Invisible helpers: working equine animals provide vital support to women in developing countries

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A report launched this month by the animal welfare organisation the Brooke highlights the extent to which women in developing countries rely on donkeys and other working equids. The report, Invisible Helpers, calls for greater recognition of the role of working equine animals in supporting women and their families, and emphasizes the importance of looking after the health and welfare of these valuable animals.

 In 2013, The Brooke initiated the Voices from Women research project to explore the role of working horses, mules and donkeys in supporting the lives of women from the perspectives of the women themselves. The Invisible Helpers report is based on discussions with focus groups and individuals in Ethiopia, Kenya, India and Pakistan.

It found that working equine animals help to lessen the burden on women’s lives, providing a ‘support system’. Over three quarters of the groups (77%), including all of those in Kenya and India, ranked donkeys, horses and mules as the most important of all their livestock. They generate income, help with household chores, give women an increased social status and help women collect food and water for other livestock.

If these animals are sick or die, the impact can be devastating on women and their families. As one of the study participants said, “It is a pain to live a single day without a donkey. That is because donkeys are the base for our life. So if we lose our donkey, we will buy another one by selling one of our calves, goats, sheep or even a heifer.” (Urgo Yassin, Gedeba, Ethiopia).

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