Appropriate Technology: Liberating Women from "Women's Work"

women doing laundry in africa

Editor’s note: This post is sustainablog’s contribution to Important Media’s focus on women this week.

“Women’s work” – there’s a phrase that (thankfully) we don’t hear much any more. Feminisms get much of the credit for relegating such language (as well as the cultural assumptions that accompanied them) to the historical dustbin. Gloria Steinham and HΓ©lΓ¨ne Cixous certainly deserve credit, but technology played a role here, too: devices for the home ranging from washing machines to microwave ovens cut the amount of labor needed to accomplish tasks around the home… and gave women (who’d traditionally been saddled with such tasks) time to think, read, and consider their place in the world.

Of course, that shift has largely taken place in the developed world: in poorer areas without access to electricity and other utilities, a division of labor is still necessary to ensure the tasks necessary for survival get accomplished… and that division still tends to fall along gender lines. So, while women in developed countries have choices about work, the developing world’s women are still gathering firewood, cooking meals, and doing laundry… all without the benefits of the labor-saving machines we take for granted.

In this context, appropriate technology – devices that are “small-scale, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled” – not only creates efficiency, but also liberation and empowerment for the developing world’s women. Consider the radical implications of some of the following creations:

The Clean Cook Stove and other Cooking Technologies

Yes, I’m fascinated by cook stoves, simply because they address so many environmental and social challenges in the developing world. As a tool of liberation, cook stoves free up time spent gathering wood, cooking it, and caring for family members made sick from indoor air pollution. The video below (which I’ve shared before) provides some insight into just how much time a clean cook stove frees up for women who must cook over fires

The Universal Nut Sheller

Nuts and seeds provide some of the most readily available protein sources in the developing world… but shelling them for cooking is a time-intensive process (as you know if you’ve ever had to do it by hand). The Universal Nut Sheller (developed by The Full Belly Project) is a durable, hand-operated device that can shell up to 110 pounds of sun-dried nuts an hour, again providing women with time for other more satisfying endeavors. Peace Corps Senegal volunteers put together the following short video showing it in action:

Human-Powered Washing Machines

A washboard is high tech for laundry in the developing world; sticks and a body of water are more common ways to clean clothes. Doing the laundry for a family this way is a real time suck. I took a look at one answer to this last week: the Up-Stream. It’s not the only concept out there for a human-powered clothes washer, though: Treehugger pointed us to the GiraDora, another foot-powered washer. Check it out:

Give a woman some time, and she’ll change the world! Know of other labor-saving appropriate technology making time for the developing world’s women? Do share…

Image credit: Ferdinand Reus via photo pin cc

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