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Traditional work of women, science and technology, and human rights
This section aims at examining the often neglected area of the position of women as workers in a traditional agricultural society and the impact upon their workloads and their human rights of such agricultural technologies as have been introduced into traditional societies in Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. We are not here dealing with sophisticated technologies, as some of the other studies in this volume do, but with simple and basic technologies, some of them inherited from the distant past and some introduced in modern times. A study of such technologies in a third-world agricultural society is no doubt essential to an overall study of the impact of technology on human rights. Moreover, by focusing on the position of women we see in better perspective the overall impact of technology on the entire society.
Such a study is also important in that it provides essential background information for planning the introduction of new technologies in a manner that will be least damaging to human rights and most conducive to their furtherance in that society. Basic information regarding life in a traditional rural society, such as is contained in this chapter, is often unavailable to technological planners, who may in the absence of such information tend to formulate plans without due regard for this basic background.
The United Nations Development Programme (1980) concludes that wherever the technological working conditions of a job traditionally carried out by women are improved, this work is taken away by men. Despite the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, drafted in 1979,197 it is the authors' contention that modern science and technology has had a minimal effect on the betterment of human rights for the vast majority of women in the third world. The following brief overview of the working conditions for women in Ethiopia is presented as material to justify or refute our contention. It concentrates on the most fundamental activities of the woman: caring for her home and family, and assisting in agricultural production.
It may be observed preliminarily that the Protein-Calorie Advisory Group (PAG) of the United Nations198 states that "it must be considered a human right of women to be able to fulfil their reproductive functions in ways that imply no detrimental effect to themselves or their offspring, nor interfere with their other roles and their own personal development." The main consequence of this human right of women is the privilege of the woman to have a family (male partner and children) and the obligation, together with her partner, to look after the members of the family so that they have enough food of adequate nutritional value and are healthy and cleanly and comfortably clothed and housed. When the female and male partners look after the family, it makes sense that there should be a division of labour between them. It also makes sense that this division of labour should keep the mother as near the home as possible, so that she can easily meet the biological requirements and human right of the infants to be breast-fed. In early human societies the men would undertake the jobs that require leaving home for extended periods. Women would gather and/or produce food to process it so that it was ready to eat.199 They would also exchange or trade in the immediate vicinity of the home in order to compensate for deficiencies in food and other articles, while men did the hunting, distant trading, and other jobs that involved being at a distance from their homes.200 This division of labour became more specialized with the development of agriculture, but these specializations were complementary and were not intended, a priori, to cause sex-based economic stratification.201 In areas where hoe culture was practised, specialization of function by sex was not based on the type of agricultural operation, except for forest clearing which was done by men, and both men and women did essentially the same operations, even if they specialized in the crops they grew. For example, in traditional Ghana, men planted and harvested yams while women grew maize and vegetables.202
But, with the integration of Africa into the modern world economy, the resulting emphasis on cash crops disrupted this complementarity.203 It was these crops that attracted foreign earnings and their importance to the national income meant that whatever modern agricultural technology was imported tended to be devoted to those crops. In the hoe-culture areas, the production of cash crops became men's responsibility, while women were saddled with producing all the family's food. The women thus ended up having to do much more agricultural work than the men.204 Technology thus created an imbalance not often perceived in the distribution of labour between men and women in the agricultural sector. It was thus that what Boserap205 calls the female farming system was created. Most of sub-Saharan Africa falls into this category. In the areas of plough culture, for example in Ethiopia, clearing fields of woody plants and ploughing were strictly men's responsibility.
In most of the areas under plough culture, men and women worked together, with women assisting in weeding and harvesting. With technological innovations that made weeding and harvesting easier to perform, agriculture became more and more the responsibility of men. This produced what Boserup206 calls a male farming system. Ethiopia is one of the countries least incorporated into the world economy because, for the last five centuries, it has successfully isolated itself in order to avoid domination. For this reason, its agricultural systems have not been skewed by the effect of cash crops to the same extent as those of other African countries, its exports being essentially produced along traditional lines.
The prevailing system is one of plough culture, but much female labour input is needed in weeding and harvesting. A farm management survey carried out by the Institute of Agricultural Rescarch,207 for example, found that in Bako, in western Ethiopia, the number of hours of work on the farm averaged 160 per month for the husband as against 63 for the wife. The share of women in agricultural production probably varies from area to area, but this variation has not been studied.
