Work, Women, and the Church: Changing Economic and Social Landscapes in 1970s Northern Tanzania

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:30 PM
Stevens C-5 (Hilton Chicago)
Beth Ann Williams, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The 1970s brought widespread destabilization and economic decline to northern Tanzania, historically one of the wealthiest areas of the country. Global and national economic instability coincided with the decline of the area’s most important export, coffee. Faced with declining cash crop income and rising cost of living, many Tanzanian men could no longer fulfill expectations for manhood that rested in part on providing materially and financially for their families. As traditionally male earnings dwindled, women began to seek out new alternatives to supplement family income. As the gendered landscape of labor changed, women worked not only to make money but also to justify their expanding economic role.

In this paper I argue that women used religious ideas about family and motherhood to bolster and validate their increasing economic activity and autonomy. Their labor was three-fold, composed of their expanding economic responsibilities, the ideological labor of managing changing community relations, and their ongoing domestic tasks. In the midst of this chaotic scene women drew especially on their standing as church members and Christian mothers to affirm their morality and respectability. Based primarily on interviews with one hundred East Africans, this paper explores the ideological and relational work that inevitably accompanies changing labor relations. East Africans women adjusting to economic hardship by mobilized a variety of non-economic resources and strategies, in particular their religious networks and self-confidence as newly autonomous earners.

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