Colonialism, apartheid and war have forced destitute Namibians from the countryside into poor and dense shantytowns. Parts of the population in the shantytowns are trapped in chronic poverty. Others strive to improve their lives. A significant number of these are women. They succeed by forming their own households and female social networks.

-Increasingly, women realize that they can cope just as well, if not better, without men. Men are frequently failing to provide for their family, says Inge Tvedten, senior researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute.

In the recently published book “As Long as They Don’t Bury Me Here. Social Relations of Poverty in a Namibian Shantytown”, Tvedten provides insights into the struggles of the shantytown dwellers of Oshakati in Northern Namibia. What is the x-factor that enables some of them to improve their conditions, while others give up?

Poor women, poorer men
The number of female headed households is rising steadily, not only in Namibia. In some parts of Mozambique, the number of female headed households is now over 50 %. Many Mozambiquan women choose to leave men out of their households despite the social stigma of being single mothers.

The women live in generational households, with female relatives or female friends, and organize their everyday lives according to the household members’ competence. While some of them are taking care of children, others go to work or school. This gives them a favored position, which men increasingly are trying to exploit.

-Some men are now acting as domestic nomads, trying to get accepted into female headed households, says Tvedten.

Masculinisation of poverty
Female success has caused a masculinisation of poverty in some areas. The poorest and most destitute of the shantytown residents are often men.

When men move from rural to urban areas, many lose their traditional and material status. In rural areas, ownership of land and cattle is an important symbol of status. As city dwellers, they rely on money to keep their status. Good jobs are hard to find, and many struggle in vain. After long periods of trying to find jobs, they give up. When they lose their income, they also lose the opportunity to establish and maintain social relationships outside the shantytown. If you have nothing to offer in return for food or other material goods from the extended family back home, you are excluded.

For many women, it is the opposite. The city opens a social space in which they for the first time get the opportunity to provide for themselves. They are no longer bound by the barriers of tradition.


Book | 2011

"As long as they don't bury me here". Social relations of poverty in a Namibian shantytown

An increasing number of poor Southern Africans live in poverty-stricken urban slums or shantytowns. Focusing on four shantytowns in the northern Namibian town of Oshakati, this book analyses the coping...
Inge Tvedten (2011)
Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliografien (Basel Namibia Studies Series vol. 11) 216 p.
Report in External Series | 2011

Gender equality and development in Mozambique

This article outlines some of the main policies and interventions for economic development and gender equality in Mozambique since Independence in 1975, and assesses key implications for the positions of...
Inge Tvedten (2011)
Background article for the World Development Report 2012
Commissioned Report | 2011

Reality checks in Mozambique. Inception report.

Poverty monitoring in Mozambique primarily takes place within the framework of the implementation of Mozambique’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PARPA), and is informed by quantitative data derived from different types of...
Inge Tvedten (Team Leader); Minna Tuominen; Carmeliza Rosário; Margarida Paulo; Sheila Faquir; Rachi Picardo (2011)
Stockholm/Maputo: Sida/Swedish Embassy
CMI Report | 2010

'A woman should not be the boss when a man is present'. Gender and poverty in Southern Mozambique

This is the third and final report in the series “Gender Policies and Feminisation of Poverty in Mozambique”, revealing a curious incongruity between often broad and sweeping statements about gender...
Inge Tvedten, Margarida Paulo, Minna Tuominen (2010)
Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI Report R 2010:7) 50 p.