Women, Water and the Economy

5 02 2011

Looking at the series of challenges affecting the people in Africa, one would say that the issue of women empowerment and women’s rights is not very important. If you asked me, I would say, “Women’s empowerment” should be the core of each and every development oriented project. Why? When women are empowered, the economy does not remain the same. They better the livelihood in their homes and as well as their personal lives. Improved income for women means better nutrition/ feeding in homes, improved access to education for the children and general livelihood. In other wards women invest more in education, nutrition, health and general livelihood.

The role of fetching water in the African Traditional Society was assigned to the women and children. Up to the present day, women and children still carry this burden along while the men continue to generate income from water sources. In cities and on the country side of many developing countries you will see women and children in small and big groups carrying jerrycans of water on their heads. Access to water in many developing countries remains a very big challenge – dirty water sources, long distances to and from water sources (usually up to 4 kilometers).

What does this mean for these women and children?

The burden of having to fetch water means that the women and children often have to fore-go other activities – for the women, they end up having limited time to grow food and limited participation in entrepreneurship. The children on the other hand, end up missing out on education and playing. This has further widened the income disparities between men and women. No wonder the economies in developing countries have not registered much development.

The African Traditional Society also regarded women as the food growers. The women and their children were given the task of ensuring food security in their homes. However, the ownership of family plots was always solely reserved by the men. This means that the men had more influence over what is grown on these plots of land. In the same way, the men would take ownership of the agricultural produce. This is still the case in many developing countries.

So, what can be done?

Women should be empowered! But how can the women be empowered in the “modern times”. Many women missed out on the opportunity to go to school. However, this is not a time to regret on the mistakes that we cant take back. This is a time to effect change, a time for a new beginning of a era where Women and Men are equal.

Every tool can help, every project can cause impact. Technology, Football, Music, Art, Education,  Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, to mention but a few have been very key tools in women empowerment.

Whats your contribution towards women empowerment?

The struggle continues…

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Lake Katwe – The Salt “Gardens” in Uganda!

2 03 2010

On a small lake – Lake Katwe located in Western Uganda, Kasese district-located in the East African rift valley region. The water in this lake is 60% salty. The region is semi-arid and the soil doesn’t favour agricultural activities. Therefore the major economic activity here is salt mining.

Salt has been extracted from this lake since the 13th Century. It’s mined from small plot. When I saw the plots I got surprised. They are not the common plots of land like the ones you will find in central, Eastern or other parts of Western Uganda. These “plots” are ponds 10 by 12 feet or so wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. They are demarcated on the shores of the lake, owned by private individuals or families and inherited. Mining in the center of the lake is only done by licensed individuals. The association for Rock Salt Extraction issues the licenses for extraction of rock salt from the middle of the lake. This type of arrangement was made to ensure that the salt is extracted in an orderly process without causing extinction.

"Plots" on  the shores of lake Katwe

"Plots" on the shores of lake Katwe

There are three major types of salt mined from this lake:

  1. Crude salt for animal leak
  2. Edible salt (sodium chloride)
  3. Unwashed salt

Two types of activities take place in this region and the roles are specified for the women and men.

  • Salt winning (winning salt from the plots – done by the women).
  • Rock salt extraction is done by the men – 3 days a week.

The women scrap the bottom of the garden to scoop the salt. They use their feet to crash the salt to form small/fine crystals and then wash the crystals forming edible salt (washed salt/ sodium chloride).

Some of the ladies who work in the salt mines.

“In this village mention rain and people will curse you to death! We don’t like rain at all. Last night it rained that’s why people are all relaxed now and not working. Our major source of power is the sun. When it rains the gardens flood and the salt takes longer to form. The sun on the other hand makes the process of salt formation faster”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Health implications:

The smell of hydrogen sulphide is all over the place (smells like rotten eggs).

There are health complications in this job however. For the women when the female reproductive organs get in contact with this salty water more often, they develop uterus complications.

On average one man extructs up to 1,000kgs of salt per day and he earns Ugx3,000 (USD1.50). On the side of the path are the plots (ponds) where the salt is mined.

The men on the other hand are also affected. When the male organs get in contact with this salty water, they itch. This makes them scratch their male organs causing wounds.

The men enter the water at 8am and work up to 5pm. They work for three days a week and each man extracts more than 1000kgs per day.

“We are lucky that in this village we have never had any health complications caused by lack of iodine in the body say goiter”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Solutions?

“At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution to these problems. However we have tried to improvise temporally solutions to both the male and female problems in regard to the health implications”, says Nicholas a tour guide. “The

Stacks of unwashed salt

women have been advised to use pad before they enter the water. This helps to reduce on the amount of “salt water” entering their reproductive organs.”

“For the men, we are using the wrong tool (condom)”. We call it the wrong tool because it’s meant for a totally different purpose. But under the circumstances we have nothing to do about it. The men fit the condom with a rubber-band on the upper end to make it firm” explains Nicholas. This prevents salt water from getting in contact with the male organs.

Apparently a company called International Power Foundation is designing a more permanent solution for them in form of “protective suites”.

I took the liberty of talking to a few locals both men and women. When I asked about the major problems in this area they said that they still have problems accessing medical care. Malaria remains a very big threat to both the adult and children. They have a small health centre which they feel is not

plots - locally known as "ebibanja"

enough. The nearest governmental hospital (Kagando Hospital) is 14 kilometers away and in case of an emergency transport to the hospital is a big challenge. Kilembe hospital (another big hospital) is located 30 or so kilometers away.

The environment is dirty, plus the luck of pit latrines, cholera outbreaks are also very common around the lake/ mines.

The total population in this area is over 20,000 people of whom 10,000 benefit directly or work on the 4,000 plots around the lake in this salt mine.