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Moving towards change: Hiring women labourers in Mozambique

In response to Cyclone Idai, which made landfall in Mozambique on March 14th, 2019, the Canadian Red Cross sent its field hospital to support the Nhamatanda District Hospital. Months after the emergency,  the team on the ground is working on the rehabilitation of the district hospital.

The Canadian Red Cross is committed to making sure that gender equality and social inclusion considerations are actively included in all programs. The aim  is to actively respond to, or transform, gender and other social inequalities. 

First responders often say it is generally a challenge to hire equal numbers of women and men because of the urgent nature of disasters as well as the education requirements for certain positions. But sometimes the challenges are due to assumptions about who can do what – such as the heavy labour required in construction

According to analysis conducted by the Canadian Red Cross, women and girls in Mozambique have very low levels of education in comparison to men and boys. They often experience high levels of domestic and other forms of gender based violence, mostly work as unpaid farm labourers or engage in survival sex, and have higher rates of HIV/AIDS. Knowing this, the response in Mozambique proactively sought to hire equal numbers of women and men in order to offer equal opportunities for work and the development of new skills.
Woman labourer at work
This shows what proactively seeking gender parity can achieve. The Canadian Red Cross purposefully sought out women daily labourers and as such received more than 200 applications from women. The most proficient were hired, many of whom had children and some of them with breastfeeding babies, who were accommodated on the hospital site.   
From just one woman daily labourer recruited in the beginning, there are now 14 women and 16 men working on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of parts of the hospital.  Each of the teams (e.g. masonry, carpentry, painting, plumbing, etc.) have an equal number of men and women. None of them were skilled labourers previously and were provided on the job training.

team at workOne thing the team of workers have been working on is the rehabilitation of the hospital toilets, which had become unusable. They worked to make them more dignified by installing both culturally appropriate squat toilets, which are easier to maintain, as well as the “Western-style” commode in some toilet blocks for pregnant women, older people and people with disabilities. The design includes installing lighting both inside and outside the toilets, internal locks to ensure privacy and safety, individual garbage bins for disposing menstrual hygiene supplies, shower facilities and laundry sinks.

Enya is the youngest member of the team of women, at 18.

“I asked Enya if she want to cut and install the shower curtains and after I showed her how to do it, she took the lead and installed all of them in the five toilet blocks,” said technician Stephane Barsalou. “She is saving her salary, at the bank, to go to university next year. The t-shirt she has on is absolutely not representing her… she is serious and a hard and dedicated worker!” 

Enya in a shirt that says party animal

Further research is needed to fully understand the potential transformational consequences of the women labourers employed through the Canadian Red Cross transitional rehabilitation and reconstruction work. Similar emergencies have recorded gender transformational change, due to various factors including greater opportunities for women to participate in activities which were not available earlier. With their new skills and experience, do these female labourers now have the potential to challenge traditional roles and stereotypes about gender exclusive roles/employability and improve their economic earning potential in a paid labour field?

We also know from other regions, that women are not easily accepted in non-traditional professions and sometimes, a long term dedicated social norms change process is required to gain this acceptance, for which long term programming support is necessary.

Photo credits: Leanne Joy and Stephane Barsalou

Related stories: 
Working together to build a hospital in Mozambique
Protecting the most vulnerable during disasters and emergencies
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