Incomplete Revolutions: Gendered Participation in Productive and Reproductive Labor in Mozambique and Nicaragua

We realized that women are not just important at the family level but also in the economic area. Women are present in the economy. They make a contribution to the wealth of the nation and to the GNP.”
Sonia Agurto (FIDEG), Managua, 2000


One of the most important international dynamics that continues to buttress globalization is the gendered division of labor. Neither Marxists nor liberals have come up with a way to challenge the sexual division of labor, perhaps because having women continue to work for free is so productive for a globalized society. Historically, both capitalist and Marxist paths toward economic development have focused on increasing women’s activity in the public sphere of paid labor, without acknowledging or compensating women for the ‘productive’ value of their unpaid activity in the ‘private’ sphere of ‘reproductive labor.’ Feminists around the world have often looked to socialist revolutions to address the inequality and exploitation rooted in the sexual division of labor that has historically helped make neoliberal processses of globalization so lucrative for some, and so impoverishing for others. This article will examine two such revolutions, the FRELIMO revolution in Mozambique and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, and argue that in both cases the sexual division of labor was “half-challenged,” thus perpetuating gendered participation in production and reproduction in a way that made things worse for the women and men involved, both in the historic period of the revolution and in the current period of liberal-capitalist-democracy.

The Mozambican and Nicaraguan revolutions provide a unique opportunity for cross-cultural and cross-regional comparison. In both countries, guerrilla movements committed to implementing a socialist agenda were able to seize state power. In 1974, after fighting a 10-year War of Liberation from Portuguese colonization, FRELIMO (Frente de Libertacão de Moçambique) became the government of an indepen- dent Mozambique. In 1979, the United Opposition led by the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) defeated the 46-year dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty. In addition, both countries experienced post-revolutionary civil wars fostered by foreign-supported counterinsurgency forces (RENAMO, Contras) attempting to destabilize their socialist experiments. With the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990 and the decision of FRELIMO to adopt a Western-style liberal democracy in 1992, the socialist agendas in both countries were overturned. Today, despite the fact that FRELIMO remains the party in power in Mozambique, while the Sandinistas have been the opposititon party in Nicaragua since 1990, neoliberal economic agendas- characterized by a decreasing role of the state in the economy, an increasing role for international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and increasing privatization-predominate in both countries.

As revolutionary state-party-governments, both FRELIMO and the Sandinistas identified the emancipation of women with women’s increased participation in the public world of economic production. As a result, there were tremendous achievements for women in terms of challenging myths of women’s innate incapacity and in giving them access to the public sphere of the market. However, these achievements came with their own setbacks. While increased participation in formal and informal economies led to women’s increased consciousness about their own capabilities, it also led to an increased burden of labor for women that was not offset by men’s increased participation in reproductive labor in the family economy. Although women’s power in the family has increased, it has taken the form of women’s increased workload; the gendered power relations between women and men have not been significantly altered. In fact, I will argue that the challenging of half of the sexual division of labor (women into production) has altered notions of men’s and women’s roles (masculinity and femininity) in ways that have not necessarily been liberating for women or men. As long as gendered participation in the spheres of production and reproduction persists, whether in a socialist or a neoliberal capitalist economy, globalization will continue to exacerbate existent inequalities, and women’s emancipation will remain a utopian myth.

Research for this article was conducted in Mozambique in July-August 1999 and in Nicaragua in January-February 2000. I completed over 100 in-depth, qualitative, open-ended interviews (50 in each country) with women and men who had been active leaders in the revolutionary struggles, and members of the parties (FSLN and FRELIMO) and the national-level women’s organizations (AMNLAE and OMM) in each country, respectively. I also interviewed several women who have left the parties and women’s organizations to become leaders of autonomous women’s organizations and other NGOs that have emerged in each country during the 1990s.1 I have relied heavily on personal interview data because I believe that the voices of Third World2 women have too often been silenced in accounts of political and revolutionary change. In what follows, all unattributed direct quotes are from interviews.

Women, the Economy, and the Family: The Intersection of Production and Reproduction in Mozambique and Nicaragua

With Mozambique’s independence in 1975, women became one of the main issues on the government’s agenda, to such an extent that the effective participation of women in society was considered an essential condition for the triumph of the revolution. In other words, implicitly or explicitly, the transformation of society required fundamental changes in relations between men and women, and in the sexual division of labor, a source of inequality between the sexes and which fomented discrimination against a woman as ‘the slaves’ slave’. The policies of the FRELIMO government encouraged the real participation of women in the economy[*], improvements in their education and precarious state of health and de jure and de facto participation in political decision-making bodies [emphasis mine]

Women and Law in Southern Africa-Mozambique – WLSAMOZ, 1992, xv.

The revolutionary policies of the FRELIMO government were designed to emancipate women through their ‘real participation’ in the economy. With 96% of women engaging in subsistence agriculture to feed their families and sell their goods in informal markets, the question can be raised: weren’t women already ‘really’ participating in the Mozambican economy? Perhaps the most important sentence for the purposes of my study is what appears in the footnote to the above-quoted passage: “Although this position was correct, it ignored the fact that, as the main food producers in the family sector, women were already participating actively in the country’s economy.” While men in Mozambique tend to be cash croppers or low-wage migrant laborers, the majority of women are food croppers engaging in unpaid subsistence farming “not only for themselves and their dependents but [for] the male workers as well” (Sheldon, 1991: 576). In addition, women are responsible for all the unpaid household labor and childrearing, constituting their dual labor burden. Women have historically not been considered part of the ‘economically active population’ because they were not involved in the money economy. Obviously, who is considered a part of the ‘economically active population’ will determine who gets to help shape economic policy, in whose interests such policy will be shaped, and who will benefit. A restructuring of the reproductive sphere in Mozambique did not accompany FRELIMO’s plan for women’s emancipation, which focused exclusively on the increased participation of women in the productive economy.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women contribute 60-80% of the labor in food production both for household consumption and for sale (FAO, 1998). Thus, women are already actively participating in the productive economy. In 1975, the year Mozambique gained its independence under FRELIMO leadership, it was estimated that women contributed three-quarters of the labor required to produce the food consumed in Africa. According to the FAO, women provided 90% of the labor for processing food crops and providing water and fuelwood for the household; 80% of the labor in food storage and travel from farm to village; 90% of the work in hoeing and weeding and 60% of the work in harvesting and marketing (Lele, 1975: 46-50). Today, these figures have not dramatically changed. According to Africa Recovery, despite country variation, in many African countries, women continue to account for up to 80% of food production, earning women farmers the title “invisible producers” (Vol.11#2, October 1997: 10). In addition to women’s invisible subsistence agricultural production, all of the unpaid reproductive labor of the household performed predominantly by women has historically not been counted as part of ‘economic activity.’ The 1995 UN Human Development Report estimated that in addition to the officially estimated $23 trillion of global output, $16 trillion of unpaid and underpaid work is performed around the world, $11 trillion of which is the unpaid, invisible work of women (8). And yet, women are not usually considered part of the ‘economically active population’ unless their work involves cash transactions. Thus, women have been exploited on the basis of their contributions both to production and to reproduction.

Women’s unpaid subsistence agriculture, family farming, and all of the other types of unpaid labor performed in the ‘reproductive’ sphere of the family economy have not been considered active contributions to the ‘productive’ economy, either by capitalist development experts or by socialist revolutonary leaders. Despite their rhetorical commitment to women’s emancipation, both FRELIMO and the FSLN focused on production at the expense of reproduction without seeing the intersection of the two spheres from the perspective of women.