There is also a strictly hoe-based agricultural system in Ethiopia, for example, among the Anwak and the Nuer in the Gambella lowlands in south-west Ethiopia.208 A related form of agriculture, one in which two or more men using stout, iron-tipped, and forked digging sticks drive through into the sod and then turn it over, is found in the enset (Ensete ventricosum) growing highlands of south-western Ethiopia.209 In the hoe-culture areas, cereals (maize and sorghum) are the main crops, and in the digging-stick culture areas, root crops (taro, coleus, sweet potato) and perennial crops (enset, coffee) are cultivated. Usually, some plough culture is found mixed with the digging-stick culture, but not with the hoe culture. Again because cash crops have not distorted the hoe and digging-stick cultures, the production of food is the joint responsibility of both husband and wife. For this reason, it would be inappropriate to call it a female agricultural system. It seems therefore, that though Boserup's (1970) classification of agriculture into "women" and "men" systems is useful for the world as a whole, it breaks down in Ethiopia, where both men and women complement each other in food production.
This is not to imply, however, that the Ethiopian woman is not overworked. Besides helping in agricultural production, she has to process and cook the food and feed the family, fetch water and firewood, keep the compound, the house, and the family clean, and do many other household chores. She also carries out the transactions in the nearby markets and often also does some handicraft work, especially spinning and basketwork. Two of the authors grew up in a peasant family in northern Ethiopia and the third author has worked in agricultural research for many years in Ethiopia, so they know this phenomenon intimately (though they have also benefited from the knowledge of others210 and collected primary data through interviews).
Women in Agricultural Production in Ethiopia
About half of the area of Ethiopia is settled by pastoralists. In discussing the role of women in agriculture, therefore, we will look only at the cultivated half. Even there, our emphasis will be on the dominant plough culture, with only a generalized look at the hoe and digging-stick cultures.
In the areas of plough culture, women, together with children and teenagers, clean fields of uprooted plants and other debris before they are sown, at least when what is being sown is tef. They also weed and carry harvested produce for stooking by a threshing ground. When not involved in ploughing, the men also help in weeding. Men plough, harvest (using sickles), stook the harvest and thresh and winnow. Women and children help the men with the harvesting, and male children also help with threshing.
The removal of uprooted plants during sowing is relatively simple and does not call for implements, though a rake is helpful if the soil is not too moist. Weeding is a heavier job and, unlike ploughing, is not assisted even by implements, let alone by animal power. Because the grains grown are mostly small (tef, barley, wheat, finger millet, linseed, niger seed, lentils, peas, broad beans, and chickpeas), and, perhaps more important, because technological innovation is controlled by the men, sowing is by broadcasting. In the absence of row planting, the women and children cannot even use their hoes (these are used for backyard gardening), except in fields of maize and sorghum, to speed up weeding. Harvesting is primarily the work of men, with women and children only helping. The sickle has, therefore, been developed to ease the mechanical removal of the plant from the field.
It is interesting that for the activities that women carry out on their own at home seed-cleaning, grinding, and cooking - technologies have been developed to increase the speed and efficiency of the operations. The women are totally in charge of these activities and, understandably, they have developed the technologies they need. In weeding and the cleaning of fields, their work inputs have to fit around what the men do, and the initiative for technological development is taken out of their hands. It is noteworthy also that technologies developed by women for seed-cleaning at home have been adopted by men in seed-cleaning at the threshing ground. It is, in fact, not unlikely that these seed-cleaning items of equipment were developed by women when they were fully in charge of food production, before men came into it with the plough.
An important factor in assessing the impact on human rights of any form of employment is the input in terms of time. There is no study from Ethiopia known to the authors on the time input into agricultural production broken down by sex. But we have data given by Friedrich et al.211 on total labour input into agricultural production. These data were collected before the land reform and on the whole they refer to farmers with relatively large parcels of land. The land reform abolished landlessness and to do this reduced the amount of land held by individuals. If we take two hectares as an average present-day holding, we can scale down the figures. As the peak weeding season is in July-August, we can assume that the man would be too occupied with ploughing at this time to help much with weeding; we would therefore be more or less correct in attributing the labour put into weeding to women, assisted by children whenever they are available. Nowadays most children go to school, and we can thus assume that harvesting is done by the husband, with the wife helping with perhaps a quarter of the workload. Men usually go over fields of sorghum with the plough, with the furrows spaced some distance apart before the internodes elongate. This is done to control weeds, and it has thus been categorized as weeding.
In coffee production, the digging and slashing, which we are categorizing as weeding, are done by men, and harvesting by women. We can thus use the data given by Friedrich et al.212 to construct table I for Bako, Holeta, and Mojo, which are all grain-producing areas in central Ethiopia, and for Jimma in western Ethiopia, which is primarily a coffee-producing area with some grain. After the revolution, the production of grain for food was greatly increased in the Jimma area, and the situation now probably approaches that of Bako.
