Economic Empowerment

by Raina DeFonza

For postcolonial women, their hard work in the home goes unpaid. There is not financial value attributed to the domestic tasks they complete, despite the fact that they contribute substantially to the running of the household. Furthermore, because women spend most of their days working in the home, preparing meals, producing food stuffs, caring for children, or other domestic tasks, they cannot take jobs outside of the home. They rarely have any other marketable skills besides their domestic abilities. Often these women do, however, utilize the kitchen as

a means of financial empowerment. They parlay their knowledge of foodways and their domestic skills into business ventures, selling food on the streets or running small restaurants or food stalls. From these ventures, women not only experience monetary gain, they also experience “familial wealth” (Abarca); they forge ties with the community, are able to provide jobs for their family members and cook for their families while working. Their domestic knowledge is cultivated into a means for economic and communal empowerment.

In the public sphere, women are able to manipulate their traditional gender roles of “cook” and “food transformer” into tools for business.  Women will sometimes sell or trade their cooked or prepared foodstuffs. They make money from letting their children sell prepared snacks or meals in the street. This monetary income can be a source of economic power for these women who otherwise have no financial control in the household. Women may open their own food establishments, such as food stalls or vendor stands in the streets. Sometimes, if their businesses are successful, the women are able to open more permanent establishments, as opposed to the collapsible units they often work out of. The businesses, nevertheless, are an opportunity for the women to profit financially from traditional gender tasks such as cooking and food production. Their domesticity in this case is a source of liberation.

Not only do these businesses provide them with economic stability, but they also help the women to forge connections to the community and help them to support other members of their family by providing them with jobs. For example, in Mexico and Central America, public kitchens are often places of community gathering, and women who run them tend to have great community influence. The kitchens allow them to assist and reach out to members of their community, and thus make them feel as though their communities are rich and more connected.

Meredith E. Abarca, author of  Charlas Culinarias: Mexican Women Speak from their Public Kitchens, calls this “familial wealth” : the non-financial benefits that women achieve through owning and operating their own public kitchens. Familial wealth includes the personal, communal, cultural and personal gains, such as providing jobs for family, supporting their community and fulfilling personal desires and dreams.

This page is part of a larger project entitled “Domesticity and Kitchens” by student researcher Raina DeFonza. Please go back to the Table of Contents to further explore this project.

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