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Tato Boru: Inspiring women bringing change in Ethiopia

Tato at home. Photo: Tigist Gebru/Oxfam
Tato at home

Life for women in Moyale, in southern Ethiopia, is slowly changing – led by amazing women like Tato Boru. She sheltered people fleeing violence and is playing a leading role in increasing women’s participation in the economy and improving community health.

Last year, when violent clashes broke out in northern Kenya, thousands of Kenyans fled their homes and crossed the border to Moyale in southern Ethiopia.

Tato Boru, a 50-year-old mother of five children, sheltered 32 displaced people in her own small house. “Every corner of the house and the compound was full of people,” she says.

There were no toilets in the village. With the influx of people and open defecation, illnesses and stomach aches increased. “Many children got sick out of nowhere,” she says. Oxfam built over 1,000 latrines for the community – two were built in Tato’s compound because she was hosting such a huge number of people. Together with public health campaigns and providing the town with clean water, the threat of illness was reduced. The Kenyans have now left, but Tato continues to share the latrines with the rest of her community. “Sometimes people even come from the village to use them,” she says.

Born and raised in Moyale, Tato has seen many changes in the area over the past 50 years. She remembers when there were no safe water facilities, no sanitation campaigns, and no latrines. “People used to get their water from the river, and the environment was not as clean,” she says. A few tap stands were available, but the water was only enough for 30 people. Now that Oxfam has increased the water production, nearly 200 people get enough water twice a day, in the mornings and evenings.

It’s not only the services that Tato says has changed – the role of women in the community has also changed over time. Like most local women, Tato used to depend on her husband’s income from livestock. Now she chairs a women’s cooperative group where each of the 41 members save a small amount of money each month. In 18 months the group has saved 140,000 Ethiopian Birr (over $7500) which they re-invest in a shop in town, where they sell sugar and other essential items. It’s been profitable enough that they are now looking to open another shop in a new location.

The profits from the shop help the women support their families and improve their homes, but also benefit the wider community. A percentage of the profits goes to local children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

The group also manages a tap stand where people can collect clean water, paying half a Birr ($0.05) to fill a jerry can with 20 litres of water. The women give a percentage to the Moyale town water administration office and share the rest of the profit within the cooperative.

“Now women are actively engaged in numerous activities in their own homes and in the community,” Tato says. “Women are making changes with the knowledge that they received from Oxfam and others, particularly around child care and sanitation.”

Every 15 days Tato and some other local women organise “coffee ceremony” talks, where some 30 women gather to discuss issues affecting their lives – such as family planning, child care, and the use of latrines and hand washing to prevent illness. Tato teaches her community about hygiene and sanitation at water points, visiting neighbouring homes to inform other women.

Gender-based violence is another issue that is regularly discussed. Just the other day, a neighbour was beaten to death by her husband. Tato and other women managed to get him put in jail for the crime – which in the past may have gone unpunished.  The women also coordinate with the local police to tackle domestic violence, and offer support networks to women in the community.

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Written by Tigist Gebru

Tigist is the Communications and Information Officer for Ethiopia, based in Addis Ababa

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