In Ethiopia, the idea of women fighting against physical, psychological, and sexual abuse is far from becoming a mainstream thought. Even though the country has been praised in decreasing maternal death and other key indicators of women’s health, preventing or getting justice during abuse still remains a complication. A series of conflicts in various parts of the country is only pulling the little progress made in preventing the trauma these abuses have been causing. Even beyond the impact of the conflicts, fresh attacks in urban settings are becoming part of the news bulletin, leaving little hope for a better day, writes Trualem Asmare.
“The tragedy that has happened to women and children is one that I hope that the men of Ethiopia will lead the recovery from,” said Amina J Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations after visiting the states of Amhara and Afar on February 10. She was referring to reported atrocities particularly against women during an invasion of the two states by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Violence against women is not only the story of just one side. Ever since a militaristic conflict broke out on October 24, 2020 between the federal government and TPLF—a group labeled terrorist by Parliament—both sides have been guilty of violence against women with evidenced backing from both local and international rights groups including the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and Amnesty International.
Conflicts are breeding grounds for sexual violence against women and girls. But, recent attacks on women in Ethiopia go beyond conflict regions. Some of the attacks do not stop at just violating the female gender; the nation has been hearing dismaying reports of loss of precious life.
Tsigereda Girmay was a second-year student of tourism management at Arba Minch University, located 435km from Addis Ababa. In the afternoon of January 30 she lost her life after an attack by her own boyfriend. According to a police investigation, the boyfriend responded brutally to her refusal to answer her phone when he had called “many times.”
The man whose calls were unanswered then goes to his girlfriend’s friends and asks them to call her. She answered their call after which they arranged a meet between the couple and themselves. Believing it was a small disagreement, Tsigereda told her friends to go and that she would manage herself. A brief moment later, the friends would her scream. They ran back in vain; she had already been stabbed multiple times.
Campus security and her friends managed to take her to Arba Minch Referral Hospital but it was too late. On January 31, her body was taken to her hometown of Wolkait Adiremet.
“Gaps in law enforcement, conflicts, and the Covid pandemic are not ideal for the protection of women and girls against violence,” says Kalkidan Tesfaye, Advocacy and Communication Officer at the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center—a network set up to prevent violence against women by engaging in advocacy works and case follow-up until justice is delivered.
“Only this past month, two women were killed,” Kalkidan told EBR. The other victim is a woman named Seble. “We are comforting both families and helping them to secure justice.” The network is also using the incidents to create more awareness over social media.
According to a 2018 meta-analysis study by Getachew Mulu and Amanuel Alemu, overall prevalence of violence against women was 46.93Pct. The pooled lifetime physical, sexual, and psychological violence were 38, 39, and 39Pct, respectively, with rape at 13Pct. Overall, nearly half of Ethiopian women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime, with substantial levels of physical, sexual, or psychological violence.
“Society has been raising women as helpless creatures—ones who always need the man to even exist,” says Birhanu Rabo, Psychologist and Counselor. “If left unchecked, that place offered to the man can make him dangerous.”
The pain which the injustice inflicts on the woman’s psychology is a whole different story. Communities discourage women from going to courts for justice. Then there are issues with judges—mostly men—being biased by their own love stories, according to Birhanu. Having visited the town of Kombolcha in the State of Amhara, Birhanu believed what he saw was just the tip of the iceberg. He believes that many women, having gone through terrible experiences, are just not willing to come forward as even telling their own story is somewhat of a taboo.
Bethelhem Kassa, Medical Doctor at Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s Women and Children Care and Legal Center, states that once attacked, women will be exposed to multiple health challenges—some medically treatable while others will remain throughout their lifetimes.
“You cannot treat the low self-esteem and the mistrust they develop after the attack,” Bethlehem says.
In an article published about three years ago, the Guardian newspaper shared a view into the mind of a brutal sex offender sued for abusing women physically and psychologically. Aliased as Mr. Jackson, he was imprisoned then released to a sex offender treatment facility on his fifth year of treatment. “I did the same thing to women because I hated women,” Mr. Jackson says. “I didn’t trust them. I looked at them as objects, not as human beings. I didn’t want women to control my life, so I’d control them. I’d be the dominant one at all times. That’s how I was able to abuse women physically and sexually.”
The publication lays out the reasons why men opt for violence against women. Both the feelings of powerfulness and powerlessness are tied to the urge to become violent. Some financially successful men are violent as they think they are entitled to it. Their entitlement is part of the universe’s reward for their ‘success’.
Similarly, marginalized and weakened men who suffer from helplessness, use violence to make them feel empowered. Trauma and its aftermath often have a significant impact on the early lives of men who commit violent crimes. For this group of men, violence is also related to sexual feelings. Many studies found out that some men feel more sexual when they physically abuse women.
Ethiopia, a nation praised for meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing maternal death and good accomplishments in other key indicators of women’s health, may not receive similar praise in its performance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The country should work towards enhancing gender equality, coupled with addressing risk factors at multiple levels by using community- and institution-based approaches to prevent violence against women (VAW) and to specifically achieve SDG5 of eliminating VAW by 2030,” are the recommendations of Getachew and Amanuel’s meta-analysis study.
EBR 10th Year • Apr 2022 • No. 106