Housing and Finance in Developing Countries

By Kavita Datta; Gareth A. Jones | Go to book overview

12

INFORMAL FINANCE AND WOMEN’S SURVIVAL STRATEGIES

Case studies from Cameroon and Zambia

Ann Gordon

Natural Resources Institute, UK


INTRODUCTION

Throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa there is no indication of decline in the rate of urban growth and it is estimated that cities will grow, in the current decade, by 10.5 million people or 5.3 per cent per annum (UNDP 1992). In recent decades, this urban growth has consistently surpassed economic performance. Moreover, economic reforms have resulted in a significant reduction in formal sector employment and real wages, while cuts in public expenditure on education, health services and food subsidies have intensified the poverty and vulnerability of urban low-income households. In an attempt to maintain incomes, households have engaged in a variety of survival strategies including switching from wage to non-wage employment in the informal sector and the increased participation of women in the labour force (World Bank 1995). Household composition has also undergone change as extended households have become more common allowing members to pool income and resources in an attempt to minimize risks. The incidence of both de facto and de jure female-headed households has also increased.

These strategies have had a particular impact on gender roles and gender relations within households and in wider society. Women’s increased participation in the workforce, and particularly in the informal sector, has been caused by declines in both the formal sector and their traditional marginalization by this sector. The latter is partly attributable to the fact that women generally have fewer skills and lower levels of education than their male counterparts. As a result of this discrimination in the formal sector, women may be obliged to move more rapidly into the informal sector for which surveys typically show higher rates of women’s participation (Mills and Sahn 1996). The 1987 census in Cameroon, for example, reveals that 57 per cent of urban

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