Postcard from Ethiopia
On the 7th of February, four members of the ARDA team arrived safely in the city of Addis Ababa, the highest capital city in the world. Its high altitude gives it a pleasantly cool climate, and it has a lot of foliage and gently rolling slopes. Addis Ababa functions well as an urban city, having road transportation systems in place as well as a light rail metro system. The city also boasts a great number of high-rise developments currently under construction. In essence, Addis appears to be a city looking to the future and planning for its development.
However, as in many African countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia still has a long way to go in the area of women’s and girl’s rights. In Ethiopia, it is common to throw a party when a male child is born, celebrating it, but it is not the same for female children. From birth the message is clear; girls are the less wanted of the two sexes, the less important. Sometimes girls are not allowed to go to school for no reason more than that they might get raped or molested. This leaves them economically disadvantaged as they are more likely to be illiterate than their male counterparts.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also a rite of passage in Ethiopia, and is performed when a girl is about to be married. A girl may have a husband match-made for her from birth, or a man may decide that he wants to marry her, and she cannot refuse. This coupled with early marriage and the horrors of FGM, mean that many girls begin their married life lacking the maturity and negotiation skills they need to ensure their health, happiness and well-being in the marriage.
From their brief visit to the country and their interactions with its friendly citizens, ARDA reported Addis (as it was commonly called there) to be a progressive African capital city where women were actively involved in educational, economic and social activities. However, this is not the case across the country. As the capital and trend-setting city, Addis Ababa has a responsibility to enact change, and to lead by example. They are on the right track with their burgeoning development and blooming tourism sector, but they also have a responsibility to bring more of that development to other parts of the country.
If Addis Ababa sets in place firm rights for women, systems that protect them from harmful practices, affirmative action for girls’ education, counselling centers and safe environments where women can report acts of violence against them, that could potentially be the most important development in the country in coming years, and it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the country, and indeed, the rest of Africa, followed suit.