I recently took a trip to the pastoralist world in Southern Ethiopia, a beautiful community with beautiful people and culture. One thing stuck me though. I have always thought of pastoralists women as weak helpless women who had many children and spent the whole day taking care of goats and sheep. I was dead wrong.
In Yabello I met women of all types. But what really surprised me is how strong those women are. These are women who walk for long distances (sometimes as far as 30 kilometres) looking for water for both domestic and animal consumption looks after the children, cook and feed their large families. On average these women have 6 children and many of them have to live with the fact that whenever their husbands are away they get women on the side and sometimes marry them.
These women also participate in community activities like digging water wells and rehabilitating the preserved community grazing land, performing the same tasks as the men. For me , strong does not begin to describe these women. These are the people who should be role models in the world to date. They might be uneducated but these women are sharp and their experiences have taught them probably more about life than I got in my post graduate class.
I attended one of the biggest markets in the region and I met Wario Liban, a woman who also wears the hat of the family business manager, whenever the family wants to sell any livestock she is the one who negotiated the price in the market, performs the transaction and decides how the family should spend the money.
When I asked the husband how she felt that the wife was amongst the few women handling money in the community he said “Let all those who want to laugh do it, it is a fact that my wife is better in business than I am so I let her handle it, I would be a fool not to”.
After spending time with these women, I realized one thing. The power of a woman can be felt all over, from the university classrooms, civil society organizations, big corporate to the small villages in the remote pastoralists communities.
Women hold this world in their hands and many are now beginning to realize this. Stereotypes and labels cannot hold women down!