Saturday 30 June 2012

"Gender" is also about time

Counting women in decision-making positions is a popular way to determine whether gender is "mainstreamed" and women are empowered. That seems reasonable: where women are not or poorly represented, their perspectives and concerns are likely to be ignored.  But women's numbers are a blunt indicator: "token" women, drafted into a committee to fulfil the quota, might have little influence on decisions; and women will not necessarily defend women's gender-specific interests. In rural areas, many women simply don't have time for meaningful participation in those village development committees: they wake up before dawn to fetch water and firewood, prepare food for the day, get their children ready for school, and then spend 8, 9, 10 hours in agricultural work. After that, more water- and firewood-fetching, cooking, other houselhold tasks...  A UNIFEM report estimates that women in Sub-Saharan Africa collectively spend 40,000,000,000 (40 billion) hours a year fetching water. And that is just the water-fetching part of the picture.