Married women and development in Gwanda
This chapter studies the lives of married women in the communal areas of Gwanda in Matabclcland South Province in the context of the Amalima development programme led by a consortium of non-govemmental organisations. The aim is not to examine the character, dynamics and effectiveness of the programme, though its focus on addressing gender inequalities in Gwanda is of significance. Rather, the chapter uses the programme as a backdrop from which to explore and analyse the everyday lives of married women (as women) involved in the programme, as well as the gendered relationships which exist with reference to both the domestic and public spheres of village life. The Amalima programme has a number of subprogrammes, some of which have an exclusive focus on enhancing the status and capacities of women. The main sub-programme examined in this chapter is the health and nutrition sub-programme. A consideration of the position of married women and their thoughts about the programme facilitates an understanding of the everyday lives of Gwanda women.
Zimbabwe, like other African countries, is characterised by culturally configured patriarchal perceptions and practices that place women in a subordinate position (Kambarami 2006), including by way of assigning roles, responsibilities and resources along gender lines within the domestic and public spheres (Fcderici 2012). Broadly, the public sphere incorporates political and economic activities that arc often under unrestricted male control, while the private or domestic sphere is a “womanly space” where reproductive, emotional and caring activities take place - importantly, though, it is also a space in which women arc subject to the dictates of men. In Zimbabwe, for example, women (certainly married women) do not have unmediated ownership of (or control over) productive assets such as land, even though they arc allowed to make use of these assets in undertaking agricultural activities. In the domestic sphere, women care for children, and the expression of their sexuality is in large part conditioned by the desire, will and power of men (Laslctt and Brenner 1989; Fcderici 2012).
For many decades now, donor-funded developmental non-governmental organisations have pursued and implemented programmes in the communal areas of Zimbabwe. In the first decade of independence, these organisations focused on rehabilitation and reconstruction of communal areas because of the devastating consequences of the liberation war during the 1970s (Bomstcin 2003). In the following decade, a neoliberal structural adjustment programme led to downsizing and deindustrialisation of the national economy, as well as significant withdrawal of the state’s agricultural subsidies and support for communal farmers. Because the adjustment programme tended to undercut the Zimbabwe state’s institutional capacities, non-government organisations became more strident in offering mainstream development programmes in communal areas (Manana 1992). The Zimbabwean state’s fast-track land programme from the year 2000, which had massive negative implications for the national and agricultural economies, heightened the presence of non-governmental organisations in communal areas (Makumbc 2009). In typically avoiding the post-2000 fast-track land reform areas because of the international illegitimacy of fast-track reform, donor funded organisations continue to focus on communal area development. In doing so, many development programmes seek to address the patriarchal dimensions of communal area living, including by enhancing women’s livelihoods and building women’s advocacy capacities.
Amalima in Gwanda
Gwanda District is located in agro-ccological region V (in Matabelcland South Province), with this region being marked by arid and semi-arid conditions (Bhcbhe ct al. 2013). There arc low annual rainfalls, seasonal droughts and dry spells occurring during the rainy season. Food insecurity is high and formal employment is low, with livestock production and “resistant crop” cultivation constituting the agro-based livelihoods in the area. Activities, such as vending in mopane worms, eco-stoves (clay stoves), bricks, reed mats and second-hand clothes make up some of the non-agricultural livelihoods, particularly for women (though these arc erratic and not very profitable). Many households are de facto female headed as local men have historically migrated for work elsewhere, including in South Africa. However, other men live alongside their wives in Gwanda and together, they engage in a combination of agricultural and non-agricultural pursuits. Married women in Gwanda communal areas, though playing an active role in crop cultivation, do not have primary rights to land; and, culturally, they arc only allowed to own small livestock, such as goats and chickens.
