If this blog post was published in the 1950s, it would raise some eyebrows mainly because of how traditional beliefs were hammered into shaping perspectives and observing the hierarchy that defined gender roles. 

The typical stereotype for women to take care of the home and the kids is not a generally accepted common set-up in today’s cultural environment. The fact that the economy is currently set up the way it is, doesn’t allow for the average individual to not try to secure their own bag.

According to research by Post-Doctoral Fellow, Bianca Parry, and Professor Puleng Segalo, Head of Research and Graduate Studies at the University of South Africa, 38% of households in South Africa are headed by women. They largely – or solely – support the home financially as breadwinners and that amounts to nearly 6.1 million homes in which women are the primary breadwinners.

On today’s Womenomics Thursday, we speak to Independent Personal Finance Coach, Eunice Sibiya as well as female breadwinners, sharing the lived realities of their pursuit to building wealth, while balancing the power that comes with bringing home the bacon.  

Definition Of A Female Breadwinner

Sibiya describes being a breadwinner as someone who is financially responsible for taking care of the household. “Often when we bring in the gender connotation, historically, the males were generally expected to generate income and take care of the financial needs of the household while the female is expected to take care of the domestic home duties,” she says. She further explains how in black families, this would play out in different scenarios, for example, men would leave their wives in rural areas to pursue employment opportunities in the city to provide for the family back at home. 

“The breadwinner phenomenon plays out in different ways for many women. It could be by virtue of the female earning more than their partner, the partner being unemployed – making the female the main income generator in the home. It could also be by arrangement where both partners agree for the female to financially take care of the household or choosing to have your partner focus on starting a business and while the profit comes in slowly, the female takes over the financial needs of the family. 

“I grew up in a female-led home, with my grandmother being the breadwinner. The roles have turned, now that I am the financially stable” .

“I take no shame in being a female breadwinner; in fact, I take pride in my accomplishment because it takes a lot of perseverance and hard work. As an entrepreneur, it means I constantly find myself having to work harder and smarter than my last win – having to get into spaces and share ideas that could help generate more economic freedom.

As a young woman from a female-led home, growing up with my grandmother all my life has made me appreciate the position I am in now. For me, there’s power in being a female breadwinner because I believe that as women, we wear so many hats and one of them is taking care of our family. Women are nurturers by birth, and this can include finances. It’s in me to build and make sure that my people are well taken care of.  

In my opinion, being able to provide symbolises growth, success, and independence. Being able to provide for my grandmother, by any means possible brings me pure joy and contentment. Its’ honestly the highest level of love and blessings”. Lungile Gunundu – Entrepreneur 

“What makes it difficult is external opinions, especially from family. People from the outside tend to make it seem like it’s unnatural to lead financially” .

“I’ve never understood the perception that women step up because a man lacks, or men are not giving us the support that we perhaps need. Women can step up anywhere. Both men and women can be breadwinners, irrespective of who is supporting who. In my relationship, we have a mutual understanding and a realisation that we are both human beings, and at the moment, I am the one with a stable job. Anything can happen tomorrow. His salary can be fifteen times more than mine– and then what? This whole dynamic for me simply indicates that I am the person who has been granted the opportunity to take care of my family and when the wheels turn, it will be an opportunity for him.

What makes it difficult is external opinions, especially from family. People from outside tend to make it seem unusual. With questions like “how could you be the one taking care of the household financially,” makes you seem like an idiot for stepping up to take care of your own family. 

It brings me so much joy to learn that I can provide for my family, my son and my partner in whatever way that I can. At the end of the day, everyone is playing their part – just because I’m the only one bringing in money, doesn’t mean I have power. There shouldn’t be power dynamics in being able to contribute something for your family. Money is important but it’s merely a part of what makes a family run.” – Thandeka Mmbadi , Fundraiser 

“As a breadwinner, I always remember to put myself first because if I don’t, I will be no use to my family” .

“Being a mother of three and the only one who is permanently employed with a higher salary bracket in my family, between myself and my partner, I take care of 70% of our finances, and with my parents being pensioners, I help take care of their needs on a month to month on anything their pension cannot cover. All this cannot be possible when I lack emotional support. I generally struggle communicating my feelings which affects my capability of carrying this through. 

I believe that being a breadwinner has enabled me to have the mindset of stepping up to any challenge, especially in the workplace where women are still fighting for their positions of authority to be taken seriously, and to show their capabilities to lead and steer forward in strength and resilience.

I always remember to also put myself first because if I don’t, I will be no use to my family. We’re living in a time where support is very important. I cannot over exceed myself as I will end up suffering from burnout. No matter what the circumstances are, my family will always receive support from me”. – Nomalanga Nhlapho – Banker

“I applaud and respect women who are playing the role of being a mother, leader, and financial provider in their families. With that being said, let’s not underestimate the need for emotional support,” says Sibiya. “We need to have these conversations, feel comfortable to ask for support if we are overladen emotionally, and we need to have channels available for us to feel supported, so we don’t have to be strained as breadwinners. I would advise women to seek assistance in the form of a coach, mentor, or psychologist, should they feel overwhelmed”, she concludes.

To get more tips and inspiration for harnessing the freedom and power that comes from a breadwinning mindset, Art of Superwoman recommends, Jeniffer Barrett’s book, Think Like a Breadwinner.