From table 1, we can see that in the medium rainfall areas of Bako and Holeta, the work of men and women in agricultural production is more or less equally distributed. In the low-rainfall area of Mojo, weeding seems to be a smaller problem than in the others and the work of women is accordingly reduced. The workload of women in the high-rainfall area of Jimma is heavier than that of men owing to coffee harvesting. This is the nearest situation in Ethiopia to that noted for many other African countries,213 where the work of women is increased owing to the introduction of cash crops. But while in the other countries the increase is caused by the relegation to women of the responsibility for food production, in Ethiopia this has happened because it used to be the women's job to harvest the small amounts of coffee required for home use before it became such an important cash crop.
Even though there are no time-budget data on the digging-stick culture of south-western Ethiopia, the description of the agricultural system214 convinces one that in that system also men and women share the responsibility for agricultural production approximately equally. The impression one gets215 of the small strictly hoe-culture parts of Ethiopia is also one of agricultural production for subsistence jointly undertaken by both sexes.
This is not, however, to imply that women are not exploited by men. There are many other activities needed to maintain the family in which men are not involved, but which put a heavy burden on the women. These include food preparation, including the fetching of fuel and water, and keeping the compound, house, and family clean.
Table 1. Labour input into agricultural production by a husband and wife (usually assisted by children in the off-school months of July and August)
Work input in man-days
a. Sowing takes place during the last ploughing. As the man
ploughs over what he has sown, his wife follows, piking up
uprooted plants, at least when the grain to be sown is tef This
figure is thus the same as the number of man-hours needed for the
b. This is in addition to the last ploughing, which, in this case, is for transplanting chili pepper seedlings. Source: Friedrich et al. (note 207).
In the plough-culture areas of Ethiopia, the threshing and winnowing of grain on the threshing ground and the bringing of the harvest to the homestead with pack animals is the responsibility of the men. In some areas men also build storage facilities, while in others the women do so; often both are involved, with the men making outdoor structures and the women indoor containers. The responsibility of the women also covers the year-long budgeting of family grain consumption, as well as the further, more careful, cleaning and grinding of grain, and fermenting and cooking food. Grain sales for cash are usually decided upon jointly.
During the agricultural production season, and often even at other times, the working day for the woman starts "when the cock crows," which is about 3 a.m. She grinds grain using a grinding stone until it gets light enough for her to go to the river to fetch water. Then she returns and continues to grind while cooking lunch, which takes one to two hours, depending on whether she is using the partially pre-cooked shro or some other ingredient. If it is a working day coming after one or three successive working days, cooking will include the baking of the flat leavened bread, 'njera. She bakes enough for two days, which, for a family of five to seven, takes about 21/2 to 31/2 hours. Then she cleans the house. Otherwise, she goes to the field to help with the agricultural work at about 8-9 a.m., taking lunch for her husband. She returns home at about 5-6 p.m. to cook the evening meal, and everybody except her goes to bed by about 9 p.m. If there are milch cows, every other day she shakes the accumulated curdled milk until the butter separates out. Alternatively, she may do this early in the morning.
If the grain she has is maize or sorghum, it is now that she wet grinds what she had dry ground previously, and makes it into a dough ready for baking in the morning. In dry grinding, maize and sorghum are simply broken into chips, which are sieved and winnowed of their husks to clean them. Then they are soaked for about 36 hours and wet ground into a paste for making batter. With all other grain, the dry grinding produces a flour which is sieved and, in some areas, warmed up on a hot plate and then mixed with water to form a batter.
Generally, up to half the days in the month are religious holidays or weekends and thus are relatively free of work. During the more minor of these holidays, besides cooking, the woman cleans the grain ready for grinding, washes clothes, and cleans the house. In the late evening she may also wet grind sorghum or maize. Unless her grain is maize, sorghum, or barley, immediately after baking she makes the batter for fermenting for the next baking. The batter from wet-ground sorghum and maize is made the evening before the baking morning, and the batter from barley needs to be kept for at least three whole days with daily kneading.
During the off-season, she has to prepare spices and an important component of cooking, the shro, which is a partly pre-cooked and ground mixture of field peas, broad beans, and chickpeas to make food preparation easier. Once a week, during a working day, she has to hammer her grinding mill to ensure that its surfaces are rough enough for effective grinding. All these activities (see table 2) overload the woman during the agricultural season, or any season for that matter. Table 3 gives an estimate of the work a woman must do in a working day including her involvement in agricultural production. Because she has to bake bread ('njera) every other day, the schedule is arranged in a two-day module, but since this module is disrupted by religious holidays she must grind grain in sufficient quantities to safeguard against such disruption. However, as already pointed out, wet grinding has to be done the evening before the baking morning.
