Housing the household : gender and empowerment in South Africa
Based on in-depth interviews carried out with men and women in both male and female-headed households in the townships of Khayelitsha and Philippi in Cape Town, South Africa, the thesis examines the impact of housing finance and participation in housing projects on intra-household gender relations. The importance of the projects to the low-income, mainly female Xhosa participants is explored, not only as a means of delivering physical shelter with resulting improvement in quality of life, but also as an empowering process. In particular the impact of an external factor on power relations between men and women in male-headed households is explored, through changes in decision-making abilities and control over household resources. Following on from these shifts, and echoing wider societal changes in South Africa and beyond, the notion of a 'crisis in masculinity' is explored. The role of emotions in decision-making is highlighted, particularly in response to models and theories which exclude the emotional context of household power relations. Key findings include the degree to which empowering women outside the household does not necessarily result in a similar shift in status within the household; and the extent to which men consider their traditional authority and position as household heads undermined by their perception of growing 'women's rights'. Women living within female-headed households also present a strong case for the increasing breakdown of the traditional nuclear household, through their representation of marriage and partnership with men as not only emotionally but also economically unstable. The destabilisation of marriage is generally regarded as more problematic by men, who experience a loss of power when these fail, than by women who reported a preference for female headship. Issues raised during the fieldwork illustrate the need for an exploration of the meaning of terms such as household, headship, decision-making and empowerment, particularly where these are used in models of the household.