Providing Better Lives to the Women of Ethiopia
A nine year old girl who has never been to school hikes more than a dozen miles a day to collect wood to sell at the market. Her load weighs 70 pounds, almost as much as she does. On her way into the city, hunched over by her burden as she walks, her face and stomach parallel to the ground, groups of men casually pace by her, herding their droves of donkeys carrying similar products to the same market she is headed. Still she walks, trying not to slip on the undulating muddy roads of Addis Ababa, loose twigs digging into her back, head bowed toward the ground, praying her day’s earnings will be enough to feed her family for the night.
In Ethiopia, a female head of household can own oxen but cannot use them. Men primarily have final say in how donkeys are used, principally relegating them for their own, “productive” (i.e. generating income) responsibilities like carrying vegetables and fuel wood to the market. As most womens’ responsibilities are primarily domestic in nature, there is no need to use a luxury good for non-essential and non-“productive” tasks.
Gender Equality in Ethiopia
The example of a female fuel wood carrier is but one illustration of the state of gender equality in Ethiopia. However, when visiting Addis Ababa, it is the most visible instance. In the United States the issue of gender equality is debated mainly in business terms of equal pay and glass ceilings. It is difficult to focus on solving Ethiopian business issues when the female owner of a farm animal restricted from using that farm animal in her daily work.
Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole features substantial gender disparities in access to and retention in education, and high maternal mortality and adolescent fertility rates.
Policy and Culture
Ethiopia has made strides toward greater gender equality through, specifically in including an article in its constitution detailing protected rights specifically for women. These rights include equality in marriage, the right to equal employment, and rights to maternity leave with pay, the right to acquire, administer, control, use and transfer property, with emphasis on land and inheritance issues and the right to access family planning and education. However, as in any country (developed, developing, or undeveloped), having national structures and policies does not ensure that problems will be solved.
Add in the fact that policy rarely changes culture. More often culture changes policy. In many rural (and sometimes urban) areas of Ethiopia, this culture includes female genital mutilation, early marriage, forced marriage, and widespread attitudes and social values holding that women men have more of a right to education. For this reason, the work of small (but passionately devoted) organizations like the Former Women Fuel Wood Carriers Association (FWFWCA) and the local partner organizations of Cordaid is even more important.
The Importance of Gender Equality to Development
It’s no secret that empowering women in societies, particularly those in low and lower-middle income developing countries like Ethiopia (the country was ranked 169th in GDP per capita out of 180 countries by the World Bank in 2012), is of utmost importance to economic development. Simply in terms of education, educated mothers have a multiplier effect on future generations. Education for women increases productivity, lowers fertility (higher birth rates among the poor can be bad as it increases the burden for survival), and can break the vicious cycle of poverty. Improving gender inequality can reap significant rewards including falling infant and child mortality, improved nutrition and health standards, and faster economic growth.
Help promote a more equal, economically sustainable Ethiopia by supporting organizations like the Former Women Fuel Wood Carriers Association, who take the burden off the back of hundreds(??) of women, providing them a good job with a fair wage, as well as the International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia and Seeds of Africa, who both recognize the importance and economic and social need of providing a better life for the next generation of Ethiopian women.