Ethiopian Business Review

Throughout history, it has become apparent that women have been overlooked by society, whether they were considered the possession of their husbands and fathers, or being denied a voice in the society they are part of. In the 19th and early 20th centuries women sought to fight for the rights they deserve. This movement, also referred to as the first wave of feminism, mainly focused on the right to vote.  The second wave (1963- 1980’s) movement tackled the issue of patriarchal society. This phase was considered to include only middle income white women. 

The third wave (1980s-present) has come a long way since then, bringing with it other types of feminism, including intersectional feminism (in which class, race, disability and gender do not exist separately but are interwoven); womanism (within the black feminism) and postmodern feminism (between liberal feminism and radical feminism).  

In the Ethiopian community, it is often said that feminism is a comfort zone for bitter women, or is for those who believe that women are better than men. If you interpret the word as you like you might get the result you intend to. I then of course, ask where Ethiopia stands with regards to  the feminism issue. Yes, we are a developing country and we are deeply entrenched in religion and custom. However, this is by no means an excuse to overstep or delay the rights of women. 

Often times, it seems clear that male dominance is still around the streets. A woman who is old enough to enjoy a walk on her own can relate to this. Men (even if not all men) feel entitled to speak about how she looks, comment on her outfit, and there are others who go a step further and physically grab her. This violates women’s basic rights to their own company. This harassment can be avoided if she were walking with a male friend. Why? Simply it is because a man is present. 

I personally recall that for a good five years, my friends and I used to walk around in groups for fear of being sexually harassed by our male peers. Because I enjoy doing things independently and could not keep up with the group’s schedules, I was forced to read in my dorm. This on its own has a huge effect on the performance of women at all levels of education. Women are being indirectly denied equal opportunities in the classroom. Furthermore, a look at dropout rate of female students in public universities, which has reached five percent, can be an evidence to show the severity of the problem. 

Cases of sexual harassment, including rape, are reported to the relevant authorities, resulting in punishment for the perpetrators. However, the majority of cases went unreported. Female students do not want to be seen as victims and simply let it slide. Others fail to report because they think it is acceptable for men to act the way they do, at least verbally. 

The same applies for the work place. Despite women working to the same (and even higher) levels than their male counterparts, women are burdened with having to be extra careful to avoid harassment and its consequences (victim-blaming and minimization of the incident, among others). 

Even though it is a global issue, not enough is being said about it in Ethiopia. As there are men who respect women’s opinions, there are also those who insist on commenting on women’s looks, or disrespecting them on basis of gender alone. It begs the question: how are women supposed to perform at equal levels with men in this kind of environment?

The stereotype facing women and girls who like to do activities on their own are also pervasive and harmful. I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago.  Waiting for some friends who had been delayed by rain, I found myself sitting alone in a café for about an hour. My mother always told me if a woman sits alone in a restaurant it is presumed that she is commercially looking for a man, advice I had not heeded until that day. 

The waitress (also a woman) gave me a look that I was not familiar with. That was when I understood what my mother meant. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. I pleaded hard for my friends to arrive as soon as they could. One of my friends arrived within an hour. I felt joy as my friend walked in. Within a matter of minutes, the woman smiled and didn’t look at me again as she had when I was alone. 

Are we still that society that judges because of independence and confidence? Does a women have to appear shy and speak softly in order to be considered a lady? What is our feminism as Ethiopians? 

Let us not forget that women in Ethiopia often work full days at the office and then come home to pick up after and take care of their families. How many women give themselves time and do things they like? 

Our Ethiopian foremothers served our country hand in hand with men. Empress Taytu, an iconic figure ruled and fought battles alongside her husband, Emperor Menelik II and her contributions are countless. Given the opportunity, women can change an entire nation for the better. 

Everyone is entitled to say feminism means this to me. For me, feminism is empowering women. Feminism is just not a movement, but a lifestyle and a principle.

The name calling on the streets, the sexual harassment at the office is attributed to the way people grow up. Society has labeled women to be more enduring of the male behavior. Culturally, it is easier to point the finger at the woman than the man. It has become acceptable for a man to go after what he wants while women are belittled for the same behavior. 

There are organizations that are set-up to upkeep women’s right. And while they do help alleviate the problems we face, in order to bring about a radical change each person needs to play a role. It starts with the family. Prior to starting formal education, children are more receptive of the actions of their parents, and other older family members. Every individual should take that opportunity to be mindful of what the community is modeling for them. 

Awareness should be created among children that women are not inferior to men nor are women superior to men in order to create a balanced society. There can be no expectation of forward movement without respecting and nurturing half of the population. 

And women themselves need to strike a balance between being the person they want to be and carrying out the societal responsibilities that come with living in a society (as a daughter, sister, wife and mother). However, there should be no shame in taking steps to become the person they want to be, whether through education, career, travel, or other roads. 

It is necessary to go that extra mile and take control in spite of the judgment and the push-back. What is the harm in that? If women don’t begin to exercise our rights, who will? 


6th Year . April 16  - May 15 2018 . No.60


 

 

Makeda Leikun

is a lawyer. 

She can be reached at 

yeshanehmakeda@yahoo.com.

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