When I was grocery shopping in Tamale a few weeks ago, I came across a woman selling bread at a food stand with a banner written across the top that read, “To be a woman is not easy”. Almost all the shops in Tamale have storefront names with powerful and sometimes silly sayings such as this one. To give you some examples, “Everything by God”, “Serious Man Hot Food”, “Jesus Loves You Barber Shop” or “Home Sweet Home Kenkey”. The names usually make me chuckle but this one made me think.
I immediately thought of the women entrepreneurs that run the water treatment centers in the CWS communities. They are the complete embodiment of this very shop name… to be a woman is not easy in the slightest, especially in a rural village outside of Tamale.
Lydia, one of the women who runs the water business in Sakpalua, recently talked to Spring 2012 fellow, Chelsea Hodgkins, about what it means to be a woman in Sakpalua versus a woman living in Tamale. “The women in the city have it easy”, Lydia told Chelsea. “In the village, the women go to their farms very early in the morning and then are expected to come home, take care of the children then clean and cook for the family”, she continued. After hearing snippets of their conversation, I wanted to hear more about the lives of the women who run the water businesses on top of farming and taking care of their families.
Right now is one of the busiest times of the year for subsistence farmers because it is the peak of the harvest season in the Northern Region of Ghana. After the rains, everyone wants to collect their crops before it gets too dry. Some farmers leave as early as 4:00 AM so they can start working in the morning while it’s still cool. Farmers harvest groundnuts, maize, yam, soy beans, cassava, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, rice, firewood, tobacco, cotton and cow peas to name a few. Not to mention that when it stops raining, the weddings and funerals start in the North.
So how do the women who run the water businesses find the time or the incentives to sell water during the peak of the harvest season? Well, it’s complicated. For starters, people have run out of rainwater so the only option they have for clean water is treated water from the polytank. This means that the demand for clean water is there. And the incentive that drives many of the women to work at the centers is the same incentive that gets people to work at desk jobs back in the US, they want to make money to pay the bills. This monetary incentive has to be there because if women work at the centers strictly for the greater good of their communities, they will have no money to pay for aquatabs, broken parts or for the time they could have spent on their farms.
But what happens when people in the communities are collecting water from different sources? This is where the plot thickens. In Kpanayili, the people in the community are collecting water for cooking, cleaning and washing at nearby wells and streams. They will get water from these sources until they dry and then they will go back to getting water at the dugout. As noted before, the women in the communities already have long days so if they can lessen their load by shortening the walk to get water, then they will do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the water treatment center is next to the dugout. This is not the case in all CWS communities at this time but there are several that deal with challenges such as this during the transition from the rainy season to the dry season.
So how can we convince people to make the extra walk just for clean water, while we wait for these other sources to dry? It’s not easy. While it may seem like clean water should be high on the priority list, the reality is that it’s not for everyone. Farmers are focusing on their harvest and prioritizing food over clean water because this is their sustenance. Farming is how people survive. If that means drinking contaminated water for 2 weeks so that they do not have to walk as far and as a result get more time on their farms, then they’ll take the risk.
In the long run, what will 2 weeks of diarrhea do if it means having more money for the family this year? If you asked this question to a public health official, they would answer A LOT. But the women working in these communities are not public health officials; they are simply trying to make their work as easy as possible. Because after all, to be a woman is not easy.