The following is selected comments made by Awate Forum debaters over the last few days. The topic is regarding the role and emancipation of Eritrean women. The comments were slightly edited to make it better focused on the topic. //Awatestaff
Semere Andom: Do the overwhelming majority Eritrean women really support the regime that enslaves them? Has Ghedli emancipated women or enslaved them both during and after Ghedli? Does our culture in general enslave women worse than Ghedli or were women better of before Ghedli? Supporting your arguments for and against with some empirical facts will
Sarah Ogbay: Women were allowed and in fact encouraged to fight in battlefields and die for their country. As for ’emancipated’ I doubt it. Many women fighters were let down immediately after liberation by both ‘Ghedli’ and by the rest of the society. With whatever level of sense or better call it feeling of gender equality they came, in the liberated Eritrea they were not absorbed by the government and they were not as supported as they should by the whole society. They were frustrated. If they were really [not] emancipated why not fight for their rights?
The condition of women in general, after liberation, there was a hype on ‘gender equity’. Women were pushed into every committee, every organization and into education. Huge funds from all over the world arrived! The whole issues of 30%! What did not follow is equal promotion to decision making positions. In education there was/is very little success considering huge access. Where do the girls who join school at the elementary level disappear? Why don’t we have many educated women managers and directors in all the sectors? (I hope you have seen the CEDAW report on Eritrea in 2013 and 2014. No matter how much tampering of data was done, it still shows that women are still not doing well after 20 years). Currently, the stress on the average Eritrean woman to make ends meet is unimaginable. My opinion is that the system selects some women and uses and abuses them for decorative purposes.
Semere Andom: Working on increasing the number of cells on someone’s brain, it would have made exponential increase if the transplant included some of Papi’s, Hayat’s and Yodita’s, but the patient was adamant to receive transplants from women to his peril.
Mahmud Saleh: Ghedli didn’t emancipated women, but it didn’t enslave them. There is a difference. Emancipation of women is a long societal process; that being true, women earned respect through their actual participation and sacrifices and that, had it not been squashed by PFDJ policies, they would have been in a better place. Focusing more on the general blame targeting women, I proposed on how to win them, concluding my long and not so fruitful debate. If the opposition fails to win women, it won’t win the society.
Amal: Being one of the women that read and never interact on the comment section of awate.com, I have to confess that I am utterly provoked and astonished that in 2014 we still have men that hate women in our society. The current discussion under “Never Mind The Calf: Mind The Rustler” is amazingly revealing to a small portion of this deeply rooted hate to the female wisdom and the never discussed patriarchal stronghold of our society. No idea how this developed into a discussion about women, gender and even a spontaneous “women’s day” was declared. I won’t get into who said what, when, but allow me to put a few things straight.
Little did Stieg Larsson know that the first book of his Millennium series “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which in it’s original language (Swedish) had the title “Män som hatar kvinnor” literally, “men who hate women.” If the title had to truly reflect on the story, it would translate to “women in Eritrea”.
To my understanding there is no such thing as Habesha culture when it comes to women in our society. The cultural norms that govern social norms for women’s position is between Highland/Lowlands. There is no difference between Saho, Jebirty and Habesha women’s treatment, upbringing and societal expectations in the highland except that of religion (I stand to be corrected). And in the lowlands many a time one would hear men (only men) boasting as to how well they treat their women but both ways in my opinion are limiting and oppressing to women with their own set of codes.
Are we or are we not a patriarchal society in Eritrea, except the Kunama? An easier way would be if you have a heart to heart with the Eritrean women in your life. Where by, you genuinely want to investigate patriarchy and it’s effects on society.
There were certain points raised, as if women only are the supports of PFDJ. Do we ever ask why men support the PFDJ? It’s interesting that women are all of a sudden just a mere collective. It’s when you were talking about that I could sense the resentment for women in small portions.
Semere Andom: Eritrean women have been at the receiving end of the ugly societal norm and the ugly Gheldi that promised to liberate them and ended up enslaving them. Because I was accused wrongly accused of being anti-women when I criticized the Askalu’s.
haileTG: There is indeed a patriarchal system in Eritrea and the vast parts of the world. A non-Eritrean friend of mine who had many years of travel and work throughout Africa, once observed to me that even if the male has a higher status in the home, our division of labor seemed to him to be done willingly and accepted naturally. This of course was in reference to how the Eritrean diaspora household manages rather than the actual situation in Eritrea and throughout its diverse cultures. I believe, however, that the observation may be possible to extend to Eritrea, in so far as the roles of relatives were to be limited. Sometimes the main perpetrator of the woman’s agony ends up being a vengeful female in-law (sister or mother).