A look at table 3 shows us that the peasant housewife does not get enough time to sleep. When she has to prepare food based on maize or sorghum, she may sleep for only three-and-a-half hours. This seemed so incredible that the authors checked this point against several independently collected sets of data, and the information is correct. Obviously, without the religious holidays making it possible for her to sleep longer (even then only seven hours if the following day is a working day) to recuperate, she could not go on. There are between five and eight religious holidays a month when agricultural activities and grinding and pounding are not allowed. These are the 7th, 12th, 21st, 27th and 29th days of the 30-day Ethiopian month in Tigray and Eritrea, and the 5th, 7th, 12th, 19th, 21st, 23rd, 27th, and 29th in the highlands of northern Shewa. Saturday and Sunday are also non-working days. Besides these, a village will have one or two additional minor saints' days which have been raised to a major status for local religious reasons, for example, because they are patron saints of the village or the family. If women work as hard as table 3 shows, it is important to know both the number of working days per month and the number of working days that occur in succession. Table 4 has been prepared to show this for both highland northern Shewa and Tigray and Eritrea. In making this fable, the one or two additional religious non-working days specific to the community or the family have been left out.
Table 2. Time requirement for processing enough food to last a family of five to seven people for one weeka
Target of activity
Total time required (hrs)
|Tef||Cleaning (1.2 x 3.5); grinding (3.5 x 3.5); sieving(0.3 x 3.5), warming flour on hot plate, and making thick batter with cold water (0.5 x 3.5); thinning batter and baking (2.6 x 3.5)||28.35|
|Sorghum||Cleaning (1.8 x 3.5); dry grinding (1.8 x 3.5); cleaning after grinding (I x 3.5); wet grinding after 36 hours of soaking (2.9 x 3.5); making batter (boiling a quarter of it, mixing the whole into batter and leaving for the night; or else warming the whole thick dough in portions on hot plate and thinning and leaving for the night) (0.5 x 3.5); or else thorough kneading (2.75 x 3.5), thinning to batter and baking (2.9 x 3.5)||39.2 or 46.0|
|Maize||Cleaning (0.8 x 3.5); dry grinding (3.0 x 3.5); wet grinding as in sorghum (3.5 x 3.5); making batter as in sorghum (0.6 x 3.5); thinning batter and baking(3 x 3.5)||37.5|
|Finger millet||Cleaning (1.25 x 3.5); grinding (2.45 x 3.5); sieving and making batter as in sorghum (0.6 x 3.5); thinning batter and baking (3 x 3.5)||25.5|
|Barley||Cleaning (1.25 x 3.5); dehusking with mortar (0.67 x 3.5); grinding (6.4 x 3.5); making thick dough and kneading (0.5 x 3.5); 2 further daily kneading (2 x 0.5 x 3.5); thinning to batter with warm water and immediate baking (3 x 3.5)||44.9|
|Free-threshing barley||Used only for snacks and for raised bread on special occasions. Does not figure in routine food preparation.|
|Wheat for leavened bread||Cleaning (I x 3.5); polishing (0.5 x 3.5); dry grinding (4 x 3.5); sieving (0.5 x 3.5); making a dough and partial cooking by boiling (I x 3.5); kneading after 3 hours (I x 3.5); further after 3 more hours(1 x 3.5); baking (3.5 x 3.5)||43 75|
|Wheat for unleavened bread||Cleaning (I x 3.5); polishing (0.5 x 3.5); dry grinding (4 x 3.5); sieving (0.5 x 3.5); kneading thoroughly and baking (5.5 x 3.5)||40.25|
a. This assumes that bread is made out of one of the grains only, and that there are three or four bakings in a week. The time needed to fetch water and firewood is not included.
b. Figures in parentheses denote time required.
Table 3. A two-day modular routine of a housewife in the agricultural season, with the second day "idealized" into a religious "non-working" day. The routine does not include activities carried out once a week or less (e.g. hammering the grinding stone). There is some variation in the order of doing things, but this is the most adhered-to schedule
3a. Working-day routine (every day to 18.00 hours)
|Dry grinding||Fetching water||Cooking and grinding/ dough making||Agricultural work||Gathering firewood|
3b. Working-day routine (after 18.00 hours; differs according to grain being processed)
Cooking and grinding
Wet or dry grinding
Sleeping time preceding a
|Finger millet||18.00-20.00||20. 00-22. 00||22.00-5. 00||22.00-3. 00|
a. Dehusking, subsequent cleaning, grinding, and sieving is included in grinding.
