Women Archives - Ancorpiu

A connected country

In the organization that helps Ndei to find a job, and other immigrants regardless of their origin, they have told her to adjust her curriculum to that of a domestic worker, who is the only job she could get if she is lucky.


Because even in that sector black Muslim women have handicaps. “In Spanish homes – says Ndei – they prefer Latin America women.” The person in charge of job offers in that organization agrees: “it is best to look like a woman with little education, few resources and gentle, someone who will not bring trouble.” Ndei adds that this is not all: “If you want to stay in the house and say that you do not eat ham, they look at you with a weird face and do not call back.”

So Ndei erased from her curriculum her university studies and professional experience as the secretary of a minister in Senegal. She left out the various languages she speaks and her knowledge of accountancy, and wrote: “Primary school. Trained in care for the elderly in the Red Cross.”

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Ogote: Female genital cutting

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Sidama Zone, in the Southern National and Nationalities Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), is one of the most densely populated areas in the country. It is a Zone where, by far the majority of people live in rural areas and are dependent on subsistence farming as a living. Generally the size of land holdings of subsistence farmers here is less than 0.8ha and as low as 0.4 ha, with an average family size of six people.

Women in Sidama do not have a particularly good status. Access to and control over resources in the household gives a considerable amount of power to that person. In Sidama resources at household level are typically agricultural, however, agricultural methods and approaches among subsistence farmers are very traditional and attitudes are conservative. Women generally are not considered as owning land; it is always in the control of the husband and in the case of female headed households a son or male relative is in control.

Women are not allowed to plough and in Sidama traditionally women are not allowed to control money. All of these customs are outlawed by the Federal Constitution, however as the level of legal literacy is minimal, traditional patrimonial practices in this domain prevail. Despite the fact that women may not have access to or control over agricultural resources, they contribute a considerable amount of labour on subsistence plots and household welfare; it is acknowledged that women labour for between 13 – 17 hours a day in rural areas.

Gender based violence (GBV) is prevalent in Ethiopia and in Sidama. GBV is any act which harms the physical, psychological and economical well being of a person due to gender inequality, impacting most on women and girls. GBV is without cultural, racial or geographic boundaries.  A recent study carried out by the World Health Organisation in Ethiopia found that 71% of ever partnered women had been subjected to physical or sexual violence over their lifetime. GBV includes: battery, abduction, rape, female genital circumcision (FGC) and other harmful traditional practices (HTPs), early marriage and other violence inflicted on women.  In Ethiopia, GBV is linked with customs and traditions of the society and is often misinterpreted as being associated with religion, for example FGC is often associated with the Muslim community,  however it is widespread among all religious groups in Ethiopia.  In SNNPR Protestants and Catholics have the highest prevalence rate in the community at 89%, Muslims with 76%, Orthodox with 57% and those with traditional faiths only 19%.

The practice of FGC is generally carried out to ensure virginity prior to marriage, to respect local norms, to control female sexuality etc, and according to research, 61% of respondents in SNNPR maintain that female traditional practitioners carry out the practice.  In Shebedino, where this photojournal is made the cutter is known as “ogote”. FGC is illegal, however still has a high prevalence rate; hence sourcing reliable figures is very difficult. As the practice is both illegal and a taboo subject; there are varying statistics about the prevalence in SNNPR. According to government figures, approximately 54% of girls in SNNPR are subjected to FGC. According to the EDHS, 76% of the women in rural Ethiopia are circumcised and in SNNPR 71% of those surveyed were circumcised.  Of those circumcised 77% were not educated, 71% completed primary education and 64% secondary and higher education.  With regard to supporting the practice, 33% of those in rural Ethiopia support it compared to 23% in SNNPR.  The impact of education on those who support the practice is very high as 37% of those with no education support the practice compared to 19% of women with primary and only 5% with secondary and higher levels of education. The correlation between education and FGC prevalence and support of the practice is important and relates to the benefits of education for women.

Asked why FGC is carried out 39% said it is performed to protect household utensils from being broken by the uncircumcised girl (the household utensil is often considered a metaphor for the husband’s penis, and an attempt to control the women’s sexual drive), 24% to preserve her virginity, 13 % to be faithful to her marriage and only 2% to respect the norms of society.

There are many impacts of FGC on women with regard to their physical and psychological well-being. As a result of FGC, menstruation can be difficult; labour is prolonged with a risk of haemorrhage; this can lead to cases of fistula; the transmission of HIV/AIDS; discomfort during sexual intercourse; resulting in marital problems etc.


Maritu Desalenge lives in Alowo Anus Kebele, in the district of Shebedino. Maritu is originally from a neighbouring Kebele (district), where her parents still live. She has 7 siblings, 5 bothers and 2 sisters.  Her brothers are all younger than her and all married. Maritu is 50 years old and was widowed last year; her husband’s tomb has a large gravestone and is on the land close to her house. She has three children; two daughters and one son. The daughters are 15 and 9 years old and the boy 11. Maritu and her family are Protestant.

