Women's Rights in Ethiopia - Why Are We Not Progressing?

There is a belief that the best way to overcome gender inequality is to empower women. We deem and preach that if women are given the opportunity to learn and grow academically and professionally thereby becoming deciders of their own fate then it will have a reflection on society to respect their rights. I had to hear several stories before I finally understood that we can not necessarily achieve gender equality or curb gender violence only by allowing women to learn. Yes it is very necessary that our girls are being empowered but it shouldn’t stop there if we are genuinely looking to end gender discrimination and violence. 
What is unique about being an African is being subjected to the communal way of living. Whether we are educated or not, rich or poor, male or female we cannot skip the moral obligation and communal pressure to behave a certain way or live under the rules of our society. In a community where women are obliged to tolerate the misbehavior and assault of their husbands, it is almost impossible for them to leave their unhappy homes even if they wanted to as it would go against everything their family, friends and the whole community believe in. In this kind of situation, more often than not, the issue is not finance, nor is it lack of awareness as to what their rights and freedoms are, but rather the societal pressure which they are subjected to by the mere fact of belonging to a certain community

Most of us think putting rules and regulations in place would solve gender issues. Of course it is important to have these rules in placehowever, in societies like ours where traditions and customs are deeply rooted and are more powerful - society abides by them more than the formal laws. Hence, just working on the formal justice system would not suffice

I watched this interview of a victim of gender violence on TV. The victim is very successful in her career and has the financial and intellectual capacity to lead her life well. Both she and the ex husband are Ethiopians who reside in the US. When they decided to get married they came back to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and got married in the presence of family and friends. According to the woman, it didn’t take that long after the wedding for things to take the wrong turn. The now ex husband started to drink too much, forbid her from going to places and eventually started to physically abuse her.  

Imagine! This is a woman with high educational background and successful career! So the first time he abused her physically, she left home and went to her parents’. But then he (the ex-husband) sent elders for reconciliation and apologized for everything that he did. Her family told her that marriage is not something she could leave, whenever things get “uncomfortable”. They advised her to fight for her marriage and see it through. Pressured by her family and friends she went back to him. It took her long to believe that one could anticipate to finally break the routine and leave for good. 

The underlying cause for her to stay in this hostile situation is not financial dependency, nor is it lack of awareness. It is the societal values and family pressure that kept her there. So you want to solve Gender issues? Start from empowering the whole society. 

We, Africans, are known for our solidarity against colonization, poverty and social evil. It is how we overcame colonization and became the deciders of our own fate. We have the capacity to reign over our challenges if we stand together. When media and other sources put Gender violence and discrimination as “women issue”, don’t think it only concerns women. NO! We cannot achieve gender equality without our men involved as we cannot bring any other change we seek without our women partaking in it. It should be as much an issue for the whole society as it is for our women. This is when we can progress towards bettering the lives of our women and consequently the whole society.

About The Author
Tsion Demissie is a vocal women's rights activist from Ethiopia. She also currently serves as Lead Coordinator of a PanAfrican Blogging project for Ignite The Youth. 

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