Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women (CREW)
We want to take a moment to express our outrage about the abduction of hundreds of Nigerian school girls. In solidarity with Nigerian mothers on this Mother’s Day, we say, BRING BACK OUR GIRLS! We also wish all women around the world to have a peaceful Mother’s Day.
To all Ethiopian women at home and in the Diaspora, we pay tribute to your courage, struggle for freedom, equality and justice.
For generations, Ethiopian women have played major roles in their society. They are the center of the family and shouldered immense responsibilities. They are strong and courageous fighters for freedom. They have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go to achieve equality. The major obstacles in women’s advancement in Ethiopia are the abject poverty and the traditional harmful practices that hinder women’s progress. Because of these, women have continued to face enormous hardships. On the other hand, their resilience in the face of all impediments is quite amazing.
The following essays, poems and pictures depict their struggle and triumph; their sadness and joy; and their wishes for a bright future. CREW members and non-members, Ethiopian and Ethiopian American women from diverse background sent their reflections on different issues that pertain to Ethiopian women. I thank all of you who have contributed to this project.
CREW is a non-government, non-partisan, peace and human rights organization created to promote the social, legal, economic and political rights of Ethiopian women worldwide. Please join us in our struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I am thrilled to hear that many young Ethiopian women in Ethiopia are actively involved in peaceful struggle for freedom and equality. Congratulations to our young women! It is encouraging to know that the struggle has continued!
My mother’s Day message is, as they say, ‘freedom is not free’. We have to earn it.
Maigenet Shifferraw, Ph.D.
A Tribute to Ethiopian Mothers
The African Mother
The African Mother
She is so dear.
I like the way she touches.
The way she rubs the children’s heads,
Specially the little ones.
The African mother,
She is so dear.
She carries babies on her back
Because she knows the road ahead could be rough and hard.
In case she falls,
She will be the one who suffers.
Saving the child is what she cares for.
O! My dear,
The African mother.
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The above picture and poem is printed
with the permission of the author Tewodros Abebe
AN ODE TO MY MOTHER
In the Ethiopian lingua franca, Amharic, ‘mother’ metaphorically stands for our planet Earth (enat-alem) and the country we own (enat-Ethiopia). We all know the Earth carries everything, and puts up with silly humanity and other life forms. Nothing explains this patience of mother Earth better than a mothers’ relationship to her family. As for country, well … nothing can match the value of ancient, independent and self-reliant Ethiopiabetter than a mother’s nurturing and loving care. No, don’t mistake me: not everything was rosy in historical Ethiopia. All those battles for political power positions and wars of migratory land grabs did cost the lives and dignities of women, their children and other vulnerable members of society whom they patiently cared for. They did experience the atrocities even as they engaged in defensive wars. Though they were forbidden byNegusa Negest Iyasu (1682 – 1706) to ride horses, use the spear and participate in battles, and his ruling lasted at least for seventy years, they kept appearing in the historical political and military fields. Working through the system, those who could also made it to the height of political power. Ordinary Ethiopian mothers, those who did not take up arms or participate in politics, observed, sang and commented. How did they justify the positive, and seemingly (but not really) passive, metaphorical description of the word enat? It is a wonder. Isn’t it about time that I laud them! It is in order. So here we go:
Your voice, my dear mother
Your lullabies and lamentations,
Your wedding songs and ‘Courage my heroes!’
Engraining loving care and resistance, my dear,
Ring out through the centuries,
They give hope and heart, but for submission, no space.
Hmmm, my dear! I am no poet,
Your own words, I quote instead:
Eshiruru! lijie eshiruru!
Anqelbaw tefeta na wered mamuyie!
Hush, my baby, hush!
Carrying you on my back, as I eat
Carrying you on my back, as I drink
Carrying you on my back, as I grind
Carrying you on my back, as I fetch water
The carry cot is undone, come off my back, my baby [boy].
This – a mere lullaby, I thought of it once.
‘A song of protest’ – you’ve told me since.
Did they want to ban it, their excellencies!
Tsehai Berhane-Selassie, Ph.D.. May 7, 2014.
To my beloved Mothers of Ethiopia:
Could I be more inspired to be birthed from a never- ending sea of love so strong even the Nile River cannot reach? On this special day, we thank you for your decades of unwavering love and devotion to country, but more importantly, to the girls and boys and women and men that you have nurtured over the years. You have shown us the resilience of your quiet power that moves mountains in plain sight. Your pride, respect, and intentional love for our success is contagious – it has inspired us to always be mindful of the significance of loving back, of service to community, of understanding that true happiness and success comes when others can share in it. We are impassioned to pursue our dreams, compelled to lead and serve through love of community, and to never lose our undying faith in our culture and history because our mothers taught us so. May God continue to bless the mothers of Ethiopia as they have blessed so many of us. Peace, love, and blessings,
Menna Demessie, Ph.D.
