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Gender and Famine in Central Tanzania: 1916–1961*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2014


During the colonial era, women in Ugogo in central Tanzania, like most of Africa, became increasingly marginalized as producers in a rural economy. A colonially imposed sexual division of labor saw men forced into a cash economy while women were officially regulated to subordinate subsistence activities. Women became the victims of a version of the “cult of domesticity” that limited their ability to control resources both within and outside the household. The marginalization of women came about as a result of an alliance between the colonial state and male elders yet it was also part of the marginalization of communities in Ugogo generally in which elders and all males also saw their economic autonomy destroyed. Ironically, by the end of the colonial era this process led to many men scapegoating women as the cause of their loss of autonomy and to many women seeing empowerment only in escaping the confines of the local community.

In one of the most thorough works on changing gender relations, Karen Sacks has explained this process in terms of the underdevelopment of African communities during the colonial era (1982). Majorie Mbilinyi has argued that in many parts of Tanzania colonial and post-colonial labor policies regulated women to the informal sector and even then often drove them out of the money economy entirely.

Copyright © African Studies Association 1996

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I would like to thank F.J. Kaijage and I.N. Kimambo for their comments on this essay. This essay also benefited from support from the Department of History at the University of Dar es Salaam and the Mickey Leland Center at Texas Southern University.


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