In this article, I will examine the gendered nature of the revolutionary rural development plans of FRELIMO and the Sandinistas. I will argue that the emphasis both FRELIMO and the FSLN placed on large-scale state farms, the subsequent devaluation of subsistence and family farming, the gendered access to paid agricultural labor on state farms and to full cooperative membership, and the perpetuation of the sexual division of labor in the sphere of reproduction all reveal the limitations of a productivist, economistic model of emancipation that does not consider the reality of the intersections of production and reproduction in women’s lives. Then, I will examine two positive achievements in women’s agricultural production, one historic and one contemporary: (1) women’s agricultural work norms in Nicaragua and (2) the New Land Law in Mozambique. Finally, I will address how women’s increased activities in formal and informal economic markets in the contemporary neoliberal period has not been liberating for women or men, but has in fact led to an onerous work responsibility for women and created a dilemma for the role and place of men in society.

The ‘Rural Transformation’ Plans of FRELIMO

When FRELIMO came to power in Mozambique in 1975, the rural transformation of Mozambique was selected as the country’s most important development priority (Urdang, 1989: 107). As 90% of the population lived and worked in rural areas, it is easy to understand why agriculture was seen as the key to the future of Mozambique (Davidson, 1988: 228). Most of the agricultural production at this time was family farming, and most of it was done by women. The hope of female family farmers was always to produce not only enough to feed their households, but also a surplus to sell, so that they could buy other necessities, including soap, cooking oil, and capulanas (hoes) (Urdang, 1989: 59).

One of the visions of FRELIMO was the collectivization of agriculture, seen as a means of linking the liberation of women to socialist production. During the Second Conference of the Organization of Mozambican Women (1976), a text was prepared which described FRELIMO’s ideology and strategy for rural transformation:

Reduced to an object of pleasure, a reproducer of children, a producer of food for the family’s subsistence, an unsalaried worker in the service of the “head of the family,” the woman peasant at the same time has a very great revolutionary potential from which the Mozambican revolution cannot be cut off. This observation is based on the objective reality that our principal activity is agriculture and that most agriculture is for subsistence and is done by women. The revolution must aim at transforming this agriculture into organized, planned, collective agriculture. Mozambican women not only cannot remain outside this process, but they must be its principal agents and beneficiaries (Urdang, 1989: 59).

This statement by the FRELIMO leadership strongly suggests an understanding of the plight of Mozambican women farmers as well as a commitment to the transformation of the countryside. To what ewxtent were women the ‘principal agents and beneficiaries’ of collective agriculture in Mozambique? The plan itself was divided into three sectors: state farms, agricultural cooperatives, and family farms. State farms consisted of predominantly large-scale development projects with paid agricultural work available, predominantly to men. Agricultural cooperatives consisted of men and women farming the land cooperatively, usually with a combination of subsistence family farming, producing a surplus for the cooperative, and some paid agricultural work for the state. Family farms remained the dominant domain of women, farming their individual plots for subsistence. Communal villages were also planned to support the cooperatives and family farms, while providing the labor for the state farms. Communal villages were established with the government’s promise of new services, for “only when people lived in concentrated settlements, the government argued, could it begin to provide services such as water pumps, schools, clinics; to do so for a widely dispersed population was impossible” (Urdang, 1989: 114).

One of the problems expressed by many of the younger women in the Mozambican cooperatives was that, unlike many in Nicaragua, they did not have a creche (childcare center). It is important to note that while a community attitude was formed around agricultural production in the cooperative, childcare responsibilities as well as household maintenance remained largely in the hands of individual female members. Although FRELIMO made “an admirable effort to restructure gender relations of production,” the restructuring of reproductive tasks was not achieved, thus leaving Mozambican peasant women with a dual labor burden (Davidson, 1988: 244). Moreover, despite women’s access to land, they often did not have access to the technology of the cooperatives, including such equipment as the tractor and irrigation pump, which were controlled by men. Women in both Mozambique and Nicaragua identified use of the tractor as a tool of sexual blackmail.

State farms have been the least successful creation of FRELIMO’s rural transformation plan. Urdang states that despite the fact that they received the largest allocation of resources, they were “badly conceived and never viable” (1989: 26). Agricultural investments from 1977-83 reveal FRELIMO’s large-scale, state farming bias, and hence their lack of attention to women’s gender interests in the productive sphere: State Sector – 90%; Cooperatives – 2%; Small Scale Family Farming – Virtually Nothing (Bowen, 2000). The predominant criticism of rural development in general, and of state farms in particular, is that women, regarded as the “principal agents and beneficiaries,” were not consulted at all during the planning and implementation process:

In Mozambique, one must ask whether the outcome could have been different, at least to some degree, if the government had gone to the women themselves before embarking on their program of rural transformation. It is fairly certain that they would have insisted on strong state support for family production rather than pumping limited resources into state farms (Urdang, 1989: 27).

Urdang concludes that if women had been consulted, Mozambique could have shifted to family farming eight years earlier, and been better able to feed the population (1989: 26). Instead, the FRELIMO government, just as under colonialism, focused more on cash cropping than on ensuring food for daily consumption. Moreover, the focus on state farms perpetuated a gendered access to the money economy. Paid work on state farms was predominantly the work of men, for two reasons: state farms offered virtually the only pay packet for agricultural workers, and driving tractors, an essential part of the job description, had always been considered “men’s work” (Urdang, 1989: 91-104). Thus, a gendered division of labor persisted even within the ‘revolutionary’ rural development plan. Work for pay (production) is work for men; work for free (reproduction) is work for women.

Formally, women’s equal economic status was officially codified in the Mozambican Constitution: Article 17 states that “women and men have equal rights and duties in the economic sphere.” Moreover, several important laws grant women rights in the economic sphere. The Law of Sixty Days (1976) permits pregnant women workers 60 days paid leave. Article 228 of the Rural Labor Code grants all women workers the right to miss two days of work per month without losing any salary. And in 1981-82, the Labor Act was passed which enacted legislation to protect women from job and wage discrimination. But in reality, women’s participation in the paid sphere is very low in Mozambique, while their participation in unpaid reproductive labor is enormous. In 1990, women accounted for only 1% of wage laborers. Moreover, only 1% of women worked in cooperatives, 8% of women worked in industry, and 19% of women worked in the commercial sector. And while 97% of women worked in the agricultural sector, only 1% of women worked in agricultural cooperatives. This means that the other 95% of women working in the agricultural sector were engaged in the unpaid reproductive labor of family farming. Women “are the main people directly responsible for food production, and through their domestic work ensure the reproduction of the labor force. Due to their excessive workloads and low educational levels, women continue to occupy the worst paid jobs and to have difficulty in obtaining formal employment” (Situation of Women in Mozambique, 1994: 29).

The ‘Rural Transformation’ Plans of the FSLN

After the fall of the Somoza dictatorship, the FSLN nationalized all of the land owned by Somoza and his friends, one-third of the land in Nicaragua. This land was turned into agricultural cooperatives, state farms, and private peasant family plots. The Sandinista investment in agricultural development after the revolution generally reveals the same pattern as in Mozambique, with large-scale state farming develop- ment projects receiving the largest investment and family farming receiving the smallest, yet with more of an investment in the cooperative and family sector by the Sandinistas as compared with FRELIMO: State Farms – 50%; Cooperatives – 30%; Private Ownership/Family Farming – 20%. According to Maria Rosa Renzi, UNDP Gender Representative in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Agrarian Reform Program redistributed 2,000,000 manzanas (city blocks) to campesinos. As a result, the number of private peasant landowners increased, accompanied by a decrease in land prices and lower wages, which created an incentive for the opening of the black market. The system was modeled on a mixed economy of 80% state and 20% private ownership. In addition, the 1981 Agrarian Reform Law set up a legal process whereby judges could hear cases of peasants who wanted to expropriate land to form their own cooperatives.

