Ethiopian Women Turn to Construction Jobs for Better Life

The nation's rapidly developing capital, Addis Ababa, has attracted young women eager for better pay and city living.

The bright purple headscarf wrapped around Mekedes Getachew’s face stands out in stark comparison to the monochromatic grays that surrounds her workplace.

At 19 years old, the determined Ethiopian youth hauls heavy bags, shovels sand and climbs scaffolding of raw timber at construction sites in Addis Ababa alongside 60 male coworkers. Aspirations of supporting herself through school, instead of marrying young as most rural Ethiopian girls do, motivated the teenager to leave her family and village to earn money in the city for her education.

Getachew, who has been working these sites since age 15, represents a gradually growing group of Ethiopian women who have turned away from house cleaning and nannie jobs to city construction jobs for better pay and a better life.

While she faces daunting physical tasks and unwanted advances from her male counterparts, Getachew makes $1.50 a day as a construction worker, compared to the $4 a month she earned as a live-in maid.

Still, better pay does not mean equal pay for female Ethiopian construction workers. Getachew’s male workmates earn $2 a day.

This discrepancy mirrors the gap found between unemployment rates of young men and young women in the East African nation. In 2011, unemployment rates for female youths in urban areas were at 30 percent, 14 percent higher than their male counterparts.

As NPR reports:

[Getachew] was paid 75 cents a day initially; the men were paid $2. She didn't take issue with the salary, reasoning to herself it was because she'd be doing lighter jobs.

But then one day they were mixing cement from bags weighing about 110 pounds, heavier than Mekedes. One of the foremen looked around for someone to haul the bags and his eyes landed on her.

"My boss told me to do it and I did not want him to find out that I'm scared or I did not want him to know that I may not be able to do it," she says.

She needed the job, and it was either haul the bag of cement or haul herself back to Semen Shewa, the tiny village in the north where she was born.

"If I was going to lift it on my own maybe I may not have been able to do it, but the boys are the ones who lifted it and put it on my back, so, I did it," she says. "I carried it ... so that gave me the confidence."

Read the full story here.

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(Photo: Matjaz Krivic/Getty Images)

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