Listening to what women don’t say
What women don’t say can be as important as what they do say. I learned this recently in Nigeria.
Villagers love cassava because of its flexibility. People can harvest the plants one or few at a time, as the household needs food. But cassava can also be tricky. Once the roots are harvested they are highly perishable and should be prepared into food quickly.
During recent fieldwork sponsored by IITA, we found that in Southwest and
North Nigeria, men grow much of the cassava and women detoxify it by making it into several products, especially gari. To make gari, women peel piles of roots, one at a time, with a kitchen knife. The roots are grated in little motorized grills, the mash is fermented in sacks, and then the moisture is squeezed out. Men may help with the grating and pressing
(often for a small fee). Then the women roast the mash into gari in a metal pan over a hot wood fire, continuously stirring the mash with a wooden paddle. The women also collect the firewood. Women can sell gari in village markets to buyers, usually women, who buy in bulk and take it to the cities.
To transform cassava into gari, Nigerian women use several strategies. They grow some cassava; they get some from their husbands, and they can buy roots in the village. Within four to five days they can turn the cassava into cash, which they can spend or keep.
In villages across Nigeria, my colleagues and I interviewed men and women separately. Some of the men told us that, among other things, they needed what they called “ready markets,” meaning that the men wanted to be able to sell their cassava roots raw, in local markets, for a profit.
In separate meetings, the women had plenty to say, but they never mentioned markets. The women wanted cassava that was easier to peel.
If we had interviewed men and women together, the women would not have bothered to contradict the men, when they asked for better markets for cassava.
The women did not ask for a ready market for cassava, because they already have one. They can always carry a basin full of gari down to the village market and sell it. Even landless women can buy cassava and transform it to make a living, working at home.
Men and women may even have conflicting interests. Higher prices for raw roots might benefit men, but could even harm the women, who buy the roots as raw material to make traditional foods like gari, fufu, and abacha.
In Nigeria, women are quietly feeding the nation; they are happy with the market just the way it is. That is why women don’t ask for ready markets. What women don’t say can be as important as what they do say. To learn women’s specific views and perspectives, we were reminded again that it is important to interview men and women in separate groups.
Tessy Mady and Olamide Olaosebikan held the meetings with the women. Adetunji Olarewaju facilitated the parallel meetings with the men. The fieldwork mentioned in this article was part of the IITA led Cassava Monitoring Survey project funded by institutions including RTB (CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tuber and Bananas) and IITA.