Maritu, for many years worked as an “ogote”; this is a person who carries our circumcision on females; it is typically an older woman in the community who carries out this work. In her district there were many reasons for carrying out circumcision or “cutting a girl”; local opinion considered that if a girl was not cut she would be irresponsible and squander the household money; she would break the household utensils; she would be a bad cook; she would have loose sexual morals and would be unfaithful in marriage.

In order to circumcise a girl, Maritu used a razor blade to cut off the girl’s clitoris, which she would throw to the scavenging animals in the compound.   Inevitably there would be a lot of bleeding and in order to stop the haemorrhaging she would cover the wound with a leaf of enset or false banana plant (which has supposedly blood coagulating properties). Not only  is the girl at risk of excessive  blood loss or infection as a result of the practice and unhygienic method of cutting, but she also risks huge psychological impact after undergoing mutilation that local people proudly  defend as part of their culture. The practice is supported locally by many mothers because they fear that if their daughter is not “cut” she will be rejected socially and will be an outcast.

Typically a girl is “cut” between the age of 14 and 16 years old, when she is on the verge of marrying. Traditionally, when a  man decides to marry, he identifies the girl he wants and consults with the elders in the village, who will agree or disagree to the marriage (not all people follow this traditional approach). Then the girl needs to be “cut”. This can take place in her family home or she goes to the ogote’s house. Another three or four women will be in attendance to hold the girl down and to prevent her from moving while being circumcised. The ogote’s fee depends on the circumstances; if she carries out the circumcision in the girl’s house she gets paid 10 birr, some food and butter (used to put in the hair to moisturise it); if she does it at her own house, the fee is 5 birr.

However, ,Maritu no longer carries out female circumcision on young girls;  she was a participant in a programme called “Community Conversations” organised by GOAL Ethiopia, with the primary aim of discussing issues around HIV/AIDs in the community and they then identify strategies to minimise risk of exposure and transmission. Female circumcision was identified, not only as a harmful traditional practice, but as a high risk activity in the transmission of HIV.

Now having ceased working as an ogote, Maritu tries to spread the word in her community about the risks and repercussions of this horrible practice; the transmission of disease like AIDS by means of an infected blade; the frequent infection and loss of blood; the trauma suffered by the girl and the long term consequences on her life. Maritu regrets the pain and suffering she inflicted on girls that were subjected to this tragic custom.

Maritu’s daily life begins at 6 in the morning, cleaning the house and then preparing the breakfast. The breakfast consists of kocho and tea. Kocho is made from enset or false banana and is a typical bread in Sidama. Making of kocho is very labour intensive; the tuber of the mature tree is dug out of the ground; scraped into a fibrous pulp with a metal tool like a large comb; it is then beaten and kneaded; buried in leaves in the ground for a number of weeks; at different stages it is taken out of the ground, beaten and kneaded again and reburied; eventually, after about 6 weeks, the pulp is ripe and ready to use; it is kneaded and rolled and cooked on a griddle over the open fire in the house.

After breakfast Maritu takes care of the cattle and the land. By the time she gets to caring for her garden, she only spends an hour working there as she is tired. On her land, she grows enset, coffee and khat. When she needs money, she sells the coffee and khat in order to survive. Previously, her husband was in charge of this work; however since his death she has assumed this responsibility. She has three cows, two ewes, as well as several hens. Altogether she tends the cattle three times per day for approx 1 hour each time.

All of Maritu’s children attend school, and when they have left for the day she cleans the yard. When she finishes the yard, she goes to the water point, where she gathers about 20 litres of water; she goes there twice in the day; it takes an hour to travel each way; she spends at least 4 hours a day collecting water, carrying the 40 litres in a gerry can on her back. During the weekend, her children go to gather the water.

In the afternoon, after collecting the water, she prepares the supper and cleans the house. Around 7pm the family eats supper.  Sometime in the evening neighbours visit or she calls to their houses for a coffee and a chat.  Maritu goes to bed around the 10pm. This is a 17 hour day, most of which has been spent in hard work to maintain her household.

Maritu’s income comes from the sale of khat, milk, eggs and butter in the market.  She has lost the income from circumcising young girls; however she says she is able to survive with what she now has and considers herself quite self-sufficient. When she has any financial needs, she sells more of her products; for example the family drink very little milk as is it is primarily for sale for income.  The family’s diet is basic and typical of Sidama; kocho, injera  and shiro, tea and on occasion some milk.

Maritu has a very good knowledge of HIV matters.  She is also aware of malaria and uses a mosquito net when sleeping at night. If she or her children suffer form malaria or any other illnesses, they attend the local health facility, which is about 3 km walk from her house.

1 Euro = 23 birr

Khat is a plant; the leaves are chewed and have a slightly narcotic effect.  It is a common cash crop.