I use to have a professor long ago (in my undergrad years) who used to tease us “..OK class this is going to be easy, except you need to be fluent in Latin” If we are to suggest cultural revolution before political one, well I can only say that we may be a little pressed for time sir! Eritrean justice seekers who believe Ethiopia should assist them still go one using terms as “Agame” in derogatory terms. The complex issues of women’s rights ain’t dandy in HGDEF side either and can’t be argued that is what is making those old ladies (from the time of Hafash wudubat) to stick around! HGDEF and its kingdom is the WORST violator of women’s rights. Eritrea is still a developing state in this regard and the issue straddles all societal nooks and crannies. Can we be who we are, go at our pace and mobilize to save the nation or it is either we solve every world problem first or perish? I don’t think other successful revolutions reached the level of such thresholds of equality and justice to do what is right and moral to save their periled populations.
Tzigereda: The sole aim of the whole discussion is on how to enhance the contribution of Eritrean women in saving the Eritrean people and the nation. Eritrean women belong to the main victims group of the PFDJ-gang! We are not calling for “cultural revolution”!
haileTG: Such is a desperately needed and welcome development in advancing the cause of justice. Unfortunately, it waxes alien to the reality of Eritrean politics to argue that the women are not joining because of the justice seeking community being somewhat discouraging of women participation. It would be preposterous to even argue that there is anything outside of our societal norms taking place in the opposition to turn away women. I think it is many women who are left without bread winners in Eritrea, I think it is many women being raped and humiliated from Sawa to Sinai and the jails of Tripoli and Misrata, I think it is many women giving birth in horrifying conditions while running away the brute. A women who doesn’t give a damn to all these and happens to be jumping up and down for IA and kissing his hands may have other issues. Despite the above women tragedies I mentioned, many older women are still hopelessly being used by regime propaganda. I can’t say what is in their head but they tend to submit to the regime’s mischief. We are a society where women don’t sit on the same side with men in church services, social occasions and the rest. A woman is still domesticated in mainstream Eritrea and social role stereotypes and male domination pervades the entirety of our society. Hence, either saay is proposing cultural revolution or cosmetic changes! I don’t know an Eritrean opposition organization that is against the full woman participation in politics and so forth. The opposition is far better at boasting high profile women doing great work. But, if one starts to scan social media or street corners to sample attitudes, well that may be too hard to satisfy. I like to invite women and still keep men, I hate to win one by sacrificing the other.
Sara: We are all busy and have work and family, I mean kids to look after too, I am wondering how those brave men in this forum could afford or squeeze their time to write such wonderful articles keep on debating–a day has 24 hours and definitely most work 8 hours and spend 3-4 hours going and coming from work then 6-8 hours sleep … forget daily choirs… where do we have the time?
haileTG: My life happen to include many women (most Eritrean) and can’t help to notice one or two things on their preferred cyber experience. They do spend a lot of time in social media (who wouldn’t and haile would be the last person who should point that out:). It is just that Eritrean politics isn’t high on their selection list (probably not on the list at all). Their cyber trending includes socialization, shopping, personal care, movies, music and the likes. Their longest comment on Eritrean issue (for many) happens to be “elelelelelelel…” and you can never run out of an “..el” to make it even longer.
This is why I disagreed (OK had a different take – with a clenched fist, when they tried to blame us here for their willful absconding! Please go around this website and point me the closest thing a woman would wish to spend time looking at? Give me the eastafro of the opposition camp, opposition doesn’t have movies, no fashion, kids don’t exist, nothing, cold, cruel, argumentative politics from Eritrea going as far back as the Axumite kingdom!! Gosh, I am even wondering how we attracted you here.
Like anything else, in the real life political opposition work, there are large numbers of women. Many are also in leadership, decision making and also making big headlines. But, so are in many other areas of our lives. The HGDEF supporter woman is under a different set of pressure that I have firsthand knowledge in and she is unlikely to ever muster to speak the truth because of a cosmetic change in here or other opposition websites.
Serray: Please allow me to correct one thing you wrote regarding women in the opposition, you said, “But even the women that are celebrated as the heroines of the opposition do so because they act like men they “bend it like Beckham”. I don’t think so, our women in the opposition are trial blazers. What Elsa and Meron are doing is a refreshingly first. None of the old men with grudges do what these amazing women are doing for the Eritrean people in the field of human rights and human trafficking.
Amal: Our society suffers from tokenism politics, in both the opposition and regime. It does not affect women only, but covers, region, tribe, religion etc, creating the appearance of inclusiveness of all groups but in reality it’s only to deflect any suspicion and accusation of discriminations. Women have been the victims of tokenism for a very long time and have created ways to push their agenda forward within the frames and restrictions patriarchy have put on us. If anything that’s what I was trying to allude to in my comment.
So far women are mentioned as a collective, you singled out two “heroines” and boom, they are now individuals. It kind of brings back memories of childhood and how a girl is daddy’s girl when successful and her mother’s daughter when she is naughty. Interesting!