There were two types of agricultural cooperatives in Nicaragua. The CAS (Sandinista Agricultural Cooperative) was a completely cooperative venture where the land was farmed collectively. The CCS (Credit Service Cooperative) consisted of families who farmed their own plots and only shared resources and credits. Among most cooperative members, the CCS was more popular. However, it is interesting to note that when women formed and participated in cooperatives, they preferred the CAS, believing that the CCS structure would lead to “individualism” (Collinson, 1990: 50).

In the post-revolutionary period, it is easy to see how land redistribution priorities have shifted from a revolutionary to a neoliberal agenda. After the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas, the distribution of land changed dramatically: the holdings of both small and medium producers and state-owned public areas decreased while large privately owned properties increased:

Table 1. Agricultural Holdings (%)

Small and Medium Producers 56.0 40.0 29.0
Large Private Land 31.0 56.0 71.0
Popular Public Area (APP) 13.0 4.0 0.0

Source: Banco Central de Nicaragua, 1994, cited in Cynthia Chavez Metoyer (1997), p. 125.

Popular Public Area land refers to land set aside by the state for communal production. While cooperatives constituted 13% of the land area in the 1980s, they were less than 4% of the land area by the 1990s.

The Gendered Nature of Cooperatives in Nicaragua and Mozambique

Women’s participation in agricultural cooperatives was also low in Nicaragua, but it was higher than in Mozambique. In 1982, 6% of cooperative members were women; in 1990, this had risen to 12% (Center for Investigations and Studies of Agrarian Reform, CIERA). While women did make progress in their ability to receive the benefits of full cooperative membership, it is important to distinguish in Nicaragua between working on a cooperative and being a full cooperatve member. Although women made up the majority of the workforce on many cooperatives, only 50% of cooperatives contained women members (Collinson, 1990: 51). Most women continued to work as seasonal laborers and thus were unable to receive the benefits of full membership, including taking part in the decision-making process, and receiving a share of the profits and technical training.

Why haven’t the benefits of cooperative farming for women been as far-reaching as expected in either Mozambique or Nicaragua? For the most part, the answer lies in the reproductive sphere of the home and family, and the continuation of the sexual division of labor. Most women have children whom they cannot leave alone for an eight-hour work day. Thus, family farming at home is a better choice for women than cooperative farming with required work hours and no childcare.

In addition, men’s attitudes and the legacy of machismo are also an important factor impeding women’s full membership in cooperatives. In Nicaragua, because women’s “contribution to productive work has been so undervalued in the past, many men still have not even considered the possibility of women becoming full cooperative members” (Collinson, 1990: 51). As Cynthia Chavez Metoyer points out, “the Law of Cooperatives provided the legal grounds for women’s incorporation and leadership in production cooperatives under the same conditions as their male counterparts” [emphasis mine] (1997:120). However, to what extent were the social, cultural and personal grounds laid for women’s equal incorporation and leadership in cooperatives? Data compiled by Chavez Metoyer reveal that women’s public economic and political responsibilities increased, while they continued to be responsible for both production and reproduction in the household: “In short, the outcomes of the Sandinista agrarian reform failed to accomplish the original intentions to integrate women into the cooperative movement because structural and ideological barriers such as the subvaluation of women’s work, the ‘double day’ workload, and historically constructed norms of the gender division of labor were not eliminated” (1997:123). Both the Sandinista and the FRELIMO revolutions emphasized large-scale state farms. The resulting devaluation of family farming, the gendered access to paid agricultural and cooperative labor, and the perpetuation of the sexual division of labor in the sphere of reproduction kept both countries from fully exploring the possibilities for women within a communal or, for that matter, an individualized family farming context.

Women and Agricultural Production Today in Mozambique and Nicaragua

If we analyze GDP and labor force participation by sector today in each country, we find that in both Mozambique and Nicaragua, agriculture is 34% of GDP; the service sector accounts for the largest percentage of GDP in each country (48% in Mozambique and 44% in Nicaragua), while industry accounts for the smallest (18% and 22%, respectively) (World Factbook, 2000). In Nicaragua, there is a close approximation between the input of labor force participation and the output of GDP: 43% of the population works in services, 42% in agriculture and 15% in industry. However, in Mozambique, there is a huge discrepancy between the agricultural input of the population and the percentage of agricultural output relative to GDP: 81% of the labor force participates in agriculture, 13% works in services, while 6% works in industry. This means that while 81% of the population is working in agricultural production, only 34% of what is produced contributes to the GDP. This is due mainly to the fact that most of the agricultural production in Mozambique is subsistence-based family farming, performed by women for no wage, and therefore invisible, ‘unproductive,’ and not counted in the GDP. It also means that the input of the agricultural laboring population is not reflected in sufficient output. Investments need to be made in infrastructure and industry, such as processing raw materials rather than exporting them, so that the balance of trade can be altered and more of the country’s resources can be turned into wealth inside the country.3

The Gendered Intersection of Production and Reproduction in the Women’s Secretariat of the ATC: Lessons From the Past

The Rural Workers Association (ATC) was established in Nicaragua in 1978 as the main representative body of agricultural wageworkers on cash crop farms, both state and private. The ATC union and the government/employer felt they had a common interest: cash crop production must continue to increase, and to that end, worker demands are important. Although 99% of the union leaders in 1983 were men, 40% of the ATC membership was women (Collinson, 1990: 44). Thelma Espinoza, Vice-Coordinator of AMNLAE, the historic women’s organization of the revolution, places the founding of the ATC women’s secretariat within the context of agricultural production needs. With men fighting, and the need to maintain agricultural production, women were needed to take care of the crops. Therefore, women’s productivity, and the factors affecting it, became important to the ATC for the first time.

As a result of women’s increased participation in the ATC, it became known throughout the country for its feminist positions and its attempts to integrate gender-specific with class-based demands (Chuchryk, 1991:150). The ATC didn’t just change the lives of the women involved; the women changed the ATC:

By opening up a unique space for rural women to discuss their problems and assert their demands, the ATC has been a trail-blazer for the Nicaraguan women’s movement. Its new and creative approaches to women’s participation in the economy and in the Revolution have proved so successful that they are thought to have been a major force behind the FSLN’s Proclama on women’s emancipation in 1987. In the words of Ana Criquillon from the ATC Women’s Secretariat, “If we don’t change the situation in the home, we will never be able to meet women’s demands and we’ll never raise production” (Collinson, 1990: 49).

How did women integrate gendered agricultural demands into the ATC? In 1983, the ATC held a National Assembly of Rural Women Workers. The members of the newly formed Women’s Secretariat realized they knew little regarding rural women’s working conditions. As a result, the 100 delegates in attendance decided to conduct a grassroots investigation which formed the basis of an official Agrarian Reform Report. Throughout the interview process, the delegates of the ATC realized that issues such as pregnancy, childcare, abortion, home, and family, previously seen as outside the union’s work, were actually an integral part of women’s agricultural “productivity,” long assumed to be low. As Collinson concludes, “these discussions made it clear to the union that the successful integration of women into the rural workforce could not be accomplished without taking into consideration women’s traditional responsibilities and their daily routine” (1990: 45).