The Amalima programme, which is funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and began in 2013, works under a consortium of six non-governmental organisations, but it is led by an organisation called Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture. The work of Amalima in Gwanda focuses on strengthening livelihoods through a variety of initiatives, such as promoting nutrition and health, village savings and lending schemes, capacity building activities, disaster risk reduction methods, conservation agriculture and income-generating projects. These activities arc embodied within three strategic objectives, which arc: household access to nutritious food (i.e. food security); community resilience to shocks; and improved nutrition and health amongst pregnant and lactating females, and boys and girls under two. The programme has relevant linkages with government ministries and departments. Fostering women’s empowerment and gender equality arc crosscutting components that underpin all the activities of Amalima. For instance, Amalima promotes labour saving technologies for women in the hope of reducing communal area workloads. To support the inclusion of men in the programme, efforts arc made to integrate them into for instance the health and nutrition sub-programme with the ultimate goal of increasing male support in household and child-rearing activities. Traditionally, local men have shunned taking part in duties that arc regarded as for womcn-only, not only just child-care but also weeding and fetching wood or water.
A qualitative, case-study design founded in interpretive sociology (Bryman 2015) framed the examination of the Amalima development programme in Gwanda, as the chapter seeks to understand practices and perspectives pertaining to the local system of patriarchy which conditions the lives of married women. A case study identifies and examines the particularity and complexity of a single case, without necessarily offering grounds for generalisation. Gwanda was chosen specifically because the researcher was familiar with the area and had access to it. The case study paved the way for the use of multiple sources of evidence (Stake 1995), specifically interviews, focus group discussions and primary documents as the basis for capturing the complex realities investigated in Gwanda.
Within the case study, the specific focus was on married women in Gwanda along with their spouses, in order to examine gendered relationships within households. Using non-random convenience sampling, in-depth interviews were conducted with ten married women and ten married men. Only five of the men and women were actual spouses, but all men and women participated in some way in the Amalima programme. Two focus group discussions (of five women each) were undertaken to gain deeper insights into local gendered relations and at times, the significance of the Amalima programme in reconfiguring these relations. In addition, in accessing their perspectives on gendered relations in Gwanda, there were interviews with Amalima staff, which included district field coordinators, team leaders and a gender specialist in the programme. The research was carried out in August and September 2017.
Conservation agriculture, income-generation and disaster reduction
In discussing the status of married women in Gwanda and the many daily challenges they face, I focus mainly on the health and nutrition sub-programme of Amalima. However, before doing so, I briefly raise pertinent points about other
Married women and development in Gwanda 131 sub-programmes, namely, conservation agriculture, income-generation and disaster reduction.
The involvement of women alongside their husbands in conservation agriculture (such as zero tillage and water management) has facilitated increased food production and security in Gwanda, with some women claiming that their new conservation agricultural skills have enhanced their respect in their eyes of their husbands, such that they are now more involved in household-based agricultural decision-making. As one woman put it: “The way I relate with my husband has since changed; our relationship is now based on respect and mutual understanding because I am a wise woman”. At the same time, however, conservation agriculture is even more labour intensive when compared to previous planting techniques, with the labour burden often falling on the shoulders of women, in addition to their duties as wives and mothers at home.
Women specifically in Gwanda arc given micro credit loans (through a household asset voucher scheme) and arc encouraged to form village savings and leading schemes as a basis (Mpofu et al. 2013) for acquiring their own sources of income (independent of their husbands), thereby becoming involved in incomegenerating activities and asset accumulation. The assumption is that this would increase the bargaining power of women, vis-à-vis their husbands, at household level (Agarwal 1997). However, this may have other effects, including increasing friction between husband and wife. As it stands, through these schemes, women have been able to address only short-term needs at the best of times, such as food, school stationery and uniforms for their children. One woman highlighted that a key concern of the women is that, as wives and mothers, “we arc always faced with day to day household [consumption] needs”. Meanwhile, as another woman put it, their involvement in the Amalima programme has “also dramatically reduced the support we used to get from our husbands and extended family members”. In other words, husbands use their wife’s supposed new-found income as a basis for limiting even further whatever financial contribution to household needs, they made in the past.
