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  • on 14.03.2014
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Holding Up Half the Sky: How Zambia’s Women went from Housewives to Breadwinners 0

When the United Kingdom was ruling over its southern African colony of Northern Rhodesia, it instilled in the urban population many of the domestic traditions and values it kept at home. The male of the household was expected to be the breadwinner while the female a housewife.

But in the same way this 1950s ideal has largely disintegrated in the UK, so too has it in what is now Zambia.

My research in a low-income township in the Copperbelt Province began after the 2007/8 global financial crisis, just as the price of copper was starting to rebound. The international financial slowdown had halted mining activities and induced mass layoffs. At this time, my neighbours expressed a profound sense of economic insecurity and often sharply contrasted the situation with their nostalgic recollections of a bygone era of supposedly full (male) employment and cradle-to-grave social security. This was also a time of strictly gendered roles.

Under British colonial rule, urban women were trained in domestic skills in order to cheaply support and maintain a healthy male labour force. As well as being imposed from above, the European ideology of ‘good housewives’ was also keenly adopted by many middle-class African families looking to distinguish themselves.

In the aftermath of independence in 1964, women maintained this domestic role while Zambia’s rich copper deposits continued to be mined, managed and administered by men – as wage labourers, breadwinners, civil servants and politicians. Husbands tended to refuse their wives employment − not least because it would reveal their inability to fulfil their culturally expected roles as the sole breadwinners − and were able to do so thanks to high copper prices, limited mechanisation and protected local industries, all of which helped to secure employment and enable men to provide for their families single-handedly.

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By Alice EvansThink Africa Press 

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