Mama Robina is 39 years old, and lives in Lushoto District, Tanzania in a nuclear, male-headed family with her husband, Baba Robin (47 years old), and her ten-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. Her daughter attends school, but Mama Robina takes her son with her to work. Mama Robina’s highest level of education is primary school.
Mama Robina and Baba Robin are the only breadwinners in the family. Baba Robin is involved in construction but considers himself predominantly to be a farmer, which he says is his main occupation. Mama Robina generates most of her income through farming, but she also prepares and sells food products, such as vegetables, to supplement her income. The majority of her day is spent on farming. She rents a farm for a fee from the landowner, on which she grows crops. However, she explains that the returns from farming are not always certain and that she sometimes makes a loss. She is particularly busy during the weeding season when she says that sometimes she spends the whole day on the farm, returning home at only 8pm. Her options for income through farming include cultivating and selling vegetables and raising and selling chickens.
Mama Robina receives help from her husband and daughter in performing the unpaid care duties for the household. She also categorizes farming as unpaid work, which she demonstrates as she asks:
Who can pay you for weeding your own garden?
In addition, she is involved in other household activities for approximately three hours each day, such as cooking, washing clothes, cleaning the house, washing dishes, and fetching water. Her husband, Baba Robin, appreciates the work that she does, and explains that she works hard to balance the workload at home: 'If her contribution was useless, we would not have managed.'
In her absence, he helps with a lot of the household duties and directs his children on what needs to be done. He admits, however, that it is challenging for a man to take up his wife’s activities ‘because there is a big difference between male and female activities’. In addition, he says he is happy to help with the household work regardless of external perceptions about the gendered division of care work:
I don’t care what they say or think, I work for the wellbeing of my family. I can’t fail to eat because my wife is not home; I have to do the cooking by myself. I don’t lose anything even if someone finds me peeling and I don’t care about what they say.
Mama Robina is of the opinion that balancing paid and unpaid work is all about proper and timely planning. She says that sometimes her workload does get too much, however she feels happy to postpone certain tasks until the next day. Dividing the tasks between her and her husband also helps to ease her workload. She thinks that her contribution to the family through her paid and unpaid work is important. She says, for example, that through performing the care tasks herself, the household is saving money that would have otherwise been used to pay someone else to do it. At the same time, when she generates income from her paid work, it helps contribute to the household’s welfare.
Mama Robina feels that she has the independence to choose which care tasks she will do, and in what order: ‘I decide what to do, I go to the garden if I want to dig or do the washing if I want.’ She does, however, admit that there are challenges to balancing both paid and unpaid work. She gave an example of when she was unable to prepare food for her family because of doing paid work, after which her husband complained.
Both Mama Robina and Baba Robin think that small contributions such as making water, health services and electricity available would make their lives easier as they would have ready access to amenities. 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. Collective efforts through community mobilisation would make it easier to raise resources or to provide loans to members to invest in their income-generating activities. This might also translate into a culture of reciprocity in farming: ‘After working on someone else’s farm, you can have some people to help you with weeding and you also do the same for them and you get the work done quickly.’