Skip to main content

Of the fair sex and harassment

A year or so back there was this spectacle in a crowded street in Addis. The middle aged man was walking with a relatively younger woman towards the Arat Kilo area, and almost every thirty seconds or so he either slapped or punched her. Just like that! She didn’t make the slightest sound, or even tried to resist. It was as if she was complying with the ruling of some court which gave her husband he right to beat her for a couple of months. Many people were horrified at this utter barbarity, and the anger was so intense one would think a lynch mob would be formed any minute. But, no one interfered. No one told the guy, “You can’t do that to her!” Well, a guy beating up another woman doesn’t seem to be much of a headline grabber around here.

Maybe people were saying to themselves… “He must be very much in love with her.” The underlying logic being he beats her only because he is jealous; and he is jealous means that he loves her! So beating up a lady was supposed to be the highest form of expression of love.

“He must have caught her cheating on him.”  

“You know, women like men who beat them up.”

“He must be her husband; what if he beat her once in a while!”

Of course, there wasn’t any once-in-a-while the way the guy was hitting her! And, somewhat, his hands appeared larger than life. Maybe he found some major fault in her actions! So, who is anybody to tell him to stop! One seventyish old man did exactly that;

“Why are you hitting her? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” One thing the man wasn’t was, ashamed! The Good Samaritan was, in fact, told not to interfere by none other than the lady herself!  It was something which defied explanation. I mean already her pretty face was turning purple and she didn’t want others to come to her rescue! That wouldn’t make a good Hollywood pilot.

The past few weeks we’ve been hearing about cases of sexual harassments elsewhere in the world. It seems the celebrities and those in power simply couldn’t tame their hands to stay away from the skirts of unwilling women. The Harvey Weinstein guy could have made jaws drop at the scale of his decades-old sexual harassments on aspiring and established actresses. His story seems to have let the cat out of the bag. Sexual harassment allegations are dogging even the British parliament. What! What about all those matter-of-fact stern facial expressions we see on TV?  The sex scandals we are hearing are providing us with a glimpse as to how some of the people turning and twisting the knobs of this world think and act.

Even the former FIFA boss Sep Blatter’s name making the list of the accused! What a story! If the American’s women’s team goalie’s accusations are true it is indeed a very disturbing pattern. Incidentally, a couple of years back there was talk of sexual harassments (of course, few, if any used the equivalent Amharic term for ‘sexual harassment’) in our athletics world. The story went on that when it came to women athletes, they don’t only need skills and stamina; they have to match their passion for athletics with the sexual passion of some of the men. Like many things, we never saw the climax of the allegations.

Maybe it is high time we really looked into our own situation. We don’t need inspiration another Clara Zetkin or some namesake to tell us that we have to stop the tide of sexual harassments before it turns it some uncontrollable storm surge. One doesn’t have to travel far, or peep through keyholes to witness abuses against the women; the streets of Addis would provide the perfect showcase.

Once in a while we hear audible noise about addressing the problems women are facing. Passionate speeches, determined vows, no-nonsense slogan; one would think that the days of the macho man were numbered and come morning all those wife-beaters and harassers would be bundled away to some far away land.  Finally, justice would be served!  With all those sexual harassers out of the picture, this world would be a far better place! So would go the wishful thinking.

But, don’t close the book yet. All the passions of the day time workshops or whatever would be drowned in pints of whiskey and vodka at the evening’s cocktail party. Of course, a meeting or workshop without a cocktail party as the climax would be a non-event! During the day it is about the ordeals about the womenfolk are facing and in the evening it is about the mini-wars that would irrupt in quite many bedrooms.

We’ve heard of guys in the US who thought their better half’s chin was there for the taking, and ended up on the wrong side of the law.

“Hey, you can’t even touch her, let alone knock her around the house!” “But, she is my wife!”

“So what? She is your wife, not your slave!”

“I’ve the right to do whatever I like. I can kick her or kiss her whenever and wherever I like.”

“Not here. You can’t even lay a loving finger on her if she doesn’t want you to do so.”

“What! What kind of a country is it where your wife says no to you and you could do nothing about it!”

There was a famous joke during the military junta. This woman comes home and asks her husband something like “How about you and me getting in bed and you know what…” The guy wasn’t in the mood. “Not today, I’m not on the mood,” he says. She tries you convince him but he seems to be suffering from bad testosterone deficiency and he stands fast in his refusal. But she insists and he sticks to his refusal. The final words go to her;

“Even if you don’t want to do it, you’ll be forced by the kebele!” Ha!  Now, wasn’t that a real revolution! Of course if things were like they’re today the man would have shouted, “This is sexual harassment on me by my own wife!”

Look, if finger-pointing sees the light of day here, if abused women rise up in arms and the culprits recoil into their caves, ours would be the only country in the world where the ratio of women to men in the streets would be some a hundred to one or so. Did I hear someone say ‘exaggeration?’ But it isn’t? Just take a closer look at the expense of losing a few heartbeats.

We really have a long way to go. Despite all the rallying calls of the last four decades so, our women are still treated with disrespect and arrogance. These days even the kids barely ten or eleven make cat calls, and you see no one trying to pump some discipline into them.  The truth is even the adults, some of whom could boast of many decades of existence, act exactly the kids. Even those who consider themselves learned and fine-polished act like some village tug who pulls at every skirt which comes within grasp. So we do have serious problems. With so many so-called ‘civilized’ guys, who think they can make a punching bag out of their better half, the climb towards a more caring society would prove a very steep one.


Contributed by Ephrem Endale
Contributed by Ephrem Endale