Women, work, and waithood in Wukro, Ethiopia
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ways that young entrepreneurial women in urban Ethiopia define their identities, their aspirations, and their relationships to development against the backdrop of rapid economic and political change.
Paper long abstract:
In Wukro (a small city in the North of Ethiopia) coffee houses are exclusively owned and operated by women. Some do this work because they feel they don't have any other choice while others feel a sense of pride in the financial independence their businesses provide. All of them, however, understand working in a coffee house as a job for the in-between period — what Honwana would call "waithood" (the multifaceted transition between childhood and adulthood). This paper explores the ways that young entrepreneurial women in urban Ethiopia define their identities, their aspirations, and their relationships to development. Coffee houses represent an interesting microcosm in which to investigate larger forces of change in modern Ethiopia. The explosion in the number of coffee houses in Ethiopian cities has coincided with a period of rapid economic growth spurred by the developmental state's shift toward economic liberalisation. Despite the unprecedented recent increase in GDP, urban unemployment rates remain quite high, particularly for young women and in the current economic climate, opportunities in smaller cities are largely limited to entrepreneurial activities. The changing economic circumstances, and shifting gender relations have created a situation in which opportunities and expectations for young women are simultaneously expanding and contracting. The accomplishments of professional women in Ethiopian society coupled with the promise of "progress" through development, have allowed young women to foster grand aspirations. Yet, the realities of the economy, and the persistence of patriarchal social structures, has limited the actual possibilities for many.
New geographies and imaginaries of work in the Global South