Injera is a staple food in Ethiopia; a large flat pancake made from fermented grain, used to eat sauce with by hand

Shiro is also a staple, generally of poor households; a sauce made from ground chick peas, chilli and onion and eaten with injera.

Sinana’s journey. The konso tribe.

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Konso people are of the Cushitic family who live in the highlands of Konso situated in the south west of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State. The economy of the Konso rests on an exceptionally intensive agriculture involving irrigation and terracing of mountain slopes. Corn is the staple crop, and cotton and coffee are cash crops. To protect the fields the Konso maintain their cattle in stalls and feed them by hand. They use both the milk and the meat of cattle and the meat of sheep and goats as food, and the animals’ dung is collected for fertiliser. Numerous other animals are taboo as food. Both men and women work in fields. Women particularly are responsible for the most routine agricultural activities such as weeding, bird scaring, harvesting etc in addition to domestic household chores. Studies indicate that Konso women work for an average of 16 hours a day. Konso people are known for their hard working culture and traditional skills in soil and water conservation techniques.

Unlike most Ethiopian peoples, the Konso traditionally live in towns, each governed by an independent council of elders. The social status of all males, and of some females, is defined by a generation-grading system. Although a generation grade supposedly encompasses the men in an entire region, it does not actually function beyond each town’s borders and therefore does not prevent conflicts between towns. Kinship is reckoned in nine existence clans and in lineages that are headed by priests and through which property is inherited. Craftsmen form a distinct social class. Although polygamy is accepted, few men can afford more than one wife.

Due to water shortages and competition over land, the Konso have been migrating out of their traditional areas in to neighbouring regions. There is now a reasonable Konso community in Borena, living alongside the Borena people who are traditionally pastoralists. GOAL Ethiopia works with both the Borena and the Konso in one area in Southern Ethiopia


Sinana is 30 years old and she moved to Dembella village in order to get married at the age of 19. In the past in order to get married, the family chose the partners, however nowadays young people choose for themselves. The average age for a female to get married at is 15, and for males from 18 – 20 years old. Typically the husband-to-be gives 60 birr to the women’s family as a good will gesture.

Sinana came from a large family, with 5 sisters (3 of whom are married) and 3 bothers, all married. She has 6 children herself, 3 boys and 3 girls aged from 1 to 10 years old.

Sinama has a very busy life in her household. She wakes up at approx 5 am. She starts the day by grinding grain in order to prepare kurkufa and cheka. Sinana prepares kurkufa for the families’ breakfast; this is a type of local meal made of maize or sorghum flour mixed with cabbage. Cheka is a local food/drink, made from maize or sorghum flour. There are two types of cheka: alcoholic and non-alcoholic, the latter is meant for children to consume. The alcoholic one is for marketing to earn cash.

For Sinana the cheka she produces has a dual prupose; as food for her family and as a small income generating business. She sells the cheka to local people for 50 cents in a gourd, which is the equivalent of half a litre. Despite the fact that cheka is alcoholic; it is often considered a staple by adults and may be the main food consumed in a day. Sinama also sells eggs; the profit she makes from her petty trading she uses to buy things that are needed for her children and for household items. The cash from the petty trading is in Sinama’s control, however if any cattle are sold the cash from the sale is in the control of her husband. She uses the money to buy clothes and shoes for her and children. Among the household items that she buys is soap; she has attended a non-formal education programme run by GOAL Ethiopia, and personal hygiene is one of the curriculum items. Sinama attended school herself and understand the value of education; all her children of school going age are attending school that is at about 4 km from their house.

When the cheka is made Sinana brings it out to the fields where her husband is working their land with other field workers. The Konso have an association known as debo whereby labourers work each others land and landowner is responsible for providing food and drink for them.

When Sinana returns to her compound she then milks the cows and takes them for grazing. They have 9 cows and 10 sheep and some goats. Sinana is involved in a small savings and credit scheme run by GOAL Ethiopia and benefited from 2 sheep under this scheme. At the end of her loan period she was required to repay the loan to the group revolving fund, thereby making more sheep available for women in the locality. From the milk she makes butter for household consumption. Sinana or her husband would, on occasion, slaughter an animal for meat for the family. The other food items eaten in the household would come from their own agricultural production, predominantly maize and sorghum.

Sinana then collects water. She walks approx 20 minutes to a dry river-bed and spends approx 20 minutes collecting water. As there is no water in the river, a number of holes have been dug into the river-bed to the water table. One hole is approx 1 metre deep; often rubbish has fallen into the hole and Sinama has to remove it before starting to collect water. Initially she has to collect and pour off the dirty water on the top before getting water that is acceptable for her use. The second hole is approx 2 meters deep and Sinama actually climbs down into the hole to collect the water. When Sinama has filled 2 jerry cans with water (50 litres, which weighs 50kg), she straps them to her back and walks back to her compound. As the water is for both the animals and the family, she fetches water twice in a day for her household, generally going the second time in the afternoon, carrying a total of 100kg per day on her back.

