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.

Photo: ColaLife


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


5. Domestic Technology, the book’s 5th Sector, is where all kinds of labor saving tools for cooking and laundering should be. But they are missing, because no one has designed them yet. There isn’t an affordable diaper for the developing world’s low-income moms. There isn’t a blender or chopper. There isn’t a washing machine or a tool for drying laundry on rainy days. There isn’t a dishwasher.

What exists are many styles of fuel efficient stoves ranging from solar stoves that require no energy, heat retention “fireless cookers” that consume just enough energy to bring a pot to a boil and then cook with no added energy, like a slow cooker, and hundreds of Improved Cookstoves that use conventional fuel, just far less of it.

One very smart, simple hand tool DOES exist, the maize sheller (Tool #54). Instead of shelling corn ears by hand, this mechanical device does it in half the time, with far less hand strain. More time saved and tedium averted.

Solar-powered drip irrigation in Nepal Photo: Bimala Rai Colavito, USAID


6. Smallholder Farming, Sector 6, is key for women, half of the world’s farmers. In low resource regions they farm without even draft animal assistance, back-breaking labor. Women have less access to training and inputs, so their implements are especially primitive. Drip-irrigation (Tool #64) is an affordable breakthrough, paid off in increased yield and food security. Tubing runs from gravity-fed receptacles of water, letting the farmer water her crop by simply opening up the system. This yields a huge time dividend: no need to fetch heavy water, carry it to the field, and pour it on the plants. Plus it uses less water.

Bike Pooling to school on a rugged Buffalo Bike Photo: World Bicycle Relief


7. Transportation, Sector 7, focuses on a much over-looked challenge for the world’s poorest, moving themselves, their children, and their goods around. People in extreme poverty obviously don’t own vehicles and roads are often unpaved, without a functional mass transit infrastructure. That’s why we see so many photos of head-loading, women walking while carrying massive weight on their heads. No surprise, it’s a terrible strain on women’s bodies.

There is a great solution: bicycles (Tool #78). Girls can pedal to school, often far from home, in a fraction of the time as walking, and more safely. Girls on foot are often targets for older men who offer them rides and expect payment. Bikes allow microentrepreneurs to transport goods. A bike can carry that load that previously was on women’s heads while cutting transit time. Bikes are four times faster than walking. Bikes are beyond most poor people’s means, but can be shared to pool the expense.

Selling her crop with the press of a button in Kenya Photo: REUTERS/Antony Njuguna


8. Information Communication Technology, Sector 9, and Financial Tools, Sector 10, are burgeoning, though there is a huge digital divide not only between rich and poor, but also between poor men and poor women.

Think how many times a day we are now in the habit of using our cellphones to find out everything from the weather to instructions.  Women in the developing world similarly benefit from digital information access. A great time saver, for example, is female smallholder farmers selling produce via phone, avoiding trips to the market. Banking by cellphone, similarly, averts long trips to banks—if there is one in walking distance.

The World Economic Forum Blog reports:

The minute she sold her macadamias to a nut processor last summer, Kenyan farmer Joyce Kaguru’s phone vibrated with an alert. Picking it up, she saw an SMS receipt showing the price and quantity of her crop, a digital record of previous deliveries – and a mobile payment in her digital wallet. With the touch of a few buttons, a process that used to take days was now complete.

Young girl with her newly obtained documentation, at a street fair in Kenya Photo: Plan.org


9. Legal tools, Sector 11, provide a gateway to entitlements, but they are often very difficult and time-consuming to access. Citizens in remote areas as well as slum dwellers, often with low literacy rates, are generally unaware of their rights, making them easily marginalized and exploited. Digital birth registration (Tool #94) can save families hours of waiting, or even days that would be required to travel to a regional capital to submit paper work. When these systems are adopted, birth registration rate zooms up. This allows parents to obtain benefits to which her children are entitled.

Creating access to these many improvements can provide a huge time dividend to the world’s time-starved girls and women. They will use it wisely! Their time will actually be monetized. Time will actually be money.

This blog is based on a talk that Betsy Teutsch gave at the Commission on the Status of Women 60, an NGO event in New York in March 2016.

#BetsyTeutsch

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