Time and Energy – Key Resources for Fostering Women’s Empowerment in Ethiopian Households

Often hailed as many a society’s backbone, there is no doubt that women play a pivotal role in the development of an economy. This is also true for developing economies like Ethiopia, a country that has been identified as a low-income food-deficit nation by the World Bank and whose agricultural workforce is 43 percent female. What’s more, time and time again, research has proven that the burden put on women in a household has a notable effect on the household’s nutritional status and food security. 

Figure 1 Yeshiwork Abebaw cultivates mung beans in her native North Gondar District

Yeshiwork Abebaw cultivates mungbeans in her native North Gondar District


It is important to recognize that the role of women goes  beyond the workforce, as their responsibilities are largely threefold: productive (economic), reproductive (child-bearing and rearing) and social (community building). These responsibilities demand a great deal of time and energy from women, who often have not been given equal authority in decision making within households and the community.

Time is one of the five dimensions identified in the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), launched in 2012 by IFPRI, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), and USAID's Feed the Future to measure levels of women’s empowerment. In a study commissioned under Growth through Nutrition’s Small Grants program, this index identified that women were least empowered in terms of the time dimension, based on a study covering 428 households in the Wonago district, in the SNNPR region of Ethiopia.

Sometimes dubbed as “time-poverty,” a term used to describe the time being stretched between tasks throughout the day, this has long been a challenge for women worldwide but is especially true in rural communities where time-saving technologies are scarce or sometimes non-existent. While the scarcity of time is associated in general with poverty, in many cases the effect is more prominent amongst women than men. For example, in Tanzania, a study by USAID-funded Feed the Future project Nafaka Activity determined that in households where women spend 60% of their time on unpaid activities, men only spend 23% of their time on the same tasks.

Alemtsehay's husband, Alemu, and his sisters help her with household chores during her pregnancy

Alemtsehay's husband Alemu and his sisters help her with household chores during her pregnancy


Despite women spending significant time on unpaid tasks, they are still expected to participate in farming activities amidst socio-cultural discrimination, poor decision equity, and limited access to extension and credit services, limiting their economic development over time. While the cultural dimensions of labor division may continue to challenge households, access to time-saving technologies and better services could go a long way.

Although many of Growth through Nutrition’s activities target women through community interventions that intrinsically affect them, it is important to actively integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment into all program activities, as well as support the Government of Ethiopia in its endeavor to do so. The project has therefore emphasized this priority by making gender a cross-cutting activity, integrated into all other aspects of its work.

So far, gender equality training has been provided to 123 project staff members in order to enable gender-responsive implementation across the board. The project believes that women are not the only responsible parties in advancing the women’s empowerment agenda; in addition, at the core of Growth through Nutrition’s gender efforts, power dynamics, through effective negotiation and reasoning, play a vast role in building equitable labor division. In project enhanced community conversations (ECC), both men and mothers-in-law are targeted to ensure that healthy communication develops between couples and a supportive environment for women’s empowerment is cultivated.

The project also has worked to improve access to time-saving technologies, which include the provision of multi-purpose stoves to more than 600 most nutritionally vulnerable project beneficiaries. This has helped pregnant and lactating mothers save time and energy on cooking and food preparation activities, which are critical to ensure improved nutrition in households.

Growth through Nutrition has documented these and other positive developments toward gender equality in households and communities. However, as with many things rooted in tradition, it will continue to take a lot of work before time poverty becomes a thing of the past for women.


Magdalawit Ghirma is the Knowledge Management and Communications Officer for the Growth through Nutrition Activity.

Yetarik Sibhatu is a Gender and Safeguarding Expert, with a strong background in gender-related project activities, among her work in gender is that in Growth through Nutrition as well as its predecessor - ENGINE. Yetarik has leant a great deal of such expertise to both the project at large as well as the development of this article.


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