08/03/2016 10:29 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Invisible Helpers: How Donkeys Give Women a Better Life

If you imagine a donkey, it's often the big fluffy ears or long face with kind eyes that comes to mind. For years the donkey has been associated with Christmas cards, children's games, cuddly toys or even as a pet, perhaps on a farm or as a companion. However, in some parts of the world, the donkey is referred to as a beast of burden, doing work usually carried out by tractors or trucks, but in an environment where people can't afford the machinery or the fuel to run it. In the western world, this image of a donkey is far from our minds.


But it's an image many millions of people are familiar with; people living in the world's poorest communities who depend on their donkeys to earn a living. Our research shows that often a working donkey is the only source of income for a family of six people, income that puts food on the table or pays for a child's education.

Not only earning an income. Working donkeys are also invaluable for getting the daily household chores done. Imagine living in a rural part of Africa with no water on tap. How would you wash, how would you cook, what would you drink and how would you water your livestock? It's the donkey that carries the water, often many kilometers, each day from the bore hole to the homestead. It's the donkey that fetches firewood for cooking, carries vegetables to the market to sell, and brings food from the market to feed the cattle. None of this work provides a direct income but the donkey's efforts are fundamental to the survival of these families. Did you know that in Ethiopia, where there almost nine million working donkeys and horses, 98 percent of rural families depend on these animals for their livelihoods?


And alongside these working donkeys is often a woman, loading, unloading and guiding the animal in his daily duties. The relationship between a woman and her donkey is a vital part of the family infrastructure. When the donkey is fit and healthy, the woman can carry out her daily chores and ensure her family is well looked after. When the donkey is sick and unable to work, all these tasks fall to the woman.


In the Brooke's Voices from Women report, a woman is quoted as saying "when I don't have a donkey, I am a donkey". I'm sure you've seen images of women carrying water on their heads, or firewood on their backs. These are the unlucky ones who don't have the support of a healthy donkey.

In today's modern world it's hard to believe women are still crippled by the back-breaking tasks needed to look after their family if they don't have a working donkey. There is so much the Brooke can do to educate people to care for their animals better, to keep them fit and healthy, helping to improve the lives of women who depend on them every day of the year.

On International Women's Day, the Brooke are spreading awareness for women who are less fortunate than us. We want to give women the a chance to be part of a Brooke programme to improve their donkeys' welfare so they can undertake the vital role of supporting their family, putting food on the table and sending their children to school. These women deserve to have a healthy donkey, they deserve to have a better life, and we are working to make that difference.

Find out more about the Brooke's work with women around the world.