Lushoto 3, Tanga

Case study

Mama Denise

Unpredictable markets disturb Denise’s careful balance of income with family life
I think the government should give us capital. We [could] start businesses and get casual workers to help us in our gardens.

34-year-old Denise lives with her husband (a 42-year-old mechanic) and her five children (two daughters aged 14 and 12, and three sons aged 19, 17 and 4) in Lushoto District, Tanzania. Denise had a Primary education and all of her children over the age of six attend school. Denise is a member of a village self-help group and is self-employed, working at the market (less than 15 minutes walking distance from home) for three hours a day.

Denise grows crops and runs a business that sells pancakes. The income earned from these two activities helps her contribute to the family’s needs, such as buying sugar and salt. She says, ‘I work in the gardens, I dig and I sell pancakes, then get money and we buy what we do not have at home.’

Denise decided to sell pancakes because she does not like to depend too much on her husband. Her other options of generating income are to do more farming, but her worry is the weather variability, and that there is a lack of water for irrigation, especially for the tomatoes that she grows. She is concerned about a lack of customers, explaining: ‘I might not be able to provide for the family as there might be no customers in my business.’ Denise discussed with her husband, who agreed that she could do some paid work. He also says, ‘there are several options of paid work I can’t allow her to do, like a bar tender.’

Denise’s unpaid care activities at home include cooking, cleaning the house, farming for the home, and washing. Fetching water and farming are the activities that consume most of her time. Denise’s husband and children help her: ‘my husband cooks and fetches water, especially when I am sick. My children also help.’ Her husband makes decisions for the family when she is away, and cleans the house and compound in her absence. The children support in cleaning and fetching water. Denise says men’s care activities (such as managing finances, cutting firewood and constructing houses) are difficult, and that women should not take them on. She also says that she does not have enough time, but she manages to do what is possible. Denise’s husband feels happy that she finds time to do care tasks, though he cannot cook.

Denise says that she cannot work for anyone because of health issues. Selling pancakes is also not an easy job. She explains, ‘[it requires] walking for a long distance carrying pancakes, and sometimes people do not buy [them].’ Denise would like to do other paid work activities but she does not have enough capital. She says, ‘if I had money, I would set up home projects like poultry and this can give me money.’ Denise also helps mobilise members of the community for group meetings because it is a good act:

You know, informing people about something is good, there is nothing bad in doing community work.

Denise says that she gets time to rest: ‘I don’t get tired from the work and [my husband and children] don’t get tired too because the work is not too much.’ However, she sometimes finds it challenging to do both her paid and unpaid work duties. For example, she gets tired when she has to travel far to find tomatoes to buy, and so she cannot do home-based tasks. She says:

Sometimes, I come back home late when I am tired and fail to cook, or cook late. Sometimes, I fail to work in my own garden because of the paid work. When [I] am sick I find it hard to combine both paid and unpaid [work].

Denise’s husband feels good about his wife earning income, because she is able to solve some problems at home without waiting for him, although he sometimes needs support in her absence.

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.   

As a solution to the challenges she faces, Denise thinks members of the community can form groups to fight poverty – although there are some groups that she cannot get involved in, such as groups that provide casual labour in people’s farms. She also needs capital to develop her business (such as buying cooking oil and other requirements) and says that the government has a role to play in this:

I think the government should give us capital. We [could] start businesses and get casual workers to help us in our gardens.

About Mama Denise

Household (Nuclear)
Male headed
5 children
Contains male(s)
No care responsibilties for disabled people
No migrant(s)
No care responsibilties for older people
Vegetable Value Chain project
Family/community support
Public services
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Activities shown are a single day snapshot in the life of the woman.