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Rights group in Tanzania touts cash handouts for single mothers

A women’s rights group in Tanzania is touting the creation of social safety nets and resilience programs to cushion female-led families from economic woes inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Single mothers in the East African nation are bearing the brunt of COVID-19, experiencing everything from sudden job loss, increasing household chores or juggling work from home, all of which have pushed them to the edge of survival.

The virus and its devastating economic impacts have spelled doom for Tanzania’s single mothers working in the informal sector – disrupting businesses and decimating incomes of sole breadwinners.

Although Tanzania did not impose travel restrictions, the effects caused by the global pandemic have been widely felt by single mothers, whose business activities and jobs have been affected.

Mwajuma Hamza, the executive director of Tanzania Women Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella group striving to promote the interests of businesswomen in the private and public sectors, has advised the government to create a mechanism that would help single mothers absorb the shock from economic distress caused by COVID-19 and ensure a quick recovery.

“Single mothers have suffered a lot, they don’t see any help coming to their rescue,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Hamza advised the government to devise remedial measures for averting serious effects of the pandemic on women, especially single mothers who are often sole breadwinners.

“One of the areas which can provide quick relief and build economic resilience is cash transfer,” she said.

Juggling work

With the deadly pandemic hitting the economy and a family to feed, Matilda Mfinanga, a single mother of two, has been forced to juggle two temporary jobs as a vegetable hawker during the day and waitress at night to make ends meet.

She is among the many women in Tanzania’s commercial capital and port-city who feel the economic cost of COVID-19 on their livelihoods.

“My children and I are only surviving by the grace of God,” said Mfinanga, who lost her job in June.

Mfinanga’s 9-year-old daughter has since dropped out of a private school as she could no longer afford to foot her tuition fees.

Before she was laid off from her job as a hotelier, Mfinanga whose daughter was at a boarding school, used to enjoy working in the heart of Dar es Salaam.

But when she was laid off, her life took a dramatic turn for the worst. “I was not given any benefits, apart from my monthly salary,” she said.

With children stuck at home, single mothers like Mfinanga have been caught up in a dilemma.

Juliana Kagaruki, a single mother of two, worked as a tour guide with a private company, earning at least 900,000 Tanzanian shillings ($391) a month, until the pandemic hit. She is raising 1-year-old Antonia and 4-year-old Adrian.

“As a single parent I have always weighed all possible scenarios in my life, what would happen if I got sick, but the coronavirus and its devastating impacts was a total surprise to me,” she said.

While single mothers like her hold on to small businesses to eke out a living, Kagaruki said poor female-headed families face uncertain futures.

“This disease should be a lesson to all of us, we should always save money for future use,” she said.

Call for savings

Hidaya Kaseja, a mother of two, sat under a Jacaranda tree, shielding herself from the scorching sun, her hands tainted from the lumps of charcoal she fills into plastic containers to sell.

“When I lost my job, I spent all my savings to start this business,” she said.

It is a far cry from the hotel job she proudly held for five years at Hisaje Park, until she was laid off in January.

Now the 34-year-old mother spends hours every day sieving through dusty charcoal trying to earn money.

“I don’t like this job, but when I remember I have mouths to feed I do it carefully, “she said.

Kaseja, who sells a small container of charcoal for 2,500 Tanzanian shillings ($1.08), supports the idea of cash handouts.

“I think is a good thing to help women so that they can rise again after economic stress,” she said.

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