Gender benders good for business in Tanzania

Date: January 1, 1970
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Dar es Salaam, March 27: Men are supposed to do hard work, support the family financially and make sure that there is enough food on the table while women do petty-jobs, take care of the children and please their husbands. But in the bustling capital of Tanzania, there are plenty of gender benders that not only shatter these stereotypes but also show that doing so is good for business.

Take for example the Masaai men who, after swallowing their macho pride, have found a thriving new livelihood braiding the hair of women. The braiding of each other’s hair by is common amongst the Masaai, taught during the rites of passage into manhood.
In the Ilala area of Dar-es-Salaam, many Maasai men are turning this skill into a good income doing the women’s hairdressing style famous as sangita – using imported hair from India.
It is a remarkable economic opportunity for the men who say that in the early 80’s they would never have tried to become a woman’s hairdresser because if found out they would be punished by the elders. Now, having a source of income and the softening of mfumo dume (gender attitudes) has opened the doors to a thriving business.
Moi Salamba, 32, left his family in Enduleni village in Arusha in 1999, and came to Dar es Salaam to look for a better life instead of being a farmer. He says, “Nowadays my family in Arusha depend on me and I thank God that I manage to survive here in Dar es Salaam and send money home.”
He reflects that when he started most of the women would say “they were not confident that we men could do their hair as well as women, but nowadays things have changed a lot and they appreciate what we are doing.”
Tanzanian women love the fine quality braiding. Speaking while the Maasai man was doing her hair, Mwajuma, 22, said: “I am very happy with the hairdressing by the men. My friends say my hair looks gorgeous. It’s good that mfumo dume does not exists like it used to. Before people were discriminated against in terms of their gender and sex.”
Salamba says that the men don’t see hairdressing as just “women’s work” but an art form that women and men with the right skills are equally capable of. Salamba believes that in the age of globalisation one has to be versatile. Many of the men travel as far as South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to earn money braiding women’s hair.
Kissa Kyamba, aged 30, works at a newspaper printing plant as a pre-press technician. She has been in this profession for eight years now and knows how it feels like to be disregarded by the society because of her job.
Her main task at the plant is to prepare materials for printing newspapers. She transforms text and pictures into finished pages and using special aluminum plates that she makes for the printing plates of the pages.
“Everyday that I reach work, and I put on my overall, I feel proud of myself because I have been able to do what most women wouldn’t do,” starts Kyamba. She recalls how her sacrifice to do what the society calls ‘weird’ for a woman to do has cost her.
In the first place, her uncle was against her decision to study a course on graphics, arts and printing in 1999 that would lead her to the job she is doing now. But she ignored his wishes and went on to pursue what she wanted because she had already set her mind on it.
But that doesn’t really pain Kyamba; a recent betrayal is what still strikes her heart. Her husband left her three years ago to take care of their two sons aged six and three years old and left her on her own. “I know why he left me, it is because of the job I am doing. Men tend to think that women shouldn’t do such work. But I am not doing this because I am a woman, but because I love this work and because I have to take care of my family,” she says.
Mahmood Ramadhan, 27, has been working in saloons for four years now doing what he does best – pedicure and manicure – scrubbing and painting women’s nails. Although when he first started doing it he found it weird, he has learnt to love what he does. Ramadhan admits that what he does is still viewed like a job that a man shouldn’t do, but it is women who actually like the fact that men do their nails.
“I have heard many women complain that if other women do their nails they don’t do them well because of jealousy. That is, they don’t want them to look better than them. But a man would want a woman to look her best, so we do them well. Maybe we should keep doing this then,” he says with a laugh.
Professor Sebastian Lutahoire, professor of behaviour sciences and ethics at Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam says that gender stereotypes affect what people view as the “right” job for a man or a woman.
“If the society has determined that a woman can’t jump or shout in public, then she herself sets it in her mind that she can’t do so. But sometimes circumstances push us to do things we never thought we would do. Time and place can live someone with no option than to do a job forbidden by the society for them to do. It’s either you take it or live it,” he says.
The professor adds: “And it is a risk for the person who dares to go against the norms set by the society. The only thing that will help them sail through is determination to accomplish the goals they have set.” The more stereotypes are challenged, he adds, the more likely they are to crumble – especially when this makes business sense.
Neema Mbuja and Esther Mngodo are writers based in Tanzania. This article, produced during a GL “Business Unusual” training workshop, is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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