Abakaliki: Where women engage in hard labour to earn a living

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Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi
Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi

By Nabob Ogbonna

At building and construction sites in cities and villages, it is quite common to see labourers who move about with bags of cement, blocks, sand and other working materials, just to earn a living. Though not skilled in building or construction work, such people are important at such sites as they complement the efforts of the skilled manpower.

In some cities, this job is meant for young men, but in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, women have virtually taken over.   As tedious as the job is, the women engage in it for different reasons. Some of them do it in search of their daily bread and family upkeep. Daily Trust on Sunday observed that a lot of the women, who are mostly from Izzi and Ezza communities, are from polygamous families where less attention is given to women and the girl-child.

To survive in the field and make the work easier, the women, who are largely uneducated, operate in groups through different agents and leaders. The agents connect them to available jobs.

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that a lot of the women are currently engaged as labourers in the ongoing road construction initiated by the state government in the metropolis and environs. These women, who come to the city from remote villages on a daily basis, are found in places like Ogbaga Road, opposite the Township Stadium, which serves as a meeting point for prospective clients. Other waiting points are Presco Junction, Mile 50, as well as the popular Vanco Junction, opposite Zenith Bank on Ogoja road.

Speaking to our correspondent, Mrs. Mary Oyinbe, a native of Izzi who lamented the attitude of their men towards their wives, said the mad rush into marriage was the key reason why most of such women found themselves in such situation.

“I own a provision shop here, but if I tell you what some of these female labourers are passing through in their various families, you will really pity them. I have seen a case where a woman with a nine-month-old pregnancy was carrying cement in the name of finding her daily bread.

“Look, it is not a laughing matter. It is better to marry a man who we refer a as a foreigner in the land than our own people. They don’t value us (women), let alone care for us. Engaging in this hard manual labour has become a tradition of sorts among the people of Izzi and Ezza. It is either this job or one is forced to look for an alternative. But it is almost impossible for one coming from a poor background to get an easy and better alternative,” Mrs. Mary said.
According to her, the most annoying part of it is that most of the men sit at home and wait for the women to come back with money for the upkeep of the family.

Another woman, a 27-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Nworie, is married to an Izzi man of 40 years who runs a polygamous home. Sharing her experience with our correspondent, Mrs. Nworie regretted ever getting married to such a man. She said she was doing the job because she was not educated and still had the strength to do it and make ends meet.

Another victim of the circumstance, who simply identified herself as Edith, is a teenager. She said she joined the trade because she lost her father recently. She believes that the job is more lucrative than farming because it is always available, unlike farming, which is seasonal.
She further explained that she joined other women to do the job because after the death of her father, her mother could not afford to pay her school fees or buy textbooks for her. She added that her mother could not take proper care of her younger ones; hence the need for her to assist in the family.

Mrs. Nwanari, 31, works at an ongoing construction project at Ameke-Aba. She is paid N600 per bag of used cement. She said, “A job like mixing cement with stones is paid by the number of cement you are able to finish in a day. Yesterday I was able to finish 6 bags, and each bag is valued at N600. My duty as a labourer in this site is to mix cement, sand and chippings at the required ratio, and with this head-pan I carry it to the place where the builder (mason) will make use of it.

She lamented that her husband, who is a mason, does not get jobs regularly, a situation that forces her to carter for the family with her meager income.

Also, a 19-year-old Promise Nweke, a native of Igbeagu in Izzi Local Government Area, although still single, depends solely on hard manual labour to carter for herself, her younger ones and her aging grandmother.

She is, however, planning to dump the job and acquire a skill such as hairdressing or tailoring. She said the job was very strenuous and challenging. But she said she had no regret doing it.
“I don’t have any regret doing this kind of job. As you can see, it is better than roaming the street. The only challenge is that it is very tedious and strenuous, to the point that at your first experience you must fall sick.  Another challenge is that there are no health safety kits to help protect us while on site,” she said.

Mrs. Chinyere Obasi, also a labourer, told Daily Trust on Sunday that she was following the footsteps of her late mother. “My late mother was a labourer in the 1980s. She saved and used her money judiciously. It was from her proceeds as a labourer that she was able to pay my school fees. And during my wedding, she gave me a huge sum of money, bought me cloths and other things like fridge and bed. She did all these from her savings as a labourer,” she narrated.

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, Chief Cyril Odomanam, who runs a hotel business at Isikwuato Street and has spent over 30 years in the city, said the issue of hiring Abakaliki women for manual labour was an old tradition that had come to stay.

Chief Odomanam, who is also a landlord, observed that the rise in infrastructures such as building, roads and bridges, was responsible for the rise in female labourers at construction sites, contrary to what obtained before the creation of the state. “Before now, rural women were mostly engaged in farming activities, selling of firewood, fetching water for interested residents for money. Then, some of them would prefer to ask you for food if it was domestic work or farming, in addition to a token, in some cases. But today, the scenario has changed to hard manual labour. They now choose to carry blocks or cement, mix cement, sand and stone for a living,” he explained.

Worried by this situation, some concerned individuals who are of the opinion that such jobs are not meant for women, have called on the Ebonyi State government to quickly sponsor a law that would protect women and discourage them from engaging in such hard jobs for a living.

One of such concerned individuals is Mr. Solomon Sunday who called on the government to create job opportunities for women in the state. He also advocated skills acquisition programmes for these women. “Let me tell you, whether we like it or not, the level of unemployment among women in this state is on the increase. This is the reason why some of them from the rural areas who cannot afford to pay for house in the town to take care of themselves and their families seek alternatives.

“And the only possible alternative now is hard labour. I want to tell you that their choice today will not be their choice tomorrow.

That is why government, stakeholders and concerned individuals need to propose a meaningful idea that would address the plight of these women,” he said.

(Source: Daily Trust)

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