3c. Religious "non-working"-day routine
|Grain||Going to church||Fetching water||Baking||Making new dough||Cooking||Lunching|
|Wheat||5.00-6.00||6.00-7.00||7.00-10.30||10.30-13.00 or 7.00-12.30||13.00-14.00 or -||14.00-15.00|
Table 4. Total number of working days per month, and number of uninterrupted successive working days per month, in northern highland Shewa and Tigray/Eritreaa
1st day of month
No. of "non-working" days
Batches of uninterrupted working days
|Sunday||16||11||3x4; 1x3||5x2; 4x1; 3x1; 1x1|
|Tuesday||12||11||5x2; 4x1; 2x1; 1x2||5x2; 4x2; 1x1|
|Thursday||16||13||4x1; 3x1; 2x1; 1x6||4x1; 3x1; 2x4; 1x3|
|Saturday||16||14||3x1; 2x4; 1x3||4x2; 3x1; 2x2; 1x1|
|Monday||13||10||4x3; 3x1; 1x1||5x3; 4x1|
|Wednesday||13||12||5x1; 4x1; 3x1; 1x5||5X1; 4x1; 3x2; 1x3|
|Friday||16||14||3x1; 2x2; 1x8||3x3; 2x2; 1x3|
a. Note that when the end of a month is a working day, any other working days successive to it from the following month have been included in computing the batches of uninterrupted working days.
Because of the seven-day week and the exactly 30-day month, if a given month begins on a Sunday, the seventh month after it again begins on Sunday. Tallying the frequency of uninterrupted successive working days from table 4 will give us a precise picture of the strain the peasant woman undergoes in a crop-growing season.
From table 5 we can see that the Tigrayan woman has about one-third of her working days occurring consecutively for five days. At any rate, about three-quarters (77.5 per cent) of her working days come in batches of three or more successive days. The most arduous crops in food processing are sorghum, barley, and maize. Maize is not important in the Tigrayan and Eritrean diet, except occasionally along the northern part of the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment. But sorghum and barley are very important in many parts of Ethiopia, sorghum being the main cereal at altitudes below 1,700 m and barley above 2,500 m. The Shewan peasant woman has only about one-tenth (13.6 per cent) of her working days occurring consecutively for five days, and even those working days that come in three or more successive batches add up to only just over half (59.9 per cent). She is thus subjected to fewer periods of peak fatigue. It is worth noting that Shewa gets more rain over a longer rainy season, making this possible.
Table 5. Frequency of 1-5 successive uninterrupted working days in seven months
No. of successive working days
|Total working days||96||114|
According to informants, the north-eastern lowlands of Shewa below the escarpment observe only three non-working days (12th, 21st, 29th), and even Saturday is considered a working day. It is obvious that the women in these areas, which mostly grow sorghum, are under severe stress.
Since enset is a perennial crop, caring for it is fairly evenly distributed through a long rainy season. The only critical time is during transplanting, and this job is primarily the work of men.216 The most arduous and time-consuming job for women is the process of decorticating the enset plant during harvest - separating the edible starch from the fibre, wrapping the starch in enset leaves and burying it to ferment, and drying the fibre. But the enset plants do not have to be harvested at such rigidly defined times as cereals, and neighbouring women get together to help each other finish decorticating the enset.217 For this reason, the housewife gets enough time for housework without unduly denying herself sleep.
In the areas of strict hoe culture, the grains are maize and sorghum. The women do not use millstones to grind the grain, but pound it with a pestle and mortar. A woman needs 30 hours per week to do this.218 The pounded grain is sieved and boiled as a porridge. The pounding is equivalent to the dry grinding in the plough-culture areas and the wet grinding is thus dispensed with. The dry grinding of maize as practised in the plough-culture areas is more efficient (22 hours as against 30 hours per week). From this, it should become clear that trying to introduce baking, including both dry and wet grinding, into the hoeculture areas as a food preparation technique would increase the housework of the woman by 30 per cent when the food grain is sorghum and by 25 per cent when it is maize. This assumes that the whole technology is to be introduced. However, if pounding were retained as the equivalent of dry grinding, and only wet grinding on a stone were introduced to make flour for baking, the woman's workload would increase even more.
Comparing these three agricultural systems, therefore, we see that the women in the plough-culture areas are the hardest worked.
There is just one example of modern technology which, although designed and built by men, is under the control of women. This is an electrically heated baking plate for cooking 'njera, called a mtad. The mtad was developed in the 1960s through the partnership of an Italian and an Ethiopian, both engineers.219 This development involved both the identification of clay plates strong enough to take the embedding of electrical wiring and of machinery to shape the mtad. By the second half of the 1960s, the mtad was ready for sale. But very few bought it and the first mtads were often given away to relatives and friends. However, some of the better-off families did purchase the odd one, though more from curiosity than from a desire to make full use of them. The mtad did not "take-off" until firewood became difficult to obtain and hence increasingly expensive. This was in 1975/76 - a decade after the first fully functional mtads had been produced. A study could be made of the problems faced by the developers of the electric mtad, but this is not appropriate to the present short overview. Suffice it to say that this development took place in a climate where imported technologies were introduced with no scrutiny. Any efforts at indigenous technological development involved a constant battle against a self-interested, ignorant, and obstructive bureaucracy backed up by locally based interests funded from outside The country.