As well, perhaps out of envy or because men were desirous of their own income streams that they could use for their own purposes, some women in the focus group discussions revealed that their husbands had inquired about obtaining loans for themselves. Some husbands even went so far as to gain access to the financial resources reserved for their wives under this Amalima sub-programme, to the disadvantage of household consumption needs. In this regard, it is certainly the case that the household asset voucher scheme (involving a matching grant arrangement) has enabled some married women in Gwanda to gain access to higher valued assets, such as cattle, goats and farm implements. One interviewed woman noted how, previously, the household cattle were under the complete control of her husband including decisions about selling cattle. In this case, with cattle of her own, there is a more cooperative form of decisionmaking emerging between husband and wife (Bcbbington 1999), though this woman has had to strenuously negotiate with her husband from a subordinate household position.
In the case of disaster risk reduction initiatives, village-based committees have been established as a starting point for building resilience in the face of climate change and variability. These committees, which arc trained in enhancing preparedness with reference to climate change adaptation measures, were initially male dominated. Subsequently, women received increasing inclusion and representation and were capacitated through workshops to enhance the articulation of their issues at meetings. However, according to women representatives on these committees, women arc marginalised at committee meetings. In referring to patriarchal deferment to men, one Gwanda woman who sat quietly in the meetings, said: “It is better to allow men to speak because they know better and since there arc more men in the committee, they prefer to listen to other men. Us women we also speak in our clubs and other projects that arc designed specifically for us”. As well, many men were opposed to their wives participating so overtly in the public sphere. As one woman, a member of a disaster risk committee, said: “It is not that we do not want to take leadership positions. People do not know the realities of what happens behind closed doors. My husband made it clear that he did not marry another man who should be talking and being a leader in the community. A woman should be reserved”.
Concerns were also expressed by women about their domestic responsibilities at home, and how these interfere with meeting attendance. During my fieldwork, I visited one resilience training session that lasted about two hours. Women in attendance were complaining, indicating that their domestic duties awaited them at their homesteads. As a result, they had to leave before the session was finished.
Nutrition and health
I now focus more specifically on the nutrition and health sub-programme, which incorporates mainly women but increasingly men. Under the sub-programme, the projects include making clay stoves, preparing healthy plates, infant and young child feeding and water, sanitation and hygiene training. These projects also involve capacitation training workshops and demonstrations done through the community health clubs. These clubs incorporate villagers who have demonstrated an interest in health and nutrition practices. Through these clubs, women educate each other as well as the villagers on proper health and nutrition practices with the help of Amalima staff. The motive behind these interventions is that healthy community (or village) members arc able to participate more fully in sustainable development programmes without limitations emanating from ill health. In doing so, according to Amalima staff, certain local myths about health have to be dispelled. An Amalima gender specialist and a district field coordinator indicated that these myths include that “it is taboo to put breast milk in a bottle”, “infants arc not supposed to cat eggs as they will acquire epilepsy”, and “women should not breastfeed in public”.
One of the ways in which the programme seeks to enhance the status of women within Gwanda households is by promoting and encouraging a healthy diet. By
Married women and development in Gwanda 133 utilising the community health clubs, the programme follows Zimbabwe’s Food and Nutrition Council strategy of a Healthy Harvest. A healthy harvest is a nutritional strategy with four themes: principles of nutrition; growing nutritious foods; nutritious family meals; and harvesting, preparing and preserving food. Amalima encourages women to use nutrition gardens, by growing a variety of vegetables in order to have healthy harvests.
Under this project, the women in Amalima households are trained to make what is known as a “healthy plate” or “colour plate”, the term commonly used by the women. This is a meal plate that consists of foodstuffs with all the nutrients for a healthy diet, and which uses locally available ingredients that come from healthy harvests. The women arc trained in the preservation of natural food nutrients through drying and storage, focusing particularly on dried seeds, tomatoes, nuts and dark leafy vegetables. As well, in terms of the colour plate, infants are often given mcalic meal porridge that is mixed with protein sources, such as dried and grinded caterpillars or mopane worms or other edible insects and eggs.
