Women’s work

Woman working on a blanket with harvested rice

Working with harvested rice in Indonesia

An astute reader of Food for the Hungry’s posts on Facebook asked a great question about our Labor Day photo album, featuring people around the world at work:  “As I look through these photos, I notice that a majority of them are about women. Are they just more photogenic or is this indicative of something more?”

Great question!

First, FH specifically puts a priority on working with most vulnerable people in a community. Women without a male in the household –especially those with children — are definitely vulnerable.  So many of our programs will have more women than men because female-headed families are more vulnerable.

Second, FH focuses on helping children, by making their communities better places for kids to grow up and reach their God-given potential.  Even if there’s a man in the house, the woman usually has the responsibility for the children’s well-being. Studies have shown that income in a woman’s hands is more likely to be spent on the kids.  Some of the work you see in the photos is our attempt to increase women’s income so their kids will reap the benefits: money for school fees, cash for emergency medical care, and profit from their business that they can use to buy food to improve nutrition in the home.

And third, yes, in some cultures, men do a lot of negotiating and relationship-building whereas the women do most of the physical labor that we focused upon in this slide show. This is especially true of agricultural work. I’m not wanting to speak harshly of the men, to lump them all together as deadbeats. But the truth is that many of them just don’t see a problem with a woman working longer hours at hard labor. Part of FH’s work is to help men see their wives as partners and to steward her as God intended, not to work her as if she’s one of the livestock.

Lastly, it’s confession time: Yes, sometimes the women are just more colorfully dressed and that’s why they’re in the photos.  I’ve seen a lot of places in the world where men adopted Western slacks and shirts but women held onto the traditional dress.  In some cases it’s a sign that they’re isolated from contact with the outside world; they don’t know the “power language,” they don’t know how to deal with the government, they don’t know how to bargain in the market.

But in other cases they are very, very proud of their clothing and wouldn’t trade it, if nothing else because they made the garment and they’re proclaiming their talent. And so taking photo of a woman in traditional clothing, telling her you admire the beauty of her work, makes her feel very proud. (I have also taken photos of beautiful men’s traditional clothing over the years, much of it made by women, and watched the wife beam.)  In a way, showing photos of women in home-made traditional clothing is in itself a nod to their unending hard work.

I’m glad for the question. We talked today in the office about being more intentional about showing men in our photo essays as well.  It might have surprised you to see photos of men who grew up in our work zones, who are now teachers, doctors, agronomists and accountants, as well as farmers.  The women often are a little behind in following their brothers into professions but they are catching up.














About Beth Allen

I'm a self-professed sustainable development geek who would have a very hard time picking a favorite country. That means, I love every tribe and nation and take great joy in seeing how God is working in the world. I've been with FH for nearly two decades, and started out by serving with them in the Bolivian Andes. I can't live without Jesus and coffee, but the coffee is mostly decaf so the power is from Jesus.

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