Women, the peasantry and the state in Ethiopia
This thesis is based on fieldwork carried out in 1988-89 in a rural community within Menz, a highland Amhara society of Northern Shewa, Ethiopia. It considers two sets of interactions operative in a Peasants' Association. These are, firstly, the relationship between the State and the peasantry and, secondly, relations between men and women. In both cases the focus of analysis is on understanding and explaining the position and the channels of actions of the subordinate group - the peasantry and women. In the first of the empirical chapters, the effects of the State and the community's attitudes to it are considered in the context of the activities of various associations, cooperatives, campaigns and ministries through which the State administers the population. The following chapter focuses on one particular policy, the Villagization campaign. The complexity of its overall effects on a heterogeneous population are illustrated. Consideration is given to areas of mismatch between Government theory and practice, between what the State conceives and what the peasantry understand to be happening, between the impact of the State on men and on women. Having explored the significant areas of the society in which there is State involvement, the thesis is increasingly devoted to the areas of people's lives which the State has not penetrated. Some activities are more visible than others, both to the State and within society. In Menz, ploughing is a male domain which cannot exist without crop processing, a female domain. Livestock husbandry, and other activities such as spinning and fuel production show the ways in which women are marginalized, while accounting for their vital role in the economy. The phenomenon of marital instability and the relationship between spouses points to the hardship and dissatisfaction in unions. It also demonstrates women's ability to play an active role in decisions that affect their position. Neither State nor Church have had much success in regulating the forms of contracts and numbers of marriages an individual goes through. Government policies have been directed at the household as a single unit, oblivious of the frequency of divorce, the demographic cycle of the household and the stratifications within it. The identity and valuation of women is established, at least in part, by their reproductory abilities; and life giving events are firmly within their domain. Yet women's experiences, such as menstruation and pregnancy, are camouflaged; their blood has to be purified through holy water and the mediation of a priest. The burdens of biology and the social constructions of womanhood are not considered by the State. Similarly, death is a crucial occasion in which the State plays no part. Despite its attempts at radical transformation, the State has made little attempt to affect lifecycle events, its priorities being established elsewhere. The dominant Orthodox Christian religion is one which gives power to men, however, women find support, particularly in the figure of Mary and, in addition, they prevail in an alternative, socially marginalized and eclectic spirit-belief system. The various forms of religion, in particular the spirit-belief system, exist despite the conflicting ideologies of a State imbued with Socialist modernizing values. The State ideology has had little impact on rural beliefs and its local legitimacy rests, in part, on a manipulation of Christianity. The empirical data presented in the body of the thesis is brought together in the final chapter. The interrelationships emerge between different spheres of State intervention, between the household economy, religion, marital relations and lifecycle events. All these considerations combine to show how women are oppressed, but also how women take control; to show how peasants are constrained and influenced by the State, but also how peasants' lives remain directed by themselves and the battle against limited resources.