Mahmud Saleh: Eritrean women were poised to assume high offices thanks to their real contribution and sacrifice. However, PFDJ has made Eritrean women’s association, like other associations, a tool of oppression. I called upon our young women and their brothers to rise to the occasion, to wrest their prominence from the grip of PFDJ. Justice, in addition to its “rule of law” concept, calls for equitable distributions of resources, equitable participation of women and other marginalized social groups. You can’t beat the well-oiled machine of PFDJ unless you realize that you have so far failed to appeal to the majority of them; and coming out of your little world to recognize that it was all your fault, my fault and other opposition groups fault for not mobilizing them; for not drawing a strategy that include them, a strategy that makes them the center of political discourse. Remember, they are smarter and more sensitive than men when it comes to social issues. They also beat men on the one area men consider their turf, military. I would not waste the reader’s time to list the contribution of Eritrean women in our struggle. It’s recorded for those who want to study it. Our women are still part and parcel of our struggle for just Eritrea. All you need is to be patient and just think for a day:
1. why we could not attract many of them? Remember, the problem is always in the strategy or the method the parties/organizations choose. Women like all other social group aren’t inherently defect; if your strategy is not working evaluate it. Make sure they get in the decision making organ, they should not be considered as crowding mass, or augmenting numbers only. Do you see any deficiencies in your average opposition groups? You bet.
2. Once you evaluated that, then you ask yourself “what can I do better to make my message appealing to them?”
Semere Andom: “Starting in medda women were the house maids for leaders and the trend has worsened after independent, all the façade of equality of women has crumbled when tegadalti in droves divorced their wives who were not members of their religion and even their region. It is fact now that women are the prime supporters to the regime that enslaves them, this commenter does not blame them, the root cause was slavery in the field and, they have been hoodwinked by the sweet words in their mendaciously gilded and giddy personality during the events that woman has for generation was the beacon of hope and sanity in the Eritrean household.”
Mahmud Saleh: Mieda wasn’t something you could romanticize, it was full of all challenges, some of the challenges included what some of our young sister-comrades faced, not all of them, some. Like in any undemocratic society, there was struggle there too, in many cases abusive commanders were confronted by the fierce Eritrean tegadelit and her comrades, but as a male dominated society, the struggle or “Jihad” was ongoing. I am not happy of present situation of our women, and that’s why I said women’s issues should be at the center of our political discourse; we have to include them and stay away from blame-games.
ናይደቀንስትዮድርብጭኮናይበሃልነይሩ። In mieda you wouldn’t want to be accused of belittling women or speak of them in bad manner. They were teachers, doctors, military commanders, technicians…social workers..name it. You try to debate me based on what disgruntled ex-tegadelti had said! There was one guy known by the nick pilot. Once, he is reported to have said that tegadelti were concubines. Well, you know what the backlash was; and you know he was compelled to correct himself. Ex-teg may say there were abuses, but they will never tell you tegadelti were house maids, never. However, there is a grain of truth in your long message, albeit you stretched it to fit your notion of Eritrean tegadelti; and that’s it wasn’t all that good. There were opportunists, rapists, abusers, etc, and they were dealt with according to the law of the land that prevailed at that time.
1. We agree women weren’t totally emancipated and we recognize that the emancipation of women is a process, a long process… no country in this world could claim it’s emancipated women, even your little Canada. So, women’s issue will be an ongoing issue, in Eritrea, USA…Sweden, India. Just because women became prime ministers in India Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia doesn’t mean they are ahead of us in women’s issue (To the Habeshinos and liberals: three moslum countries have been ruled by women, and India, a country with the most number of Muslims was also ruled by women! How about the liberal democracies? Can we say those women became prime ministers because women in their countries were emancipated?). This is to demonstrate that emancipation means changing the belief systems of societies and not cosmetic changes brought in by some sort of intervention, like upheavals, short lived social movements or ghedli.
2. You may have seen women doing domestic works (mostly from the refugee camps) in rear areas (in offices,and hospitals.) but recognize that women constituted 30% of combat force and almost 60-70% of logistic and other support departments. Ghedli was a de facto government and as such it ran almost 75% of Eritrean land. As a governing body it needed cadres in agriculture, medicine, construction, education, mass media, administration, etc. And women constituted a big chunk of that force. You are forgetting that like in any other society, EPLF was full of abusers, but it wasn’t so; it had layers of defenses to combat sexual exploitation. The first defense line was the women themselves. All of them left their families volunteering for their nation, therefore, it wouldn’t be a big deal for them to kick the abusers, some of them put bullets into their heads. Second line of defense was a strict law that protected them. Of course, there were commanders who would outmaneuver this, but in many cases they would pay dearly. The punishment for rape was death, it stayed like that throughout Ghedli, sexual harassment was blurred, but if you were accused of it, it would not be a joke, consensual sex between combatants was strictly forbidden, if you were caught in that act, you would have 3-6 months hard labor. You were allowed to have good moments only if you had established a legal relationship, in that case, the whole unit would treat you like a king and a queen.
