It has generally been accepted that men are the breadwinners who strive to fend for the family - and no eyebrows are raised when a woman is simply a ‘housewife!’ Typically, men ensure that the family has a roof over their head; children are sent to school - and that there is food on the table. We have been socialised to accept this - and, in some cases, the set up is favourable.
Many women are actually content with being stay-at-home moms, looking after the husband, the kids and the general upkeep of the household. With the crazy demands of formal work-life, some women would gladly trade formal employment for ‘non-paid’ work at home.
Mama Shanice has been married since 2000 to a police officer. The couple was blessed with two children: a boy who is now in high school, and a daughter still in primary school. I could not but help marvel at how well-groomed Mama Shanice is: hair nicely done; perfectly manicured finger and toe nails... Enough to be the envy of many a woman. I was offered some coffee and a cake before we delved into the interview.
Mama Shanice says she has never been employed for pay. Upon completion of her college education, she used to assist her mother in her tailoring business. Upon getting married, she never explored the idea of looking for a paid job - a decision reached through mutual consent with her husband.
“My husband provides well for the family. We have two children who go to good schools. From my husband’s income, we are also able to take care of my in-laws,” she says - adding: “I am content with being a housewife, as my husband involves me in planning and budgeting.”
Mama Shanice attributes the harmony in her home to the fact that her husband does not do anything without asking for her input - and no secret spending is done.
“Transparency is the backbone of ensuring peace in a home where there is a single income,” she pontificates, urgeing couples to always sit together and discuss how the ‘family’ income is going to be spent.
A household where there is only a single source of income begets what is referred to as ‘financial dependency.’ Financial dependency is the situation where a person relies on another for monetary and other support. This is in relationships - especially marital relationships - where wives depend on husbands for family upkeep.
Financial dependency can occur voluntarily - or can result from duress. A number of reasons can have a married couple decide on whether or not they are comfortable in having the wife go to work or stay at home.
Some couples arrive at the latt er decision due to disappointments encountered by having hired house-help or child minders. We have encountered one or two horror stories of cruel child minders who do not care well for the toddlers under their care... But, that is a story for another day. Other reasons border on the disturbing aspect of abuse and domestic violence.
Aunt Jennifer, 45, (not her real name here) finished her O-Level education in 1992 and enrolled at a business college in 1994. She had to drop out early and look for a job after her mother passed away so that she would be able to look after her two siblings. Luck was on her side; twoyears later, she met ‘the love of her life.’ The two got married in 2000 - and celebrated the birth of their first child in 2001.
The bliss was, however, shortlived, as Jennifer’s husband started cheating on her, and physically abusing her. She was now a fulltime housewife - and started feeling the pinch when the husband stopped giving her money for upkeep. She decided to look for work when their baby was barely three months old.
“I had to leave the job again because my husband got so jealous that he told me to quit,” narrates Jennifer. “I was totally dismayed, as the salaried job had enabled me to send some money to my siblings, and also buy family necessities which my husband had stopped doing.”
Besides, she says, her husband had become abusive, sometimes coming to my workplace, create a commotion - and, finally, forced her to quit her job.
“After lengthy discussions with my in-laws, it was decided that it was better for me to respect my husband’s wishes and leave the job. That was when real horror started. My husband continued to ignore caring for the family upkeep to the extent that I had to use pins to hold my bra together! I had never been so pathetic in my entire life. I looked older than my actual age, as I did not have basic sanitation stuff,” a teary Jennifer mumbled.
What with one thing leading to another, she started a small business at home, selling ‘chapatis’ and ‘maandazi’ (pan cakes and buns). But her husband stopped her from doing the business, insisting that he was the sole provider for the family!
“But what sort of provider is a husband who does not buy his wife and child food? That’s when I decided to run away,” says Aunt Jennifer. The Sisters of Fate work in their own mysterious ways. Just as soon, church elders from her religious sect told her to go back to her husband - and look for another job .
“I had to go on my knees and beg my husband to allow me to work again. That was in 2009 - and I have been working at a paid job since then,” se said.
The irony of it all is that, shortly after Jennifer had acquired her new job, her husband was involved in a hit-and-run road accident which left him paralyzed.
