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Centre of African Studies: Events


The work of motherhood: company pronatalism and women workers in Congo/Zaire

The work of motherhood: company pronatalism and women workers in Congo/Zaire
Speaker: Rachel Taylor # University of Oxford
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Date and Time
2nd Dec 2020 16:00 - 2nd Dec 2020 17:30
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Union Minière, the major mining company in the Belgian Congo, and its post-independence successor Gécamines, were pronatalist, paternalistic companies par excellence.  They trained and supported boys to become workers and heads of families, and girls to be wives and mothers.  This company paternalism, and the gendered roles it created and sustained in the mid-to-late twentieth century, have been the subject of historical and sociological work on the Haut-Katanga region, as have changes in gender roles and family relationships following Gécamines’s decline in the 1990s and beyond.[1]

But, as I explore in this paper, Union Minière and Gécamines family policies did not simply create a community of male workers and their stay-at-home wives.  The company’s social engineering, including efforts to train women as “housewives”, themselves rested on the labour of its female employees. Crucially, company pronatalism facilitated these employees’ efforts to combine paid work with motherhood, including single motherhood.  Drawing on contemporary newspapers and reports, and my own interviews with women workers, I detail how women workers drew upon their paid employment to construct families and communities. Doing so upends the standard narrative of the history of gender relations on the Katangan Copperbelt. It also presents a different version of company pronatalism, one that supported some women in combining motherhood with paid employment.


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