Better Tools for Women: Delivering a Time Dividend
Guest blog by Betsy Teutsch, activist and author of 100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools For Empowering Global Women
In the rich world, women balance dual demands of anchoring domestic life and working at external jobs. Their direct care load—looking after children, elders, grandchildren, etc—far exceeds men’s, not to mention all the other time-consuming tasks of daily living where they often take the lead: cooking, laundry, cleaning, errands, and shopping plus more.
Imagine accomplishing these tasks without electricity or running water. That is daily life for a billion of the planet’s girls and women.
Women in low-resources areas toil from sun-up to sun-down, dragging water and foraging for cooking fuel, and then cooking over open fires, much the same way our prehistoric foremothers did. They often raise their own food, watering by the bucketful, frequently with babies strapped on their backs.
Why is female labor squandered so? There are affordable tools to accomplish these tasks more quickly and easily. Linda Scott has pointed out that classic patriarchy flatly discounts women’s and girls’ labor. It is uncompensated, rendering it invisible. Women’s economic contributions are missing in classic economic analysis, since what is measured is income.
Impoverished women in the developing world’s low resource regions are so saddled with domestic burdens that they literally have no time to generate the income that could get them out of poverty, a conundrum called Time Poverty.
Time is a valuable, flexible resource. If we can help deliver girls and women a time dividend while providing more opportunities, watch the magic. We know they quickly seek training and education, join women’s co-ops, and earn money. Their families—male and female—benefit along with their communities, boosting the entire nation’s economic prospects.
Shockingly little effort has gone into engineering better manual tools to speed “women’s work.” As end users, they are hard to reach. Often they have no financial agency; men decide what products a household will purchase. The vast majority of both engineers and business people are male, not sensitized to opportunities inherent in providing affordable products for women. Given that girls and women are typically marginalized from tools, tech, and engineering, as well as financial matters, they lack the opportunities, role models, experience, structures, and encouragement to create time-saving tools themselves.
My book, 100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women, curates affordable solutions over a wide range of development sectors. Interestingly, many provide a time dividend, though that is not their primary goal. Below are examples of time shaved from daily tasks. When added up, it can make a big difference in allowing women to power up.
1. Public Health innovations abound. ColaLife, Tool #11, is a modern package for a 50-year-old diarrhea remedy, Oral Rehydration Salts. This simple salt + sugar + clean water solution treats diarrhea-caused dehydration and, since diarrhea is life-threatening to malnourished children, can save hundreds of thousands of kids a year. ColaLife is sold, rather than distributed, tapping into local supply chains. Pilot tests prove mothers will spend precious money to purchase it, because it works and is easy to administer.
The time dividend? Think of the physical labor involved in caring for a child with diarrhea without running water or a washing machine. Not to mention that the remedy is local, eliminating the burden of carrying a weakened child on foot to a far-away clinic only to find they have no treatment in stock.
Additionally, field tests demonstrate the treatment shortens the duration of the illness by a day or two. Children in areas without sanitation and clean water average about three bouts of diarrhea a year. This modest treatment saves immense amounts of maternal time. Caring for ill family members is a huge drain on women’s time; ColaLife directly gives some of it back.
A family planning client in Kampong Thom, Cambodia, displays her contraceptive implant insertion site. © 2012 Marcel Reyners, Courtesy of Photoshare
2. Girls’ and Women’s Health, Sector 2, includes innovations in family planning, a major 20th century factor in freeing women from the burden of caring for more children than they desire to bear and raise.
Long Lasting Reversible Contraception, LARC, (Tool #18) is well-accepted by women, and generally well-tolerated. The remarkable Implanon, two matchstick-sized implants placed subcutaneously in a woman’s upper arm, is affordable ($9.50 through negotiations between foundations, governments, and pharmaceutical corporations), discreet, and lasts five years. Women access the time dividends of family planning, primarily fewer children. Stressed health clinic employees’ time can be redeployed, since clients do not need monthly or quarterly attention. And end users save travel time to far-off dispensaries, with far less risk of not making it to the clinic for pills and becoming pregnant by accident.
Eco Fuel Africa has created a supply chain fabricating and selling eco-briquettes. Photo: Eco Fuel Africa
3. Modern Clean Energy, covered in Sector 3, strives to provide electricity and clean fuel. With no gas or electricity for cooking, women cook over smoky, dangerous, inefficient open fires. Eco-briquette fuel (Tool #32) is fabricated from waste and binder, burning cleanly. Its efficiency means less is required to accomplish the task. While its main benefits are environmental (no trees sacrificed), economic (it is cheaper than other fuels, especially since less is needed), and health (less smoke) it also generates time benefits.
Girls and women no longer go afield foraging for fuel. As populations expand, trees are further and further afield, so this task typically takes more time than previously. Cleaning time is saved as well. Pots used over clean fuel turn out to get far less blackened. That might not seem like a big deal, unless you are the one scrubbing the pots!
Wello Water Wheel’s innovative water roller Photo: WelloWater.org
4. WASH—Water and Sanitation Hygiene traces women through the water cycle. Girls and women are tasked with collecting and transporting the water, a heavy load as well as a long round trip typically on foot.
Cynthia Koenig, a social entrepreneur, heads the Indian Wello Water team designing and distributing a rolling water cart easily pushed or pulled (Tool #36). It holds twice the volume that women can carry. Hence, it does the job in half the time. Priced at $25, demand has been high.
An unexpected added benefit: men like using it. They wouldn’t be caught dead carrying water, a job for women (why?), but they are willing to push and roll the family water, because it’s a TOOL.
Shelling maize in half the time. Photo: OneAcreFund.org – Stephanie Hanson