It is interesting to hear some of the reasons put forward for not using a mtad. Electricity is a new and somewhat frightening phenomenon and the amount of wiring contained in the electric mtad made it look both alarming and extremely expensive to use. However, all households that now use a mtad regularly have found that the increase in their electricity bill is far less than what they would have had to pay for firewood. Another reason was a basic distrust of the technology. It looked so different from the traditional mtad sitting over a wood fire that the baking woman's immediate reaction was that it could not possibly produce 'njera of acceptable quality. No housewife likes to serve her husband, let alone her guests, less than the best she can produce. But once women were forced to use it, they soon learnt how to regulate the heat and found that the quality of 'njera produced was not at all inferior to that produced with firewood. The electric mtad is not only cheaper to run, it also gives the woman a clean smoke-free atmosphere in which to bake. A feature of its present design is that it requires the woman to stand while baking, rather than sit as she would have done with a mtad over a fire. However, standing allows her to carry out other tasks while the 'njera is baking, because she does not have to watch a fire.
The electric mtad is now also a major item of equipment in institutions which have to feed large numbers of people. In these institutions, the women who do the baking have a hard working day, as they are required to watch over three mtads, which gives them no break between one operation and the next. How ever, it would be possible to design the mtads so that the woman could tend all three from a sitting position. But basic mtad design is in the hands of men.
The mtad is now a main item of equipment for any urban woman with an income or economic environment that will allow her to purchase and use it. This restricts its use to the higher income groups in the major towns. All the urban poor and all rural women are excluded from access to this technology. Rural women cannot use it because they do not have access to electricity. The urban poor, even if they can obtain an electric mtad cannot use it because they usually share both a kitchen and an electricity line with other families. In Asmara, 120volt power is available throughout the city, but the mtad is designed for 220-240 volts, and only a few houses have both lines.
The modern technology for cooking that has been taken up by all economic sectors in towns is the kerosene stove. This is typical of many imported technologies: all the stoves are imported, as is their fuel. As this document was being finalized, every gas station in Addis Ababa that sold kerosene had queues of women and children waiting and squabbling for days just to obtain five litres. In the meantime, it is difficult to imagine how the women in the houses they came from were preparing food.
One additional important burden for the peasant woman is the bearing of and caring for children. Women carry infants while they perform the activities discussed above. The energy needed to suckle and carry infants in the sleepless peak working periods must wreak havoc on the health of both women and children. Though no studies from Ethiopia on the seasonality of mortality and morbidity of infants and mothers are known to the authors, this has been noted in other countries, for example Gambia.220 In this context, it should be pointed out that the many apparently wasteful religious non-working days serve the purpose of enabling the women to recuperate and thus probably reduce morbidity and mortality.
Given an adequate family food supply, during the off-peak agricultural activity period the Ethiopian rural woman looks after her infants quite well. Breast-feeding is universal.221 Even when, in the old days, the aristocratic women did not want to breast-feed, they used wet-nurses.222 In most houses there is at least one milch cow and the child being weaned usually has access to milk. But in times of drought,223 food runs low and milch cows dry up. It is the adults, both men and women, that most often go hungry; but it is the infants that are most vulnerable to reduced feeding. The families of rural artisans are the worst hit because nobody can buy their crafts.
Apparently, pregnant rural women eat sparingly so that their babies come out small and the risk of a complicated delivery is reduced.224 This understandable reaction cannot be good for the infant.
The condition of infants is worst among the urban poor, especially single mothers.225 These mothers usually have very low paid jobs, supplemented by "petty trading, handicraft production, and marketing." 226 These women, therefore, leave their infants at home, often poorly cared for by a small child or a very old relative, and the infants have to be bottle-fed under unhygienic conditions, resulting in infections, malnutrition, and, all too often, death.227 Better-educated and better-paid urban women have much more leisure than rural women or the urban poor, and can afford to pay poorer women to look after their infants full time. This partly compensates for the infants' being deprived of breast-feeding. Perhaps more important, those women space their births better.228 The deprivation of breast-feeding is inevitable because maternity leave is legally given for only 45 days, and no workplaces in Ethiopia have provisions for infant care.
We have seen how fetching water fits into the woman's routine duties, and we will now look more closely at the amount of work that this implies.
Traditionally, homesteads have been on the tops of hills. This means that water is invariably far from the home, and it has to be brought uphill. At the height of the dry season, walking to the nearest stream with water may take several hours; but in the rainy season, there will at least be ponds or even seasonal streams (although the water is more often than not unfit for household use) within an average of 1.5 kilometres. Even in the harvesting season, temporary streams will still have water.
