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Muthwa, Sibongile Winnifred (1995) Economic Survival Strategies of Female-Headed Households: The Case of Soweto, South Africa. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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South African researchers' legitimate preoccupation with political and market concerns has, in the past, resulted in much less attention being paid to gender dynamics in South Africa. Where gender inequality has been targeted as an issue, studies have largely located their arguments within public debates of the polity and the economy. Studies seeking to understand the intra-household dynamics of gender relations are still rare in South Africa, so that the lives of those women and men who are neither part of the open labour market, nor the frontline political agenda still remain invisible and silent. This study seeks to contribute to the on-going gender debate in South Africa by concentrating on the intra-household dynamics of gender, and how its articulation with the public domain impacts on the position of women. The research examines various aspects of the economic survival strategies of households headed by women in Orlando East, Soweto. In particular, it investigates the socio-economic value of women's unpaid labour; the value of non-market transfers for the survival of poor households; the significance of household structure for household welfare and survival; and the link between formal education and informal income earning opportunities. The study revealed a strong relationship between economic problems and breakdown of urban African families. Economic and social policy, and societal beliefs, have so far failed to consider and acknowledge the changing roles of women who are increasingly being forced into the status of household headship, in the context of worsening urban livelihoods. The major social policy implication arising from the study is that low-income African women, in particular, should be targeted as a priority group by researchers. Women heads of households, many of whom have no security of income, are particularly vulnerable because they have to provide primarily for their households. It is suggested that policy-oriented research should analyze, first and foremost, intra-household dynamics along gender lines to unveil the unequal distribution of welfare and opportunity, and women's relative discrimination within the home. The study also revealed serious limitations with the data base on the position and status of women in South Africa. A need for more research with a progressive edge is therefore stressed. It is believed that the political climate provided by the recent democratization of government in South Africa, provides a conducive context within which the contents of the women's constitution could be transformed into specific programmes and projects focusing on low-income women and women heads of households. The major contribution of this study has been its shift of emphasis of the gender debate in South Africa away from explicit political and shop-floor issues, to household and neighbourhood level strategies, while emphasising the relevance of these experiences to the functioning of the more visible institutions such as the economy and the polity.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 16:57

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