In the mid 1980s, the Women’s Secretariat of the ATC began to address issues of employment, salary, pre- and post-maternity leave, day care centers and protective work legislation for pregnant women. María Elena Sequeira Rivas, current Director of the Secretariat Nacional de la Mujer, ATC, explained to me how the rising need for day care emerged because of the interconnection between production and reproduction: “We had to determine how to increase production because the men were at war, so the production responsibility fell in the women’s hands despite the fact that they also take care of the children. That’s why the need for day care.” Thus, the Women’s Secretariat framed the concerns of women working in agriculture in terms of a necessary investment for future increased productivity and economic development.

The intersections between women’s roles in ‘public’ production in the fields and ‘private’ reproduction in the home became clearest when the issue of the agricultural ‘work norm’ was discussed. The work norm referred to the amount of work every employee was expected to complete each day in order to receive the basic wage. The National Committee of the ATC (all men) accepted a proposal by women activists in the union to do a study focused on women in the agricultural sector. The ATC women activists chose to analyze a subject “that did not seem at all feminist, that is, the productivity of the workers” (Criquillon, 1995: 217). In order to assess women’s attitudes toward the work norm, the Women’s Secretariat organized a series of workshops and discussion groups at the local and regional levels, encouraging grassroots participation. These discussion groups were a great success, and culminated in 1986 at the Second National Assembly, at which hundreds of delegates reported on their results. The study concluded that a “gender-based divison of labor was a fundamental obstacle to the participation of women in production and the union” and that therefore women’s gender interests had to be “linked with their national, class and other interests” (ibid.: 218).

When the members of the Women’s Secretariat were asked if they wanted to have the same work norm as men in the agricultural cooperatives, they said yes. However, in order for women to ‘produce’ as much as men, they recognized the need for help in the reproductive sphere (child-rearing, subsistence agriculture, family farming) and demanded childcare facilities to offset the dual labor burden. According to Ana Criquillon (a founding member of the ATC and a member of its Women’s Secretariat in 1986), “Men and women demanded equal work norms in the ATC. This led to questioning work conditions, not just [on the land] but in reproductive and domestic work.” The gendered nature of the agricultural work/productivity norm addressed within the ATC reveals the gendered nature of production and reproduction, and the need for women and men to challenge the sexual division of labor.

Although all the women agreed that they should accept the same work norm as men, the women also emphasized that this would be possible “only if women’s domestic work was reduced” (Collinson, 1990: 46). To this end, they passed resolutions containing the following demands: childcare centers; paid maternity leave; paid sick days to care for children; communal washing places; and mills to grind corn. Perhaps the most important resolution was one which demanded that the union put pressure on its male members to help with domestic tasks.

Within a year, it was evident that the ATC took the demands of the Women’s Secretariat very seriously. In 1985, there were 30 creches (childcare facilities) in Nicaragua; by 1987, there were 500. In 1983, 1% of the union posts were held by women. By 1988, women held 28% of all union posts (Collinson, 1990: 46-48). By 1987, it seemed that, however briefly, an attempt to connect “production” and “reproduction” and assert the inseparability of the two spheres of activity was made within the ATC. In 1988 at the Fourth National Assembly, the Women’s Secretariat generated new demands, including issuing sanctions against sexual blackmail (i.e., sexual harassment) and earmarking 20% of all profits earned from export crops for social projects, including childcare, healthcare, and communal laundries. Supporting reproductive labor such as this was seen by the ATC as an investment for future increases in production and economic development. Although the FSLN may not have been as committed to transforming the gendered relations of production and reproduction in Nicaragua, the women activists within the Rural Workers Association were able to make significant strides for women.

The Land Campaign and the New Land Law in Mozambique: Potentials and Limitations for Women’s Emancipation

The most promising recent achievement for women in agricultural labor in Mozambique has been the passage of the New Land Law in 1997. While the Land Law establishes innovative support for women’s continued access to land, it does not address women’s disproportionate contribution to production and reproduction, and therefore leaves unchallenged the gendered relationship of women and men to the land. Although women have been working the land for centuries, women have not always owned the land, which has usually been passed down through the husband’s lineage in patrilineal societies, and through male relatives of women within matrilineal societies. Incorporating a gendered perspective, advocates for the New Land Law demanded that land ownership be granted to the ‘individual’ or a ‘community,’ not to the ‘head of household’ or the ‘family,’ both of which have historically, through customary and civil law, placed land rights in the hands of men. As the predominant agricultural producers in Mozambique, women have finally become the focus of the policies on land tenure.

José Negrão is National Coordinator of the Terra Campanha (Land Campaign), a movement of over 200 organizations, including NGOs, grassroots organizations and churches that were the strongest advocates of the New Land Law. The members of the Land Campaign have identified tenant security as the real problem for peasant producers, predominantly women, in Mozambique. The World Bank proposed issuing land titles for each single family, while government land policy since 1995 has focused on small shareholders and private enterprise. The Land Campaign rejected both approaches.

In addition, Negrão and the Land Campaign argued that “If we want to solve the problem of tenant security, we must establish a right of occupation based on oral testimony.” As a result, the New Land Law allows for two very unique aspects of land ownership: community ownership, and rights to ownership expressed through oral testimony. Because women in the field seldom owned property, the recognition of oral testimony is particularly important. Today, Mozambique is the only country in Africa in which the rights of occupation can be asserted through oral testimony.

Rachel Waterhouse, Coordinator of the Program on Land Rights and Gender Equity for Action Aid, studied gender relations and land tenure in a village in Maputo Province, conducting research and civic education around the Land Law as it was being revised. Issues such as community versus individual land titles and women’s representation were discussed. According to the Old Land Law of 1979, peasant farmers occupying the land had use rights to the land. But it was hard to collect written evidence during the adjudication process to recognize ownership rights. In the civil code, written evidence overrides oral evidence. In 1986, regulations were passed to allow peasant farmers to apply for the title and deed to the use and ownership of the land: “It was practically free, but you had to have the land demarcated and mapped out. To have it shown on the map was expensive. Only the government did it, because these were times of war. So, the question was raised, ‘How can we offer people more security? How can we better protect the rights of peasant farmers?'” One of the most complicated aspects of the New Land Law is the regulations for community titles. Practitioners are still working on the technical process of how the community will be represented, particularly when men tend to migrate, and women stay and work the land.

Communal ownership and oral testimony provide very interesting possibilities for ensuring women’s reproductive and productive capacities through land tenure, access and security. Women engage primarily in family farming with the intention of feeding their families and producing enough surplus to sell their food crops in informal markets. The survival of women and their families depends upon women’s access to land. Negrão and the Land Campaign are attempting to link women’s family farming with Mozambique’s development by challenging the typical assumption that development equals commercial production:

We have to transform subsistence versus commercial. Why do we take for granted that it is like this? I am questioning the assumptions of land issues, development, and other concepts of the North..There is no development without savings and investment of savings in the country. During the socialist years, labor went to state farms and we saw growth without development..Our point in the Campaign is to mobilize the savings of the rich guy and get him to invest it in the small owner. Both cotton and cashews are produced by small holders. We must increase the manufacturing done in Mozambique with the small holder through family farming.

