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Ethiopia: More must be done to fight gender-based violence

Monday, 03 October 2011 07:36
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Being a woman has never been easy in Ethiopia. The brutal discrimination has always been part of who women are and what they have become today. Early marriage, abduction, rape and marital rape (whatever the distinction might be), harmful traditional practices including FGM, sexual violence and abuse, and of course Gender-Based Violence’s (GBVs) are set for Ethiopian women to survive throughout their lives, making Ethiopia one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

For those who happen to endure all of this, society has put up another challenge by discriminating girls in their access to school, nutrition, and health services, etc. families favored boys over girls, creating an environment where women are not able to be competent and express themselves let alone fight for their fundamental human rights.


For a time that seems to be an eternity, Ethiopian women have put up and tolerated all this without any significant attitude change in the society. Even when at a time Ethiopia clams to accept fundamental human rights laws that provide equality for women in all aspects of life, women are still gravely discriminated, abused, beaten, raped and killed in the most inhuman and cruel manners mostly by their own partners.

While many hoped that the time of women suffering might gradually come to an end, the violence and abuse seems to be taking a turn for the worse. The story of Aberash Highline, an Ethiopian Airlines Hostess, whose ex-husband torn her eyes out, is a reminder of other millions who suffer from such great societal injustice. According to the Reporter newspaper, W/ro Aberash and her husband were married for seven years. They ended their marriage with mutual agreement and, according to family members, their divorce was as peaceful as it could get. Even after their divorce, they remain friends where both visit each other every now and then. However, all this seemingly passive environment were about to change the day following the Ethiopian New Year. On September 2 EC, the ex husband named Fessiha Tadesse went to her house and brutally torn her ayes out and left her filled with blood in her own living room. He gave himself to the police immediately admitting what he did claiming he was under the pressure of alcohol.

Now this might sound just like one story. One might even question the fuss of the media and women’s rights activists who are not willing to let this issue go simply. However, the reality is that the story of Aberash is the story of millions of women in Ethiopia who are battered on everyday basis. She is a symbol of how serious GBV is getting in this country. After her story reached the public, many are also revealing other violence stories. Following the issue, Reporter newspaper in its last Saturday issue wrote about women who are killed, burned with acid and threatened to death by their own partners and husbands. For many, the case of Hayat, whose ex boyfriend burned her face with sulfuric acid disfiguring her completely is a fresh memory.

However, the question should be how we could really stop this from happening in the future. Many suggest that the law is not serious enough about women’s human rights violations. Not only has the law failed the expectation of women, the courts in several occasions have treating GBV far leniently and let the accused go with no trouble.

The Ethiopian constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, has two categories of human rights. One is ‘human rights’ and the other is ‘democratic rights’. The distinction, which is bizarre for international human rights law, has remained a subject of controversy for as long as the constitution has been in effect. The core argument for this distinction from the makers of the constitution are that some rights are ‘given’ to a society only when there is democratic system. In other words, we would not have the rights provided under the ‘democratic rights’ chapter if Ethiopia was not a ‘democratic’ state. The right of women is part of these democratic rights. The point here is, whatever the category refers to, the equality of women is a constitutional right, which the country vowed to respect and protect at any expense. Article 35 of the FDRE constitution, though never specific about GBV, outlaws any custom and tradition that results in mental or bodily harm to women. Under the same article, the state also assume obligation to enforce the right of women to eliminate the influences of harmful customs.

The constitution also provides that international human rights instruments - which Ethiopia is a party to by ratification - are part of the supreme law of the land. From these instruments, though all affirm the equality of both sexes, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is more relevant. CEDAW requires state parties to take all appropriate measures to protect women from any form of GBV.

The Ethiopian criminal law, trying to cope up with the constitution and international laws, provides punishments for those who violate the rights of women. The question here is if in fact the law is serious enough on the violations and can cope up with the obligations Ethiopia assumed with the international human rights instruments. Some argue that it is not the law, rather the justice system that failed to defend women whenever they face violations. The fact that the suspects in most cases are released on bail, mostly after conviction the minimum punishment is given by the courts and even the treatment of the law enforcement officials towards the victims is often mentioned as a reason for the ever growing violence against women.

Alternatively, may be, the cruelty on women we are witnessing today has nothing to do with the law, rather with some other societal crises which can only be sorted out by the society itself. Some people suggest that through globalization and modernization, GBV is just changing its course. Today, many things have transformed into something the society is not capable to understand. Without any attitude change towards women from the society, the government is trying to enforce the rights of women. Whether the law is in fact capable of changing the society to respect women’s right or if it is the society that needs to change first is another issue to debate. However, it is obvious that the seriousness of the law is not the only factor in this issue. This is because, in most cases, people engage themselves in criminal acts, even knowing how serious the punishment could be. Therefore, if men are not exposed to the fact that women are not their property and they are their own person with a complete rights and legal protection, imposing the punishment by itself might not be a solution we are longing.

 

With this line of argument, what we need is attitude change from the society about women. Accepting the fact that women have rights and deserve every respect and equality in all aspects of life is something the government, civil societies and the public must push into the consciousness of the people.

Of course, then again, instead of treating the issue as violation of women’s right, it might be better to consider it as a violation of human rights. The crime on women is not specific for women only. It is in fact a crime on a society. Through this line, only those who are sensitive when it comes to women should not stress the issue. Instead, as a society, everyone must condemn the matter. As people, we should be concerned when other people are treated with such cruelty, no matter what their gender might be.

Co-sourced from ezega news