Sinana then prepares kurkufa for lunch. Sinana takes food to her husband and the field workers. While she is there she assists the men in weeding the fields, which she then collect and carries on her back to the compound to use it as fodder for the animals. While doing this she also collects firewood.

When Sinama returns to the compound, she leaves the fodder and firewood and goes to fetch the cattle back to the compound. Some of her children are minding the cattle while they graze in the neighbourhood.

Dinner consist of kurkufa, again prepared by Sinana. After feeding her children their dinner she puts them to bed. By this time her husband and the field workers have come back to the house and she feeds them dinner as well. Sinana then prepares things including cheka for the next day and then goes to bed about midnight.

The duration of Sinana’s working day varies according to the season. The family have land some distance away at Yuso (4 hours) so taking food to her husband demands more walking and means that her day is longer. In the dry season, her husband works on land closer to the compound so that she finishes her chores earlier and would go to between 10 and 11 at night.

In this area the major health problems among the community are malaria, colds and fever. When people get sick they attend the local health centre at Teltelle town (17km from their home, accessed by walking there). Sinana has some knowledge about HIV/ AIDS, and maintains the only way of transmission is by having multiple sexual partners. The Konso are polygamous, and Sinana is in fact the second wife of her husband. Both wives live in the same compound. Female Genital Mutilation is not practiced according to Konso culture.

Sinana has a very busy day in her household and she says that she feels sad with such a heavy workload and if she cannot complete all her chores in the day. When this happens her husband is unhappy and shouts at her; he shouts at her a lot. When she manages to complete all her work and things are going well with her husband, she is happy.

Sinana has no religion, though a significant Konso population follow Christian churches, particularly Protestant ones. Her family does however celebrate the Ethiopian holidays of Meskel and Fasika (Easter), however do not relate them to religion, but relate them to the productive seasons of the year.

1 Euro = 23 birr, 1 birr = 100 cens

The quality of the water collected here would be poor and probably not considered as potable by international standards.

Tadelech’s bar.

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Boricha Woreda is located in Sidama Zone, in the Southern National and Nationalities Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The livelihoods in Boricha are mixed farming that encompasses crop production and livestock rearing, and the major crops grow in the area according to its priority is maize, haricot bean, and root crop. Boricha is one of the most food insecure Woreda of Sidama Zone. In the focus group discussions carried out by GOAL Ethiopia, women commented that they ate meals around the other chores they have to carry out, and that they eat the leftover food from the husband and children. In some instances there are no leftovers. According to a nutrition survey carried out in Boricha, 71% of households gave priority to men at mealtimes, 17% to the elderly and 9% to children. Reasons given for this were initially cultural / traditional and as the husband is carrying out a lot of physical labour he should have the choice food in the HH! Incidentally women are acknowledged as working up to 16 hours a day in rural areas of Ethiopia and men working considerably less hours.

Rural life in Sidama is demanding and women tend to face the greater challenges here. For example, access to education is often considered an indicator of well-being and development; in Sidama 21% of females are literate and 50% of males are literate. If the converse figures of illiteracy are considered, it is shocking that 79% of females in SNNPR are illiterate. Female enrolment rates in all levels of education are low; 82 % of males and 61% of females attend primary school; The figures drop considerably by secondary school, with only a 22% male and 7% female enrolment rate; and rates are lower in Boricha with 14% male and 3% female enrolment. Apart from the typical reasons for not educating females, in Sidama, many girls are taken out of school when they reach puberty as it is a common practice to abduct and rape young girls with the intention of having her as a wife.

In Boricha Woreda, 48% of women are of child bearing age, and there are no midwives available. There are however Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) who would assist on occasion at births and should recognise complications and refer the mother to a health facility. According to a baseline study carried out by Goal Sidama in the 3 operational Woredas (including Boricha), from 360 respondents 87% delivered their baby at home with no assistance; TBA assisted at 9% of births and only 4% were referred to a health facility.


Tadelech was born in a town in Gurage Zone (approx 250 km from Sidama), where she grew up. She has 3 sisters and one brother, who now lives in Addis Ababa. When she was 16 she married a local boy. The conditions in their native town were really terrible and as a young couple they decided to set off to look for a better place to start their life together. Approximately 25 years ago they moved as far as Leku in Shebedino (a market town the capital of the district). Today, Tadelech has two sons, 25 and 14 years old, and two daughters, 22 and 18 years old; all the family are Orthodox Christians, with the exception of one daughter who is Protestant.

Twenty five years ago, when the family first settled in Leku, in order to survive, Tadelech was forced to work; baking injera for a local hotel. She made between 100 and 150 injera per day, and earned approx 90 birr per month. Of that pay, her actual costs for producing the injera were approx 60 birr so that she was in fact only making approx 30 birr per month.