One of the Lead Mothers, a woman who volunteers to train other women on health, nutrition and hygiene as well as teach them about making and preparing colour plates, claimed:
I have been empowered to empower other women to be the champions of their own health as well as that of their children. As I was taught, I encourage my students to cultivate nutritious crops such as orange-fleshed sweet potato and protein crops such as groundnuts, cowpeas and carthnuts, which provide protein and essential micronutrients and arc more moisture stress tolerant than maize or soya.
She added that most women have improved their daily meals with indigenous foods that arc high in essential nutrients and which arc critical to the daily diets of women of reproductive age. In interviews I conducted on a sports day, where many Amalima women from the Gwanda district come together to compete in netball while also making a healthy plate, women expressed great satisfaction with the health and nutrition programme. They cited that the healthy plate has reduced cases of malnutrition amongst their children, to such an extent that much of the time they used to spend at the clinics with sick children (a women’s responsibility) is now spent at their gardens or fields. In this sense, the healthy plate has lessened at least one domestic chore for which married women in Gwanda arc responsible as women.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
In collaboration with the Environment Health Department of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Amalima programme also encourages improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices, such as the promotion of water purification technologies, proper hand washing and rehabilitation of water points at primary health clinics. Gwanda (amongst other districts targeted by the programme) hashad a high prevalence of diarrhoea as a result of insufficient access to clean water and sanitation, the prevalence of parasites, unsafe food preparation and storage and poor knowledge of hygiene. During the time of the research, the programme with the help of Dabanc Trust had rehabilitated three water points at local clinics in the district.
Through the community health clubs, the programme promotes increased awareness of WASH practices by the completion of a 20 module Participatory Health and Hygiene Education training project. Upon completion of this training, the community health clubs select a number of community-based facilitators who in turn teach villagers on how to facilitate improvements in WASH practices at the household level. These WASH practices include using a two-cup water system and building a tippy-tap hand washing station, a private bathing area, a rubbish pit and a rack for drying dishes. All these initiatives, according to both the Amalima staff and women, utilised available resources within the community.
The interviewed married women highlighted that improved hygiene gave them a sense of recognition amongst local villagers. In fact, they also argued that unhygienic wives and sickly children were disgusting to husbands, with the men looking favourably on the cleanliness of their (now, respectable) wives. For most of these women, their husbands had actively encouraged them to take part in WASH. From the comments made by the married women, it seems that they partook in WASH activities in the main to please their husbands as wives, perhaps thus reproducing the gendered division of labour within the domestic sphere and the long-standing image of the hard-working domesticated wife. However, men were also incorporated into the project, with some even becoming Lead Fathers. At least one of them appeared to suddenly realise the culturally conditioned heavy burden placed on women as caregivers, indicating that “I have taken up women’s work in order to break gender barriers by volunteering to facilitate community groups usually run by women. In summary I share health and nutrition messages, keep track of peers and take note of behaviour changes”. He added that his wife is no longer the “super woman” carrying all the agricultural and domestic responsibilities, because of Amalima.
It docs appear that the WASH project has influenced both male and female members of households of Gwanda in some way, including when it came to the demands placed on women. Water collection is a woman’s duty and under WASH, water tanks have been installed in the Gwanda villages. Water collection is still undertaken by women, but the women had shifted from fetching drinking water from the river by accessing it near the homestead. For both men and women, in terms of hygiene, they were no longer using the same cup all the time for drinking, and each house had a toilet with a homemade “tippy tap” for washing hands. One woman said that, by adhering to the call for improved hygiene practices, she is now being treated (as a respectable wife) with more dignity by her husband. She spoke about a dual impact on her life: “I can count the number of [few] times that I have taken my child to the clinic because of dirt-related sicknesses [since WASH], and even my husband gives me so much respect”. This woman pointed out that
Married women and development in Gwanda 135 implementing new hygiene and sanitation methods meant that she no longer had to ask her husband for cash for the clinic.
