From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Nov 20 2008 - 08:31:25 EST
POLITICS-ETHIOPIA: Disappointed But Not Defeated
By Michael Chebsi
*ADDIS ABABA, Nov 20 (IPS) - She fought alongside men in the Ethiopian
liberation struggle. She fought for a free and fair society. But today,
Yewubmar Asfaw feels that Ethiopia's revolution has failed to deliver a fair
share of political power to women.*
In her book, published this year in Amharic, Asfaw, 52, describes how the
liberation groups marginalised women fighters during the struggle and after
the fall of the military regime in 1991.
A third of the fighters were women. Yet few of them rose to top positions in
the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front
(EPRDF), which pools the four rebel groups.
Among the 547 members of Parliament, only 116 are women, or 22 per cent --
although in 2005 the EPRDF said it would reserve 30 per cent of its lists
The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), to which Asfaw devoted 25 years
as a guerrilla and as a cadre, has not done much better, she told IPS.
In 1979, at the first general assembly of the TPLF, not one woman was
elected to a leadership position. In the next assembly five years later,
Aregash Adane was elected into the 29-member central committee -- and she
remained its sole woman member for 17 years.
"The party used women as a stepping stone," Asfaw told IPS.
Disappointed, she and her husband left the TPLF in 2001, deeming the
leadership undemocratic and disrespectful of women's rights.
That was not an easy decision. Back in 1976, Asfaw was a 20-year-old
university student when she and her two sisters went to fight in the
northern region with the TPLF.
The signs of machismo, though, were already visible. The following year,
Asfaw and other women set up a committee to promote women's rights within
the rebel force. The initiative was not welcome.
"We only have one cause to fight for, and feminism is not part of it," she
recalls being told. Feminism was considered a foreign ideology.
Asfaw and her husband of 20 years have paid a price for their resolve. The
TPLF had arranged for her to study in the Netherlands. She had to quit the
course upon leaving the party, but managed to complete a BA degree in
financial management on her own in 2004 -- but not a job.
"Although I tried to get hired with my degree, I didn't succeed. Employers
were afraid of the potential risks of hiring me," she said. "We depend on
our relatives for a living."
During these years, Asfaw wrote her 219-page book. In 2006, she, her
husband, Aregash Adane and others started a new party, Arena Tigray.
Recent data underpins Asfaw's analysis. The Global Gender Gap report,
published by the World Economic Forum in early November, shows Ethiopia
slipping in the ranking of 130 countries, from the 113th place in 2007, to
122nd in 2008.
The Report considers how well countries divide resources and opportunities
among men and women, analyzing economic participation, health, education and
However, others point to a constitution that enshrines equality and to a
number of progressive laws banning female genital mutilation and child
"The issue should not be about individuals assuming a leadership position.
It should be the kind of change our constitution has brought," says a woman
parliamentarian for the EPRDF, who declined to be identified because she was
Asfaw's comrade for 20 years at the TPLF.
The EPRDF is organizing women's forums to promote their participation.
"But these are not free and independent women forums, they are opaque party
hacks," said Dr. Negaso Gidada, a former president of Ethiopia who left the
ruling party in 2001 and is an independent MP.
Back in 1991, there was so much hope when the rebels toppled President
Mengistu Haile Mariam, in power since 1974. Some 54,000 people died during
the long fight against a regime responsible for heinous human rights
Asfaw may be disappointed, but she is not defeated. She hopes that in her
new party women and men will share power.
"I'm quite sure that Arena Tigray won't repeat previous mistakes, but it
still needs hard work," says Asfaw. "What we fought for was much more than
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