3. Whatever women achieved, which they earned, it was not a gift), PFDJ took it away.
4. Now what do you do? Do you accuse them and pray your blame-game somehow it will make a miracle in mobilizing the silent majority, or recognize the fact that women issues should be an integral part of your new Ghedli? If you see them flocking to PFDJ festivals, it only shows the weakness of the opposition. We need to look ourselves in the mirror, face the reality, and redraw a new strategy. Unless you win women, you’re not going to win society. That was the core of my argument.
Tzigereda: I hope you will not be the guy who will write the history of “the participation of Eritrean women in the resistance”. Men like you run denying our role of yesterday, today and tomorrow. You see what you only want to see, but that doesn’t reflect the whole picture. I am not going to defend those Eritrean women (who by the way are only metaqa’ati, and have never belonged to the group of decision makers, sure no excuse though!) who still support the brutal regime and still, they don’t represent the majority of US, Eritrean women. In case you don’t follow the activities of the Eritrean women, I can provide you with so many clips for the whole week. Beyond those three comrades you mentioned there are hundreds self-made Eritrean women, doing fantastic jobs, give credit where credit should be given. I would have expected more encouraging words from somebody who belongs to the elites. No wonder that many women have the feeling that nothing will change for them, whatever the promises seem to be. Please be respectful and stop belittling and using women only as bad examples (“women who were dating the afagn at the darkest hour of the nation…”). The attitude of either victimizing or “vulgarizing” women should have an end! The “dembe deleyti fithi” is still full of conservative attitudes, it has more to go before it becomes “attractive” to for women. Work on it, that would be helpful.
Serray: I don’t deny the role of women of yesterday or today. Here is what bothers me, in every society women are anticlimax to the stupidity men but Ghedli turned women into an extension of men. Growing up I always felt uneasy about the toll Ghedli was taking on our women. Mind you, in medda or Asmera the role of women didn’t change, Ghedli just added guns and battles to the roles of women. This silence of mothers (forget the fathers) in the face of a near extinction of their children is attained by first turning women into fighters and then shoving into them an unnatural role as mothers of slaves. To see how far Shaebia regime tries to repress their motherly instinct, see how they tried to force them to celebrate (not mourn) the death of those who died fighting Isaias’s war.
I think the extent of social dismantling that is going in our country cannot happen without this sickening “equality in death” that started in medda, this sickness cannot be traced anywhere else. Talk to any ghedli worshipper about women and he will tell you how proud he is that women were just like men in medda. Ghedli generation women who didn’t go to medda compensate by looking the other way when their children are taken from them before they became men to be slaves to shaebia warlords. Well, when a society repressed the role of mothers in favor of warriors, then when you need the mothers to be mothers, you get Eritrea where mothers act like a lioness with a new mate who showed his dominance by killing her cubs.
I don’t deny the role of women, I just don’t like the fact that it is blurred in medda Eritrea and imported to Asmera. I don’t warship sacrifices, I worship life. I think if women didn’t imitate men and become warriors, we would have women standing up to the regime when your comrades turn our youth into slaves with guns. Eritrea is hungry for a humane touch not the value system of endless sacrifice, heroism, perseverance, valor that your former comrades try to shove down our throats.
Here is a sincere request, I only know Hibret Berhe, the former ambassador, in the resistance. I heard her speak once and she made more sense than the men in the room. Do you know any other tegadalit in the resistance because none of the giants were tegadelti?
The call for more women in the forums is for you to positively influence the discourse. Please don’t ask us to treat you with kid gloves as a condition for you to join us.
Conclusion by Saay:
Since today is (spontaneously) Women’s Day at awate.com, and since some of our more belligerent menfolk seem intent on ruining it, I thought I would share with you the works of a great writer who, with almost every article, shows his abiding love and respect for women in general, Eritrean women more specifically, and even more specifically women who look like his wife–whom he calls affectionately “the good woman”–women of Eritrean Kebessa.
The author is Aklilu Zere*
1. There was, of course, the one everybody knows: “What Italian Colonialism Did To My People of The Eritrean Kebessa” where he shows the Eritrean woman as the engine of Eritrean society in the highlands.
2. There was the one that showed the Eritrean woman’s handling of colonialism.
3. There was the one that showed Eritrean women as the guardians of culture and etiquette.
4. Difference between men and women in Eritrean kebessa written in total affection for both, but more so for the Eritrean woman:
Enjoy: if you haven’t read them, read them; if you have, read them again:)