Bob Geldof’s plans for Live 8 are admirable. The concerts on July 2nd will refocus the attention of the world upon the desperate plight of countless millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. However, it will take considerably more than Bob Geldof’s efforts to bring substantial change in the lives of ordinary Africans.
In 1998 I had the chance to visit Tanzania with Christian Aid. Taking Larium as an anti-malarial drug did not help matters, but it was an intensely depressing experience. Only one-half of the population appeared to be pulling its weight.
In one village, the men were sitting around while the women seemed busy doing the work as well as caring for the families. There seemed little concern on the part of the males to offer any assistance with any aspect of the daily round of tasks. In frustration I asked about the village water supply, knowing that the only people I had seen carrying the heavy buckets were women and children. One of the men responded that there was a good water supply – it was two miles away.
‘Do you fetch the water?’ I asked in annoyance.
‘No’, he said, without flinching, ‘that is women’s work’.
In another village in a fertile area on the shores of Lake Malawi, there seemed every opportunity of people having a good diet and correspondingly improved health. One man who had worked for thirty years at the local hospital before he retired took delight in showing me his vegetable plot. Everything he had planted seemed to have grown, including tomatoes the size of apples.
Sadly the man’s industry wasn’t much repeated amongst most of the local men. The staple diet locally was cassava; a crop grown and harvested and cooked by the women. The chief male activity seemed to be to sit and talk and to drink millet beer. There was a serious problem with drunkenness in the village and a serious problem with domestic violence.
I read once that women do 90% of the agricultural work in Africa and 100% of the domestic work. A colleague argued that the problem lay with African men losing their traditional role and not having found a new one. Given the fact that the traditional role is not going to return it seems a rather weak reason to sit and do nothing.
The best projects we saw were inevitably those where women had a leading role or where the men decided, like the retired hospital worker, that the only people who could change things were themselves.
The question of gender roles in Africa must be addressed if there is to be real progress, even the AIDS issue needs an examination of male attitudes and behaviour.
Much of Africa will only change when the people themselves, particularly the women, are given the power to bring their own changes.
That will take much more than Bob Geldof.