POLITICS-ETHIOPIA: Disappointed But Not Defeated – Michael Chebsi (IPS) , Nov 20, 2008
She fought alongside men in the Ethiopian liberation struggle. She fought for a free and fair society. But today, Yewubmar Asfaw feels that Ethiopia’s revolution has failed to deliver a fair share of political power to women. (more…)
She fought alongside men in the Ethiopian liberation struggle. She fought for a free and fair society. But today, Yewubmar Asfaw feels that Ethiopia’s revolution has failed to deliver a fair share of political power to women.
In her book, published this year in Amharic, Asfaw, 52, describes how the liberation groups marginalised women fighters during the struggle and after the fall of the military regime in 1991.
A third of the fighters were women. Yet few of them rose to top positions in the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which pools the four rebel groups.
Among the 547 members of Parliament, only 116 are women, or 22 per cent — although in 2005 the EPRDF said it would reserve 30 per cent of its lists for women.
The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), to which Asfaw devoted 25 years as a guerrilla and as a cadre, has not done much better, she told IPS.
In 1979, at the first general assembly of the TPLF, not one woman was elected to a leadership position. In the next assembly five years later, Aregash Adane was elected into the 29-member central committee — and she remained its sole woman member for 17 years.
“The party used women as a stepping stone,” Asfaw told IPS.
Disappointed, she and her husband left the TPLF in 2001, deeming the leadership undemocratic and disrespectful of women’s rights.
That was not an easy decision. Back in 1976, Asfaw was a 20-year-old university student when she and her two sisters went to fight in the northern region with the TPLF.
The signs of machismo, though, were already visible. The following year, Asfaw and other women set up a committee to promote women’s rights within the rebel force. The initiative was not welcome.
“We only have one cause to fight for, and feminism is not part of it,” she recalls being told. Feminism was considered a foreign ideology.
Asfaw and her husband of 20 years have paid a price for their resolve. The TPLF had arranged for her to study in the Netherlands. She had to quit the course upon leaving the party, but managed to complete a BA degree in financial management on her own in 2004 — but not a job.
“Although I tried to get hired with my degree, I didn’t succeed. Employers were afraid of the potential risks of hiring me,” she said. “We depend on our relatives for a living.”
During these years, Asfaw wrote her 219-page book. In 2006, she, her husband, Aregash Adane and others started a new party, Arena Tigray.
Recent data underpins Asfaw’s analysis. The Global Gender Gap report, published by the World Economic Forum in early November, shows Ethiopia slipping in the ranking of 130 countries, from the 113th place in 2007, to 122nd in 2008.
The Report considers how well countries divide resources and opportunities among men and women, analyzing economic participation, health, education and political empowerment.
However, others point to a constitution that enshrines equality and to a number of progressive laws banning female genital mutilation and child marriage.
“The issue should not be about individuals assuming a leadership position. It should be the kind of change our constitution has brought,” says a woman parliamentarian for the EPRDF, who declined to be identified because she was Asfaw’s comrade for 20 years at the TPLF.
The EPRDF is organizing women’s forums to promote their participation.
“But these are not free and independent women forums, they are opaque party hacks,” said Dr. Negaso Gidada, a former president of Ethiopia who left the ruling party in 2001 and is an independent MP.
Back in 1991, there was so much hope when the rebels toppled President Mengistu Haile Mariam, in power since 1974. Some 54,000 people died during the long fight against a regime responsible for heinous human rights violations.
Asfaw may be disappointed, but she is not defeated. She hopes that in her new party women and men will share power.
“I’m quite sure that Arena Tigray won’t repeat previous mistakes, but it still needs hard work,” says Asfaw. “What we fought for was much more than this.”