Lushoto 3, Tanga

Case study

Mama Bernadet

Bernadet values her husband’s support in her efforts to earn and care for seven children
The community should be educated so that they know what is to be done in order to decrease the burden of too much work to their wives, sisters and daughters.

Bernadet is a 35-year-old woman living in Lushoto District, Tanzania with her husband (39) and their seven children – five daughters (aged 13, 12, 11, 7 and 3) and two sons (aged 9 and 5). All the children over six years of age attend school, except for Bernadet’s eldest daughter. Bernadet had a Primary education and is self-employed as a farmer. Her husband is a construction worker, primarily building houses at different construction sites. He also sometimes helps Bernadet with household activities such as farming.

Bernadet earns an income from selling produce such as beans and rice. She also works in other people’s gardens and sells rice pancakes. With the money she earns, Bernadet buys basic groceries for the family. Bernadet discussed earning income through selling rice pancakes with her husband (although she only sells a few pancakes due to limited capital). He says:

There are activities I don’t like my wife to do, like carrying stones, because they affect her health. In terms of respect, I don’t judge what she chooses to do as she is free to choose by herself any activity that brings her an income.

Bernadet’s husband is supportive of her paid work:

I feel good about her paid work because [I] am the one who gave her permission to [do] that work so that we could help each other in taking care of the family. For example, if I don’t have money she can help to solve problems [with her] income.

Explaining her motivation for seeking paid work, Bernadet says:

It is because I could not satisfy my family’s needs and this prompted me to go and start [farming] for money. At least now I can provide for my family somehow, of course with the help of my husband – because if I was to be alone, even if I [were to] sell off whatever I have, I could not get what I want.

At home, Bernadet’s unpaid care activities include cooking, fetching water and firewood, and preparing the children for school. Her eldest daughter helps to take care of the other children and also helps in farming, cooking, and washing clothes. Bernadet’s husband also supports with farming when he is not at the construction site.

Fetching firewood consumes much of Bernadet’s time: ‘it can take the whole day, because I have to cut down a tree then split it into small pieces, then tie them together before carrying them back home.’ Bernadet’s husband takes care of the home in her absence, and he discusses with their eldest daughter how to delegate some activities to the younger children after school.

Bernadet does not get enough time to rest as she wakes up early to cook the rice pancakes. She sometimes leaves the house without completing the care tasks in order to work on other people’s land or farms to earn more income. She says, ‘I sometimes get unexpected work on someone’s land and… leave my work and go for some paid work.’ Sometimes Bernadet’s husband returns from work to find nothing done at home, and the children do not get time to study due the volume of their care activities.

Bernadet is worried about getting sick because of the smell and burns from the cooking oil that she uses for pancakes. She is also worried about hurting her hands during irrigation on the farm. Bernadet explains, ‘sometimes I make my children cook pancakes and this affects their health.’ She worries about the children playing around the frying pan with cooking oil due to a lack of space. She cooks from the corridor (outside her house) but also has to cook pancakes from inside her home so that she is able to contribute to care tasks as she cooks.

Bernadet’s income helps towards care tasks because after harvesting she buys food, salt and sugar to feed her family. She also settles debts such as from borrowed seeds and fertilisers.

Although government services are fairly standardised across Tanzania, access to key services such as water sources, health centres and transport is 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 or within workplaces by employers.   

A solution to Bernadet’s problems could be to distribute easy activities to her children in turn, so that they also get time for study and rest. Bernadet also feels that efficient and well-stocked community health centres would help save valuable work time: ‘if someone or [myself] gets sick [it would] be easy to get medical treatment and get back to work in [the] shortest period [of time] possible.’

Bernadet’s husband suggests it would help if his wife could be provided with equipment such as pans and charcoal stoves to improve her working environment. Bernadet says, ‘I should get a place to cook my rice pancakes instead of cooking them at the corridor. I should be given a machine that will help me to water my crops in the farm.’ Bernadet stresses the value of male support: ‘the government should educate the men on the importance of helping their wives with the care activities at home.’

It would also help if the community could take care of the children in her absence. Bernadet’s husband suggests:

The community should be educated so that they know what is to be done in order to decrease the burden of too much work to their wives, sisters and daughters. We should form groups [so] that we will be helping each other.

About Mama Bernadet

Vegetable Value Chain project
Children caring
Family/community support
Public services