Tadelech’s husband became ill and died twelve years ago, leaving her the sole parent of 4 children. The income from injera making was the only source of income for the family, and as it was inadequate, the family decided to move again to a neighbouring district. Seven years ago, she settled in the district of Boricha, where she opened a room of her house up as a bar. Her brother, who lives in Addis Ababa, provided the initial finance in order for her to carry out the project.

The “bar” is not luxurious; just a small room where rats are seen scavenging among the Coca-Cola bottles. As local people do not have much money, and indeed there are not many customers, the prices Tadelech charges are relatively cheap. A plate of injera and shiro costs 2.5 birr and a glass of arake, a local strong alcohol, costs 1 birr. Her daily profit from the bar is about 5 birr, which means per month about 150 birr. In order to supplement this income, when Tadelech goes to fetch water for her house, she takes along some soft drinks to sell to people on the way. All in all her monthly income is not more than around 200 birr per month. For a few years Tadelech also brewed farso, another local alcohol; however she had to give up brewing it as the time spent over the steam and the fire, inhaling the alcohol fumes led to respiratory problems.

The household is an extended family; Tadelech’s eldest son is married and works; he and his wife and their son live with her. The household survive on the income from the eldest son and the profits from the bar. As the bar is in the house and there are a number of people living in the household, Tadelech is responsible for all the household duties and chores.

Tadelech wakes up around 6 am, and starts her day by cleaning the house and the bar. She then prepares breakfast, which consists of kocho or injera with shiro or cabbage. On a rare occasion they consume some milk; it is in fact a luxury. At approx 9am she goes to the water point, around 2 kms away, where she fills a 25 litre gerry can which she carries home on her back. The water is for consumption of the family and for baking injera with.

At around 11am Tadelech prepares the lunch, generally the same food items that the family consumed for breakfast (kocho, injera, shiro and cabbage). Meat is a complete luxury, one the family seldom indulges in. On very rare occasions they may have a chicken. While Tadelech is carrying out these domestic activities she also takes care of the bar and the food she prepares is for the family and also for sale in the bar.

Lunch is eaten at around 1pm and then Tadelech sets off to the water point again to fetch another 25 litres of water. She takes advantage of the fact that people gather at the water point and will sell some refreshments there. So not only is she carrying water she is also carrying the bottles of soft drink with her.

In late afternoon, Tadelech prepares the food for dinner (the same food items as for breakfast and lunch) and continues her work in the bar. The family will eat dinner together at around 7pm and may sit over a coffee or tea, while Tadelech may tend to customers in the bar. At around 10pm Tadelech will go to bed. This means that Tadelech has worked for approx 16 hours a day

Tadelech generally has not had very good health; up to the age of 33 she suffered from tuberculosis and at one stage over a period of two months she was really seriously ill; finally she sought treatment and is in fact well now. Her husband also suffered form tuberculosis and it was in fact what led to his death. Tadelech also suffers from pulmonary problems associated with smoke and alcohol inhalation during the process of brewing farso. She says that whenever there is bad weather she has flu like symptoms and wonders if it is the ill effects of malaria that was not completely cured. In her house she does sleep under a mosquito net at night, so that should provide her with some protection against malaria in the future. When she has suffered form malaria, she has obtained medication from the local health facility. However, when she feels flu like symptoms, she does not seek medical attention; it is not very serious in comparison with malaria and therefore does not need treatment.

Tadelech is aware of HIV/AIDS and considers that she free of it, as since the death of her husband 12 years ago, she has not had any relations with a man; however she has not been tested. She teaches her younger son about HIV/AIDS and its consequences.

Injera is a staple food in Ethiopia; a large flat pancake made from fermented grain, used to eat sauce with by hand

1 Euro = 23 birr

Shiro is also a staple, generally of poor households; a sauce made from ground chick peas, chilli and onion and eaten with injera.

Local foodstuff made from the enset plant, a type of bread cooked on a griddle

During focus group discussions with men and women in the areas, a daily activity timetable for each sex was compiled. Women commence work at 6am and complete household, family and agricultural tasks at 10.30 pm, carrying out sixteen and a half hours labour in the day. In comparison men work a total of 9 hours.

In Boricha District, malaria is the major illness at 39% (women making up 47% of those who sought treatment). TB is the 4th most common illness and upper respiratory infections are more prevalent among women cooking over an open fire in the confined space of the tukul (SNNPR, Medical Service Annual Report 2005).

Eleema; a Borena woman’s journey

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Pastoralism is one of the oldest socio-economic systems in Ethiopia, in which livestock husbandry in open grazing areas represents the major means of subsistence for the pastoralists. Pastoralists belonging to about 29 different ethnic groups occupy 60% of the territory and constitute about 12% of the total population. Despite the contribution of the pastoral system to the national economy of the country, the history of development policies and programmes in Ethiopia shows that they have neglected pastoralism. There have never been appropriate pastoral development policies and programmes in

Pastoralists live in the least developed regions of the country, characterized by poverty, high level of illiteracy, inadequate infrastructure particularly roads, the worst served by health services and receiving the least external support. Women in these regions are considered to be in an even poorer state than men, especially in terms of health conditions. This is because the illiteracy rate is higher among women, poverty is worse, access to health services is lower and the prevalence of harmful traditional practices that negatively impact on women’s health is serious and widespread.

