Women taking up men’s work

The ability to work is the poor’s main asset in developing countries. Work provides individuals with income to meet material needs, reduces social isolation, and provides a sense of dignity and self-worth. This is especially important for women, who make up the majority of the World’s poor and who often experience greater barriers to their effective participation in the labor market.
A lady welding in Kicukiro. (Photo / S. Nkurunziza).
A lady welding in Kicukiro. (Photo / S. Nkurunziza).

The ability to work is the poor’s main asset in developing countries. Work provides individuals with income to meet material needs, reduces social isolation, and provides a sense of dignity and self-worth. This is especially important for women, who make up the majority of the World’s poor and who often experience greater barriers to their effective participation in the labor market.

“In each country, the right combination of labor market regulations and labor market policies should help workers manage risks, foster the investment in human capital and help coping up with poor working conditions,” said Umutoni Jacqueline, an engineer with a local construction company.

“Labor markets contribute to poverty reduction and to development through the creation of more and better jobs,” she adds.

The emancipation of women, like their liberation from religious, legal, economic, and sexual oppression, their access to higher education, and their escape from narrow gender roles is not easily achieved.

However, the desire and constant struggle for sexual equality that is likely to continue for some time has seen more women reaching out and searching for employment. The jobs that were originally known for men are being taken over by women.

In traditionally patriarchal societies any improvement in the status of women has far-reaching consequences and produces fundamental political changes. Therefore it is always resisted by the established powers.

However, it seems certain that they will ultimately have to relent, because the emancipation of women is both necessary and desirable.

“It will provide for a greater degree of social justice and thus benefit everyone,” said Ingabire Florence, a builder.

Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution women in Europe and North America have made considerable progress towards equality with men, although much remains still to be done. We ought to know that where needed reforms are consistently blocked, revolution becomes inevitable.

Looking back, women and children were paid much less for hard labor than men, and thus their economic “value” declined, but it took many decades of struggle before unionization and legal reform ended the crassest form of this discrimination.

At the same time, middle- and upper-class women were increasingly confined to the home with little to do except to take care of their children.

Eventually many of the women have become critical of their position in society and found time to devote themselves to various religious and moral causes.

Ultimately more women are joining the working-class and insist on change thus contributing to the success of feminism.

This success still is not total, and, as we all know, even in the industrialized countries women continue to fight for equal rights.

Today, in addition to economic issues, problems of sexual self-determination have come to the foreground. It must be remembered, of course, that the relatively liberated and affluent women of Europe and North America are only a small minority of women in the world today.

Women in many non-Western countries and especially in the so-called Third World generally live in a state of subjection and misery.

“Most of their energy is consumed by a hard and unrelenting struggle for sheer survival. Thus, for them, any talk about “sexual liberation” in the Western sense sounds, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, frivolous,” said Joseline Mukasyaka, a single mother of one boy and a welder in Kicukiro.

According to her, their concerns are more elementary and more pressing. Similar concerns caused the United Nations to sponsor an “International Women’s Conference” in Mexico City in 1975.

This conference demonstrated a serious communication gap between women from industrial and agrarian societies. It also revealed more than a billion women (i.e., the majority of the world’s female population) live in poor, rural areas.
Just like now, most women were illiterate, malnourished, exhausted, or even ill, and were forced to work long hours for little reward.

Naturally, men share many of these hardships, but women still bear the greatest burden. In nearly all “underdeveloped” countries boys are favored over girls from the moment of birth, since parents consider sons as a guarantee for their economic security in old age. Girls, on the other hand, marry into some other family.

Thus, even under conditions of abject poverty, boys are better fed, clothed, and educated than girls. Furthermore, in many poor countries women have few rights and are early given away in marriage with hardly a voice in the matter.

Backbreaking work and constant pregnancies then keep them weak and dependent. Attempts by governments and international agencies to raise the general standard of living in poor communities may well have the opposite effect on women by increasing their workload.

Under such depressing circumstances, “women’s liberation” has a special meaning and, indeed, poses a challenge to the women’s movement in the rich and powerful West.

Some of the poor countries have, in the meantime, made great strides toward economic progress and, in some cases, such as in the People’s Republic of China, a considerable degree of sexual equality has been achieved.

It is also interesting to note that in recent times some “developing” nations, such as India, Sri Lanka, and Israel have chosen women as heads of state, an example that still waits to be emulated in Europe and America.

On the whole, one might say that the emancipation of women is no longer a “Western” issue, and that its global implications are increasingly being recognized.

There also seems little doubt that the demand for sexual equality will persist until it has fully been granted everywhere.

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