This article explores the historical causes and consequences of gender divisions of labour in the Zambian Copperbelt. Male breadwinner and female housewife stereotypes appear to have emerged as a product of imported Christian ideologies, colonial–capitalist concerns and an economic
climate that largely enabled men to financially provide for their families. Reliant upon husbands for status and economic support, many urban women had little conjugal bargaining power. Gender divisions of labour also meant that people lacked first-hand evidence of women’s equal competence
in employment and politics, who they thus often underrated and overlooked. Such perceptions seem to have perpetuated women’s exclusion from prestigious positions – a pattern sustained by macro-economic circumstances in the early decades of Independence. Compliance with the gender
status inequalities promoted in pre-marital traditional initiation thus became necessary to marital and economic security, as well as respectability, which was not previously the case. While there were exceptions to these trends, the historical record illustrates the interplay between patterns
of resource access, internalised gender stereotypes and cultural expectations.
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