The Land Campaign appears to understand that women and small landholders are the predominant producers in Mozambique, and that for development to take place, they must be the beneficiaries of economic investment. The problem in the contemporary neoliberal economy, however, is that international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank seek to destroy the sovereignty and autonomy of state development alternatives. This poses a severe challenge to Mozambicans. The ability of women to have access to land, labor and capital in the processes of production and reproduction is intricately linked to this challenge.

Despite the Land Campaign’s positive assessment of the New Land Law, the extent to which the law will actually benefit women remains to be seen. In many ways, the Law highlights the possibilities and limitations for women’s empowerment in agricultural Mozambique. Land tenure, access and security are all necessary conditions for protecting women’s reproductive as well as their productive capacities. But they are not sufficient conditions. Men and women’s gendered participation in productive and reproductive labor continues to determine the differential experiences of freedom and exploitation within which men and women live, particularly in the agricultural economies of the developing world. As Carla Braga of the Land Campaign points out, land access is not the only important element of women’s emancipation: “Women [already] have access to land in different degrees. If not, they couldn’t be the main producers in Mozambique!” Braga shares my concern about the persistence of women’s excessive workload in the spheres of production and reproduction, which is ignored in struggles for land security: “Access is not the problem, but too much work for women!” Once again, the gendered nature of the global division of productive and reproductive labor remains an unanalyzed component of the power-equation between women and men; it persists as an absent (yet essential) issue in women’s emancipation.

Gendered Participation in Productive and Reproductive Labor

It is widely accepted among scholars that a sexual division of labour operates both in the market and in subsistence production and reproduction. Men are typically protected from most domestic responsibilities because sexual divisions of labour, combined with other socially constructed hierarchies, make domestic reproduction and production biological extensions of women….I am not suggesting that divisions of labour by sex are inherently exploi- tative. Yet they become so when they establish hierarchies of responsibilities that value ‘masculine work’ over ‘feminine work’ (Chavez Metoyer, 1997: 126f).

Cynthia Chavez Metoyer correctly points to the relationship between production and reproduction within the sexual division of labor globally. Further, she identifies the locus of exploitation within that sexual division of labor: valuing men’s work over women’s work. In both the revolutionary contexts I studied, women’s emancipation was understood and defined in terms of participation in what had been previously designated as “men’s work”: military defense, and economic production outside the home. In addition, there was no comparable encouragement of men to participate in “women’s work,” nor any other, deeper understanding of what women’s emancipation might entail. This is clearly a result of the unequal value attached to “men’s and women’s work” and the economistic framing of emancipation. With few exceptions, women ‘elevated’ themselves to perform men’s work, while men refused to ‘lower’ themselves to perform the work done by women. This has led, in both Mozambique and Nicaragua, to: (1) an undue burden of labor in the lives of women, and (2) a questioning of the role of men. As women engage more and more in the monied economies of informal markets and continue to perform the unpaid family farming, genderd notions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are challenged in ways that are not necessarily ’emancipatory’ for women or men.

Javier Matus Lazo of CENADEl (Center for Action and Support of Rural Development) argues, “the thing is not to give more work to women. Also, give women’s work to men! Women go to meetings, go to church, work with their families; men work half a day, and then lay down in the hammock!” Irma Ortega, who served in the Ministry of Agriculture, agrees with this analysis, noting the disadvantages that continued for women even when they entered the public sphere of production: “Even bringing women into the public sphere had disadvantages: lesser salaries, limited training, male bosses, sex-segregated labor. As for men in the reproductive sphere, people will say men were at war. It is a way to cover up that argument. Men didn’t take up those responsibilities here. In the rural areas, even though both do the same job category, the man is seen as a ‘producer,’ the woman as an ‘assistant’ to him!” Sonia Agurto of FIDEG [International Foundation for Global Economic Development], a research NGO founded in 1990 studying micro and macro economics in Nicaragua, reminds us that even what men and women define as ‘work’ is a gendered construction, often shaped by the category of ownership: “Through the whole history women have been doing productive work. But for rural women, the man owns land. She works sometimes more than he. But when asked, ‘Do you work?’ the answer she gives is, ‘No. I am just a housewife. I do not work.'”

In a 1997 FIDEG study entitled “La esperanza tiene nombre de mujer: la economía nicaragüense desde una perspectiva de género” [“Hope Has a Woman’s Name: The Nicaraguan Economy from a Gender Perspective”], the categories of ‘productive and reproductive space’ are used throughout to examine the inequalities that exist between women and men in both urban and rural sectors. Productive space refers to the sphere of paid labor in the marketplace, while reproductive space refers to the sphere of unpaid labor performed within the realm of home and family. Table 2 shows the comparative distribution of work-time spent by men and women in these respective spaces:

Table 2: Work Time in Productive and Reproductive Spaces (Nicaragua): Distribution by Sector, Sex, and Age (%)

Ages 15 – 19
Ages 20 -24
Productive Space
Reproductive Space


Ages 25-65
Over 65
Productive Space
Reproductive Space

Source: María Rosa Renzi & Sonia Agurto, La esperanza tiene nombre de mujer: la economía nicaragüense desde una perspectiva de género, 202-203 [figures rounded].

It is evident that women spend much more time than men in the reproductive sphere, while men spend somewhat more time than women in the productive sphere. What is perhaps more striking is that when women and men are working comparably in the productive sphere (urban, age 20-24), and even when women are engaging more in productive labor than men (rural, age 20-24; urban, age 45-65), women are still performing the vast bulk of the reproductive labor, 80% in rural areas and 90% in urban areas. It is this phenomenon that results in the double and triple burden of labor for women, and the lower wages and decreased economic capacity of women relative to men. Moreover, it is the continued expectation of women’s work in the home that perpetuates women’s cultural and material oppression in the family. A 1981 study of the gendered division of labor between mother, father, daughters and sons within one rural family revealed a dramatic disparity in the amount of time each family member spent on household maintenance, childcare, cooking, cleaning, collecting water, and fetching wood, ranging from an average of 1 hour a day for the husband and sons to 16 hours a day for the wife and daughters.4

The experience for women appears to be similar in Mozambique. According to TheSituation of Women in Mozambique, a report compiled by women’s NGOs in preparation for the 1995 Beijing conference:

Life is difficult for women in Mozambique, a consequence of such factors as their high illiteracy rates, precarious health, excessive workload and minuscule degree of participation in decision-taking bodies. Nonetheless, women continue to be the main pro-ducers of food and survival strategies, even though this role is not socially recognized and men retain the effective administration of the income produced by women on the formal and/or informal labor markets (9).

The report continues by stating that the traditional image of women remains “as the ‘doer’ of domestic tasks, always subordinate to or dependent upon the man, head of the family, who works outside the home” (9, 15). Terezinha Da Silva, Director of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Eduardo Mondlane University, asserts that the division of labor between production and reproduction is about the control of resources, what is counted as ‘work,’ and who is considered as contributing to development:

The problems are of inequality and power in the family. Economic work is done even inside the household, work as a productive role, yet the domestic sphere is not considered part of a productive role, and thus is not considered work..We need statistics on how much work is done in the family and not taken into account in the national census because it is not considered ‘work’. FRELIMO now doesn’t take this into account.

The divisions of inside/outside, private/public, household/market and the informal/formal economy also become blurred when women are selling fruits and vegetables from their ‘susbsistence’ agricultural production on streets and highways. In the contemporary neoliberal era of globalization, ‘subsistence agriculture’ requires sale in the market economy in order to truly mean subsistence.

