Feeling the pinch of the gendered burden of parenting

“My name is Specioza, and I am 50 years old. I work as a supervisor in Green House 12 and I have worked here for 14 years.” This is not the first time Specioza is working at a flower farm. Before her job here, she worked at another farm, still as a supervisor, where she left as soon as management imposed salary cuts on staff. A mother of five, Specioza says she would have had six children, if her first child had not passed on. “I have four boys and a girl now. I had a girl before all of them, but she died when she was a baby.” With the first one now 31 years old, and the last one 22, she is ready to retire. “All of them have been put through school. I only have the last born left to go.” The 22 year old was admitted to higher institution of learning but couldn’t go this year because the money for tuition was not enough. Her mother however hopes to have him enrolled next year.

             As a supervisor, Specioza used to be tough on women. Now she’s trying to change for the better.

In 2013, Specioza built a small bungalow house which stands alone in a neighborhood close to the shores of Lake Nalubaale. On the unplastered walls hang framed pictures of her children and grandchildren, one of her in her hey-days. Specioza lives with her two grandchildren and her last child who currently is away looking for work. Today, one of the daughter’s is visiting too. One grandchild is taking an afternoon nap; the one who is awake snuggles up to her throughout our conversation.

Growing up

Specioza grew up with both her parents in Mukono District. They sent her to school. When she was in Primary Six, she got pregnant and dropped out to start a family with the father of her unborn child. He already had a grocery shop with which he ensured she was taken care of. Together, they had more children and he remained the breadwinner, with her taking care of kids, selling fried Tilapia fish to local residents and doing some subsistence farming. Then he died. “I only started a full-time job when my husband passed on. Before he would take care of us, but now with the responsibilities glaring at me, I had no choice but to look for employment. That is also why I have held on for so long – the responsibilities.”

Specioza wishes that men were better partners to women, especially in parenting. “Men have neglected their parental responsibilities, leaving the burden to women. Now it is us who have to take care of the kids and also work to sustain their lives, with no help at all.”

The job

“I have always liked the job for the most part. I have taken care of my kids; most of them are out of the house and have started their own families.  I have not had many difficulties working until recently.” She attributes this to the piling responsibilities which make her month salary insufficient. “My parents too can no longer afford to fend for themselves, and I have to fend for them. I am exhausted; and I am certain the most I can continue doing this work is five years.”

Specioza has attended a couple of Feminist Transformation Leadership trainings conducted by Akina Mama wa Afrika. Her biggest lesson from them has been to adjust the hard-handed conduct towards fellow workers in her supervisory role. “I used to be very tough on these women. Many times I didn’t listen to them; and I felt that I was better than them. I have since worked on changing that. I am better.”

She has also learned to exercise self-care and saving skills. “I liked the morning exercises they taught us to do and I try to jog when I have time. I like Club Beer, so I also drink one or two bottles once in a while.” Aude has also since made it a habit to religiously take a percentage of her salary for saving as soon as it comes, before she starts to spend everything else.

Friendships with fellow workers here for Specioza have been a little rocky. She had friends at the farm she worked at before, but hasn’t had so much luck here. “It is difficult to confide in people here. You might let someone in on the secret, next thing you know is it is out there.”

                                       Specioza in front of the house she saved up and constructed

On women’s liberation

Specioza wishes that men were better partners to women, especially in parenting. “Men have neglected their parental responsibilities, leaving the burden to women. Now it is us who have to take care of the kids and also work to sustain their lives, with no help at all.” She also believes that if the hours at work were revised to allow women work solely on deliverables’ basis, they might be doing financially better. “We are very enterprising – a lot of women here can bake confectionaries, weave mats and do crocheting. Yet we barely have time for anything other than this job. Even when one has completed their day’s tasks, the managers require that they remain in the green houses doing something else until the day ends.” When they get home at the end of the day, they barely have any energy for anything else after cooking meals for dinner and taking care of their children.

Hope for the future

In retirement, Specioza had thought before that she would resume farming. Not anymore. “I thought I would go back to farming, but I don’t think I will be able to do that now as I have no land to till, or even strength for the activity.” The hope now is that she will set up a charcoal store, as well as a grocery shop.

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