8th August 2013
Our project site, the Yaedachini valley in the far north of Tanzania, sits close to a semi-settled community of some of the last hunter-gatherers in Africa. Getting more familiar with the locals, a lot of our team members have been rubbing shoulders a little more, and one of our volunteers has been able to learn a lot about the lives of local women.
Many east-African tribal societies live under a patriarchal system, whereby men dominate decision-making both in the community and at home, despite the fact that essential domestic duties are disproportionately the responsibility of women. Women and children are responsible for childcare, walking great distances to collect water and firewood, cooking and cleaning in the home. This is a huge barrier to gender equality, but the fact that young girls are more likely to be those pulled from school to do these things means that this problem casts a long shadow into the future.
There are some societies in Africa that, by contrast, live by a matrilineal system in which women are the main decision makers in family life. For example, the Mwera people follow this system. They remain very poor and as such are exposed to discrimination and unemployment in greater society, as well as problems of maternal health.
In many aspects, Hadzabe society shows a strong level of gender equality. Women routinely participate in political, cultural, economic and social decision-making. Though access is restricted and school-based education is unusual for this society, when it happens, girls have an equal chance to go to school. They do, however, share a heavy burden of domestic duties – gathering fruit and digging for roots in the bush, fetching water and firewood, childcare, building houses and cooking. Men are generally responsible for hunting only. The hunting is, of course, tough and very dangerous.
Nonetheless, Hadzabe families remain in extreme poverty and are politically marginalised – hence they and their traditional lifestyles are extremely vulnerable. Their access to maternal healthcare is extremely low and because of this, infant mortality is very high. An attempt in 2007 to lease a large area of their traditional hunting grounds to a private foreign interest shows how threatened their position in society is.