Carmen Gamilo, a woman from Beira who works at the OMM day care facility, described her personal goals as a woman: “I want to develop, to grow, to show I’m a person, too. I’m not born just to be a toy for someone else. I can build anything and do anything a man can do.” One of the obstacles she cites to women’s growth and development is that when “a woman wants to work, has no place to work, no jobs…she can sew, and then sell when she is finished, but even if she knows how to sew, who will buy? It is easier to sell in the informal market.” But what happens when a woman does enter the formal or informal labor market? Is there a change in the division of reproductive labor between the husband and the wife? Gamilo comments:

Now, a woman can get out of the role of a man and show that she exists. We heard our mothers only stayed home. We have a voice now. We are active now. We work outside the home. Some men help. Some men say, you decided to work, you need to know that the work at home is also yours. Some women get up at 4:00 a.m. Today, a woman needs to work. A man’s money is not enough. She must work to help him.

A woman needs to work for income in the informal or formal market as a survival strategy because even if her husband does work for pay, it is not enough to survive. And yet, “she needs to know that the work in the home is also hers.”

Women’s Participation in the Informal Economy

The WLSAMOZ (Women and Law in Southern Africa, Mozambique) Research Project did a study of “Maintenance Rights and Women” which address these very issues of women’s participation in paid, unpaid, formal and informal labor. Maintenance rights were defined for the purposes of the study as “the laws which deliberate on the responsibilities of parents to support their children, and on the duty and right of spouses to provide each other with mutual financial and material assistance during and after marriage” (WLSAMOZ, 1992: 1). It is important to note that one of the explicitly stated conceptions framing this study was “a feminist perspective, defending women’s rights within the context of gender relations” (ibid.: xvii).

The target population consisted of women with maintenance problems who were eligible to exercise their maintenance rights, including the following characteristics: women between the ages of 20 and 29, and 30 and 39; households of women and children with an average of eight members in urban areas and six in rural areas; 2/3 women heads of household; 50% of women with no formal education; US$ 80 per capita family income. Using marital status as the point of reference, six groups of women were identified from the sample: single mothers (9.4%), married women (30.3%), separated women (10.4%), divorced women (2.7%), abandoned women (4.6%) and widows (26.7%). The study determined that “the most important activities of the target group, apart from domestic work, are in the informal economic sector. They include buying and selling goods and domestic production for sale. Both take place in the informal market, in the so-called ‘dumba-nengues’5… 90% are unable to purchase sufficient food for a diet providing 900 calories per day” (ibid.: xx).

How have women in Mozambique been able to continue to perform all the reproductive labor of home and family, including family farming, as well as create income-generating survival strategies in the informal market? According to Maria Alvero, Provincial Secretary of the OMM in Nampula:

The OMM does sensitivity training for men, to tell the man he must help her, because she will be more tired. With the old people, this is hard; with the young people, if both go outside and leave Mozambique to study or work, he will be more willing to help… if both stay here, he will be less willing.

The OMM has also established Interest Circles for women to come together at the local level and talk about their needs and concerns. The topics of conversation often involve “sewing and the domestic economy… We teach women cooking, caring for children, health, nutrition, education.” There are four interest circles in Nampula City which meet two times a week. About 20 women attend each meeting. OMM activists often go out to other areas, to people’s houses or to small farms, teaching in the home. According to Alvero, issues of women’s work in the sphere of reproductive labor emerge as the most important problems women face:

One of the biggest problems is that women complain they work harder, even when both are not working. She wakes up early, tends to the house, cooking, goes to the small farm, still carries the children, baby on back.That’s why we do sensitivity training and theatre-to show how things work! To change minds!

Ivete Mboa, Director of the Associação das Donas de Casa (ADOCA) in Matola, a rural suburb of Maputo, also describes the double burden of labor that results from women’s unequal responsibilities in the reproductive sphere: “Women suffer twice. Even women who exercise [the use of] money and have a job to work, these women have to go home and do the domestic activities. Men do nothing at home! Women do both!” Her analysis comes with some optimism and hope, however, that things begin to change when men experience the reality of women’s lives:

Many men in society are beginning to understand. For example, I know a couple where the woman had an accident and was close to death. The man began to work at home, and he began to understand how important his wife was. Now, he is a good man completely! Of course, women are the mothers, so we have to change their minds. The sons of today are the husbands of tomorrow.

Hermengilda Thumbo, Director of the Credit Division of the Mozambican Association of Rural Development (AMODER), is less optimistic: “The attitudes of men are not very different, not very improved. Now, we’re losing this small gain. Men now want women to gain good income and also take care of the children and the home. We are going backward.” When I asked Thumbo if more men were participating in reproductive labor, she replied that it was a little more, but not much, and that “Women are fundamental to this change, how we raise our children, our sons and daughters.” Ana Maria Montero (of the NGO Development Project of Eduardo Mondlane University) agrees, describing how the gendered division of labor in the home is reproduced in the minds of sons who watch their fathers’ lack of participation in the domestic sphere:

Now I’m divorced. During the time I lived with my husband, it was difficult to change the thinking of the child if different people are in the home. I was married, my husband did not help me with the house activities. My son saw that, and learned that it is not necessary to do that. My son later saw his nephew washing dishes and asked his nephew, “Why are you washing the dishes?” His answer: because all the people in the house need to do the same.

Mboa, Thumbo and Montero remind us that one way women can change the minds of men is through feminist parenting: not reinscribing the sexual division of labor in the tasks we provide our sons and daughters. Sérgio Viera (a FRELIMO founder and MP) disagrees. He argues that change is more likely to occur through practical necessity:

It is still the attitude of men that housework is for women, but changes do occur, not because you wish but because you are forced to. My wife is working and I am working. Practical and immediate. It is not because of a philosophical belief but because of a practical necessity..Law cannot be completely separate from reality. When will domestic work disappear? With development. Economic development: mechanization, better qualification, not by law.

And yet, if domestic work has not ‘disappeared’ in the most advanced, economically developed industrial countries in the world, how likely is it that Viera’s prediction will come true? Rather than theorize about the ‘disappearance’ of domestic labor in the future, revolutionary leaders would do better to encourage men to share the burden of reproductive labor with women in the present.

Male Migrant Labor and the Sexual Division of Labor

The history of male migrant labor has often been cited as a major contributing factor to the sexual division of labor perpetuated throughout the process of globalization. In fact, migrant labor has both contributed to and challenged the sexual division of labor in Mozambique. Men’s migration to urban areas to look for work has left women in the rural areas tending to the fields and engaging in all of the reproductive labor. However, it has also caused women to rise to the level of head of household, pursue income-generating survival strategies, and assert decision-making power through the family. Again, although women’s experiences in the sphere of paid work contribute to women’s consciousness, both men’s consciousness and women’s emancipation require men’s participation in reproduction.

Sérgio Viera cited the historical situation of male migrant labor in Mozambique as part of the colonial context that led to the division of labor existing in Mozambique today:

The historical process of copper mining created monetary income and migratory labor in the Southern region of Africa (Zambia, Zaire, Congo, Rhodesia, South Africa ). Agriculture was with women, including the food crops responsibility. Then, the economy started to change. More women got involved in monetarized employment. Usually, the salaries of women were less than those of men.

Viera goes on to argue that the categories of paid and unpaid labor are urbanized, industrialized, monetarized and, therefore, not as relevant in an agricultural economy.

