When she moved to Blantyre in search for employment seven years ago, 30-year-old Christina Banda (not her real name) thought this would be a start to a better life.
With her impressive Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE), it would be easy to secure a job in town, so she thought. Banda had lived in abject poverty for too long and she felt it was time to kiss that life goodbye.
Arriving in Blantyre with high expectations, her hopes were soon dashed when her job search in town yielded no results.
For several months, she camped at the government labour offices, but left disappointed every day.
The little money she had brought along was running out, but there was no means of replenishing it. Her landlord, on the other hand, was pushing for his rentals at the beginning of each month. She rented a one-bedroomed house in a slum area.
Her hope was quickly fading away. Therefore, when a young man approached her for a date, Banda saw it as an opportunity to get some financial support. The man later left her with two children, saying he wanted to find a job in South Africa so the family could have a better life.
“He sent me nothing from South Africa. To save my children from starvation, I found a job selling beer at Limbe Tavern,” she discloses.
Centre for Community Organisations and Development (Ccode) executive director Siku Nkhoma, says although the path Banda took was regrettable, it was not surprising as women are usually responsible for fending for households.
Nkhoma says divorced or deserted women face eviction /or homelessness, and, in most cases, they end up in squatters where they lack social services.
This seems to resonate with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) findings in its 2007 report.
In the report, UNFPA notes that while there is a growing consensus that urbanisation offers enormous potential to improve people’s lives, inadequate urban management, often based on inaccurate or biased information and perceptions, can turn opportunity into a disaster.
This is worse for women who bear the primary responsibility for domestic care and work. The inadequate provision of basic services and unsafe environmental conditions common in low-income urban settlements disproportionately affect women.
It is critical, therefore, to understand urban poverty from a gender perspective, which includes both paid and unpaid care-work as well as dependency and powerlessness in gender relations.
According to the report, access to urban land and shelter is regulated by a set of interrelated issues, all of which are gendered.
“Family and kin relations are significant, but so are the administrative, political and legal contexts, which determine registration, planning and regulations, and the economic context which reflects land prices and their affordability to low-income groups.
“This, in turn, is compounded by the preference to giving titles in the name of male household heads, and in the disproportionate number of women heads in rental accommodation,” reads the report in part.
Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom) project officer Linice Sanga advocates the strengthening of women’s land and property rights as the only way out of women’s poverty.
Sanga says this has potential to protect female-headed families from eviction, increase their access to loans and facilitate business start-up and expansion, thereby increasing women’s safety and security.
“Government and its development partners should consider introducing anti-poverty policies and initiatives that aim at improving children’s schooling and health and remove mothers from unpaid work such as cash-transfer programmes. Such initiatives may have a significant impact on women’s timely poverty, as they add considerably to their care-giving burden,” she explains.
Sanga draws the experience of community savings and credit cooperatives (Saccos) and village savings and loan associations (VSLA) which, she says, provide a good model for empowering both urban and rural women.
She, however, warns this can be achieved if Malawians change their mindset towards women who actively participate in economic activities.
“Creccom believes a woman’s entry into businesses and the labour market cannot only create the conditions necessary for women to achieve economic independence, but also reveal the depth of the culturally conditioned gender inequality that continues to perpetuate their dependence in public and private life,” explains Sanga, whose organisation is implementing a three-year project aimed at promoting sexual and reproductive health by empowering women.
The project is being implemented in Thyolo and Zomba with funding
from Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief (SOIR).