Life Skills Needed For Ethiopia's Women Beggars

Life Skills Needed For Ethiopia's Women Beggars

Panafrican News Agency , April 13, 2000

by Yohannes Ruphael, PANA Correspondent


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PANA) - One of the characteristic sights of Addis Ababa is the rising number of women, now in their hundreds, found all over the Ethiopian capital begging.


The women mostly come from rural areas where they left their abode due to various forms of hardship such as battery, forced marriages and other traditional malpractices.


"I came from a village in Ambo. I had to leave my village because I could no longer stand the beatings of the man I was forced to marry," 20-year-old Ayantu Guta said.


Like many other beggars, Ayantu lives in a makeshift house made out of cardboard and plastic materials. The unlucky ones merely sleep out in the open on the street pavement.


Most of these women are in their late 20s and have never seen the inside of a classroom.


 "I never had a chance to go to school. I was married off when I was 14 years old. I ran away to Addis Ababa because I did not love the man who was as old as my father," Tewabech Bekele, now in her early 20s, said.


The women get as much as one US dollar a day. Sometimes more on good days like holidays. It is good money for a country whose monthly minimum salary is about 14 dollars.


"I am happy with whatever alms I get. I left Wollo during the great famine of the 70s. I lost everything - my husband, children, cattle. I really do not want to live like this. Famine drove me out of my village. And in a case like that you have to show courage and place yourself in God's hands," 40-year-old Taitu Zewdu said.


The pain in her eyes is visible as she recounts her memories which years of egging have failed to fade. She remembers every stage of her life as a hard working woman.


When not begging, Taitu likes to swap stories with her friends.


Every time city council security tries to evict the women from their shacks, they are met with a strong resistance.


When they, especially the younger ones, are not out to beg, they engage in prostitution. Usually their customers are other male beggars or drunkards leaving drinking places in small hours of the night. Of course, they are exceptions to the rule.


"Some of my customers are well-to-do people. They pay me well for my services," Amina Daud, whose frail and unhealthy look suggests that she may have HIV/AIDS, admitted.


Mulu Alem is a mother of six children. She begs together with her children. "We cannot go on like this. What have we done to God to deserve this?" she lamented.


The plight of these women is unlikely to change soon. Dire poverty gripping Ethiopia is the cause for their predicament.


"The government should find a way to come to the rescue of these pathetic women," a social worker, who declined to be named, said.


According to him, one measure that is likely to help improve this sad state of affairs is the establishment of cottage industries where the women can be absorbed easily.


An advantage of this approach, he said, is that by becoming productive the women would change their lives for the better.


Another social worker, who also preferred to remain unnamed, sees some disadvantage in the measure, however.


"If the cottage industry fails, the likelihood for these women is to go back to begging and prostitution. So back to square one," he said.


"One measure that has been tried and succeeded in other countries is to give these women skills training and help them establish businesses according to their ability. This can be done by way of providing them small loans," he added.


This may change and earn them a decent living, but right now the plight of these women needs to be attended to.


Until such a time, the women beggars in Addis Ababa will continue to ply their trade unimpinged by the city council security personnel who harass them.


"What else can they (security) do if they have no alternative to offer us in order to stop from begging and prostitution," Abebech Tolossa said.