Rachel Waterhouse, on the other hand, cites the same context of male migrant labor in cities and women’s labor on farms to show precisely how relevent and interconnected the categories of paid and unpaid labor are in Mozambique:

Today, there is a lot more wealth to be had, but there is a larger gap between the haves and the have nots. There is massive unemploy- ment which is not being reabsorbed into agricultural production. There is a long tradition of migrant labor. There are also decreasing wages, so farming also suffers. Money buys your ox, plow and food, so they are all interdependent: non-wage and wage labor. Men are looking for work. It is not easy to rebuild. Migrant labor goes back 100 years, even if they are helping out on the farm. Men do some farming, but usually they are in the cities looking for work, charcoal and firewood business. Men and reproductive labor? That has never really been talked about.

Men’s searching for ‘productive’ paid labor in cities has a direct, interconnected impact on women’s increased productive and reproductive labor on family farms and sales in the informal economy.

How has this gendered relationship between migrant work and family farming affected women’s emancipation? Edda Collier (Gender Specialist, Ministry of Social Action/UN) argues that in some ways, this division of labor provided women with an opportunity to challenge gender-role stereotypes: “Women came from rural zones, left extended families, married or divorced, left due to the economic crisis, and came to urban zones. Men were always mine workers, in dormitories. Women did the reproductive work informal businesses, paid work, had multiple sexual relations. The mines situation made women able to break free from traditional gender roles.” Ana Rita Sithole, FRELIMO MP and member of the Permanent Commission of Parliament, also described how the history of male migrant labor can be understood as contributing to women’s increased power in the family:

Many women are heads of the family due to the war and mining. Men have gone to Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Most of the women who head families have power. Women are taking power slowly. If you want to be equals, you have to work side by side with the men. We have to work together. But we also have to take the lead ourselves, enabling girls to go to secondary schools (most girls stay home with mothers/sisters). In Mozambique, women are a very important source of power, we know that and we have shown it…

In a parallel argument about Nicaragua, Cynthia Chavez Metoyer (2000) states that the scarcity of male labor during the Contra war required women to enter sectors of the agricultural and industrial economy dominated by men, thus challenging sex-segregated employment. Yet despite this apparent challenging of the sexual division of labor, “women’s status remained subordinate to that of men” (33).

Chavez Metoyer adds that, “Moreover, a rigid division of labor persisted in which women were considered primarily responsible for reproductive work” [emphasis mine] (33). Her use of the term ‘moreover’ places the maintenance of the sexual division of labor in the home as an additional aside. I would argue that the maintenance of rigid gender roles in the sphere of reproductive labor is not ‘moreover’ but, rather, is the key to women’s continued subordinate status in all spheres of everyday life. Welcoming women into productive work in the public sphere of paid labor will never in and of itself eliminate women’s subordinate status to men; only a simultaneous altering of the sexual division of labor within the reproductive sphere will begin to challenge women’s subordinate status in all spheres of society. Challenging only one-half of the sexual division of labor is really no challenge at all. As long as reproductive labor is performed predominantly by women, expected and ignored, men will never value it, and men will never value women.

A Space for Men? Gender Reciprocity in the Spheres of Production and Reproduction

If women’s gender roles are expanding to include the tasks of men, but men’s gender roles are not expanding at an equal rate to include the tasks of women, are men not in a sense being rendered superfluous by an imbalanced and misguided form of feminism? Hermengilda Thumbo speaks of exactly this problem:

Men are not expected to be the economic provider and are still not expected to do anything else! We don’t realize our power. We are the ones who produce the income and the wealth. But we are afraid. I don’t want to live alone, but I don’t want to live with someone I don’t like. Men with a progressive attitude are scarce. We need more good quality men. Most of my friends are divorced and on their second marriage, so that says something.

As women are becoming more and more adept at reproductive maintenance and income-generating activities, what lies ahead for the relationships between women and men? Terezinha da Silva sees women’s survival strategies as becoming threatening to men:

Men are threatened by women today. More men are unemployed. Women as a survival strategy do everything. They are inventing ways of making income. Men do nothing! We saw how much women are a threat. We have the power because we have the money and vice versa. Now, if they don’t have money or a job, you see women doing hard work [emphasis mine].

Ana Maria Montero also worries about the impact that gendered changes in society are having on men. She argues that the stress masculinity puts on men increases their level of mortality. Masculinity is associated with participation in paid labor; femininity, with work in the informal sector. Men still engage more in the production of commercial crops for a wage, while women engage in subsistence production or family farming. As a result, in an economy with a decreasing number of jobs, women are welcomed more in the informal sector than men, and therefore are more successful. Montero argues that the informal sector is subverting notions of masculinity and femininity, and as a result, women are becoming the leading breadwinners and political decision-makers in the family. But according to Montero, this process is taking a heavy toll on men in society: “When men are unemployed, their masculinity is challenged. The in-laws think they are not a man. Even working for a low wage.” Nina Berg, a lawyer with DANIDA (Danish International Development Assistance), raised similar questions about the difficulties of challenging women’s roles in African societies because of the lack of a role for men:

It is hard on men; alcoholism in Africa is a huge problem. Women would always have care-taking. This is a huge problem in African societies. Gender issues are not equal to women’s issues. Women do too much work. Men have no place at all, no sphere at all. Breadwinner? Unemployment, frustration. The question is, where are the men?

While First World notions of women’s emancipation have often been identified with increasing women’s participation in wage labor outside the home, many scholars of Third World feminisms have theorized a more dialectical relationship of empowerment as power exercised by women in the private sphere of the home and family and in the public sphere of the state, civil society and the market.6 Latin American feminists have often made the connections between ‘democracy in the country and in the home.’ African feminists have often argued that the place of power for African women has always been the home and family. According to Ana Fernandes (manager of a textile factory in Mozambique), “The African woman has a lot of power. She makes all of the decisions in the home.” Feminist agency, then, becomes an issue of asserting power through the reproductive sphere of the home rather than seeking a power to overcome the home. What is interesting, however, is that while many people I interviewed cited women as the center of survival, center of the household, and wielder of power over household decisions regarding children, very few acknowledged the degree to which women are overworked as a result of such ‘power.’ In order for women’s work, and women’s power in the reproductive sphere, to be reassessed in Mozambique and Nicaragua, gender issues instead of women’s issues will have to be at the core of attention.

Toward that end in Mozambique, WLSAMOZ completed a study in 1997 entitled “Families in a Changing Environment in Mozambique,” in which they asked the pivotal question: which survival strategies modify the gender and power relations within families in terms of access and control of resources and the exercise of reproductive rights? The study explicitly defines households as “social units of co-operation and generators of the production and reproduction strategies of their members” (13). This study confirms my hypotheses about women, work and feminism in Mozambique. In some ways, women in Mozambique assert power through the sphere of the home and family and have deliberative, decision-making power as men become increasingly less central in this sphere. However, women’s increased power often simply takes the form of increased work within a traditionally defined set of roles:

In a society that is particularly affected by the absence of men, through emigration or war, it is possible to speak, although cautiously, of an alteration in power relations or rather a transfer of power, although provisional and not very visible. If the woman continues to be subordinated by the place for which she is destined, as clearly expressed in the education of girls, and by the functions that she has to fulfill in sustaining the home and routine problem resolution, she is gaining a new visibility in the private and public spheres. While there are signs that show a certain transfer of powers, it is questionable whether the woman’s accumulation of functions is any more than an addition to her tasks without altering the social role(s) destined for her [emphasis mine] (19).

