A UN report has found that girls spend 40% more time working in the house than boys, which is the equivalent of 160 million extra hours. Yesterday (11th of October) was the International Day of the Girl, which looks to promote equal opportunities for the girl child. 6 African countries, Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia, have been marked at the top of an index listing the hardest place to be a girl. The life of the girl child can be arduous in African households. Many a morning have I seen young ladies up before the sun, sweeping, washing clothes manually, cleaning the house, fetching water, collecting firewood, or even out selling pure water. If those chores are not completed often there is punishment, but the real punishment is that their childhood is stolen from them. In the UK, parents often want to their children to help out a little around the house, if only as to teach them about a work ethic, but not so that it is detrimental to their education and time spent being a child.
In many cases in Africa, children end up late to school (where they receive further punishment) and unable to concentrate in class due to tiredness. The problem snowballs down, with females under represented at all levels of education in Africa. Simple innovations should be able to reduce the workload in the house in order to enable girls (and boys, who also must work harder than they should) to have a proper childhood.
Cooking takes up an awful lot of time in an African household. Whether it is pouncing yam and plantain, or stirring with great energy a thickening mass of cassava dough, it could be possible that people exert more energy making the food than they gain from eating it! We seem to have found innovations that speed up the process of cooking and baking other types of foods, but these innovations have not yet dealt with the time spent in the African kitchen. In rural Africa I have rarely seen a food blender, which could be used to grind the chilli pepper, onions and tomatoes that are a base in so many African dishes. The time and effort that goes into using the pestle and mortar could be put to greater use.
Pounding fufu is also receiving some innovative attention. Fufu is a made from pounding yam and plantain with a huge pestle. If you have ever tried it, you will realise how strenuous it is, as well as dangerous for the fingers that have to flick in and out of the mortar turning the fufu as it is pounded together. Usually one half of the fufu pounding double act is a child, again taking them away from more useful things. At Kumasi Polytechnic in Ghana, they have come up with a fufu preparing machine, which takes into consideration speed of processing as well as hygiene. More innovations to speed up cooking in the house will lessen the responsibility places on children in the house hold.
For these innovations electricity can be an issue. Many times kids have to spend so much time working in the house because electricity is not available, or is to costly, to run electrical appliances. Lack of water also doesn’t help. It is impossible to run washing machines and washing clothes remains a very time consuming affair, usually done early in the morning before school.
Solar innovations are beginning to enable households to access more technology and make their households more efficient. Organisations like the Solar Sisters are not only employing people, they are distributing power throughout rural Africa. Other innovations like the solar cookers distributed by Solar Cookers International, which use the suns heat to cook, are also able to change the ways households work. The daily chore of going to collect firewood can be drastically reduced if using the suns energy to cook. Of course, there will be some cooler days in which firewood is still needed, but generally, the running of the household will increase in efficiency.
What other innovations are there that can take the work load of children, especially girls, in the African household? How else can we get parents to not overuse their children? Please comment and share the blog on Twitter and Facebook