Women’s rights are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. The country – like many others – is still a long way from realizing these rights and gender equality.
The situation of women is often characterized by very hard physical work, discrimination and tutelage, traditional role ascription and experiences of violence.
According to businesscarriers, Ethiopia is a country located in Eastern Africa. About 85 percent of all women in Ethiopia live in the countryside. They and their families live from subsistence agriculture and are integrated into their respective rural communities. Carrying water and firewood many kilometers home is a matter for women and girls. Although they bear at least half of the workload, they are still disadvantaged in terms of property rights and inheritance – despite existing laws.
Woman carries firewood down Mount Entoto
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is prohibited by law, but it is still very widespread. Around 65 percent of all girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are currently affected. There are clear regional differences in the prevalence. The fight against this grave human rights violation is showing success: among girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19, only about 47% are affected.
The very early marriage of girls is also a persistent problem: for example, one in three girls is married before their 18th birthday, and it is also common for girls under 15 to be married. In many cases, kidnapping plays a role. In order to avoid paying a high bride price, young men kidnap the girl of their choice, rape her and afterwards negotiate – usually through mediating elders – with the parents. They usually agree to a marriage, as a later marriage of the no longer virgin daughter would be considerably more difficult. According to a study published in 2003, between 80 and 90 percent of all marriages in some regions of Ethiopia were through kidnapping.
In 2014, Ethiopia set itself the goal of eliminating this practice by 2025, and it has had good results so far: from 2008 to 2018, the number of marriages of minors was reduced by a third.
The far-reaching consequences of harmful traditional practices such as FGM and child marriage include health problems such as fistulas, a birth injury that, especially in very young mothers, leads to infertility, incontinence and the associated social exclusion. It is estimated that 9,000 women suffer such an injury every year in Ethiopia alone. The only clinic that specializes in this is located in Addis Ababa. It is financed by donations and treats around 2500 women annually, who come from all over the country, completely free of charge.
No more taboo: advertising poster for contraceptives
Family planning was a taboo subject in religious Ethiopia for a long time, and a lack of knowledge and access to contraceptives were problematic. However, the use of hormonal contraceptives is now becoming more common. The number of married women using hormonal contraceptives has roughly doubled since 2005.
Abortion, on the other hand, remains a socially taboo subject. However, the Ethiopian government relaxed its legislation somewhat in 2005 and has since invested in the training of specialist staff and equipment in clinics. The latest studies suggest that the proportion of abortions performed in healthcare facilities doubled between 2008 and 2014.
Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Ethiopia. Since 2005, after years of work by women’s rights groups, it has been anchored in the Ethiopian penal code as a separate offense. However, most victims never report such acts.
Despite great efforts, girls still go to school significantly less often than boys. This is often related to the poverty of the families. If they can afford school fees for just some of their children, the girls are more likely to stay at home and help out in the fields, with the cattle or in the household. The traditional image of women, which still prevails, also plays a role here: Why should the girls learn to read and write when they will later only be needed as housewives and mothers?
Most women are in a much better situation in cities than in rural areas. Especially in the new middle class, the daughters are at least as well educated as the sons. Working mothers are commonplace in Addis Ababa. Nevertheless, many urban women are also affected by discrimination and violence: For example, they receive less wages for the same work. In addition, men are more likely to be considered than women for management positions. Special support programs have made it possible to increase the proportion of women among students at universities, but they drop out far more often than their male fellow students.
Under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed saw the first symbolic changes within the government with regard to equality between men and women: During a cabinet reshuffle in October 2018, particularly important ministerial posts were awarded to women for the first time, including the Ministry of Defense and the newly created Ministry of Peace, which includes the secret service controlled. Half of the cabinet is now women. The election of Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president also has a symbolic effect.