November and December are very good months where I live. They come with new economic opportunities for the unemployed people in my community, most of whom are women. The source of this seasonal economic viability is an indigenous fruit called, Mazhanje, which ripens during these two months and quickly finishes due to high demand mainly from Harare residents. The women sell twenty liter bucket of mazhanje as cheap as a $1 and in the city as high as $4. In a single day one woman can make between $5 and $20. For many of these women they have two months in a year where they are able to buy new clothes for themselves and their children, food and even a few kitchen utensils. For two months in a year they do not have to depend on their husbands for income. Some use this opportunity wisely and end up entering into other forms of trade and vending because this opportunity affords them a chance to raise capital for small-scale business ideas that they would have failed to fund throughout the year.
Being a member of this community means that I can also go into the forests and get this fruit for myself but I do not because this is an opportunity to empower my fellow women. So I buy from them for my own house hold consumption and also to give to my relatives who stay in the city where they have to buy them at an expensive price. The changes that come into their lives are very visible. For a person like me I get to see these women clean and fresh early in the morning because like any working woman they have to look presentable for their job. They are more confident when they speak and they dream high and powerful dreams. I get to see what they are capable of in their lives and there is never a reason why they should be back on the same spot in the following year selling the same mazhanje fruit. This is a place of economic catapulting.
It is a place of economic catapulting and it should be that easy that the women I see this year should not be on the roadside the following year selling the same fruit. Yet year after year only a few faces graduate to the next level of economic viability. I have had to ask why and the answer has been provided by a few women whose journey of selling mazhanje I have become privy to. Their lives have revealed that two months of economic viability are not easy and are a big threat to the home power system. A woman who can afford to run her own life and that of the whole family by putting food on the table and buying clothes challenges the role of a man in the home. It does not matter that their men fail to provide adequately for a whole year, neither does it matter that the economic environment is demanding of women who take up productive roles. The independence that these women show, their ability to take care of the whole family and their potential which becomes strongly and undeniably visible is a source of discomfort to men who would rather have full control of the women they married.
Instead of bringing joy and peace in the home these fruits become a source of pain and suffering because of the domestic violence I have had to witness. Even more worrying has been the trend of it being done in the public sphere evidenced by our community members who have witnessed women who have been beaten up on the road side by their husbands who then take away buckets of the fruits only to sell the fruits and pocket the money. Yes their husbands have left their economic forts, shrunk the economic space of their women and relegated them to their old productive and non threatening tasks. In some cases I have seen women being chased around the community with sticks (shamhu) and threats of being beaten up in the very same way we do our naughty kids. For those women who quickly gather up their capital for bigger businesses their newly acquired wares are burnt up or taken away. Curfews as early as 4-5 pm have been imposed on these enterprising women despite that this kind of business is on the peak when workers are coming from work during the same time. There has been a failure to to take up some domestic roles by husbands whose care demands are escalated in order to make it impossible for their women to take part in economic activities. During these two months domestic violence cases are definitely on the rise. The reasoning behind these men’s behavior has been to demonstrate that they are in charge and that they are the head of the family.
This is behaviour that I do not understand. I think it is backward given the advancements we have made as a society but given that this is happening in the rural part of my country where most of our population lives, it points to the challenge that women still face in-order to be economically viable and independent. A majority of our women still have to balance their reproductive and domestic roles at the expense of their economic ambitions. productive roles have been used as a form of enslavement and they help maintain women as a poorer section of society.
As we go through 16 days against gender based violence we need to think of ways that women can negotiate the economic terrain without suffering a lot of violence. Men definitely need to play a role in allowing women their space to be economically active. Giving that space requires men who are able to take up some reproductive roles in order to alleviate pressure from women. It requires men who value the economic contribution of women, who are able to appreciate that it eases a lot of pressure on them to provide and whose masculinity is not defined by their economic muscle (in comparison to their wives).
A woman who will gain this space needs to be determined and strategic. A wise woman takes charge of her economic standing. That will never be given to us. It is a fight that we have to take up everyday and we need to acknowledge that for every economic freedom we gain a new form of oppression is brought placed on us. Our battle on the home front is the same in the market place, where men still feel threatened by the potential of business and career women and push them off-course. If we give up on ourselves we give up on the future of our girls.
We must win the economic freedoms of women!