Earlier this summer in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, I heard a complaint from many professionals that they could no longer find cheap house cleaners and nannies. The apparently endless supply of girls and young women from the countryside who would work for peanuts just for a chance to move to the capital was drying up. It turns out more and more of them are finding work on one of the city’s many construction sites. Unlike her male coworkers, Mekedes Getachew does not wear a hard hat, but instead sports a bright purple headscarf with tassels under a newsboys cap. She says a hard hat is just too heavy.
At this future wing of a city hospital, six female laborers work alongside some 60 men.Enlarge image At this future wing of a city hospital, six female laborers work alongside some 60 men.
The 19-year-old Mekedes is one of six women working alongside 60 men at a construction site that will next year be a new wing of a city hospital. She wears a paint-spattered sweatshirt and a skirt over her jeans, a nod to her Orthodox Christian upbringing. While she typically does lighter jobs like cleaning and shoveling sand, roles on the site are always fluid. She’s tackled even the heaviest lifting jobs since she showed up to work as a day laborer at age 15. “[I feared] that it might be a difficult job,” she says. “I was also scared of the boys because they were very huge, and I see them lifting heavy stuff and that used to be a little scary.”
Less Than $1 A Day To Start