In Ethiopia it is not common to see husbands supporting their wives with household chores. But Fikeru is one of the brave husbands who is breaking the cultural barrier, and has become a strong advocate of supporting women at home and in the workplace.
I went to meet Masresha Nigussie in the Piassa area of Addis Ababa. It was rush hour and I was visiting her and other women at the bazaar. Some passersby were moving fast to escape the light rain, and a few others stopped to buy items from the bazaar. Masresha was busy selling food to her customers. But she was not alone. Her husband, Fikeru, was working alongside her chopping vegetables and washing dishes, which drew the attention of some visitors. Seeing a husband publicly supporting his wife in activities considered ‘women’s work’ is not a common sight.
Prior to starting her business, Masresha worked as a receptionist but had to lea ve her job as she did not have anyone to take care of their two daughters. She knew, however, that her husband’s income from being a record-keeper at a slaughterhouse was not enough to make ends meet. Thanks to a small loan from friends, Masresha started a food business selling Jebena (traditional Ethiopian coffee), shiro (a traditional food made from beans and peas) and potato sandwiches. Fikeru comments: “I have no doubt about her skill, but I was asking myself how far this capital would make her business sustainable.”
Initially Masresha struggled with balancing her income and expenditure, but after participating in a training on business skills by CARE she was able to expand her business. Masresha adds: “I learnt about creating different business opportunities and the value of record keeping.” As a result, the business has steadily grown over the past two years.
When I ask Fikeru about the barriers facing entrepreneurial Ethiopian women he adds: “I think the main challenges are having no start-up capital, a lack of skills and no links to markets. Involving husbands in this type of project helps them to jointly feel ownership of what can be achieved.” When I ask Fikeru if other men have mocked him for supporting his wife he says: “Yes, sometimes. But I feel really sorry for them as they do not know the value of my support. Their negative comments fall on deaf ears.” His simple advice to other men is: “Get rid of your pride. Support your wife and take on some tasks. At least give it a try and then you will see the benefits.” Masresha proudly adds: “My husband supports me in everything. He is one of the reasons behind my business success. He can replace me and handle most of the tasks I do. There is no division of labor in our family.” And it’s not just Fikeru that helps out - their eight and eleven year-old daughters also help with the business whenever they can. And thanks to the business the two girls can now attend private school.
You can see that Fikeru is incredibly proud of his wife. He adds: “I am proud of her hard work. She has been working hard to change things for the better in our family. Her energy is amazing.” As for the future, Fikeru concludes: “I want to work with her full-time in a few years.”
Fikeru and Masresha were interviewed by Massresha Tadesse, Knowledge Management Advisor at CARE Ethiopia.