The scattered nature of the houses makes it impracticable to dig a well for each house, and the fact that the houses are built on hilltops means that they are unlikely to yield water on digging. Water is thus usually carried up in pots from the river. White et al.229 have summarized the energy expenditure required for this (table 6).
The way back from the river usually includes a flat stretch by the river, followed by a steep climb to The house. A average for homesteads would seem to be a distance of 1.5 km and an angle of slope of 8°. On average, therefore, during the peak agricultural period , a woman uses up about 23 per cent of her calorie intake to fetch water.
Table 6. Limits on water carrying for a household of five using four litres per capita daily
|% of usage of calorie intake by water carrier||
Limit in km for carrying water at different slope angles
Obtaining and Carrying Cooking Fuel
Traditionally, the fuel used for 'njera baking is a mixture of firewood and cow dung; maize or sorghum cane are a possible substitute for, or addition to, the cow dung. For other forms of cooking except baking bread, firewood is preferred, though nowadays, with firewood being short, cow dung and cane are being used more and more.
The cow dung is shaped into cakes and sun dried, or dried droppings are collected from the field. All the cow dung has to be dried and/or collected in the dry season and stored indoors. Firewood, however, is collected throughout the year in the form of dried twigs and branches from trees, and shrubs dried after they have been cleared from fields. The woman usually picks these up while her husband is having his lunch in the field (she will normally have eaten lunch in the morning before bringing him his). She carries the firewood back home when she returns from the field, often together with an infant. When the husband returns later in the evening, he usually brings bigger pieces of wood which, from time to time, he splits for his wife to use as firewood. Religious taboos prohibit the splitting of wood on other than working days.
Technology and Women's Human Rights
As we have seen, women and children work on the farm playing a supportive role to the men. Among the duties of men, ploughing and threshing are assisted by both animal power and implements (oxen, the plough, forks, ladles, baskets, sieves). Some of these implements (baskets and sieves) are made, and have no doubt been devised, by women, and have obviously been adopted by men. Among women's jobs (removing uprootod plants during sowing, and weeding and harvesting), only harvesting uses an implement, the sickle, and none use animal power. It is obvious that in the complex of agricultural activities in plough-based farming, men play the determining role, and technologies and animal power that might ease the work of women are not their preoccupation. Conversely, in most parts of the highlands, the women see working animals as a source of assistance for men only. This is illustrated by the fact that the women carry the firewood they collect on their backs, even when there is an idle donkey in the house. When a woman takes produce to the market, she usually carries it in the same way, while men mostly use pack animals. There are signs that these rules are breaking down. For instance, men carry old Opuntla stalks into Asmara on their backs, and women in southern Shewa use donkeys to carry firewood and other produce.
That women can and do create technologies is seen by the many types of implements they use to help them in their housework. But there they are the masters and it is taboo for the Ethiopian man to enter the kitchen. Women, therefore, have developed the technologies they need.
As we have seen from tables 2 and 3, it is grinding that takes the woman the most time. Harnessing animal power to move the millstone could have cased her work and, once the millstone had been discovered, it would not have been very difficult to modify the traction to make use of animal power. But if she does not dare load a donkey to take her wares to market, she could hardly have used oxen for grinding! Now that The modern diesel-engine-driven grinding mill has arrived, however, it has been accepted wholeheartedly, and tables 2 and 3 show us why. It is a sad reflection on the exploitation of women by men, however, that the strictly feminine job of grinding grain, once mechanized, has been taken over by men. In the motorized grinding mill, women are present only as the lowest-paid hands, cleaning grain before it enters the mill. All the other activities have been assumed by men, who now do not consider it beneath their dignity to be covered in flour. This phenomenon, in which the working conditions of a "women's" job are improved, and the job is then taken away by men, is apparently the rule.230 It has been noted, therefore, that economic and technological changes, at least in the short run, make women relatively poorer. 231
Economic and technological changes have tended to disinherit the African woman further by privatizing the traditionally communal land and making it the property of the man.232 For this reason, even in the "female agricultural system" areas, where it is the women that produce the crops, it is males that usually decide on land use,233 with the result that the most productive and logistically convenient land is given over to cash crops, while food crop production is pushed onto poorer land at greater distances from the homestead. The lower slopes of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are ideal for coffee production. The women of the coffee-producing areas have to go as much as one day's journey into the valley to produce the maize and other staples to feed their families (personal observation of one of the authors).
With the men controlling the cash crops and the technological inputs that they require, it is hardly surprising that, in these African countries, it is often the men and not the women234 who are provided with agricultural extension services. Even extension services for local food crops are directed to the men, while it is the women who do the cultivating . The extension service's efforts are thus totally dissipated.235 The only extension information directed to women usually concentrates on housekeeping and child welfare.236 Thus economic development tied to cash crops has tended to reduce, rather than enhance, The human rights of women.