The Borena in Southern Ethiopia are one of the largest pastoralist groups. Pastoralism is the dominant livelihood system of the Borena people, though some community members are gradually tending to agro-pastoralism (livestock and crop production) as coping mechanism than confidently diversifying their livelihood. Livestock remains to be the vital source of food and income. Pastoralist livelihoods are almost completely reliant on water and yet water sources and supply are extremely limited. Health service coverage is very low, less than 40 %, compared to the national and regional figure. The case is similar in the education sector. Illiteracy rate is rampant at 80%, and the enrolment at school age is very low, below 50%. Enrolment of girls in rural schools is extremely low, at approx 20%. Women are the most disadvantaged group and are the victims of these scarce services.


Eleema lives in Elwaye in Yabello Woreda in Borena Zone. The village is a very small one with approx 30 people – 16 male and 14 female; of the males, 3 are old men and the rest are children; of the females, 5 are old women and the rest are children.

Eleema is 30 years old and is a Borena Pastoralist. She got married when she was 15 years. Her husband, Huqaa is 72 years old. According to the Gada System of the Borena, men cannot get married until they are 32 years of age. Up to this age they have social obligations to the community, and must fulfil these before starting a family. As women are not perceived to have an important social role they can get married from the age of 15. Eleema and her husband are from the same village. Huqaa asked Eleema’s family for permission to marry her and it was agreed. Polygamy is very common in Borena; however Eleema is an only wife. The Borena and therefore the women accept polygamy and extra marital relationships as normal. One of Eleema’s neighbours has two wives; another man in the village has a relationship with a girl in the village. Eleema does not worry about her husband and other women as she feels that he is now too old and tired to be interested!

Eleema has 3 daughters and 2 sons. The eldest child is a 9 year old daughter. She said she had her first child when she was 17 years old. The Borena prohibit sexual intercourse between a husband and a wife until they have been married for 2 years. Eleema gave birth to her first child approx 2 years after marriage. The youngest child is approx 1 and a half years old and is at home with his mother all the time.

Eleema’s daily life is very demanding. It is generally acknowledged that rural women in Ethiopia work up to 17 hours a day. Eleema is busy all the time and has no free time for herself in her daily routine. She gets up at approx 5.30 am and starts her work by going out to care for the animals. For pastoralists, their animals are the most important component of the household and will always get first attention. She will milk the cows and tend to the goats. Some of the milk (approx 1 litre) is kept for household consumption and the rest is sold in the local market.

When finshed with the animals, Eleema prepares breakfast for her family, which consists of boiled milk, and sometimes Buluqa ( need to get explanation from Girma)

Water is hugely important for the household and there is no local water source. In the dry season Eleema spends approx 1 and a half hours walking to the water source. She can spend up to a couple of hours collecting water, which involves digging into the dry river bed, deep enough until she finds water. Locally other people may dig the holes, and those who have found the water have the first right to it, however, s/he then has to allow others access to the hole and water and cannot sell the water.

On this particular day, there were a number of holes where water could be collected. Water collecting is a very social occasion, were news and information is shared while filling containers. Some women have brought clothes to wash and others have brought their donkeys for water.

When Eleema has filled a 25 litre jerry can (which weighs 25 kg) and washed her clothes, she sets off back to her tukul carrying the water on her back, and carrying the washing in a large basin. Her 9 year old daughter carries a 12 litre jerry can full of water, strapped to her back. On the way home, they collect firewood for use at home. The return walk will probably take her more than one and a half hours as they are not only carrying the water, but also collecting firewood. If they cannot scavenge enough firewood for the day, they will go out later in the day to collect what is required.

When they arrive at the tukul, the water they have collected is then given to their animals.

Eleema then starts to prepare lunch. The family have stored some maize from their own harvest in the roof of the tukul. Eleema and her daughter then sit together on the ground and take the grain off the cobs. Eleema then grinds the maize manually in a large mortar and pestle. This maize meal is then winnowed to take out the course skin from the flour; the skin is fed to the animals and the flour is used for the families’ lunch. Eleema mixes water and some milk with the maize flour, kneads it into a large flat pancake and cooks it over the fire on a griddle. The fire is in the house.

After lunch, Eleema and her daughter go back a second time to the water point to get water for the family. Water collection alone this day took approx 10 hours.

When Eleema is at home she always has some kind of housework to do; minor repairs to the walls and roof of the tukul; making pots out of clay which she puts cowry shells as ornamentation; and other routine tasks.

