Friday, December 18, 2009

A woman’s work is never done

Today I went to a gender sensitization workshop organized and presented by cdpeace. Although it was in Temne, I managed to catch some of what was being said through an interpreter. It really made me think about the role of women here in Sierra Leone. There are beginning to be more women in positions of power here, but there is still a long way to go, but there is still a long way to go for the average woman in Sierra Leone, especially in rural areas.

One major area is work. This was really emphasized in a small group activity we did at the workshop. Each group was assigned a person (man, woman, boy and girl) and had to write down all the activities that person typically did in a day. On the list for men were the following:
- Pray
- Rest and eat breakfast
- Work
- Rest and eat supper
- Go to sleep

Although many men here do hard physical labour, the rest of the time they don’t have too much work to do. The list for a woman, on the other hand, looked like this:
- Get up and get water for your husband and children to wash
- Prepare breakfast
- Sweep the house and make the bed
- Get the children ready for school
- Go to work (working on the farm doing weeding or harvesting, petty trading activities, or perhaps an office job in a few cases)
- Go to the market to get food for meals
- Start cooking around 2 or 3 pm to prepare the evening meal
- Clean up after cooking and prepare the children for bed
- “Answer the call of your husband” – euphemism for sex
- Sleep

So, as you can see from these lists, women have many more tasks for which they are responsible than men. Women here are responsible for all domestic work and all child-rearing duties. So they clean the house, do laundry, purchase and prepare food, take care of the children, and collect water and wood for everyone’s use. They work on the farm, doing all the weeding and a lot of the harvesting work, and they process the food harvested as well (e.g. pounding rice, making palm oil, etc.).

In the workshop, the speakers talked a lot about gender roles and how we should begin to accept that men can do work considered “women’s work” and vice versa. I agree that work and the burden of work is an important area, and maybe that is where gender equality begins. But the gender inequality here of course goes deeper than just surface work tasks. In relationships, women are generally not treated as equals. The man is considered head of the household. He makes all the decisions, controls the money, and in turn is responsible for taking care of his wife (or wives – polygamy is still fairly common here) and children. Women often do not have access to money and have no say in decision-making for the household. And if the husband leaves, this can leave the woman and her children in very dire financial straits. It is still common to arrange marriages here, and to pay a bride price.

There is a lot of work still to be done to improve gender equality in the country, and I think it’s great that cdpeace is working in this area, especially in rural communities. Will one or two workshops change societal attitudes? No, certainly not. But societal change happens slowly over time, and the more people are exposed to the idea of men and women being equal, the better. So even the small things, like this workshop, can help a little bit.

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