37-year-old Harriet lives with her husband (aged 42), their five daughters (aged 15, 13, 10, 7, and less than one year old) and her father (aged 62) in Korogwe District, Tanzania. All Harriet’s children over the age of six attend school and Harriet herself had a primary education. She ‘digs in people’s gardens for money’, and engages with the community group saving programme, ‘because when we form a group it means we can develop together. The NGOs can easily extend some loan facilities to us, so I don’t hesitate to join their programmes.’ She thinks that running a small shop could enable her to earn a bit more money. Her husband works outside of the home. The unpaid care tasks Harriet is involved in at home include washing for the children, sweeping and cooking, while her husband helps in fetching water and firewood. He is the one taking the decision within the household, also when she is away, because the children ‘are still very young.’
Harriet feels the best way to organize her unpaid care work, is to ‘get up early in the morning, sweep, prepare the children for school and then go to work.’ Managing the housework before going off to earn is tiring, but, as she says, 'there is nothing to do because we want the best for our families. So we have to sacrifice.'
Her husband and children are aware of her efforts, ‘they see the pain that I go through and appreciate it’, she said. After all, Harriet decided to engage in paid work because she wants to support her children ‘to go to school, get good clothes and food. So I have to go out and work.’ If, on top of this, she can get ‘money to buy household stuff like saucepans, plates and also some clothes, it means I have gained from my sweat.’ Yet sometimes this arrangement does not hold, and the care tasks go undonem leaving the compound unswept or her relatives hungry waiting for her to come home and cook.
The main problem Harriet perceives in her paid work is that of insufficient or irregular wages.
We are underpaid, sometimes you work but the boss pays you just little money.
This happens because her employer tells her that he also is short of cash. Nonetheless, he would sometimes help her with advances on her wage in case of need: ‘not so often, but for example, if my children are sent from school because of fees, I can approach him for money.’
Irregular payments also affect Harriet’s capacity to save money and participate in group savings. In fact, only if ‘he pays on time, you take the money to the saving group and avoid incurring fines.’ The groups she is part of are important, because they support each other by exchanging labour.
For example, if my garden needs weeding and I can’t manage to do it alone, I can go to the group, they come and weed for me. Then another time we go to someone else’s garden. We keep helping ourselves.
Yet, sometimes reciprocity does not hold, and ‘you will go and weed their plantation and when their turn comes to weed yours, they will not show up. It hurts a lot.’
When asked what could make a significant change in her life, Harriet said that communities ‘should form groups to give each other a helping hand’, but also that wages should increase. ‘I would pray that the people we work for can increase on the money they pay us. For example, I work for little a day. If they could add on, it would boost my income.’
Although government services are fairly standardized 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. To bring a better balance to her paid and unpaid care work, Harriet thinks that the government should ‘bring clean water close to our communities, plus other amenities like roads, hospitals and schools.’ It should also tackle its educational system, in order to alleviate the burden on low income households. The government ‘should help in the education of my children with things like school fees and uniforms’, she said.