Eco-stoves arc also part of the overall health and nutrition initiative. The ecostove is a caricature of an electric stove that is built using clay and utilises minimal firewood. Some of the stoves arc portable with a single plate, while others arc immovable consisting of two plates. In 2013, the programme trained a selected number of women on how to build eco-stoves. The trained women have been involved in training others and helping them build eco-stoves.
The women interviewed indicated that using eco-stoves saves on firewood, which means reducing the time spent by women in searching for wood as firewood, including chopping and carrying it over long distances either on their head or in a wheelbarrow, particularly given that firewood is becoming increasingly scarce. One woman highlighted: “We no longer worry about going to fetch firewood from a distance using our heads or the wheelbarrow because the eco-stove is a fuel saver as compared to making the fire on those traditional fireplaces which consume more firewood”. She went on to indicate that the eco-stove allows her and other women to cook, while they arc seated and this relieves her from constant backaches: “The eco-stove project of the Amalima has helped us in the sense that we are no longer obliged to cook while kneeling down or standing, something which has been a challenge considering that I am already suffering from backaches”. The traditional form of a cooking place was firewood-consuming and tedious. Clearly, the environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient eco-stove project plays a key role in casing these burdens on women. However, they still remain responsible for the domestic chores related to cooking.
Breastfeeding and childcare
A variety of challenges influence the nutrient intake of, and breastfeeding among, pregnant and lactating women in the communal areas of Gwanda. In Zimbabwe, breastfeeding exclusively during the first six months is not common, including in Gwanda. Not only widely held beliefs, but also patriarchal constraints and attitudes, contribute to low levels of breastfeeding. According to the two breastfeeding women who were interviewed, their husbands had been the major reason for their improper breastfeeding practices and the use of purchased milk powder (but only if and when they can afford it). One of these women claimed that she has been labelled lazy by her husband because of taking so long to breastfeed her baby. The other added, “so it’s either we breastfeed quickly or breastfeed while doing our daily chores because we end up being harassed, but the first choice [breastfeeding quickly] is always best”. This had resulted in malnourished and sickly children, thus increasing the care-giving duties of women and consolidating their identification with the domestic sphere, while at the same time utilising household income for acquiring medication and milk supplements.
Amalima sought to address this in a variety of ways. For instance, though health and nutrition activities were targeted initially at women, Amalima soon facilitated the involvement of men in the (initially, female-dominated) community health clubs. This is done through an initiative called indoda emadodeni (or male champions), which is a term used to describe a male member of the community who is engaged in Amalima on a voluntary basis. These champions educate other men in the villages about the value of proper child feeding practices and other household-based health activities (such as building tippy taps, fetching water, digging rubbish pits, making cco-stoves and child minding). From this, male villagers arc expected to learn about the importance of shared responsibility within the domestic sphere of households. This includes cooking and caring for children, such as taking them to the clinic as well as lowering women’s workload by, for example, men fetching water and firewood.
One of the men interviewed (a male champion) had begun to share domestic responsibilities with his wife. In a slight criticism of Amalima, though, he argued that the programme helped wives more than husbands by reducing the former’s duties. He went on to claim that sharing household responsibilities with wives is viewed locally as a foreign (Western) concept that has no relevance in African communities. But he added that “through the Amalima we have learned that it is actually a way of improving the life expectancy of our partners because people die from overworking”. Another man claimed that “a child who gets attention from both parents is cognitively better off.... We have promised to encourage best child feeding practices among our wives”. Some of the married women attested to have seen changes in the behaviours of their husbands with reference to breastfeeding time and domestic chores in general. As one reported: “Following the encouragement that my husband got . . . my husband no longer shouts at me for taking time breastfeeding and he sometimes reminds me to breastfeed”.
