Profile of Julie
This profile was originally woven between long sections of researched information. The research paper was examining the way female farmers are affected by climate change. This is an excerpt from a 30 page project.
Julie is a medium height woman who often smiles when speaking, which reveals the oddly cute hole on the right side of her mouth where two teeth are missing. In her left hand, she grips a hoe, the handle of which is silky smooth from years of use. She bends down and uses it to rotate the earth in a back and forth motion, similar to a woodpecker who spends hours attacking a tree. She looks up and pushes her weight onto the upstanding hoe, and then spends a few seconds surveying the newly tossed earth. “My father said he didn’t have money,” she says with a dissatisfied infliction coating her voice. She has broken the loud monotonous fixed sound that the gas operated water pump creates in the field. “So you know what my father always told me? The only certificate that a woman has is to go and get married. So that’s what they wanted.” She seems thoroughly disgruntled by this fact, and it is clear that she has contemplated what her life could have been if she had the option to finish school.
Julie was seventeen years old when her dream to become a flight attendant was curtailed and she was married to a man that treated her cruelly. “When a girl gets married, they’re given all the money and the cows, so I had to go and get married.” All across sub-Saharan Africa, when money becomes scarce, it is the girl child that suffers the most. When this happened to Julie’s family after she had completed her junior year of high school, she was told to stay at home and work in the fields with her mother until a marriage was organized. In areas where agriculture is practiced, girls are less likely to attend school and instead stay at home to help work in agriculture production. Why would a family invest in a girl’s education if her destiny is marriage and subsistence farming? And even if the girl child does complete school, employment is rarely guaranteed.
Julie was nearly finished with school when her father announced that there was no more money for her education, however, a large proportion of girls in sub-Saharan never make it through the seventh grade. This region is listed with the second lowest female literacy rates in the world, with 55% of girls literate: 78 women for every 100 men. One reason for these low rates is child marriage; all across sub-Saharan Africa girls are married before they reach age eighteen. These marriages are often executed without the girls’ consent, which goes against a basic human right. When the girl child is married in this context, her family will traditionally receive payment in the form of cows. This customary gift is beneficial to the girl’s family and is one incentive to pull her out of school early in order to be married.
Julie is dressed in a sky blue and white striped skirt that drags behind her as she traverses between rows and rows of chamulia (a green similar to kale). It occasionally drapes over the wet plants in her garden and becomes considerably drenched. Her green, white, and black striped shirt hugs her healthy torso, and a black straw hat hides her short hair. She is bent down in the shady side of her garden planting chamulia shoots when she abruptly stops as if she has seen a snake and is contemplating the situation in silence — worried about scaring the creature into action.
“I had a dream about my husband last night,” she divulges in mild trepidation. She recalls how in the dream he phoned her to explain that his leg had been cut off with the steel blade at his place of employment in Bulawayo. “It was a dream,” she says as if to reassure herself. “It’s bad because he’s the breadwinner in the home. If the leg is cut off, then he stays at home. What kind of life are we going to live? He’s the one working, doing most of the things. It’s bad.” Julie is dependent upon her husband for access to resources, such as land and a water pump. She says that if she could buy her own land, then “everything that I do, it will belong to me.”
There is a sense of self-worth attached to land ownership, and this pride has been withheld by law from women in most of sub-Saharan Africa. It is female farmers like Julie who have to rely upon marriage to a man in order to have a place to live, land to cultivate, and any sense of life.
To this day, women are the food producers of the family and spend hours walking to fetch firewood and water. It is this constant necessary labor that has made it difficult for women to question their role in society and protest against the repressive post-colonial male-dominated state. It can be argued that “the majority of African women are too preoccupied with the survival needs of their families — provision of food, health, shelter, and education for their children — to pursue self-empowerment.” Women in Tanzania, Malawi, and Zimbabwe are often given the largest load of production and reproduction in a place of scarce resources. The confounding thing is that the entire community, country, continent, and arguably by 2050 the world, is dependent upon women for the production of food, yet in this context, they do not have the same rights as men. If women had the same access to resources as men, then the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply would significantly increase.
At ten in the morning, Julie’s entire garden is engulfed in sunlight. She has just completed the long process of watering her crops; an operation that requires walking back and forth 200 meters between a still body of water and her garden. She bends down one final time near a bed of chamulia and effortlessly dislodges the heavy load from her head. The bucket can only give ten plants a substantial drink, which means she must make numerous trips to collect the necessary amount of water to care for all forty rows. This process of water carrying would not be as necessary if the rainy season had come this year, but it never came and now female farmers all across sub-Saharan Africa are faced with a new daily challenge.
Julie has heard the phrase ‘climate change,” yet she is unaware of the weight and destruction these words hold. A large portion of the people in this community, and others all across the region believe that “the rain comes from God, so if he doesn’t bring down his rain then we never know what went wrong.” This belief and faith in God in bringing the rains is common in sub-Saharan Africa, and as Julie explains, most people “don’t know anything about the climate change like the scientists who can read in the sky what is wrong.” Julie picks up her empty water bucket and latches the tree limb and barbed wire fence as she exits the garden. She walks through the grassy field along an extremely narrow dirt footpath that leads to her home. “I think that we’ll probably die,” she utters when asked what will happen if she cannot access water. She goes on to say that the “last time before it rained, I thought we were going to die. You know people were just running around everywhere to find water to drink, and we could not find the water.”
It is difficult to access the nearest large body of water because it is many kilometers away and would require the passage of many mountains; it would be impossible to bring along a wagon to carry large buckets of water because of the precarious journey. It rained a small amount about a month ago, and Julie speculates that the limited water source near her garden will dry up soon because it has not rained since. “It may be time to end this season and start over in a few months. So there won’t be any farming anymore. You know? It’s really hard. Everything is changing because of the weather. If we don’t have water, there will be no farming. Even if someone sponsors us with seeds or the machines we won’t use them for anything because of water.” In sub-Saharan Africa, most families depend upon the success of subsistence farms, which is why water insecurity is becoming a massive issue that may gravely disrupt the production of food and cause forced migration.
End of excerpt.