An analysis of sustainable livelihoods : a case study of low-wage employment of African woman at a tertiary institution in Durban, South Africa.
Stotler, Elizabeth Ryan.
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For many workers throughout the world, earnings from employment do not provide a way out of poverty. Given their low earnings, the working poor often rely on additional resources in order to make ends meet. Employing a combination of diverse assets as part of a livelihood strategy allows a poor household to minimize their vulnerability to shocks and stresses. The sustainable livelihoods framework is a useful tool for analyzing livelihoods, and how livelihood strategies can help a household reduce their economic vulnerability. When viewed within the context of the sustainable livelihoods framework, low-wage employment can be regarded as one of many tools poor households use to sustain their livelihood. In South Africa, the households of African women are typically the most vulnerable to poverty, and their access to labor earnings and other resources is often limited. In this study, I investigate the livelihood strategies of a group of African women engaged in very low-wage employment at a tertiary institution. I adopt a qualitative methodology and collect primary data from semi-structured interviews with 20 cleaners who work at a university in the city of Durban. Although the sample is small and select, there are many characteristics of the women and the households in which they live, which mirror national patterns. The majority of women in the sample were not married but all had at least one child, and most of the women received no support from the child’s father. Although these women receive very low returns to their employment, their earnings are a critical component of their livelihood strategy. However, social grant income is also important in augmenting income earned from very low-wage work. Notwithstanding very low earnings, there is also some attempt to insure their livelihoods against negative shocks through an insurance policy and participation in a savings club. The livelihoods of the women remain vulnerable, however, because their job is outsourced, their employment is secured only through short-term contracts, and they have little opportunity for advancement. Nonetheless, for these women, an insecure low-paying job is better than no job at all.