March 8, 2014
By Amanuel Biedemariam |
One of the Eritrean struggle hallmarks is the determination to ensure social justice. In Eritrea, one of the most intriguing ways the struggle adopted to changes has been its ability to incorporate those changes by embracing the traditions, cultural, regional, political, and religious values of a given society en route to social justice.
Women’s Day is an international observance of the valuable role women play, a day that acknowledges the hardship women endured throughout the history of humankind. It is a day to rejoice in the progress women have made, assess directions, and ultimately celebrate womanhood.
As the famous quote states, “All politics is local.” Given the vast diversity of cultures, regions, traditions, and religious values in Eritrea, how the people of Eritrea interpret and implement equal-social-justice is truly a window into the maturity of the Eritrean way of life. To quote Shabait editorial of March 3, 2012,
“Women’s Right in Eritrea is not a theoretical move in which human rights is referred in the country’s political program for aesthetic values, but rather, it is a constituent of national security that has unequivocally been in effect. Gender equality-cultural legacy that has been handed down since days of liberation struggle-is a characteristic political treasure of which the Eritrean people takes due pride. Based on this historical milieu, the question of women remains in effect amongst the building blocks of national percepts.”
The quote above clearly articulates the weight attached to women’s rights in Eritrea. Women’s rights are a matter of national security and a necessary foundation in the country’s life. Eritrea can afford to boast with confidence because history attests to the integral role women played in the liberation struggle and, after that, at all levels and in all fields.
However, while the successes are pronounced, and the ideals of gender equalities are generally accepted principles, pockets of inequalities remain. Regardless, Eritrean women are far and above their counterparts, based on their achievements and the roles they have consistently ensured within the Eritrean social fabric.
There are many fascinating facets to Eritrean women’s life: how the people of Eritrea view women’s roles and their rights, and secondly, how Eritrean women view their place, roles, and rights.
Eritrea has a unique history of how it has viewed and dealt with the issue of gender equality. Compared to the US, for example, Eritrea has done much better. The US has a long history of denying rights to minorities and women. Some American women served in wars and were denied recognition until very recently, as in the case of the Vietnam War and World War II. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is an excellent reminder since it is the first time, in 1993, that a memorial was dedicated to honoring women in military service.
In Eritrea’s revolutionary struggle, women earned their roles and, as a result, were accepted as equal partners from the beginning. Hence, Eritrea was founded on a solid foundation regarding the ideals of gender equality.
However, it is crucial to note, Eritrean women were not, accorded special privileges or handed favor to fill quotas and statistical data.
They earned their rightful place in society with blood, guts, and hard work. They earned it with sacrifices unmatched by any. Eritrean women in the struggle sacrificed more than any Eritrean because they gave up so much, including their lives to ensure the freedom of Eritrea. They gave up their youth and rights to marry and raise a family. They have given up a lot.
Hence, the role women play in Eritrea today is rooted in the struggle. The struggle could not discriminate against women since they played a pivotal role. They worked hand and glove with their male counterpart in every field, including combat. They earned their stripes and their role in glory.
Therefore, the roles and positions today and at all levels date back to the struggle’s days. The history was repeated in 1998-2000 during the Ethiopian invasion that took the lives of thousands of Eritreans.
In Eritrea, women are notably visible in all sectors at high levels. The Women in Eritrea hold significant positions of power and run them effectively. In the Air Force and in all other aspects of the national defense forces, women are protecting Eritrea. They are in Medicine as doctors, nurses practitioners, and teachers.
They are in TV and media as anchors, producers; in the agricultural sector as owners, in community farming co-ops producing and selling agricultural products; they participate in all of Eritrea’s retail outlets as owners and, they are in construction operating heavy machinery. In short, there is no area out of reach for Eritrean women.
ERITREAN WOMEN ARE MASTERS OF THEIR DESTINY
Eritrean women have earned their rightful place in Eritrea. But that in itself is not enough to sustain what they achieved with blood. To ensure continuity, build on their successes, and develop a mechanism for equal access, opportunities, and choice for women, there must be organized and powerful women’s organizations in Eritrea.
Eritrea and, by extension, Eritrean women can boast major achievements. Women in Eritrea have more penetration into every facet of society by default. For example, a young Eritrean woman can be a member of a national co-ed youth organization and still be a women’s organization.
These types of penetrations cut through the entire spectrum of Eritrean societies. Generally, women that are members of women’s organizations in Eritrea are members of other national organizations. This accords them additional advantages since there exists no gender-based organization for men.
Women in Eritrea are organized, informed, and powerful. They can influence opinions, introduce and enact laws, and enforce them. It is also worth noting that they have resources and means to help empower women throughout Eritrea and the world.
Eritrean women’s organizations are at the forefront of building facilities, assisting women in need, developing skills, equipping women with life-skills training, and tending to women’s requirements in every way everywhere in Eritrea. The Diaspora communities are an important part of the web by contributing equally. This foundation and the like have enabled Eritrea to minimize the need for international NGOs.
However, I find it intriguing how Eritrean women approach their issues, positions, and roles. Surprisingly, women in Eritrea have remained very close to their traditional roles while embracing opportunities the independence of Eritrea brought to bear.
The nation is going through a constant transformation. Tremendous adjustments are required to stay with the fast-paced change Eritrea is going through. Yet, the customs, traditions, and core beliefs remain the same as they have for decades. The women are the center of their families and the nation while embracing the core values that make Eritrea work.
Eritrea Women will always thrive and attain successes beyond the levels that women in similar places can achieve. The reason, Eritrean women have established deep roots. Above all, women’s attitude is conducive to creating an environment that nurtures success.
Most importantly, Eritrea’s commitment to gender equality is absolute and unquestionable. Laws that empower women back this commitment. For example, Eritrean women are accorded every right to land ownership.
Traditionally land was given to males, which is not the case in Eritrea today. While enforceable laws can foster change in attitudes legally, the people and government have opted to encourage change by educating the public and empowering women. This is due to the sensitivities surrounding women’s issues in traditional societies, helping deter harmful conventional practices.
I had a conversation about this matter with an Eritrean mother involved with the UN in Eritrea and dealt with these matters daily. After I asked her how she assessed Eritrea’s approaches? She said,
“For the first time, we have a government that is concerned about the issues of women. We have a government that wants to ensure the health of pregnant mothers, children, and the like. We have been accorded the means and access to reach even remote areas that we were never able to access in the past…”
While much has been achieved, more is required to ensure lasting success. There needs to be a focus to provide educational opportunities to minimize hardships. We need to keep in mind those who are married prematurely.
We need to make “Everyday women’s day” since they are the catalyst and the engine of Eritrean life.
On a personal note, I feel honored and remain humbled when I engage Eritrean women. Over the years, I had the opportunity to deal with great women. I know that gender equality is not an issue because they run the show.
I am proud of all the women who have tirelessly kept our communities together in focus and action. They are doing a fantastic job. Their commitment and tenacity are what keep us glued as one. For this special women’s Day, I would like to congratulate Eritrean women for their brilliance, perseverance, and seeing Eritrea through many challenging phases onto the current stage.