When I think of Mother’s Day
When I think of Mother’s Day, I think of my own mother and my grandmother. They are two women who taught me about love. They also taught me to be determined, to be stubborn when I needed to be, to be disciplined and to work hard. But behind the two of them, there is a long history of Ethiopian women who have shaped the lives of their children, and thus, shaped coming generations. This photo[left] is one example of one such woman. I don’t know her story. I don’t know who took this photo. I don’t know what year it is. More than likely, this is a staged photo. The shoes, for example, suggest this is so. Yet, I can’t help but look at this and think of the Ethiopian women this photograph represents. She reminds me that women, too, have been on the front lines of wars. We have fought alongside men. We have collected their bodies and helped heal their wounds and brought food to the battlefield. We have sung the songs that inspired soldiers to keep fighting. All of this makes me proud to be a woman, to be Ethiopian, to be the daughter of a nation of great women. For all mothers, sisters, grandmothers – Happy Mother’s Day.
The struggle for freedom and peace has continued!
It is not new for Ethiopian women to fight for freedom and peace. During the Italian invasion, women participated actively in the resistance movement. They fought at the battle field side by side with their fathers and brothers. They prepared nonperishable food and accompanied the logistics to the battle field while those who were left behind took care of the elderly and children.
In the 1970s, Ethiopian women demanded that their voices be heard. They took part in demonstrations and boycotted their work place demanding equal rights for women. However, the military government in power responded by killing and imprisoning them. Despite the brutal response from the government, mothers did everything to protect their children. They carefully orchestrated a protest using “oo-oota’ (wailing loudly) to protect their children and inform the neighbors of the search and arrest in the neighborhoods.
Ethiopian women’s struggle has continued today. They are speaking out about their views and go out enmass to vote to end an undemocratic government. Women are forming associations and organizations to bring awareness and to empower their fellow women. The recent demonstrations of young Ethiopian women in Ethiopia for their democratic rights are a testimony to the continuation of the struggle.
Keeping these women in mind, we celebrate mother’s day.
My wish for 2014
My wish for this 2014 Mother’s day is for thousands of Ethiopian women in Ethiopia and around the world to take their rightful place in the necessary and critical struggle to regain the honor and dignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians worldwide. My wish is for thousands of Ethiopian women to tap into their inner strength and use their gift of wisdom and intelligence to speak out against violence in any form; to speak out against torture and human rights abuse; and to speak out courageously against injustice and gender inequality. Not doing any of this is an abandonment of our duties as mothers, sisters and wives. Not taking our rightful places will allow the victimization to continue.
A Mother’s Day Wish for Peace and Justice in Ethiopia
Rich or poor, young or old, living in Ethiopia or in the Diaspora, northerners, southerners no matter what our differences are, what binds us together is motherhood. The thrill of holding and cuddling our babies; our vigilant protection of them and our unconditional love for them; the pride we take in their progress and the pain we experience with their downfall are some of the emotions we share as mothers.
Mother’s Day is designated to cherish this special bondage and express appreciation for mother’s devotion. Although this special day is not officially marked in Ethiopia, mothers are always celebrated, loved and admired and revered. However, the majority of women face fae hardships for lack of educational opportunities, healthcare services, abject poverty. Women are also vulnerable for lack of good governance.
According to 2014 UNICEF’s report, “pregnancy related deaths in Ethiopia have fallen by nearly two-thirds, making the country [Ethiopia] that has most successfully lowered its maternal mortality rate.’ Indeed, it is good news. Yet, the tragedy that has befallen Ethiopian mothers for too long has continued. For over forty years, it has become common for Ethiopian mothers to lose their beloved children to all sorts of calamities, civil wars, migration, state violence, to name a few. As I am writing this tribute for Mother’s Day, some mothers in Ethiopia are mourning the death of their sons and daughters as a result of mass killings by Ethiopia’s security forces. There are also those whose children are jailed, because they chose to express their views in writing or public demonstrations. Arbitrary killers and jailers rarely face justices in Ethiopia — this must be additional anguish to mothers. As a mother, I can easily relate to their anger, grief, anguish and frustrations over loss of their children.
My wish for Mother’s Day is for violence to end in Ethiopia, because what good is it if death of mothers is reduced and children are brutally killed for simply having opposing views?
Happy mother’s day to all!
My wish for ending Traditional Harmful practices to women in Ethiopia
Once, I had an opportunity to work in a refugee camp in the Sudan. Most of the refugees were Ethiopians. I joined a Traditional Birth Attendance Training to help the refugees. The first day, I attended a delivery of a young Sudanese woman who was in labor for three days. Because of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) undertaken to control her sexuality, the woman did not have clitoris and the inside part of the Labium-minora was not there, the Labium Majora was stitched together. The midwife brought a sterilized forceps, scissors, needles, etc. and put her middle and index fingers in between the interwoven tissue and following the scar she cut it and a gush of blood came out due to the procedure. The lady yelped, and said, “Mama, mama, it burns, it burns.”
I couldn’t stop the midwife’s action; but as a woman, it was very difficult to watch what the woman in labor was going through. I was shocked and I fainted in solidarity. “Take her to the window for fresh air! Didn’t you say you do delivery,” said the midwife. I said, yes, and returned to the lesson since the solidarity would take me nowhere. For a moment, I was judgmental and condemned the midwife who herself is left without much choice but a responsibility to save the woman in labor.