Challenges continue to exist though. According to an interviewed Amalima district field coordinator involved in a behaviour change programme in Gwanda, only a “minority of the men [male champions] have been able to informally take the concept of reversed gender roles” to other men. The officer also argued that fostering new attitudes and practices amongst women is just as difficult as it is with men. Men themselves in fact raised issues about the unwillingness on the part of wives to allow men to be seen doing household chores, seemingly because it might dc-masculinise their husbands (Batliwala 2007). For most women, and consistent with what the behavioural change officer said, the extent to which husbands and men generally arc supportive of proper childcare practices and share in household tasks is dubious. In this light, they stress that it is men and not women who fall short, with husbands reluctant to take part in domestic initiatives as they feel it is stripping them of their manly head of household title.
The married women in the two focus group discussions were deeply critical of their husbands, expressing the view that their husbands defended their husbandly role and manly power at all cost, including dictating the (domestic and public) code of conduct to their wives. As wives, these women act out their lives in a certain way not out of choice, but because their husbands coerce them to act in a
Married women and development in Gwanda 137 particular manner. Because of this, men were concerned about the new assertiveness of women outside of the domestic sphere and sought to inhibit their capacity to go beyond their domestic (and agricultural) duties. Men, according to women, often acted out a performance in the presence of Amalima staff, claiming how supportive and participatory they were in relation to the health and nutrition programmes. But, when out of sight, in the confines of the homestead, husbands did not contribute to childcare or any other WASH related practices (such as making tippy taps). An officer from the Amalima health and nutrition sub-programmes also seemed to recognise this challenge: “Men shunning these tasks think that their wives arc now powerful. They feel its competition yet the whole initiative is complementary”. The fear of competition and disempowerment on the part of the married men in Gwanda, like elsewhere, may compel men to devise means of maintaining their domination within the household.
To enhance the health of pregnant or lactating women, and of children under the age of two, in Gwanda villages, the Amalima programme has been providing supplements in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Council of the Ministry of Health and Child Care. This seeks to improve the dietary diversity and micronutrient intake by distributing monthly supplementary feeding rations of a com soy blend (CSB+) and fortified vegetable oil. It targets the days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday as a way of shaping a healthier future. It also promotes male involvement through male champions, encouraging men to accompany their wives to food distribution points so that they can equally benefit from health and nutrition messaging as well as promoting their inclusion in food distribution committees.
The overall objective is to reduce malnutrition and stunting rates amongst children, which increase the caring roles of women, including regular visits to the clinic. On the one hand, the interviews with women showed that their husbands shunned being part of the processes of food distribution, even though they encouraged their wives to be always available to collect their rations. On the other hand, the interview with the Amalima gender specialist indicates that, before the inclusion of men in food distribution programmes, “we would have quite a number of “defaulters” - women not coming to collect their rations for two or three months because there was no one to come and collect the food”. With women often too busy to collect the rations because of domestic and agricultural chores, men arc increasingly involved in the collections, but women complain that the level of male involvement as still inadequate. One possibility is that, if cash was being distributed, husbands would be more likely to go the distribution points, as they would then be able to spend the cash as they deemed fit, perhaps to the detriment of their children.
Women and men in Gwanda
This chapter has not studied the Amalima programme as such but, as indicated earlier, simply used it as a backdrop to identity the gendered relations existing in Gwanda, as well as the manner in which patriarchal arrangements may be chippedaway at the edges when married women face enabling conditions and men (as husbands) feel challenged by threats to their almost unbridled status and power.
Local systems of patriarchy, as involving a set of perspectives and practices, arc deeply embedded in the communal areas of Zimbabwe, and this is certainly the ease with regard to Gwanda District, including in relation to both the domestic and public spheres (Chitsike 1995; Chitsikc 2000; Kambarami 2006). In this regard, the Amalima programme led by a consortium of non-governmental organisations pursued initiatives which sought the involvement and participation of men in domestic activities and, simultaneously, the incorporation of women into male-dominated activities within the public sphere. This focus on men and women (i.c. gendered relations), rather than on women exclusively, entails a recognition that patriarchal arrangements arc relational. As Foucault (1978:98) argues, “power is not a commodity to be held, seized, divided, or distributed by individuals. It is a much more dcccntrcd and ubiquitous force acting everywhere”. Power is not a thing held or possessed by men; rather, it is embedded in gendered social relations, which means that changes to patriarchal systems entail reconfiguring men-women relationships.
