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

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. 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 [email protected]


  1. All in all it is fair article, we Ethiopians used to talk about WAR and MASS STARVATION, today however is totally new venue, talking about women rights and women education and economic advancement.
    It is true, there is endless socioeconomic problems in Ethiopia, which was on the making since Menilike era, the last three Amhara Dominated Governments were busy blackmailing and attacking non Amhara Ethiopians (Oromo,Tigres and Eritreans) instead of concentrating their energy and using economic resources on to buy tanks and bomber jets to systematically oppressing and mass genocide non Amhara Ethiopians.
    How ever today we have a new young government talking about educational expansion and economic advancement and what have you, the problem is correcting and fixing Amhara’s 100+ years of socioeconomic mess is not going to be easy task. fixing Amhara’s mess will take generations if not centures.

  2. I agree with the writer.Ato Temesgen Zewde is opposing for the sake of opposition. I am sure his daughter if he has one will not be a victim of such tragedy most our sisters have faced in modern slavery in the middle east. Instead of critisizing the ban I would ask ok what have you planned as long term and short term solution for this? Even to investigate those who are benefiting from this and bring them to justice for now is a positive start and need to be addressed.I know the system has failed and had encouraged in directly or directly this malpractice it is not too late to form a committee and tackle the problem. Can I say if Mr. Zewde was a female would he say what he has said I doubt it.God bless and protect those innocent victms from dying in foreign lands at the hands of evil people.
    Lej. Mesfinachew Anteneh Akassa.
    Ottawa, Canada.

  3. It is a nice observation and analysis. Ato Temesgen sees it entirely from an opposition point of view. He is poletician and that is why we have to be critical of every individual poletician(be it goverment or opposition). They have a tendency of scoring points against the other. They all are not truth seekers and society problem solvers.
    I think AtoTemesgen is not well informed about the nature and the scale of the problem. The ban is correct untill safety is guaranted and yes baning travel or negotiating safty is not the ultimate solution. The only solution is valuing andd empowering citizens.
    If we say the root cause of this massive sedet is poverty we need to quatify the regional contribution of kilils to this sedet. What pecentage of sedetegnoch is represented by each kilil which in turn will tell us who are in desperate poverty. I have seen most women are from Oromia and Amhara regions. Not poetics of 18th century but fact on the ground of 2013.

  4. even if the ban looks right , it is not done from our sisters welfare. If this is the case why they did not take such action long time ago ? as the most of those workers are from Oromo and amhara, woyannee has sensed that those could be financial and human source of their opposition as Tigeran refugees were during derg era. Woyanee banned the travel from our sisters’ welfare perspective is simply a joke.

  5. Well said Hirut!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    As long as we continue to undermine and remain indifference about woman’s rights in Ethiopia, our social, economic and political issues will continue to multiply.
    Thank you Hirut!!!

  6. Hirut I agree with your well written article in refuting ato Temesgen’s one sided politically based view regarding the ban of domestic workers from ethiopia. Ato Temesgen talks about constitutional and universal rights of any citzen to travel to their choice of destination. This ideal view works for western countries citzens whose governments defend their citzens rights where ever they go. Poor countries like ethiopia whose citzens are being subjected with a a lot of abuse like rape and other physical and psychological sufferings this view of universal rights seem fanciful. Ato Temesgen, your dislike of the government seem completely blinded you to give wrong analysis and reach a wrong conclusion regarding this important issue. As you acknowledged on your article many of our citizens have subjected for significant abuse and many of them lost their lives. But, you still are advocating this modern age slavery to continue. Our women and girls deserve better and our main task should be to pressure the government to make this ban permanent until these arab governments respect our citizens human rights and dignity. The government should also need to spend billions of birr to create jobs for these young ethiopians. Ato Temesgen your conclusion seem out of step with reality. These arab governments don’t understand human dignity and your view of researching about work relationships and training seem fanciful. Even ethiopia is poor and our government most of the time don’t act to the interest of all ethiopians regarding this issue we should stand together and stop this modern age slavery until these arab countries improve their inhuman treatment of all ethiopians.

  7. Excellent writing. Thank you for taking your time to publish a view shared by the majority of Ethiopians, at home or abroad. All of us, both in government and the general public, need to be concerned by the inhuman suffering of our sisters and brothers in many Middle Eastern country. The practice of sending our very young to a life of modern day slavery will need to come to end. It is morally reprehensible for anyone to try to profit from the suffering of these young, poorly educated, ill prepared girls. The families, who encourage and often push their teenage girls to migrate for a gain of quick wealth, must be made aware of the cruel life to which they are sentencing their kids. It is time for a national reflection. The travel ban is a start. Creating opportunity at home, strengthening the capacity of the Ethiopian missions abroad to assist in the safeguarding our citizens and setting up a well regulated and supervised labour recuiritment programs are some short and long term steps that are needed to address the issue in a sustainable way.

  8. The government needs new law that prohibits young people under 18 years old making decision that affect their life. In the developed world there is law that does not allow children to make person decision if they are under 18. I do not know why we a government but the government is supposed to look-after its citizens. Building, … comes after safety of the citizens. you do not allow children to go foreign country to work, and teenage girls. Apparently we Ethiopians allowed this to happen. Poverty alone can not be a good reasons to put our lives into slavery. My communication with people who works in Dubai shows Ethiopians works even in much worse than slavery. Once they land, their pass port is taken away. They can not go out. They are not paid salary ; leave alone salary, they are not given food. This is true story I have received from girls work inside houses who communicated with via internet by Skype, Imagine, you are 15 years old and in a foreign country?
    The government must outlaw travelling for maid work. Only skilled should go protected by law and contract. No teen girls to be raped. Life is not only bread. Imagine, a 14 years old working in an Arab family with adult boys and the husband himself? Imagine of the rape? This is why Ethiopians are hanging themselves. I do not see Ethiopians hanging themselves in Europe and North America.
    Anyway, the regime needs to design a youth development programme that trains the youth to do incoming generation projects like growing flower for girls, teaching the crafts, and other skills that can help them to make money in their home land. In Kenya, the girls are engaged in cash crop farming like tee, coffee, flower, … you never see unskilled Kenya migrating outside Kenya, for that matter now Africans migrate for slavery apart from Ethiopians and Eritrean. I know Ethiopians think they are better than other Africans, but the truth is other AFricans much better than Ethiopians in this age. you do not see any African hanging themselves in foreign countries. Actually Ethiopians government know Ethiopian girls go to middle east not to work, but to sell their body? This is moral decay in our country. Specially this government is an aethist government , it is hard to make them understand. Enough is enough anyway

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