Women’s Work: Motherhood, child care, and domestic slavery…

Around the world women WORK. They are often totally responsible for the domestic duties of the house hold as well as any duties pertaining to the children.  I don’t know about anywhere else in the world (except the U.S.A. of course) but that constitutes a lot here.

Here’s the schedule for my host mom that’s reflective of most of the women in The Gambia. Keep in mind that whenever she fetches water she is carrying 5-10 (40-70lbs) on her head, usually with a 2 yr old strapped to her back, and she is walking a quarter mile from the hand pump back to  our compound. It takes her 3-4 trips to supply the compound with water and she occasionally has to go back for refills. Don’t forget that she cooks over an open fire and it takes 1-2 hours to cook anything and everything is done by hand. All with a 2 and 4 year old in tow (most women have more).

7am-8:30- making breakfast (that was prepped the night before)

8:30-11ish- water fetching. Remember 40-70lbs on her head with a baby on her back

11ish-2pm- Lunch preparation and sweeping the entire compound by hand.                                            (wrangling toddlers)

2-6pm- She goes to her garden to wash laundry (by hand) and water her plants.                              She  gets her water from one of the wells throughout the garden. They are                          shallow, maybe 3-5 yards deep, and she gets her water with a rope and a                            bucket.

6-7:30- Making dinner, fetch more water if she has to, wrangle toddlers.

Dinner is between 8-8:30.

8:30 until…- wrangle toddlers, prep breakfast, go to sleep and prepare to do it all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against motherhood, I just have an issue when motherhood is stressed as the thing women can and should be doing.  Unfortunately, that is a hard reality here in The Gambia. Most women here have zero aspirations or even hope beyond motherhood. The culture is against them working outside of the home because of the “need” to separate men and women and the belief that women should not work outside of the home because it may take time away from their domestic duties. This leads to barriers from men and women who dont want a business-minded woman to succeed and lets not even get started on the familial begging culture that exists here that can make it difficult for anyone to succeed. That is a post all on its own.

Let me first explain the thinking behind this rationale even though most of us are probably familiar with it. In an ideal sense the women in Islam, as practiced in the Gambia, are supposed to stay home, tend their garden, and their children. They aren’t supposed to NEED to go anywhere to do anything else. Sound familiar? Their husbands are supposed to provide everything they need for their wife/wives.

Now lets talk about the reality of living in the Gambia. For most families there is no option other than for many of the women to supplement the family income engaging in some kind of income generating activity. Some women sell small food items on the street or sell the produce from their gardens.If their husbands work, it is usually unsteady and does not pay enough monthly to provide food let alone clothes, shoes, and the other costs associated with raising a family. Its up to all of the adults, if possible, to provide for the family despite what cultural ideals dictate.

As  consequence for the need for women to work despite cultural disapproval, system has evolved, or maybe it was always so, where most of the time women and men do not share the money they earn. Many times their husbands cannot provide totally for them and the children or they are simply irresponsible and it s not even in a women’s best interest to share her income if she wants her children to even have shoes. Even more unfortunate is that the fact that the money they earn often pales in comparison to the paltry sum that their husbands make.

This system has degenerated into one where there is very little fiscal co-operation between men and women where there should be considering the levels of poverty. Men think women shouldn’t be making money but their money is theirs but they don’t spend it on their husbands so they are selfish. Women think that men are selfish because they only spend their on them unless they beg. Keep in mind that I’m just describing general attitudes and not the entire populations. Its a crazy system here.

Stay tuned  for the next Article. “Men’s Work: Fatherhood, childcare, and wage slavery…if they can find work”

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