Ultimately, this study of Gwanda demonstrates that the domestic sphere (or site of social reproduction) is where men’s power is based and springs from, as it is within this sphere that husbands are able to block or facilitate their wives’ entry into the public sphere, whether in the form of income-generating projects or involvement in local committee structures (like health clubs) that focus on health and development more generally. Insofar as husbands in Gwanda permitted their wives to engage in activities beyond the domestic sphere, this did not entail on their part a pronounced questioning of the culturally generated naturalised link between women and the domestic sphere. At times, men saw this as a possible opportunity to access funds car-marked for women under the Amalima programme or they saw it as enhancing their own status by being associated with “respectable wives”. Hence, they did not necessarily conceptualise this reconfiguration of the lives of their wives as undercutting their patriarchal rule. As one male villager said, “independence [of women] can never exist when there arc two people in the home”, that is, a man in the homestead.
This is related to the fact that the domestic sphere is a very private sphere, so that the ongoing existence of patriarchal arrangements within this sphere remains invisible and insidious (Stivens 1999). The participation of men in the (domestic sphere related) Amalima projects likely concealed more than revealed the actually existing gendered practices as they exist in Gwanda homesteads. Indeed, as many married women in Gwanda highlighted, the seemingly cosmetic changes in the commitment of their husbands to domestic chores, including childcare, was readily apparent. At the same time, women sometimes projected an image of the duty-bound, faithful and respectable wife, with some practising better hygiene simply to please their husbands. Gwanda women did not necessarily object to their ongoing responsibility for domestic chores, in part because of the devotion to their children in the face of possibly irresponsible husbands. In addition, this stance by women exists because of the deeply embedded character of patriarchy in rural Zimbabwe and the acceptance to some degree by married women of the basic tenets of patriarchal rule at household level.
Because of hefty burdens place on married women in Gwanda, which included not only domestic responsibilities but also significant and strenuous agricultural labouring in the fields, they placed significant emphasis on the difficulties they faced in carrying out their many obligations, which inhibited their access to public activities. One the one hand, under Amalima, income-generation was now a possibility and more strenuous labour was arising under conservation agriculture, thereby adding to married women’s likely workload; while, on the other hand, labour saving devices reduced the work of, for instance, collecting water and firewood. Throughout the study, the married women showed great angst about their capacity to carry out domestic duties under changing conditions. This was particularly evident with reference to their children and the fundamental importance of caring for the health of their children. During the interviews with the married women, talk about having to take their children to the clinic on a regular basis, and ways of minimising these visits arising from healthier children, seemed to embody the spirit of these women, as they were mothers first and wives second. Their commitment to the domestic sphere must be seen in this light.
Because power is relational, it is not a zero-sum game. In this context, any apparently progressive changes in the conditions of existence of married women in Gwanda, which undoubtedly did take place by way of Amalima, may simply entail minor reconfigurations within local patriarchal arrangements. To make this argument is not to deny the manner in which Gwanda women, in relating to their husbands on a daily basis, expressed and enacted agency in their everyday lives. They reflected upon the historically structured patriarchal arrangements in both the domestic and public spheres in Gwanda, with a particular concern about the multiple demands placed on their time and energy as mothers (and wives). At times, this involved trade-offs between engaging in the domestic sphere and public sphere. Though desiring a place in the public sphere, they recognised the fundamental importance of retaining a strong foothold in the domestic sphere, in large part because of worries about their children’s future. In different ways in different households, this entailed a series of delicate negotiations with their husbands as they manoeuvred spatially and over time between the domestic and public spaces.
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