Because of FGM many women and girls suffer throughout their life from psychological and physical trauma as well as from health disorders such as UTI, uterus and kidney infection. FGM is a cause to divorce and marriage conflicts as well as to loss of life. The absence of health facilities aggravates the problem.
My Mother’s Day wish is for the elimination of all sorts of traditional harmful practices that affect women in our country and we should say “Zero tolerance for FGM.”
Ethiopian mothers are the pillars of the family
Ethiopian mothers are the pillars of the family and the alignment between the children, the fathers and the mothers themselves. They are the architects of deep compassion or humanity, love, gratitude, respect, kindness and discipline. These are the strong family values and the unconditional love of our mothers and our fathers that have prepared us to face the challenges of the intricacies of life. Our Ethiopian mothers have always showed perseverance in the struggle against bad governance and human rights violations while trying to protect their children from persistent poverty and social destitution. We cannot thank our mothers enough for their endless love, caring and for fighting for equality. It is important to honor the promise of our mothers by coming together to secure the sovereignty of our country for democracy and lasting peace.
Happy Mother’s Day
Serkalem Fasil is a journalist. In 2005, she was arrested with other reporters, including her husband, Eskinder Nega (also a journalist) for criticizing the Ethiopian government’s brutal action against demonstrators after the 2005 parliamentary elections. Amnesty International identified her as a prisoner of conscience. While in prison, Serkalem gave birth to her son, Nafkot. She was released after two years in 2007. She received “Courage in Journalism Award” from International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF). She donated the money she was awarded to Amnesty International. Her husband, Eskinder, was rearrested again three years ago and he is still in prison. In this Amharic essay(below), Serkalem wrote about her unforgettable experiences of having her baby in prison and her longing to be with her son. She is currently in the United States with her son.
A Tribute to Ethiopian Migrant workers in the Middle East
Rahel Zegeye is an Ethiopian migrant worker who is living in Beirut, Lebanon. She is is an activist on migrant domestic workers issues. She has produced two films about Ethiopian migrant domestic workers in Beirut. Above, she wrote a short poem in Amharic for Mother’s Day expressing her frustrations about the conditions in Ethiopia.
Migrant Women Domestic Workers: I hear you, I feel you
Ethiopian domestic workers migrate to the Gulf States and to the Middle Eastern countries. More than 200,000 Ethiopians migrated in the year of 2012. The majority of the migrant workers are women who are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives with a dream to earn money and improve the life of their families. However, these women became vulnerable because of their gender, migration status, insufficient diplomatic protection, the invisibility of domestic work industry and exclusion from various laws. As a result, apart from the forced labor, they are also physically and sexually harassed, raped, had forced abortions and some were murdered; but their death is usually reported as ‘committed suicide’. According to International Office for Migration (IOM), the majority of Ethiopian women who were deported from Saudi Arabia at the end of 2013 were either lactating or pregnant. Those who are ‘lucky’ enough to return to their families, in most cases, the socio-cultural problem of re-integrating with their family and the society became very challenging. Their husbands and their families no longer love and care for them; and their situations get worse if they returned empty handed.
“I had a written contract but I don’t remember what’s in it. I was not allowed to refuse any thing concerning anything on the working and living conditions. Domestic work is living the lowest life; I felt I’m inferior. When my employer insult me and hits me, I felt that I’m poor, I felt my life is in the hands of another person, I even didn’t get enough food, I can’t wear the cloth I wanted, sleepless nights, working without salary, losing my teeth and body, losing my husband because I return empty hand. I am educated but I never thought I would experience this.”
The above is extracted from the interview I conducted in January, 2014 with a 22 years old returnee who was deported after the crackdown of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. She has lost her 6 upper and 3 lower teeth and cannot walk because her employer threw her from the third floor. Many Ethiopian women are in this predicament. We have to struggle to end modern-day lavery!!
On Mother’s Day, let us commemorate all migrant workers women who are suffering every single minute just because they are women, migrants and domestic workers.
On this Mother’s Day, CREW protests the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers, civic society leaders, political activists and all prisoners of conscience who are struggling for freedom, democracy and justice in Ethiopia
Reyot Alemu, a young female journalist, winner of the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for her contributions to press freedom and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) Courage in Journalism Award in 2012, has been in prison since 2011. It is reported that she has been very ill and she is not even allowed to have proper medical treatment. We demand the Ethiopian government to release her and she should get the appropriate medical treatment.
On this Mother’s Day, we show our solidarity with the mothers of the students in the Oromia region who were killed by government secutity forces because they peacfully demonstrated. Freedom of speech and assembly are essential elements to develop a democratic government. It is also written in the country’s constitution. Violence should be condemned by all. The perpetrators who killed peaceful demonstrators must be brought to justice.
We also demand the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release journalists, bloggers and all prisoners of conscience who are suffering in different notorious prisons in the country.