This week Gerald Kitabu interviewed academician and gender activist Rose George Mbezi on how gender division of labour obscures the importance of women work. Excerpts:
QUESTION: I understand that you have conducted research on gender division of labour, what is it?
ANSWER. Gender is a social category referring to the social expectations that are developed and placed upon individuals on the basis of their biological sex. Different roles exist for males and females, through which they are expected to become and act ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Gender division of labour, therefore, is the social construction of roles between men and women.
The roles are then learned, we are not born with them. Gender roles define appropriate manners of interacting, dressing as well as providing limitations on goals and aspirations.
Q: What’s the situation like in Tanzania?
A. Gender division of labour is neither rigid nor universal, since the division of tasks varies from one country to another as well as from one community to another. Tanzania has undergone several socio-economic changes regarding the nature of work between the two genders. As such, the distribution of work between men and women has changed to suit the current socio- economic framework. In the beginning there were several assumptions concerning the work of men and women in the family.
There were clear divisions of labour based on gender. The man of the family, conveniently identified as the breadwinner, is primarily involved in productive work outside the home, while the women as the housewife and home maker takes overall responsibility for the reproductive and domestic work involved in the organization of the household.
Of recent, however, there is an increase of women’s involvement in cash economy, especially in the informal sector to subside the income of their households. Women are nowadays supposed to integrate productive, reproductive and community management roles.
In most cases societies as I have already said before, have attached reproductive and community management roles to women and productive roles to men. However in most feminist literature, the sexual division of labour which attaches reproductive and community management roles to the female gender and productive roles to male gender is identified above all as embodying and perpetuating women subordination.
Q: How do they perpetuate women subordination?
A: Actually the basis of women subordination in terms of gendered division of labour lies in the discourses of what is and what is not work in a certain socio-economic context. In most case work is defined according to several criteria such as time and labour spent on it, the cash income it generates and may be the social status or identity it bestowed upon individual by the society or him or herself.
It is obvious that women spend too much time to accomplish their roles in maintaining households and societies in general, and to some, this make them feel good due to what their work do to their families and communities.
The arising problem nowadays is the growing of cash economy. Money is universally used to measure the value of someone work in most societies.
As such, the work that women do in productive, reproductive and community management roles are not understood in conventional economical terms as people are so used to valuing and calculating value of work or things in terms of prices using money. Those whose work brings a lot of money is the ones who are likely to be mostly valued.
Unfortunately, the majority of women in Tanzania are employed in the informal sector. The activities done by the majority of women in informal sector operate in subsistence economy as such, the state receives very little revenue. Sometimes the returns from the activities done are very little to cater for households needs.
It becomes therefore difficult for both the Government and society in general to establish if whether women involved in productive work give value to Government economic establishment and their society in general.
Q: Sometimes, gender division of labour is associated with culture, particularly norms and customs whereby in some societies women are assigned specific duties and barred from doing other duties. What are your views on this?
A: Any healthy society is ordered. So, I do not have any objection with gender division of labour. I am, however, not happy with the value systems of most communities in our country. As you know gender, division of labour is not homogeneous. The division of tasks between men and women is not the same in all communities.
However, often societies develop a certain value system based on the gender division of labour attached to the roles performed by each gender, whether at home or in public. The tendency has been to give men’s roles a high value while women’s roles are accorded low value.
Q: Are your efforts as gender activists bring any desired results?
A: Yes, to some extent, but remember gender roles are acquired through the socialization process. Socialization is different from learning. The actual process of learning involves a small part of the many more complex ways in which humans become individuals and members of society. Socialization on the other hand refers to such additional factors as the acquisition and acceptance of the ideas, beliefs, behaviours, roles, motives, and thought patterns of a particular culture in a society. So, we still need to work hard to harmonize gender division of labour to facilitate development processes in Tanzania.
Q: By the way, are gender laws and policies friendly to women empowerment?
A: It is difficult to say exactly if gender policies and laws are friendly to women empowerment or not because it depends on someone’s view. But I think Tanzania has done a considerable effort to make sure that there are several windows to make gender equity and equality a reality.
Tanzania has ratified the international and regional conventions, protocols and declarations that aim at redressing the violation of human rights at national and global levels including the rights of women, youth and children as vulnerable groups.
At national level, the Government of Tanzania has passed specific laws, which counter gender based violence such as the SOSPA (2001). Tanzania has also issued the Gender and Women Empowerment Policy (2000) plus its implementation strategy (2005) with a view to promoting gender development in the country.
The National Strategy for Gender Development is meant to provide guidance as it outlines the gender main streaming responsibilities for all the sectors (Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Non-State Actors (NSA) and other stakeholders.
In addition, Tanzania has also domesticated the CEDAW through a Country Report. The above gender framework can be used in different sectors to mainstream gender concerns in order to address problems encountered by women and the most vulnerable in our society.
Q. What exactly should be done so that the gendered division of labour is harmonised to facilitate the development process?
A. Let me make myself clear here. I detest the thinking that for women work to be valued they should take the work and responsibilities that are associated with men. For in a society like ours where money is often measured to value the importance of someone’s work, women should learn to value their work themselves, appreciate what they do regardless of how much cash it brings.
This will be the basis for more work and more rewards, for one cannot expect to earn or advance more in whatever he or she is doing if in the first place does appreciate what he or she does.
Q. Finally, being a gender activist, what’s your advice?
A. No one can deny the fact that societies are sustained through the integrated nature of people’s activities regardless of how much cash it brings, it is important therefore to focus on each individual human being (women in particular) as a potential contributor towards building a sustainable development, especially in the current socio-economic changes.