In response to Temesgen Zewde’s “Let the people go! A feminist prospective

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By: Hirut Mesfin
October 31, 2013.
I feel compelled to respond to this article. Whilst I am in agreement with the gist of Temesgen Zewde’s argument, about constitutional right to travel, the problem of unemployment and the lack of alternatives, I am deeply troubled with the underlying tone of the message which reveals indifference to the plight of young Ethiopian women.  This attitude is not unique to the writer; it is manifested across the board.  I had an opportunity to raise this issue with Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Tedros Adhanom.   He too, pretty much concluded that it was “their right” to travel and no one can stop them.  Nobody wants to address what these women are subjected to, before, in the run up to, during and after they travel- it is shocking.  The whole thing is slavery dressed up as modern day travel in search of work.
This is an issue very close to my heart.  As an Ethiopian woman and a lucky one to have gained a decent education from the start, I have been observing some disturbing elements about the raw deal the vast majority of Ethiopian women get both at home and abroad.
Temesgen Zewde referred the government travel ban as “myopic, Stone Age and draconian”.  Sir, what is myopic, Stone Age and draconian is  a society and its government who accept the  concept and practice of  young, uneducated, ill equipped, ill informed desperate girls from poverty stricken families from Tigray in the North down to Arba Minch in the South are  being shipped out of their country daily in their thousands to their demise in the Middle East!  That should shame us all!

My issue with this article is, it wants to uphold the constitutional right to travel while ignoring the right of the individual/s basic need being trampled on.   Why should disadvantaged sixteen, fourteen even thirteen year old girls who should be at school have to be the bread winners of their families in the first place?  Why should they bear the brunt of economic upheaval of Ethiopia that claims to be growing 10 % per annum? Who is going to call for ban for this state and society sponsored gender specific abuse and neglect of women?
Hardly a day goes by without Arab News outlets have some horrific story of an Ethiopian girl being murdered, raped, burnt with hot iron, objects being thrown at them including hot water where they have been disfigured; lately, the girls themselves being accused of doing the killing perhaps born out of the  sense of helplessness when faced with so much cruelty and brutality.   There are also those who did not make it to the news. They have either perished from the face of the earth an accounted for or those, who just grit their teeth and bear it and continue to send their blood money in which they sacrifice their body & soul.
So bad is the situation now in the Middle East, we have even become a fair game for some News Paper comedy pages; they are depicting Ethiopians as cheap and easy to abuse in a caricature.  This was picked up by an Indian man who kindly made a complaint against it.   This is how our constitutional right to travel you are advocating for, in reality looks like.  Please continue to read.
Some 80% of Mental Health patients in Saudi hospitals are Ethiopians another high level is found in Lebanon! In the Libya, Sudan and the Sinai desert, Ethiopians are killed for their kidneys and other organs.
There is a daily horror show of mentally disturbed young women being dumped back from Beirut, Sanaa, Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi you name it; at Addis Ababa airport. At the same time a whole new load is ready to take off.  Young, frightened, confused girls walking up and down the airport; all dressed in Islamic dress code, they are easily identifiable.   A lot of them seek out for a face that looks helpful and ask quietly “ Beirut?”, which seems to be the popular destination.
Others come in group and get herded into a cordoned zone as if they are sheep for slaughterhouse and they sit on the floor, mind you, they are air passengers like any other who paid their airfare and yet they are told to sit on the floor!!!  Airline staffs speak and treat them very badly too. It is also easy to spot the traffickers locals and foreign alike mingling with passengers keeping an eye on their human stock as they search for their check-in desks to their respective destination to the Middle East.
It is surreal. And yet, everyone, business people, tourist, locals go about their business without a wince in their eye about these girls.  So visible and yet wholly ignored and oblivious. If this is happening at the centre of modern transportation and legal travel arrangements in a fairly metropolitan city, spare a thought, for those who are travelling by foot at border towns such as Humera, Moyale, Dewele and other connective towns to the outside hell.  We should not forget the dead bodies of Ethiopians that sprinkled en route from Yemen to Saudi either!
In Yemen they actually have a camp where they keep Ethiopian migrants (Newsnight 18 and 19 of July 2013).  Where the Bedouins kidnapped and beat them day and night, I saw men with their hands decapitated.  The girls visibly young, spoke with  soft accents which hits they originated from Wello and Gonder region. They talked  about the daily rape they encountered and the thousands of dollars they try to assemble from other relatives in other countries even from Ethiopia in the hope of being freed. Sometimes they are passed and sold to other captors.   The scale of abuse is truly shocking and beyond imagination.  Migration is not a new phenomenon but this sort of barbaric act of savagery is just another level that I have no word for it.  The problem is also so prevalent, local as well as international NGO s have tried to do their bit but  the scale of the problem is so huge, they cannot deal with it.
I agree, travel ban may not be the solution but a call to lift the ban without Safe Guarding those who travel abroad for work is not the answer either.  Government and society has to show a duty of care to their fellow citizens.  More so, ignoring and maltreating Ethiopian women and using their cheap and abused labour as a meal ticket for the huge economic deficit in the country must stop!  It is inhumane, shameful and economically not viable.  The sooner we deal with this deep seated issue the better.
Only 29% of Ethiopian women can read and write. (Really shameful!) Out of the entire female population in Ethiopia, only 5% have access to higher education. (World Economic Forum Report 2013).  Women work on the field as well as in the home under bad conditions.  They are badly represented in public offices and now, even their daughters are getting a raw deal in an endless cycle of gendered poverty in what is supposed to be a better era for us all.   This is a problem of an epic scale.  Instead of burying our head in the sand, and just claim that people have to make a living somehow, however horrendously, when are we going to address the correlation between female poverty and female migration and the Ethiopian society’s indifference to it? We need to bring this at the  for front of social discussion more so to government policy and decision makers.
Migration and remittances form up to 70% in GDP for some countries. http://focus-migration.hwwi.de/index.php?id=1200&L=1 but these people don’t go through what Ethiopian’s go through.  Why?countries that make the most out of the global labour market are those that invest in the education of their citizens.  They send trained and skilled labour.  In return, they make huge gain economically and socially.  They also provide reliable and fast money transfer system for their people abroad.  Consulate services are prompt and facilitate a system for the protection of their citizens.  Their labour and employment rights are negotiated for by the sending government.  If we are to tap to the global labour market in a Just and appropriate manner, the Ethiopian government should learn from these countries and treat its citizens as valuable assets not just as mere cash cows!
 
The writer can be reached at hirutfaj@hotmail.co.uk.
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