Wendall Westley recently completed her MPhil with a dissertation titled “Understanding the experiences and pathways of rural women towards sustainable livelihoods.” Her study sought to understand the experiences and pathways of women in rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal as they seek to secure their livelihoods.
Her study sought to understand the experiences and pathways of women in rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal as they seek to secure their livelihoods. She conducted in-depth interviews with eight women and her findings indicate that the women follow varied pathways including formal, informal, and unpaid work to secure their livelihoods. Participants used a variety of strategies to bring in an income; from beading to running a spaza shop to hiring out traditional attire, and baking. She also found that the women relied on the regular and stable income source provided by the government grants they received. Many invested some of their income in stokvels and many used back-up strategies if their typical income stream was impacted. Her research found that despite employing all these strategies, the women were still vulnerable to shocks, setbacks, and changes in the economic climate like the Covid-19 pandemic which increased their vulnerability and food insecurity.
Her research also revealed that these women experience the impacts of being based in rural and under-resourced areas and they also face gender bias which disadvantaged them regarding what choices were available for their own education, their career and income opportunities, and what decisions they could make within the home. Life events such as domestic abuse, violence, death in the family, and pregnancy negatively impacted their livelihood choices and opportunities.
Her research highlighted that as the women seek to secure their livelihoods, they draw from their financial, human, public and social assets to support their livelihoods despite the complex and challenging circumstances they live in.
Her research indicated that these assets can be further strengthened if non-profit organisations and the government initiate and implement support and capacity-building programmes for rural women who are mainly engaged in the informal economy.