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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Women in beekeeping

Beekeeping is an important activity for many rural people - both men and women. Increasingly both governments and NGOs are working to encourage women's participation in rural development and beekeeping has been identified in many places as a means of additional income generation that is suitable for women. Few cultures have any taboos forbidding the involvement of women in beekeeping. Beekeeping can be started cheaply and built up as resources allow, there is little need for land ownership and, with some technical know-how, hives can be located close to home. The demands of time are not great and these can be fitted in with family responsibilities. These are all positive attributes that should encourage women. Nonetheless, beekeeping is frequently perceived to be a male activity and women's participation in beekeeping projects is often lower than might be expected. Therefore, the promotion of beekeeping as an income-generating activity for women raises interesting issues.

In Ethiopia a recent research project (BfDJ 86) investigated this issue of low participation of women in beekeeping. The reasons uncovered were: women were afraid of bees; they could not climb trees; beekeeping was considered a 'man's occupation'. Moreover, traditional ways of living restricted women to carrying out domestic activities close to the homestead which hindered participation in beekeeping. BfD's experience suggests these reasons mirror those given for limited access of women into beekeeping in other parts of the world.

However, women commonly use the fruits of beekeeping to make value added products such as candles or beer. The production of secondary or value added products made from honey, beeswax or other hive products offers a unique space for women's traditional skills. Where work and childcare commitments constrain women to remain within the vicinity of their homes, enabling women to produce value added beekeeping products can be an ideal opportunity for income generation. Male beekeepers are often not interested in this field so it is not challenging to the cultural status quo.

Top bar beekeeping offers advantages for female beekeepers because it moves away from traditional methods that may be seen as more 'male' orientated. In addition top bar hives remove the requirement for tree climbing that can be associated with fixed comb hive types. Interestingly, where women were given materials and training in basic beekeeping some women beekeepers admitted to becoming dependent on assistance from men for colony management (BfDJ 86). However, many management activities are also a problem for men who are beginner beekeepers and developmental organisations could be more successful if people were given both theoretical and practical training in basic beekeeping methods and were able to obtain (or be shown how to make) affordable protective clothing and smokers.


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