By Selma Lomax
Gbarnga — The perception that it is a man's world has not really changed anywhere in the globe, but nowadays in Liberia there are changing roles in homes as more female-headed households continue to emerge. With females graduating in greater numbers than ever and delaying family life to establish high-flying careers, traditional gender roles in homes are becoming a thing of the past.
As male-dominated jobs are hit by recession and more women become the household's main breadwinner, women are responsible for a greater share of purchasing decisions according to one Euro monitor report.
To be sure, a housewife and resident of Totota, a shanty city in Bong County, Mrs. Beatrice James used to be a beautiful woman. At least in her hey days, she was the toast of the town where she lives. But now, the burden of having to care for her household has taken a toll on her.
Popularly known as Children mother by all and sundry in their neighborhood, the mother-of-five plays the role of a father, mother and wife, catering for the needs of her family. However, with the loss of her husband's job, the financial tide turned for the family, pushing the husband to the position of the consumer while she became the provider.
She had learnt the hard way to accept her fate. But, Mrs. James is not alone as her story is like that of so many women in Liberia today. The country has become one run by women who labor and toil for their family. Like James, there are countless women in Liberia who have learnt the hard way that although it's a man's world, they are expected to be the breadwinners.
'It's a man's world', the men folk are often quick to remind you, but nobody cares to explain why it is still so, given the fact that the status quo has since changed. They also go thus, 'a woman is meant to be seen and not heard', comfortably forgetting that the times have changed with the tide turned.
Women in Liberia are no longer comfortable being relegated to the background. They have become champions of their home and the larger society. Many would opine that though men still claim the world belongs to them, women are actually the backbone of the structure that makes the world go round.
In a typical African setting, the man as the head of the family is seen in all light as the one to provide and cater for his family but as the society evolves, there seems to be a role reversal whereby women now cater for the family as against the past when it was the exclusive preserve of men.
From farming to small-scale business, women have become headliners when it comes to hustling. The current Bong County Superintendent, Selena Polson-Mappy, was once quoted to have said that over 30 per cent of women are now breadwinners in their various families. Although some of these women became breadwinners to augment their husband's income, the same does not hold true for all of them, as some shoulder the entire responsibility of their households.
Meanwhile, the issue of who is to cater for the family is probably one of the few areas where Christians and Muslims agree. Both religions frown at men abdicating their responsibility with the Bible even going as far as calling such a man an infidel.
Neighbors told FrontPage Africa that Mrs. Andrew Grace, a resident of Gbarnga in Bong County used to be a cheerful woman but all that has changed. She has a permanent worry look fix to her face. Despite the fact that her restaurant business requires a smiling face to attract and keep customers, Andrew had almost forgotten what it means to always wear a cheery look.
Narrating her woes in an informal setting with FrontPage Africa Saturday, she said she had been the breadwinner for the family for over 10 years and still counting. She lost her smile when the husband lost her job as a driver of Phebe Hospital.
Having lost the will to live, Mr. Andrew drowned himself in alcohol, with a preference for the local gin popularly known as 'Night Club'. To keep him busy again, his wife bought him a motorcycle from the proceeds of her business as a rice seller at Gbarnga Broad Street.
He started business as a commercial motorcyclist, until he reportedly claimed the motorcycle was stolen. However, reports claimed that he had parked it to buy drink and when he became drunk, he walked home forgetting the motorcycle there. That was how he bungled the attempt to again provide a living for his family.
Although her business has expanded and she moved to a new site, her husband's love for the bottle has not helped much. Even saddled with helping in the running of the restaurant, he is known to filch some drinks and if his wife is to be believed, money too.
Recently, the husband simply disappeared off the radar and she has become both father and mother to her five kids who are in the secondary and primary schools in Gbarnga. She has since thrown herself into her restaurant business and sometimes leaves at 12am or spends the night there with her kids. For Joyce Godwin, her decision to work and provide for the family stemmed from the fact that her husband's income could not cater for their large family and so she took to doing business.
She said: "I know it's not my responsibility to cater for the family but if I don't want our children to suffer any need. What my husband earns is too small to care for the family. So I worked out a system with him that allows us to put our resources together and provide for the kids." Many reasons have been proffered why women take up the task of being breadwinners but none beats the fact that no woman would want her children to suffer.
For a hotelier, Mrs. Dedeh Benson, women who are real mothers would rather work hard than watch their children suffer unnecessarily. According to her, motherhood is the ultimate sacrifice ever. "Sometimes, we do this not because we want to but because our kids are involved. In my own case, I would have looked the other way but for my kids who would be at the receiving end.
"There is no good mother who would sit and watch her children suffer when she can improve the challenges. When things became tough for my family, I found it difficult at first because I was a housewife at the insistence of my husband." He added: "When the situation worsened, I had no choice but to put my hands to the task and now I have a small hotel from where my family makes ends meet."
Gloria, who has been the breadwinner for 19 years in her 20-year-old marriage, said she never bargained for such. "The man is supposed to be the sole provider in a home, but when a woman takes over, it becomes very frustrating both for the husband and the wife, because no woman goes into marriage, expecting to become the breadwinner."
"In my case, I find myself resenting my husband because this is not the life I bargained for. I just can't wait for my children to grow up, so I can take a well-deserved rest."
Katherine Flomoku, a United States of America returnee was not prepared for what she met on ground after her return. Back in the USA, her husband had no qualms about pitching in to help especially when he was laid out of his job. Fast forward few years later, circumstances led to their return home.
According to her, since their return, her husband has stopped being the man in the relationship. "I am finding it difficult to cope because not only am I the breadwinner, I also carry out my role as a wife and mother. My husband wasn't like this before, but there seems to be something in our waters that make men relinquish or abdicate their responsibilities."
But the men are not oblivious of the happenings around them. For instance, Mr. Gregory Jusu believes that one of the disadvantages of such arrangement is that when a woman is the breadwinner in a family, she loses all respect for her man.
He said: "Except in extreme cases where maybe the man is sick or incapacitated, I think it is completely wrong for a man to abandon his responsibility to the wife. Men must realize that they are men and not women and that it is their job to cater while the woman nurtures the family."
He however blamed the womenfolk for allowing their husband's take advantage of their caring nature. "In some cases, women are to blame because they gave their husbands the opportunity to abdicate their responsibilities. When you let a man know that you can do his job, why won't he let you do it?"