No one cares about women’s rights in Ethiopia
The problem is not just that advancements in women’s rights in Ethiopia seem to have come to a standstill—whoever calls to attention these grievances and the betrayal of the female half of the population runs a real risk of reprisals. Because of this, the author of this grim report on stalled development has asked to remain anonymous.
Like women in many countries within Africa, Asia and Latin America, Ethiopian women endure such an unbearable oppression. Though the Ethiopian constitution has a progressive nature, the oppression is still in place for lack of enforcing capacity by the government. 85% of the Ethiopian people live in rural areas and it is here that much of the repression against women takes place. There are Amharic proverbs in Ethiopia which mostly are offensive and degrading to women: “a woman and a donkey can bear a rainfall; a child raised by a woman looks like …” there are many more of such sayings.
When a mother gives birth to a baby girl, the baby is considered as something unwanted. To the contrary, there will be celebrations when a baby boy is born. This is where the repression against women starts. We start to forget that our mothers, sisters, wives and partners are women and we put them in a predicament. A school age girl won’t be allowed to attend school with a pretext that she may be raped, abducted or harmed while going to school. Girls are circumcised depending on the context of each culture and tradition. Some of the circumcisions are so horrific that girls will endure a great deal of pain and agony after the practice. Some may even die because of profuse bleeding. Female circumcision is particularly rampant in eastern Ethiopia and the time chosen for this practice is just before marriage.
Women in most parts of Ethiopia are subjected to arranged marriage. Either the parents choose the bride or the groom will marry the girl of his choice, regardless of her desire. A girl is not allowed to choose her husband. It is difficult for her to leave her husband after marriage and she normally absconds and goes to the nearby town. If she is considered to be attractive, the pimps will pave the way for her to engage in prostitution. Otherwise, she will spend the rest of her life in a state of labor exploitation.
Women’s life in Ethiopia, especially in rural areas, is appalling. Girls who got lucky to attend school have a wider risk of being raped, abducted and married off without their desire. Moreover, most of the schools in Ethiopia don’t have clean toilets for girls and this put them in a state of humiliation especially during their menstrual period. They prefer to stay at home than go to school during their menstruation and as a result, female students will score poor academic result. If a female student misses 7 days per month because of menstruation, she will miss 70 classes in a ten month academic year. This is a big blow to a single student. Problem of toilet sanitation is a critical problem in urban Ethiopia let alone in the rural parts.
If the girl manages to withstand all these challenges and graduates from college, she will be received with yet another mistreatment at her place of employment. Most Ethiopian men don’t show the appropriate respect to women. Men in Ethiopia are still unsure if a woman can think, work and serve equally with a man. Only few Ethiopians consider women for other purposes than sex tools. Many women in Ethiopia are raped and abused by their employers. Reporting of rape assault to the police is unusual and considered a taboo. Touching the body of a woman, assaulting, pinching and sometimes beating a woman is yet to be considered a criminal offence in Ethiopia. Some men involved in the physical assault of women expect the victim to be pleased with their act and perhaps Ethiopia is the country hosting large number of such vagrants. Such practice is considered normal in rural parts of the country and the rural men reflect their habit when coming to urban areas.
A woman, who is the victim of a rape assault, will be subjected to several stages of humiliation starting from the police. Most police officers originate from rural areas and they treat the victim in light of the culture and tradition they were raised in. Rape is not treated seriously. Most of the time, a woman who goes to the police and report the case of physical assault and sexual harassment will surely become the subject of mockery. Men are seen committing repeated atrocious violence against women. Women are victims of acid attacks and daylight shooting.
Though the government claims to be encouraging the equality of women, there are no women officials in the key positions of the government. Though the number of women MPs is increasing, the Ethiopian parliament is no more than a rubberstamp and is not seen engaging in a meaningful acts. Though Ethiopia is a federal state, there has been no regional state headed by a woman. Men hold almost all key governmental positions. Women are mostly needed to provide support, to cheerlead and back up and not to express and implement their ideas. It seems that Cultural Revolution is indispensible for the protection of women’s right in Ethiopia. The government needs to focus on implementing the existing laws instead of enacting impracticable ones. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian women in Saudi Arabia were in a state of sexual slavery, exploitation, physical abuse including throwing from buildings, starvation and other sufferings not expected in the 21st century and the government of Ethiopia hasn’t done anything other than transporting them into Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government was supposed to claim compensation from Saudi Arabia on behalf of the victims and distribute the sum to the abused women. The government takes the responsibility for its failure in doing so. Nobody knows whether thousands of Ethiopian housemaids receive proper wages, medication and care and as a result, housemaids are the subject of abuse and violence even within Ethiopia. There is no minimum wage set for housemaids and this allows urban employers to exploit their housemaids.
In general, the right of women in Ethiopia is not yet respected. Women in rural areas take the highest share of the enormous suffering and exploitation. The solution to all these suffering are expansion of education, cultural changes and building the law enforcing capacity of the government. But, I think education is the most important one. Education that brings change is critical.