Women in Ethiopia have faced years of discrimination and have fought the challenges set by the patriarchal society of their country. Nevertheless, we see much more active women raising their voices and asking for change. The discriminatory political, economic and social rules and regulations prevailing in Ethiopia have barred women from rising to their full potential. Without equal opportunities, they have lagged behind men in all fields of self-advancement.
The 1974 revolution saw a reduction in non-governmental bodies, which organized and ran activities for women. These NGO’s included the Ethiopian Women's Welfare Association, the Ethiopian Officer's Wives Association and the Ethiopian Female Students' Association. They were effective for their time however they were limited and had almost no impact on government policies or development programs. The revolution gave birth to the Revolutionary Ethiopian Women's Association (REWA) yet being very closely overlooked by the Dergue (military Junta, which ruled Ethiopia between 1974 and 1987) it was of no use to women. The establishment was more to do with the Dergue’s hunger for power and ultimate control. Women’s rights was at no point part of its priority but a tool to control organizations aimed at developing women’s roles in society.
It was the downfall of the Dergue regime that allowed the people of Ethiopia to breathe. The participation of women and the contributions they made during the civil war turned society’s eyes onto Ethiopian women, in the 1990’s women became more recognized as participants in the country’s politics, economics and general social development.
Under today’s governmental ruling laws and regulations have been passed to protect the rights of women. According to the 2001 Family Code the minimum age for marriage is 18 and most Ethiopian regions have adopted Family Codes, which guarantee equality for women. Regardless of steps towards change Ethiopian women are still being marginalized and victimized on a daily basis due to social and traditional conventions that have not been broken down. According to the statistics provided by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour 8% of women surveyed married as a result of bride kidnapping and/or rape, even though underage marriage is illegal early marriage is common as well as maternal mortality. These figures are thought to be much higher due to extreme underreporting.
The country report on Human Rights practices in 2011 states very clearly that the punishments for spousal rape and bride kidnapping are often not enforced ‘partially due to the widespread underreporting’. It is clear that this is where the problem continues to develop when a woman accepts abuse as part of their culture or tradition it cannot be easily resolved. According to the report over 80% of women surveyed in Ethiopia believed that the husband had the right to beat his wife. However, what happens to the young women and girls who do not accept this patriarchal oppressing social convention?
Most of these young women have found themselves in abusive marriages, which often began with force by family or worse by abduction. Although marriage by abduction is illegal it is still continued in several areas of Ethiopia, including Amhara, Oromia, and SNNPR, despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Bride kidnapping does not affect the kidnapped and the kidnapper only, abductions lead to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups.
The status of women in the society and lack of support from non-governmental bodies plays a significant role in the continuation of the outdated practices of bride kidnapping and domestic violence.
Bogalech Gebre - Women's rights activist in Ethiopia
At Restless Beings we have been working on cases of Bride Kidnapping in various regions of the world but focusing on the practice of Ala Kachuu in Kyrgzstan. We have recently formed contact with several women’s groups in Africa including one in Ethiopia, which we are hoping to build bridges with and continue spreading the message across the continent. It is one thing for the governments to bring laws and regulations against abuse towards women and marriage by abduction but it is another to deal with cultural and traditional norms embedded into the society and into peoples minds.
Bringing change into society must begin with the youth, they must be educated in order for all future generations to learn to let go of outdated traditions. Today is international youth day we must remind ourselves today that leaving our world in good condition is important for the younger generations. We must be good role models, only then can we allow rights and living conditions for them in the future to improve. With our help the younger generations can be informed, educated and expect a brighter future. Lets focus on making the world a better place for our children.