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Ed’s Note:  in honor of theis year’s Women’s Day celebrations on March 8th, our lead story of this month deals with the complicated aspect of violence against women in Ethiopia. But this topic was first discussed in our Law and Order column of  Nov. 2011 edition, re-printed below to mark our 2nd year anniversary. 

Defending Ethiopia’s defenseless women

Despite the presence of a constitution providing protection against abuses, hundreds of women in Ethiopia are going through awful experiences of domestic abuse

Kiya Tsegaye

Ever since Ethiopia’s somewhat free press started to function nearly 20 years ago, one of the frequent topics discussed mostly in the private press but also to some extent in the state owned ones is the issue of domestic abuse against Ethiopian women.

Throughout this time hundreds of horrifying stories of abuses against women have been brought to the attention of the public. Some are too horrifying one can hardly go through narrating them, and others happen at a rate and magnitude that make them look like as if they should be and must remain part of the society. Still some others invite the argument of whether Ethiopia’s constitution could ever stand for defenseless women.

The critical question, however, is whether domestic abuse against women is actually on the rise or is it because we now get the chance to hear about it all as the media is reporting it? Either way, the public is faced with many disturbing facts related to violence against women.

In what sounded like a nightmare, a few weeks ago, a shocking story came out involving Aberash Hailay, an Ethiopian airlines flight attendant and her ex-husband Fisseha Tadesse, who is under police custody and is facing charges for allegedly stabbing Aberash’s both eyes with a knife that left her blind.

According to media reports, Aberash and Fisseha were married for seven years before they mutually decided to divorce following which a court in Addis Ababa annulled their marriage in accordance with the 2000 Federal Family Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE).

Following Aberash’s case the number of abuse against women showed an alarming increase. Betel Addisu is a resident in Wollega, Mendi in western Ethiopia and is the latest victim of acid attack that left her face badly disfigured.  Betel’s attack brings back memories of a similar incident  a few years ago against Kamilat Mehdi, who was acid burned by her ex-boyfriend that left her delicate face disfigured beyond recognition.

While these are some of the ones that made their way into the attention of the public, regrettably there are hundreds of Ethiopian women who are killed, physically or mentally injured and threatened to death by their own partners, family members and husbands among others.  Add to that, abduction (forced marriage), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriage, and rape are some of the main gender based violences regularly perpetrated against women in Ethiopia.

In principle, the Ethiopian constitution has stipulated the equality of women with men in any sphere of life (Art. 35). Article 35(4) states that the state shall enforce the rights of women and that laws, customs and practices that oppress or cause bodily or mental harm to women are prohibited. It also guarantees women the benefit of affirmative action as compensation.

And if it means anything, Ethiopia is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which identifies targets and requires the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic and social rights of women. Ethiopia has also ratified the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

 Put that into action 

And yet, public frustration at failures by the law enforcement to protect women is mounting as different campaigns have been launched in support of the victims.

Addressing the national Parliament, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Thursday October 20 that he was not aware of whether gender-based violation against women in Ethiopia was rising or declining. That is a disappointing statement at best. However, he called those who perpetrate crimes of such magnitudes against women “mad dogs” and vowed they must be “permanently eliminated” from the picture.

Unfortunately though his strongly worded statement alone does not necessarily come to the rescue of thousands of Ethiopian women facing life threatening choices every day. Such games could be best played if law enforcement agencies give more emphasis to make sure things like these don’t happen in the first place and don’t go unpunished when they happen.

 

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