Women’s increased functions in the public and private spheres of work, home and family do not appear to have been accompanied by a transformation of the gendered power relations between women and men within these spheres. Eulalia Temba (of WLSAMOZ) agrees that FRELIMO’s lack of a program of emancipation for women in the reproductive sphere has not only led to more work for women and less work for men, but has also left untouched the persistence of gender violence in the home:

There were changes in the public sphere, but all things still the same in private: double burden, gender violence, violence against women. We know there are FRELIMO members, educated men, who are violent with their wives, and not helping their wives at home. In the urban area, more men may help women. In the rural areas, culture and tradition are still very strong. For a man to do a woman’s job is not well received.

Because of the hierarchical relationship established between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work,’ women are made better by performing the tasks assigned to men, while men are made worse by performing the tasks assigned to women.

Nina Berg and Aase Gundersen (1991) argue that the concept of equality that has been articulated in Mozambique has been the “broader socialist concept of equality, which has been introduced without any specific analysis of gender issues” (251). They spell out very clearly the gendered implications this has on the continuing sexual division of labor in the country, and on women’s unacknowledged performance in productive and reproductive labor:

With the emphasis on participation in production and decisionmaking, the notions of equality and emancipation, as put forward by the Mozambican authorities, have the male model as norm; women should be emancipated to be more like men. This approach overlooks the fact that women are already responsible for the majority of the country’s agricultural production, namely the family farm labor, in addition to trading activities in the informal sector, extensive household tasks and child-rearing. The traditional sexual division of labor, especially in rural areas, leaves women with little time to assume additional duties in the name of equality and emancipation (251).

Lina Magaia, writer, Parliamentarian and long-time Mozambican activist, gives a very simple yet profound everyday example of how women and men need to have equal political status rights in the reproductive realm of the family:

Women and men believe things should be that way. They have to feel it. Women are feeling it in their blood. They developed the family themselves. Why do I depend on him? For example, a woman had her baby on her back, and she wanted to dance. So, she took the baby and gave it to the husband. This is a little example of freedom. It is representative of having the same rights as men.

Women are beginning to ask the questions that challenge the gendered division of labor in the home. As Ana Fernandes states, “The role of women in the family is still traditional. Even if a women works outside the home, she is still responsible for the cooking, cleaning, etc. There are four children in my family: two girls and two boys. We cook lots of meals for the father. Why doesn’t he do that for himself?”


The Sandinista and FRELIMO revolutions both achieved major advancements for women in terms of participation in economic production. Such participation gave them a greater sense of their own abilities, capacities, rights, and desires. However, the sexual divison of labor has been half-challenged by both revolutions. Women have been encouraged to take on men’s roles. In fact, women will often gain an increased sense of self-respect if they can “do the same thing a male can do.” What did not occur was either the encouragement of men to engage in “women’s work” or a questioning of the status attributed to the gendered roles in the sexual division of labor, much less the division itself. As a result, the sexual division of labor in the household and family economy remains intact, as it has in every other “revolutionary” society known to woman. As Catherine MacKinnon has stated, the type of liberation achieved in most socialist societies renders women as free as men to work outside the home, while men remain free from work within it (1989:10). The same can be said of capitalist economies. In other words, socialist economies or neoliberal economies in an era of globalization will perpetuate the same gendered inequalities as long as the global sexual division of labor, both within and between countries, remains unchallenged.

The point of this article has not been to flesh out the changes that a neoliberal economic agenda has ushered into Mozambique and Nicaragua in the post-revolutionary period.7 It is clear that the neoliberal policies of structural adjustment, privatization and deregulation are forcing a reduced role of the domestic state in providing a basic standard of living for the citizens of both countries. It is also clear that such policies have an exacerbated effect on women as the primary caretakers of familial survival. Rather, what I have tried to show is that socialist economies have often made the same mistakes as capitalist economies when it comes to women. The gendered inequality that globalization perpetuates today, between the developed and the developing nations, and within each, is based on an international sexual division of labor that rests upon gendered notions of production, reproduction, paid work, unpaid work, subsistence production, commercial production, food cropping, cash cropping, and, perhaps most importantly, development. Today, work for pay (production) is work for men and women; work for free (reproduction) is work for women alone. As long as this sexual division of labor in the reproductive sphere persists while women are participating in increased numbers in the paid economy, women will continue to carry an undue burden, men’s roles will continue to be in question, and women’s subordinate status will be perpetuated globally.

Let me be clear: the achievements of these revolutions cannot be understated, particularly in the areas of health, education, and access to basic economic resources for populations that for centuries had been denied their basic rights by dictatorial and colonial authorities. However, the greatest limitation of both of these revolutions was their inability (or unwillingness) to translate such public, political and economic gains in the productive sphere of the state and the market into private political, economic, and cultural gains in the reproductive sphere of home and family. What is perhaps most striking is the fact that two countries, on two different continents, with very different cultural histories, produced such similar stories about women’s experiences within contemporary Marxist-Leninist revolutions. Post-revolutionary societies will remain as unequal for women as non-revolutionary societies so long as the sexual division of labor and the secondary status of women in the sphere of home and family remain unchallenged.


1. In Mozambique, I traveled to each of the three regions of the country, Nampula in the North, Beira in the Center, and Maputo in the South, interviewing women from both patrilineal and matrilineal societies. In Nicaragua, I conducted interviews in Managua, León, Granada and Matagalpa. I used a snowball sampling technique, making contacts for my interviews through scholars and activists of each country in the New York area, followed by outreach on the ground in each country to revolutionary leaders, party leaders, women’s organizational leaders, members of parliament, and directors of autonomous women’s organizations and NGOs. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, or Portuguese and were assisted by translators in each country. Both the original language and the translations were recorded to ensure accuracy.

2. There has been much debate in the literature over the terms ‘developing’ and ‘Third World’ to describe the countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East that have historically been incoporated into the global economy as colonies of European powers and producers of raw materials. Each of these terms is flawed, Euro-centric, and based on a linear, hierarchical understanding of world cultural, political, social and economic development. ‘Post-colonial’ offers an alternative, but can be misleading given the continuation of neo-colonial relationships globally. I have yet to find a satisfactory alternative, nor can I argue for a preference among the three out of context. I will use each of these terms interchangeably.

3. The actions of the IMF and the World Bank in preventing the increased manufacturing of cashews in Mozambique have been well documented. See Hanlon (1996) and the 1999 United Nations Mozambique Country Report.

4. Source: Martha Luz Padilla & Nyurka Pérez, ‘La Mujer SemiProletaria,’ (Center for Investigations and Studies of Agrarian Reform [CIERA], 1981; cited in Chavez Metoyer, 1997: 123).

5. ‘Dumba-Nengue’ is a southern Mozambican proverb which means that “you have to trust your feet” (Magaia, 1988: 2). In her account of the counter-insurrgent RENAMO forces in the Mozambican ‘civil war’, Lina Magaia explains how “most of the peasants abandoned their fertile lands and profitable cashew trees after the MNR [RENAMO] plundered their fields, burned their homes, press-ganged their sons, and raped their wives and daughters. Those who ‘trusted their feet’ survived, but the areas to which they fled were less hospitable so that today they live in poverty” (Isaacman, 1996: 2). Today, dumba-nengue, perhaps a symbol of globalization, refers both to the notion that you have to keep on running to survive, and to the actual informal markets women have created to do just that.

6. See, for example, Mohanty et al. (1991), Jaquette (1994), Mikell (1997).

7. For this argument, see my article (Disney, 2003).


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