Ethiopian women are flocking to the labour market making money of their own. Does this mean that there will be more gender equality? With a grant from the Research Council of Norway's scheme for Young Talented Researchers, CMI’s Lovise Aalen will lead a new project studying the impact of economic growth on the lives of women in developmental states.

The Second World War had a devastating impact on European economies. In the 50’s, women all over Europe were encouraged to enter the workforce in an effort to strengthen productivity and economic growth. European women’s entry into the work market had an immediate effect on women’s status and gender equality. Their new-won economic independence also led to influential positions in the political landscape.

Hard work, low pay
Today, Ethiopia is one of the developmental states working hard to copy the success formula for economic growth. The strategic efforts have borne fruit. Ethiopia is currently celebrated as one of the countries that has achieved the most in terms of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Encouraging foreign investment is part of the picture, alongside urging women to take jobs in the rising industrial sector. H&M is only one of many big international actors now establishing factories in Ethiopia. Yet, there is no guarantee that the unprecedented economic boost will change neither traditional gender roles nor women’s status.

-The Ethiopian mobilization of women resembles what was done in countries like Taiwan and South Korea. Women were encouraged to enter the workforce, but most of them ended up in low-paid jobs with low status. Being economically independent did not give them more power in politics or in society in general. Neither did it relieve women of bearing the brunt at home. Gender equality is smart economy, but does not necessarily lead to any meaningful changes when it comes to women’s power and status, says Lovise Aalen, senior researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute.

Same but different
Women’s position and empowerment in developmental states is of particular interest to Lovise Aalen.

-Theories about how women entering the work force leads to increased gender equality have been developed using experiences from Western countries. The consequences of economic growth may turn out very differently in Ethiopia. Will it lead to more gender equality in states with a patriarchal culture and an authoritarian regime? The picture is too complex to simply predict female empowerment based on the fact that women now enter the work force, says Aalen.

Still, one important feature makes the country stand out from the crowd. Ethiopian authorities have implemented a wide range of schemes promoting and supporting micro entrepreneurship among women.

-Although Ethiopian women so far seems to end up in low-paid jobs, the strategic measures on entrepreneurship show that there is an interest in strengthening women’s capacities. It will be interesting to see if such strategic measures will have positive consequences for gender equality in the long run, says Aalen.

*Women in the developmental state: Female employment and empowerment in Ethiopia is a multidisciplinary project. Aalen heads the project consisting of social anthropologists and economists from Norway, Ethiopia, The Netherlands and Great Britain. The multiple perspectives give a broad intake to the effects of economic growth on the lives of Ethiopian women. The researchers will conduct a household survey distributed to a large number of respondents as well as ethnographic interviews, in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and document analysis.

*Lovise Aalen is one of 10 social scientists that were granted funding from the Research Council of Norway's FRIPRO-pot for young talented researchers. Women in the developmental state: Female employment and empowerment in Ethiopia received 6,9 million NOK and is a 4 year project.