Winter 2015

Sharing a Burden in Ethiopia

Men pitch in to help with water-fetching duties

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Carrying water is no longer considered women's work in Dembele Keta. Photo: Courtesy of James Levinson

Change came swiftly to the village of Dembele Keta in Ethiopia one day last June.

A four-person survey team led by James Levinson, Ph.D., a research professor at the Friedman School, was asking the village women about their daily workload.

The thing that made their already exhausting chores almost impossible, the women said, was having to haul water for more than an hour each day. Couldn’t the men of the village help? One older man, watching on the periphery, said, “Yes, we understand, but we men also have lots of work to do, and men carrying water is against our cultural tradition.”

Another man, Zerihun Neguse, the village chairman, stood up. “OK,” he said, “we’ll do it.” Thirty minutes later, Neguse had gathered 200 men in the center of the village, telling them that the new water-carrying program would begin the next day. It did, making Dembele Keta the scene of a gender-equalizing scheme virtually unknown in sub-Saharan Africa.

The team’s research is part of a USAID-funded project run by Tufts’ Feinstein International Center to advance rural development in Ethiopia. Among other goals, it will help evaluate how gender issues relate to calorie expenditure.

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