The root cause of these injustices to women is the sexual job specialization that occurred in primitive times. Because men have come to be responsible for the public sphere, with women being bound to the family, women are left out of the database for planning.237 This results in their being excluded from education and technological innovation. From this, it follows that the deficiency of women's education is greatest in the technological fields.238
For these reasons, women do not usually enjoy the conditions that will allow them the mobility and flexibility for specialized jobs. Therefore, they end up by taking low-skilled, low-productivity and low-salaried jobs.239 Their contributions to national economies are thus "invisible," not figuring in national accounts240 and therefore becoming part of a vicious cycle that perpetuates their omission from the planning databases.241
But, as we have seen from tables 2 and 3, women are very important to subsistence agriculture in Ethiopia and, no doubt, in other African countries as well. We must therefore restore them to their rightful position if we are to develop at all. Not only do they constitute a most important element in the workforce, but they are instrumental in preparing the future workforce as well, because it is their attitudes and their teachings that mould future generations.242 It is women's attitudes that determine population increases.243 Thus it is imperative that the educational system reach them, taking note of their problems and providing solutions. Assuming that what is suitable for men should be suitable for women is not an acceptable approach. Women's education must emphasize the natural sciences and technology if their technological capabilities are to be improved and if they are to become more efficient in housekeeping and agricultural production.244
Only when there are competent women scientists and technologists can the problems of housekeeping and agricultural production as a whole be addressed. Our male-dominated research and development (R&D) systems entirely ignore the technological problems of housekeeping. At best, our R&D system makes only token gestures in relation to women's technological problems, and such efforts are often brought to a halt, as when the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) tried to improve enset decortication.245
In contrast, most R&D is directed towards the production problems faced by men. In agricultural Research emphasis is on raising production through the use of fertilizers, improved seeds, improved ploughing implements, etc. Although weeding is seen as important, since weeds depress production, the authors know of no agricultural Research aimed at alleviating the heavy workload of women, beyond row planting in maize and sorghum and trials involving herbicides. But herbicides are only imported for use on mechanized state farms. In contrast, the more expensive tractors and harvesters, even large combine harvesters, are imported, and there is even an assembly plant for tractors in Nazret, south of Addis Ababa. The men who determine what should be imported and what should not have seen technological support for weed control as a luxury that women should continue to forgo! In Kenya, where extension work has introduced the use of knapsack sprayers and farmers have access to herbicides, the work of weed control has been taken over by men. This has enabled the women to give more attention to their families and even to develop other income-generating activities.
The only modern technologies aimed at women's work which have been effectively introduced are the motorized grinding mill and the electric mtad. But the success of the grinding mill occurred only because of the desire of private entrepreneurs to find a market, combined with the traditional control by women of agricultural products once they enter the home. This enabled them to decide to use part of the harvest to pay for the grinding. There was no deliberate policy to foster its introduction until after the 1974 Revolution and the establishment of peasants' associations. Now there is even a factory in Addis Ababa producing the machinery for motorized grinding mills.
In all developed countries women are an important component of the industrially productive workforce. If this is to happen in developing countries as well, women's workload at home must be lightened.246 If this is not done, effective schooling for girls will also suffer, for it is well known that domestic chores reduce girls' attendance at school.247 As Birgit248 found in southern Shewa, it was only the women who had access to grinding mills and to nearby water supplies who could even attend literacy classes.
For these reasons, women now constitute a disproportionately large number of the poorest of the poor countries.249 It has long been recognized that poverty in sections of the population is maintained because the importance of the smallest economic unit, the family, is blurred in efforts to focus on overall national economic performance. As a result, it is argued that this can only be redressed if the family is the smallest economic unit considered in planning. But this still leaves women out, because the traditional head of a family is the man.
In fact, many of the poorest women do not have conventional families headed by men. They themselves are the heads of their family. This is why the focus should be on the woman as the smallest economic unit responsible for feeding the family and for running the home.250 This is why "focusing on ways to satisfy basic needs must go hand in hand with a focus on women as economically and socially important actors." 251 In conclusion, "because women are so important to achieving improved living standards, it is imperative that their role be considered equally with that of men so as to maximize the effect of development policies and programmes." 252
If women are to have their rights respected and are to be economically as effective as they could be, their decisive participation as policy makers and as scientists and engineers is a necessity. It is to the advantage of men to coopt women as, otherwise, they will continue to rule impoverished countries. Men can achieve a better life only in direct proportion to their investment in the improvement of the life of women. Any betterment of human rights can only be realized if the special rights and duties of women are given full consideration alongside those of men.
Without peace and stability, there can be no economic development for Ethiopia. And without economic development there can be no meaningful application of modern science and technology for the betterment of human rights for all members of the community, men, women, and children.
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