Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

When Personal Dreams Derail, Rural Cameroonian Women Aspire for Their Children

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

When Personal Dreams Derail, Rural Cameroonian Women Aspire for Their Children

Article excerpt

Abstract

Data gathered from a convenience sample of 36 women who reside in rural villages lying on the outskirts of Buea, Cameroon is not consistent with the "culture of poverty" proposition which states that personal characteristics of the poor tie them to a life of poverty. These findings run counter to an assumed "culture of poverty" in which persons do not hold career aspirations and socialize their children with attitudes that assure the generational transmission of poverty. Respondents, as a case vignette illustrates, conveyed that besides marriage they had wanted a career in order to achieve a living wage. After their own career dreams were dashed, they devoted themselves to the hard work of farming and petty trading in the hope they could help their children escape subsistence living. Results of this study point away from policies that would seek to change the outlook and habits of mothers living in poverty and toward external changes that would permit them earnings commensurate with their persistent efforts.

Keywords: poverty, Cameroon, women

Background

Cameroonians experienced a severe downturn in their country's economy during the 1980s and have yet to recover from it (Gros, 2003). Seventeen percent of Cameroonians live on less than $1 dollar per day and 51% live on less than $2/day (World Resources Institute [WRI], 2007). On average a Cameroon is likely to be eight times poorer than a typical citizen of the world (Hardford, 2006). Fifty percent of the population lives below poverty level (Saha, 2008). Even when the costs of living are taken into account, a higher percentage of rural residents compared to urban residents experience poverty (Gros, 2003).

The economic downward spiral and its aftermath show in the material deprivation and living conditions of many Cameroonians, and especially among those living in rural poverty. The gap is widening markedly between the rich and the poor in terms of income, nutrition, health and education (Fon &Fon, 2008). Consumption of goods and services fell 30% since the mid 1980s as the inequality of wealth increased (Gros, 2003). It is telling that 36% of households own zero durable goods. Wealthy urban households are more likely to own a stove and TV set and 13% of these households own cars. Forty percent of city dwellers have electricity in their homes and only 22% do in rural areas. Entrenched poverty also shows in the degree of food insecurity. Thirty-six percent of poor children are dangerously underweight and 29% of children under age three suffered chronic malnourishment in 1988 (Gros, 2003). Those living in poverty have less accessibility to hospital care and are more likely to rely exclusively on traditional healers (Gros, 2003). Clean drinking water is available to 77% of urban dwellers, but to only 27% of rural residents (Gros, 2003). Relatively few citizens can afford piped-in water and most access their water through wells, public fountains and rivers (Gros, 2003). It is no wonder then that the life expectancy for both men and women is estimated as between 46-54 years (WRI, 2007). Education has also suffered. Government and households have spent less on education since the economic decline resulting in 29% of young people in urban areas not graduating secondary school and 46% not graduating secondary school in rural areas (Gros, 2003). In rural areas especially, the disparity between the number of boys and girls receiving basic education is increasing (Worm Bank, 1999). The adult literacy rate is 60% for women and 77% for men (CIA, 2009).

Given the serious repercussions of poverty for human well-being, researchers have sought to understand the reasons for its existence. According to the "culture of poverty theory," the causes of poverty lay at the feet of the poor themselves (Boxill, 1994; Schneider, 2005). The "culture of poverty" concept suggests that persons who live in poverty make adjustments to the context of their lives and in doing so instill certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in their children. …

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