On average, women make up 43 percent of the labour force in agriculture in the developing world, yet receive only five percent of the training to be better farmers.
This is true in Ethiopia, like in many other developing countries, where women are often excluded when it comes to making decisions that affect their lives.
For this reason, aid groups like Canadian Foodgrains Bank make it a priority to improve women’s access to land, water, training and financial resources.
That’s what happened in Shumsha in northern Ethiopia, where the Foodgrains Bank and its member, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, with support from the government of Canada, are working to help a local community improve its agriculture through irrigation and other projects.
One goals was to involve women as much as possible in the project, including seeing them take leadership roles.
When community members were asked how this affected the relations between men and women, Berniz Egen, a member of the local project committee, was quick to answer.
“There is equality now,” she says. “We are working together, men are doing women’s jobs, women are doing men’s work.”
Before the project, women were only involved in the home, she adds; men did outside work.
“But now we share the responsibility and we discuss the issues together,” she says.
The men are asked if this is true, they say yes—although they acknowledge that, at first, they didn’t think the women could make much of a contribution.
But they changed their minds once they started working together.
Endalemu Meguarent, who chairs the local project committee, shares an Ethiopian proverb: “Men make mistakes because they are reckless, but women make fewer mistakes because they are cautious.”
Their involvement, he says, had a moderating effect on the decision-making around the project.
As well, he adds, since women are more attuned to the needs of the family and the children than men, they bring that perspective to decisions.
“The women have a big role to play,” he says—and all the men nod in agreement.