Date: Thursday, 18 May 2017
FEMINISM HORN OF AFRICA- ERITREAN FEMINISM DATES BACK TO THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE. DOES THE NATIONALIST FEMINISM HUMAN RIGHTS?
TEXT AND PHOTOS LINDA NYHOLM
PUBLISHED MAY 18, 2017 11:00 AM
ERITREA is one of the world's most closed countries. The country became independent in Ethiopia in 1993 at the end of the Thirty Years' War. The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is still at the heart of Eritrean nationalism today. For indefinite, in some cases, lifelong citizens' services are justified by threats painted in Ethiopia. Soldiers are spoken as fighters.
The role of Eritrean women in war has been exceptional. In the war that flared up in 1961, women settled down alongside men. The same tradition continued in 1998 when the war resumed when the daughters of veteran soldiers fought against Ethiopia.
"My parents met as fighters in a great war. My mother told me about her challenges in the war and taught me that women can do anything, "says a 25-year-old erudite woman, Faven.
FEMALE SOLDIERS are particularly respected in Eritrean society. War-torn photographs of them have been hung on the sides of the capital city of Asmara, and wall-paintings have been painted in the city's suburbs for their honor. Women's involvement in the war is even described as Eritrean "at the beginning of feminism".
Eritrea does not talk about human rights but about women's rights. Eritrea's civic activities are represented by two recognized organizations: the Eritrean National Women's Federation and the Eritrean Youth and Students' Union. The only party in Eritrea the Eritrean People's Liberation Front founded the Women's Federation in 1979. According to Naisliitto's website, the organization succeeded "during the struggle against Ethiopian Occupation by encouraging women to participate in warfare". Today, the organization says it improves the status of women by training them in literacy, English and other skills.
NATIONALIST FEMINISM is part of the country's civic service system. The compulsory civil service maintained by President Isaias Afewerk since 1995 is of indefinite duration. Many have done it for up to 20 years. Both men and women are involved in the service.
"Do women in Finland do not compulsory military service? Why not? Equality is not given to women. We have to take it, "says Faven laughing.
The Eritreans begin their service at the age of 17 as part of their high school education. Young people are assigned to Sawa, one of the notorious military training centers in the world. By July 2016 Sawa completed about 10,000 young people, after which they were ordered to serve as soldiers or forced labor. Only a few have access to postgraduate studies. "Sawa represents feminism. Both women and men have a duty to seize weapons on their own ground, "says Faven.
THE ERITREAN GOVERNMENT has announced that they will shorten their civil service for 18 months. However, this has not happened in practice. The UN report on the human rights situation in Eritrea in summer 2016 stresses that compulsory civil service is not a human rights violation in itself. However, it is the "undefined and random term of service that routinely exceeds 18 months, often even over a decade of forced labor and other inhumane conditions".
The same report raised the large-scale crimes against humanity in Eritrea, including torture, sexual crimes, disappearances and murders. The report also emphasized systematic sexual crimes and rape in military training centers and the armed forces.
"Sawa really is really a bit of rape. We know it because all rape is reported, "says Sesuna, a 25-year-old citizen. According to the official version, rapes occur every two years in Sawa. According to the sesuna, men get severe punishments for rape.
Faven also reports that rape is reported annually by exactly two. She says, though, Sawa's military leadership has no tools to act when rape is reported, and women prefer to be silent on rape.
THE GOVERNMENT OF ERITREA disputes human rights violations, does not recognize the UN report and does not grant the United Nations access to the Sawa military training center. In the report, the allegations of sex offenses are therefore interrupted. Instead, they emphasize the representation of women in government and conscription.
"I speak about representation and rights of women. In Europe, I would probably be described as a feminist of the seventies. In Eritrea, I'm a radical, "says Favén.