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Evolution of gender and poverty dynamics in Tanzania

Lucia da Corta
Joanita Magongo


10 years ago Deborah Bryceson (1999:20-1) argued that liberalisation and de-agrarianisation have led to a ‘scramble for non-farm work’ and process of individualisation of economic activity, dissolving traditional roles, economic rights and maintenance responsibilities within rural households. Since 1999, the Tanzanian government has moved forward on its liberalisation agenda together with efforts to promote women’s economic rights and a 5 year poverty reduction strategy (MKUKUTA). As a result of these policies, has poverty diminished and what new gendered livelihoods, rights and responsibilities have been created? Have they empowered women to move  families out of poverty? Using freshly gathered life histories gathered in 6 regions of Tanzania (late 2009), we note that there has been some movement of women into business opportunities which rightly excites feminists. On the other hand, the majority of women have moved into more causal labour and petty trade on weak  (stagnant wages and flooded petty trade markets). Moreover, there has been a substantial rise in single mothers, many of whom are stripped of marital assets upon divorce, separation or death of husband from male kin, including farms, savings, livestock, house and plots of land, husbands’ income support,  and husband’s family networks. Th ere has also been a rise in women as economically effective heads (as men become un/underemployed, emigrate, drink, or become ill). Women are forced to take on the lion’s share of maintaining children in a context where the costs of maintenance have been rising rapidly.

Over the past 10 years the costs of a) basic needs b) services Yet despite these sharply growing responsibilities, the enforcement of women’s economic and legal rights  not improved: widow’s share, divorce share and daughters’ inheritance share are not adjudicated based on statutory law; instead they are adjudicated using customary laws in (local) primary courts which are highly discriminatory – based on traditional and anachronistic gendered norms. Regional level courts demand bribes women can’t foot. And women’s networks with male siblings seem to have weakened. We conclude that thorough MKUKUTA and deepening liberalisation, the state has unwittingly increased women’s responsibilities (costs of basic needs, user fees for services, land costs), but has not implemented nor monitored women’s legal rights to assets necessary to meet these rising costs and move out of poverty. By allowing education costs to rise, such policies promote IGT ofpoverty. 

There has been some sources of hope within this – poverty and dislocation has ironically empowered women to demandrights in order to feed their families – choosing to leave abusive situations, choosing to do men’s work trading or producing cash crops – they have nothing to lose and have been strengthened by several factors: one the rise of the empowerment and business culture of in migrating female traders, the second by networks of women and savings schemes (burial societies, savings groups), third by local governance making at least some headway in women’s rights (female VE0s, female Sacco’s, etc). Women call on these examples when contesting rights in conjugalcontracts. 

We propose that MKUKUTA countenance less orthodox approaches to poverty reduction, one which embeds Tanzanianliberalism in a much stronger social fabric (Razavi, 2009) which involves a gendered intervention in land, labour, crop marketing and credit markets. These include:

  • employment guarantee schemes aimed at helping to relieve women’s work and responsibility burden by exploring waysto increase men’s responsibility for child maintenance and link to skills development (on and off farm). This may help move men out of underemployment and’ despair, alcohol,bewitchment’ poverty traps.
  • Enforcing statutory law on divorce and widow share and enforce existing land legislation on female rights to parental and marital land.
  • Promote free universal education, water and health, preferably universal over conditional targeting (UNRISD2005).
  • Link the rise in all female burial societies to subsidised credit in Sacco (making the latter more pro-poor).Keywords: gender, land inheritance, divorce and widow’s share, intergenerational transmission of poverty.


Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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