“Just imagine: if I hadn’t insisted on taking a job - now that my husband is not working - how would we manage as a family, and pay my husband’s medical bills...?”
Financial dependency can only be appealing when all is well in the relationships. Many husbands earn enough to ‘afford’ a stay-at-home wife. The dangers of a single family breadwinner can cause untold suffering to the family. Imagine the agony of a woman having to fend for the family after her man - the sole breadwinner in the family - is incapaciatted. Fortunately for Jennifer she was able to find her footing and assume the breadwinner role.
Zahra Mustafa Sulemanji, 30, opted to take some time off work. The mother of two has been married for five years and she chose to focus more on her children’s needs. “So far, it has been wonderful - yet a challenging experience. I have no regrets and I enjoy being able to give more time to my children.” says Zahra.
There are pros and cons to this set-up. Financial dependency has its downside, including unforeseen circumstances that disrupt the usual flow of life, such as death and divorce.
Sarafina Ezekiel, a resident of Kimara-B in Dar es Salaam can’t imagine what life’d be like if she were totally independent on her husband -as was the case a little over a year ago.
The mother of four runs a small trade kiosk, and breeds chickens. She regrets the years wasted as a stay-at-home mother, doing no income generating activity. They depended on her husband for everything. What she now earns from her small businesses helps in running the family now that her husband doesn’t have a steady income.
“My husband lost his job recently and does consultancy work only when it is available. Things have changed economic-wise. This - coupled with the fact that my husband is jobless - is really a challenge,” says the 42-year old mother.
Sarafina was working as a waitress at a city restaurant when she married Chris - who didn’t like his wife to earn income. Working women are big-headed, he would say; - adding that that is not the kind of wife he wanted,” recalls Sarah with a chuckle.
To make matters worse, her job involved coming home late when she was working the evening shift. Her husband would be furious when she got home from work. Sarafina just obeyed him when he told her to quit her job.
“I was taught to obey my husband,” she says.
What the men say….
Looking back, Sarah’s husband, Chrispin Fanuel sees how mistaken he was. “Logically, it doesn’t make sense at all. Well, at that time, I thought it was just okay to have her stay at home and look after the children. I hated getting home to find her still at work. I also wanted to be in control as the head of the house; you know: African tradition,” he says.
Chrispin now regrets his actions, saying it was due to lack of vision. He at that time did not think about the future. He attributes this to how he and his generation were raised.
His mother, too, was a stay-at-home, and his father was in full control. He did not want any of his two wives to work at a paid job - let alone engage in any income-generating activity.
“I do regret this. The economic times are bad now. Imagine depending on one source of income. I thank God that my wife’s business, no matter its size is making a difference,” says Chrispin. “Things are easier when both of you are working,” he adds as an afterthought.
His wife attempted going back to work after staying home for some time - only for her husband to trick her into staying at home. This time, he asked her how much she was earning - and promised to pay her three-quarters of her salary!
“I got a job in Bunju as a cashier at some restaurant where I was paid Sh200,000 a month. He promised to give me Sh150,000 a month. I thought it was a good deal - given that I would be paid to look after our own children. Plus: I would not have to worry about staying long in motor traffic jams. We were living in Ubungo at the time, and commuting to Bunju daily was a challenge - given Dar’s traffic”.
If she could turn back the clock, Sarafina says she would not obey her husband if he wanted her to stop working. She lost financial independence when she stopped working - and had to depend on her husband’s ‘mercy’ to fulfill her needs and those of her family and close relatives.
How to reduce effects of single income households
Reducing financial dependency is an avenue that should be thoroughly explored. If a couple is not comfortable with the wife taking up a paid job. there are other money-making ventures that can be explored - including working from home.
The shock of having the responsibility of providing for a family when you are least prepared can have untold consequences, including change of lifestyle - or even poverty. Therefore:
• Have multiple sources of income; invest in the stock or commodities markets.
• Run a small home business: baking buns, etc., for sale.
• Explore online jobs - for example: pay per click jobs.
• Have savings.
• Have school trust funds for the children.