When women grow wings: Gender relations in the informal economy of Kampala
In urban Africa, informal employment constitutes 90 per cent of all new jobs. Informal work is characterised by being unrecognised, unprotected or unrecorded by the public authorities, and a larger percentage of women than men earn their living in the informal economy. This study looks into the gender relations of the informal economy of Kampala. A combination of internal war and unrest, economic crisis, the AIDS epidemic, economic restructuring, and government policies enhancing women, have changed gender relations in Uganda over the last decades. Urban men were once expected to provide for their families, but today married women bring in 50-70 per cent of household incomes. While some men feel threatened by women's economic independence, others realise that female entrepreneurship is needed in the present economic realities. Many women complain that since they started working, the men have stopped contributing to household expenses. The bulk of women are engaged in sectors traditionally defined as female, but some venture into male arenas where profits are generally higher. Similarly, men with limited capital have started going into 'female' domains (such as catering and hair styling), changing the landscape of the urban informal economy. Informants interviewed for this study cited lack of capital as a major obstacle. Almost one in two started their enterprise with less than US$ 55, and more than one third claim to make less than US$ 57 a month. Some female respondents had benefited from micro finance loans, but the majority were deeply sceptical of micro finance institutions. While increased formalisation would enhance both the national economy as a whole and enhance worker's security, an unfair and random tax system functions as an incentive for the self-employed to stay informal and avoid expansion.
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