Eleema’s husband, Huqaa spends his time looking after the families cattle. In the dry season, there is little grass or forage around the village and he goes off with the animals to find grazing. He may return to his family in the evening or, if he is very far away, he may stay out with the animals. In the wet season when there is forage close to the village he stays at home.

Typically in Borena the husband controls the money in the household; however, he cannot sell an animal without consulting with his wife. If he breaks this rule, the wife reports him to the Gada and he has to compensate her. If the wife needs money, she asks him for it and with her consent he will then sell an animal. When he is going to the market to sell the animal, she will go with him and use the cash to buy what they need.

Selling milk in the market is the woman’s job. The market place is 15 kms away from the village and Eleema walks there carrying litres of milk for sale. With the money she makes from the sale of the milk, she may buy some basic household items or foodstuff and then she will walk the 15 kms back home to her house.

The Borena are not particularly religious people. Eleema believes that there is a “God” in the heaven but does not really carry out any rituals in adoration. If and when prayers or invocations are said, the first prayer is for the animals and livestock in the household and then prayers for the family ensue. In the dry season, when water is very scare, the Borena will often pray for rain; primarily for the welfare of their livestock.

The Borena carry out celebrations in the community for a wedding and for the birth of a child. Eleema was very happy with the birth of her children and when they are well in every day life. Eleema is not particularly concerned about dying; it is a fact that will occur. When a person in the community dies, s/he is put in a sitting position and buried in the ground, above which a mound of stones will be placed as a marker. The Borena do not believe in life after death. The community has an oral tradition and would spend time telling stories.

Health of a person is very important, however the Borena, despite having little religious faith, believe that illness is the punishment of God. When ill, the Borena do try and go to the health facility and get medicine (the nearest health post to here) but God will decide the fate; whether the medicine will cure the patient or not. The community are familiar with local common illnesses, like malaria. They know that malaria is transmitted by the mosquito; however they do not have mosquito nets over the beds or any other preventative measures to protect them. It is common to suffer from malaria, and when sick they get treatment from the local facilities.

The Borena are familiar with HIV/AIDs. They consider it a killer disease and again like any other illness consider it to be a tool of God. Despite this Eleema knows that transmission occurs through sexual relations and with cutting instruments. Traditionally the Borena cultural practice with regard to a woman who had just given birth was that her husband could not have sexual relations with her for 2 years after the birth. During this 2 year period he was allowed to have relations with other women. However, as a result of their knowledge and awareness, the Gada have forbidden this practice, as a means to prevent HIV transmission.

Traditionally the Borena carry out circumcision on both males and females. For males it takes place between 8 and 10 years of age and is carried out in the community. Circumcision of females is considered an easy process. Normally it is an old woman in the community who carries it out when the girl is 11 – 12 years old and typically occurs around the time of her first menstruation. This is not carried out in a ritualistic or celebratory manner and is done individually rather than in groups. Eleema did associate cutting tools with the spread of HIV/AIDs and when asked about tools used in circumcision maintained that the cutter would know if the tool was infected and would change it for a clean one. When asked about female circumcision, Eleema accepts the fact that she was subjected to the practice because it is part of her culture. She has a very strong memory of the pain; however also remembers the fact that she was fed the best food in here household for one week (normally young girls would receive left over food after the men and boys have eaten). At the end of the week she was allowed to play with other children again. She accepts it because it is her culture. Eleema will have her daughter circumcised; if she does not, Eleema believes that no one will want to marry her as she has not been circumcised.

Eleema is ambitious and wants all her male children to go to school; she doesn’t know if this will be possible, but hope so. It is also very important for her and her husband to have an adequate number of livestock and to make the required profit for them to live and realise her hopes.

Eleema was born early in the morning and her name means “time to go and milk the cow”

The Gada is the form of government of the Borena

As many Borena, particularly women, are illiterate and innumerate, knowing ones age and calculating time is often problematic – if this really was the case, her daughter should be 13 years old. To tell the date, the community refer to the Gada cycle of 7 years; the eldest person in the area was 104 years old, calculated by the Gada cycle.

Women through the border

New neighbors, new faces, new stories: immigration is changing our cities. But rarely are we familiar with  the personal stories that lie behind it.

“Women Through the Border”  bridges that gap. The project includes a series of cultural activities that aim to bring the audience closer to the experience of a group of Senegalese women currently living in Spain. At the heart of the project is  a photo exhibit that traces the routes these women have followed  from in their home towns and cities in Senegal to the new homes they have made for themselves in Spain. Through an intimate series of portraits, the exhibit explores the relationship they maintain with those left behind and  the dreams that give them strength to carry on.

Over the course of the exhibit, special presentations – including cinema, live music and live storytelling – show the wealth of Senegalese culture that they women bring with them.

Photos of the exhibit in Granada.

Articles published by the project.

The exhibit (photos and text -in spanish-)


Luna Vives / organization, text, photography.

