Korogwe 2, Tanga

Case study

Mama Barbra

Caring for her big family cuts into Mama Barbra’s profits
CS10 Tanzania
Sometimes I go to my business late because of housework and by the time I get there my customers will have bought from other sellers so in such days I make losses.

Mama Barbra is 37 years old, and lives in a nuclear family in Korogwe, Tanzania with her husband, Baba Bob (52 years old), and five sons (14, 11, 9, 5 and 2 years old). The eldest three children attend school. Mama Barbra’s highest level of education is pre-school. Baba Bob does agricultural work outside the home.

Mama Barbra is involved in several self-employed income-generating activities, which she does not consider to be paid work: selling fish, farming, and selling produce from the farm. It takes approximately 15–30 minutes to walk to the farm. She finds this work challenging. She has to wake up early in the morning to fulfill her care tasks before she leaves for work. She follows a daily schedule, although sometimes the pressure of paid work becomes so high that her schedule changes and she has to go to work early. This means that she has to leave the care tasks at home unfinished until she returns. Despite her high paid work burden, there have not been many changes to her care work responsibilities at home.

Mama Barbra spends approximately five hours each day doing the care work for the household. The most intensive care tasks are fetching water and firewood. In addition, she cleans the house, cooks food, washes clothes, and bathes the smaller children. She is supported by her husband, Baba Bob, who helps by collecting the firewood when he is around. Her eldest son, Mwana Bob, provides additional support by cooking for his siblings, fetching water, washing, and cleaning the house. When Mama Barbra wakes up, she prepares breakfast for the children and her husband, after which she prepares the children to be bathed. She also cooks food for those children who come back from school before she returns home. Even when she returns home late, she prepares dinner and serves it. She washes the utensils before she goes to sleep to avoid delays in the morning. She explains that this combination of paid work and care work is the norm in her community:

Women can take up men’s responsibilities. Most women in our community are the fathers and mothers in the households. They play both roles and it is not because their husbands are dead. No, they are alive but they are not good at working as their women, so the one who provides everything in the family is the women.

Since Mama Barbra is self-employed, she has a degree of bargaining power over her work because she can decide what to do first at home, and what time she will leave home for work. This gives her some leeway when reorganising her care arrangements. Baba Bob decides the care arrangements for the family when she is at work. Mama Barbra’s most important days are market days as she can earn extra income, but she has to complete her care tasks first. She sometimes leaves the house late and this affects her business:

Sometimes I go to my business late because of housework and by the time I get there my customers will have bought from other sellers so in such days I make losses.

All of Mama Barbra’s work is located far away from her home. Due to this she sometimes finds it difficult to do all of her paid work and unpaid care work tasks on time – every so often she has to spend more time on one activity, abandoning others. At times she returns to find that some of the tasks at home have not yet been done, for example, the water has not been fetched, the food is not cooked, and most disturbing of all, the children have not been bathed:

I contribute in taking care of my family by being around doing all things as a mother/wife should do for her husband and children like cooking for them, washing for them, cleaning the house for them, etc. I feel that if I am not around they will not even eat on time or they can fall sick from staying in a dirty environment but if am around I take care of everything.

Sometimes Mama Barbra decides to give the responsibility of doing the care tasks at home to Mwana Bob. He is pleased that his mother does paid work: ‘I feel good about my mother working outside the house because she is able to provide for us as a family.’ However, Mama Barbra feels that Mwana Bob gets tired because he does the work after returning home from school. In addition, it affects his education because he does not have enough time to study. Mama Barbra feels for her son but it would be a hard decision to stop her income-generating activities. On the other hand, Mwana Bob reveals that he would like to spend more time with his mother:

I wish my mother had more time to spend with me so that she can teach me to do the things I cannot do well.

Mama Barbra belongs to a self-help group, in which the members contribute certain amounts of money in order to help each other when they encounter a problem, for instance a funeral or sickness. Being part of the group gives her peace of mind for the future and should help her manage the impact of any future emergencies for her household. The community provides ‘invisible support’ by keeping an eye on her home, which helps her to leave the children at home unattended without having to worry.

Mama Barbra would like the government to provide loans that would increase her capital and expand her income base. She would also like water facilities to be brought nearer to her home, to prevent women in the community from having to walk long distances looking for water, as it is a waste of time. Although government services are fairly standardised across Tanzania, access to key services such as water sources, health centres and transport are often limited or problematic. Services also vary depending on location, for example, electricity is accessible in urban areas but not in rural. Also significantly, there are currently no childcare services provided by the government.   

About Mama Barbra

30-39
Programme: 
Women Development Fund (WDF)
Issues: 
Children caring
Family/community support
Public services
Outcome: 
Depleted