Wednesday, February 8, 2023
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Refusing to live in a sub-standard life

When women face violence, the state justice machinery has also a great role in improving women rights and its protection. The human rights laws must be reflective of that. It is clear the intention of punishment is not to avenge the criminal, but among others, it is to give an example for others, writes Tsedenya Alemu.

When are we not going to end the fact, as women, we have to emulate the images of men to live our lives? Why is it still the experiences of women to use the last name of our husbands in the modern era? Should this be the reality of the modern Ethiopian women in 2018?

According to the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), domestic and gender based violence are increasing at an alarming rate within Ethiopia. Take for instance, the acidic attack and gang rape against women that are still (almost) becoming the norm in many parts of the nation. These incidents are happening in an open space, at schools and at our workplaces and even sadly, within our homes. Where should our sanctuary be, then?

How about the sexual harassment that is a regular occurrence? There are the unwanted touching, the forced kissing, the flipping of the shits and the unwanted hugs and many others. Is there a woman that has not experienced it (one or some of these) in Ethiopia? Fortunately, these are experiences that almost no men go through. For many, sexual harassment is the unwanted verbal or physical attack giving undue stress to many, making us less productive, content and happy in our everyday lives.

How about the sexual favors forced to be rendered for power or favoritism for employment? That is something women go through within Ethiopia, more specifically in the pursuit of jobs  whether it is in the international institutions or those of the governments. These experiences create the culture of intimidation, the creation of a hostile environment to work in and a constant abuse that stays with the victim for eternity. I can endorse the notion these experiences have the potential to reduce performances of women in various aspects of our lives.

Unfortunately, Ethiopian law does not criminalize sexual harassment and this is one of the legal gaps where new Legal Reform Committee should consider in the reform of Ethiopian laws. In the recent vulgar attack around the surroundings of Addis Ababa and Jigjiga, women were the majority of the victims and there was no real mechanism to safeguard them  during or after the incidents.

This was true for the vulnerable female infants who are always easy to exploit and abuse.  The above are some of the few examples out of too many to mention, in the midst of too many that go unreported. The question now is how we can improve the images of women so that they do not become the victims of the future. I suggest few areas as a small step forward. It begins with the media, the TV programs (and advertisements) that are becoming popular.

It’s often that women that are projected on our TV screens are always obnoxious, angry, loud, negligent to their family and cruel, making them easy target for abuse and harassment, having a profound effect on the ground. This creates a distorted image and is non-representative of the ambition of everyday women, giving a uniform like prejudice to who and what we are.

Gender equality doesn’t mean the women should be patronized, but be given an equal footing as men. Gender equality is all about treating both genders equally and without conditions and to always support and, in the old feminism words, to recognize, as a society that a womens place is not always in the kitchen, but where ever she wants to be.

This also does not mean women should just stay at the back of the bus, until society changes for the better. Women have greater share in the protection of their own rights. I believe resistance to harassment or any gender based violence and upgrading oneself with education, building confidence on making decisions and running for government offices and exposure to information have immense impact in improving women rights. We are the better advocate for our own interest.

I am privileged enough to travel in many parts of Ethiopia and see firsthand the experiences of women as women face violence, discrimination and inequality, especially in the rural parts of our nation. Abduction, early marriage and giving differential treatment are still the reality of many. Many continue to spring from that experience and later on, face image issues that are less than the ambition of being a leader in their communities, to pursue personal ambitions and be a content citizen.

Our society needs to know, there is a greater need to change that narrative and it is ultimately the responsibility of everyone, to change it and flip the page to a society that cares about half of its women populations.

We must say NO to violence, discrimination and any degrading acts. Our silence to gender discrimination has a huge impact to the gender differences we see today and the future female populations of our society. We must also claim any privilege or right we deserves in any sphere of life. We must express and highlight our issues in the open sphere. We must demand representation in government and public elections  not just as nominators but as politicians.

Furthermore, we must work hard on any endeavor to gain economic independence and not be dependent of others. Economic independence has undeniable role for better protection of women rights and privileges. An economically independent woman is more likely to make important decision by and for her.

When women face violence, the state justice machinery has also a great role in improving women rights and its protection. The human rights laws must be reflective of that. It is clear the intention of punishment is not to avenge the criminal, but among others, it is to give an example for others. The punishments should be according to the enacted laws and one that has a power for others to abstain from violation of human rights. The punishments of today must be a lesson for possible future offenders.

At the end, I put down my pen by reminding my sisters, mothers, friends and all others, that we are not created to tag along with men, but we are created to create our own destiny and not be bound by society’s norm, let alone that of men. That might be a lofty goal within our Ethiopian society, but is something that I believe we can create, when we realize the potential that is within us.

Ed.’s Note: Tsedenya Alemu is a graduate of Dire Dawa University and is currently a candidate for a Master’s degree at Bahir Dar University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Tsedenya Alemu


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