Javier Acebal / organization, photography, graphic and web design

Patricia García Arias / press relations

María Díaz Perera / illustration





  • International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, by Luna Vives: Women Through the Border (24/10/2009)
  • Discreto lector, por Juan Mata: Ellas que caminan a nuestro lado (25/11/2009)
  • Radio
  • La voz del Senegal, en Onda Maracena Radio. Entrevista por Emilio Morales | Web
  • Mujeres Viajeras, de Evolution FM. Entrevista por Pilar Tejera (11/03/09) | Blog
  • Levando Anclas, de Radio Euskadi. Entrevista por Roge Blasco (8/2/09, 17/7/09) | Blog


  • Canal Sur. Informativos 25/11/09
  • Localia. Informativos 25/11/09


Granada 2010/2014 @ the neurosciences institute Federico Olóriz, Granada. University of Granada.

Granada 23 Nov / 5 Dec, 2009. Place: Biblioteca de Andalucía, Granada, Spain. Dates: November 23 to December 5, 2009 Photo Exhibit: Javier Acebal and Luna Vives. Movie: Little Senegal by Rachid Bouchareb and Caravane des dix Mots (in collaboration with Alianza Francesa de Granada). Concert: Live Hispano-Senegalese music. Live Storytelling by Boni Ofogo.

Models of women

Despite the obstacles set by tradition between Senegalese women and the labor market, new models of femininity arise. Along with the traditional woman (young wife, mother of a large number of children and housewife) more and more professional women are to be seen. Young people with aspirations beyond their family house and with the support of their family.


Women education is a big challenge in the country: according to the United Nations Development Programme, in 2007 more than half the men (52.3%) could read, while only one third of women (33 %) was in the same situation.

The situation is particularly serious in rural areas of Senegal. In the cities, school enrollment rates of girls and young women are higher, and a small but growing number of them decides to continue in secondary education. That, of course, if the family supports this decision and can afford an education, because scholarships are scarce and do not often reach the beneficiaries, resulting in strikes and disruptions of classes that can last months.

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God is great

Insha’Allah. If there is an expression heard in the streets of Senegal is this: Insha’Allah, if God wills it. “I will go to Spain to work to help my family, Insha’Allah.” And in Spain: “I will return to Dakar to celebrate the tabaski (the feast of the lamb) with my family, Insha’Allah, I will go with my new boubou (dress) and buy a new pair of rams to share with my neighbors.”


And other expressions of everyday life: Alhamdulillah, praise be to God, for his blessings, for having slept well, because a relative has got a visa in Spain.Sometimes it is replaced by the equivalent in Wolof: Sante Yalla. How’s the family?: Gnu ngi ci jamm? Sante Yalla, well, thanks God. O Bismillah (literally, in the name of God, the most merciful, the compassionate) before eating to wish a good digestionto guests around a thiéboudienne. It is also often heard Waay Yalla baaxna: do not lose hope that everything will be OK, because God is great in his mercy.

They are daily demonstrations of the strength of Islam in Senegal, where 95% of the population is Muslim, a proportion that has been increasing at the expense of Catholics and Animists in the course of the twentieth century.

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Health problems

Mame works at a Senegalese restaurant in Madrid. She has been in Spain since the age of 16, and she is married to a Senegalese man from her hometown, and has an 8 year old son divided between two lands: that of his parents and that of himself. Like other women from Senegal, Mame has trouble reconciling her work and the demands of motherhood.


This is the dilemma: if she looks after her son Pape, she risks losing her job and residence permit; if she works, she must pay someone to look after Pape (which would cost her more than her monthly salary) or send him to Senegal during part of the year to have women of her family-in-law take care of him.

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Being a woman in Senegal

Senegalese society is a complex one in which there are more than ten different ethnic groups and at least three religions divided, in turn, into a large number of families or sects within Islam known as brotherhoods.


With the exception of the southern region of Casamance, home of the Jola, these ethnic and religious clashes have not been very relevant. In fact, it is noteworthy that in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority (approximately 95%), the first President of the Republic after the independence of the country in 1960 was a Catholic from an ethnic minority: Leopold Sedar Senghor. read more

Women through the Border

The journey has been long and often complicated, but most of their problems, like ours, are everyday ones. One day they decided to leave behind everything they have known to begin an adventure that would take them to Spain.


Some came alone, seeking those euros that would enable them to pay their children’s education or support their parents, sometimes they came to finish their studies or followed their husbands. Some of our women left with a “See you soon”, but the trip had no date of return, while others who planned to stay in Spain have already decided to come back due to the enormous difficulty in getting a steady job given the current economic situation.

They are the invisible stories of immigration, those that are not usually shown on the news: women (and men) who left from the airport of Yoff and have only see the boats with immigrants on television. Immigrants who struggle every day to meet their expenses and keep going, with no one asking them who they are or where they come from. Stories, too, of their relationship with those they left behind…

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