I recently stumbled upon an article from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, written by one of my most idolized, favorite policy-focused scholars, Calestous Juma.
In this article, Juma touches on the fact that in Uganda, women are doing all the work. According to a study on Africa,
“Women hauled more than 80 tons of fuel, water and agricultural produce for a distance of 1 km a year. Men, on the other hand, carried only 10 tons a year. The political impetus for such inequities is often driven by the low level of access to agricultural technology and skills.”
It is also well known that women are hauling all the wood in the Horn of Africa too. I saw this first hand during my field work experience in Ethiopia. During my drive up to high altitude Entoto – right outside of Addis Ababa, I saw women walking back down with loads of tree branches on their shoulders and back. On that same day, I saw young men that appeared to be in their twenties on motorcycles with a similar sized pile of wood on the backs of their vehicles. Yes, the men were working too – carrying fuel woood – but they had technical assistance.
According to Guerrilla Aid,
“The women living near Addis Ababa, hike roughly 18 miles a day collecting wood to be sold in the market carrying packs of wood that weigh up to 70 Ibs.”
“They begin their hike at 3 am, collecting fuelwood in the forests, loading their backs for a long day’s trek along a trail that is usually thick with mud, dung, and rocks.”
“They travel very quickly, sometimes racing against the clock, assuring their day’s journey will be met with a receptive marketplace. If for some reason the area is stocked, they continue onward until they can sell their wood for only about $2 – the amount they need to feed their family that day.”
So what’s a sustainable alternative for these women?
Volunteers from Guerilla Aid decided to purchase the wood packs from some of the Ethiopian women in order to experience the back-breaking job of carrying the wood themselves. After carrying the wood they realized a few things:
1. They can’t change the economic situation in Ethiopia, and the fact that these women have to carry wood.
2. Carrying the wood isn’t the worst thing about the situation, but the fact that it keeps the women from an education is a real unfortunate situation.
So what is their solution?
The Guerilla Aid volunteers would like to develop a pack that the women can use to strap the wood to – one with a heavy-duty pad to protect their back, padded straps to protect their shoulders, and a pocket for a Walkman or an MP3 Player.
The volunteers will coordinate with a group in Addis, the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers, so that the women can go and get their packs and update their walkman or ipod with educational materials… i.e, books on tape, English lessons, music – anything to make their experience a bit more tolerable, and to give them a basic education. They are looking for a group to help them develop and make this pack, as well as a lead with Apple, Sony, or a group like Berlitz to help with the education portion of it.
Women – The frontline innovators
In such a resilient environment as East Africa where women have historically (mostly silently) incorporated mechanisms for surviving droughts, conflicts and changing marketsI – I wonder what types of innovations women have developed for themselves with regards to fuelwood, labor and energy. I hope to spend more time looking into how women have empowered themselves with solutions that eliminate these back-breaking activities and thereby enhance their ability to provide for their homes. I welcome your ideas any solutions you come across.