(ERGO) – Amina Ahmed Ali, a middle-aged mother of seven, collects stones for nine hours a day at a gravel factory in Jigjiga, in Ethiopia’s Somali region, to provide for her children.
Amina is among 40 women doing the back-breaking work, as she could not find any other job and her family is desperate after losing the harvest on their farm to locusts.
“I am too old for people to hire me for a housemaid’s job,” said Amina, 50, who works six days a week at the factory for a daily wage of $4.
Amina came to Jigjiga seven months ago to find work to support her destitute family after their two-hectare farm in Tuliguled was attacked by locusts just before harvest last year, destroying $600 worth of crops.
“We lived a good life when we depended on the farm produce. We never thought even for a day we would be living in such hardship. We are now ready to start farming again if we get the money,” said Amina, who is trying to save to restart the farm.
They are given drinking water and two meals a day from the factory and a day off on Friday. She sends about $10 a week to her children and their diabetic father, whom she left behind in Tuliguled in Jarar zone, 33 km away. She is living in a corrugated iron room she built on land owned by a relative.
Siyado Ahmed Yussuf, a mother of eight, has been working at the gravel factory for three years, after her family fled conflict between Somali and Oromo communities in 2017. They do not plan to return to their village, where they lost 30 goats, 10 cows and their one-hectare farm.
“After being robbed of our wealth, we decided to flee to a town and that is how we found our way here. We were assisted by our relatives and I later got this job,” she said.
Siyado is now the sole-breadwinner of the family and built a shelter on land owned by a relative.
Ismail Mohamoud Aar, the owner of the gravel factory, said he found it hard to turn these women away. Although the work of the 40 women could be done by 12 men, he said he compromised to give the women the opportunity they needed to earn a living. He said he pays women and men the same wages.
“They are needy mothers; we give them their food and water for free on the days they are at work. We assigned them an easy job compared to what the men working at the factory do,” he said.