons. On the contrary, most parents would prefer their daughters to be in school, but for the chronically poor in Tanzania, schooling at all levels is expensive. High unemployment has meant that for the poorest residents of the city, even secondary school education – for which whole families make sacrifices – does not guarantee girls a job or a better means of making an income. In this case, marriage can be seen as providing the best security for girls. Moreover, in a context in which many girls get pregnant while in school (from sexual relations with other students) or drop out of school to generate income through transactional sexual behavior, marriage is seen to be the only way to ensure that the man’s family will recognize any resulting pregnancies as belonging to his kin group, thereby providing more security for the baby. Many girls I interviewed wanted to marry before age 18, indeed for many it was an unattainable dream, because they could not find a man wealthy enough to provide for them. In some contexts, therefore, so-called child or marriage should be seen not as a ‘traditional’ solution but as an aspiration emerging from the current economic crisis in Tanzanian society.

Age 18 as the upper limit of childhood represents an arbitrary cut-off point with historical roots in Western society, one that does not reflect the norms and conditions of African societies. Policy discourses and campaigns against early marriage implicitly assume that, if not for the burden of having to marry early, girls would automatically have other routes to agency and self-fulfillment. Yet I suggest that the lives of young brides would not necessarily have been better if their parents had been legally prevented from pressuring them to marry. For the very poor, legislation grounded in Western conceptions of the person is therefore not likely to be an effective way of addressing the issue of early marriage.

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