I don’t recall when I first became familiar with the term “feminist,” but I think I understood the concept before I knew what it was called. The idea is straightforward: equality and non-discrimination for all, regardless of gender. It should be a simple concept, even for children to understand.
Well, Jordin would tell you different. Jordin Bezabih is an Ethiopian TikTok content creator and an advocate for women’s rights who is often on the receiving end of insults and criticism of her videos. This is because a large proportion of the Ethiopian population holds a negative view toward feminism and feminists. “It’s the social construct and greed for privilege and power,” says Jordin.
“It’s not usually a lack of knowledge or understanding about feminism.” She has a point in a country where 70% of the population lives in rural areas, and where gender-based violence is rampant with 35% of ever-married women aged 15-49 having faced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from their spouse or partner. Sadly, 68% of women agree that wife-beating can be acceptable, and 65% of women aged 15-49 have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (Ethiopia DHS, 2016). These figures demonstrate the reality of gender inequality in Ethiopia.
Yet, particularly when discussing the matter online, those opposing feminism often argue that women in cities like Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, do not face difficulties, so they have no right to complain about gender inequality. They may acknowledge some aspects of the problem but disregard feminism as a movement, claiming that feminists are outsiders who have come to westernize the country rather than fight for the rights of women in rural areas, where issues such as child marriage and female genital mutilation persist.
While women’s rights in cities have certainly improved, even city dwellers have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. The number of reported child rape cases in Addis Ababa has increased with more than 100 girls reporting rape during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed. Gender-Based Violence has become so severe that online campaigns have been launched to support GBV victims who lost their lives just recently. From a small business owner who was killed by a federal police officer to a teenager raped by her stepfather and eventually killed after reporting it to the police, to women killed by their partners, the situation in Addis is far from safe. That is why instead of focusing on what rights women have been “given,” it’s crucial to remember that these rights are earned as human beings and should not be treated as a privilege.
Even on social media, which is commonly used by wealthier, educated, urban Ethiopians, we see a significant lack of understanding and often hatred towards feminism, despite its noble goals and proven positive impact. This is due to a variety of factors, including misinformation, patriarchal societal norms, and resistance to change. Many people view feminism as being anti-men and only focused on advancing the rights of women while disregarding the rights of men. This is a flawed understanding of the movement, as feminism recognizes that both women and men are impacted by gender inequality and that both genders need to work together to achieve equality. Another factor is the fear of change and the belief that traditional gender roles and hierarchies must be maintained. This can lead to resistance to the ideas and goals of feminism, which threaten to challenge the status quo and disrupt established power dynamics.
“Look at the people of Awramba,” Jordin says. “They live in a remote rural area; they didn’t need to go to school or university to understand the importance of gender equality.” Awramba is a small community of more than 500 people in the Amhara region that serves as a model for the rest of the world. Fifty years ago, a man named Zumra Nuru started a community in Awramba village with the help of a small group of backers. He aimed to tackle socioeconomic problems through cooperative assistance in an egalitarian environment, which he established in the 1970s. The community operates based on four principles: equal rights for women, child protection, care for the elderly, and promoting unity among all humanity. In Ethiopia, gender roles vary by region, but girls are traditionally taught to be compliant and passive. Women face socio-cultural and economic discrimination, limiting their personal growth, education, and employment opportunities. In stark contrast, Awramba values work as a moral principle and considers it the “essence of life.” Work is seen as a solution to poverty and a means of contributing to the community’s welfare, not just a means of meeting personal needs. Tasks are assigned based on personal capacities, not gender or age.
I personally see Awramba as a utopia for women and underprivileged individuals. The village has achieved the goal of gender equality, for which the feminist movement in Ethiopia has been striving. Yet the concept of feminism is perceived by many to be a western idea. The idea of a woman having her own voice and not being limited to traditional roles related to marriage, childbearing, and household chores is foreign.
Though many Ethiopians proudly uphold their culture and traditions, it is important to recognize that some of these cultural norms have become outdated and need to be changed. While perpetuating rich traditions is something to be proud of, cultures should not be beyond scrutiny. A cultural practice that denies rights and privileges to one-half of the population while allowing the other half to stand above them should be abolished.
By rejecting oppressive cultural norms and embracing progressive values, Ethiopia has an opportunity to become an example in creating a more equal and accepting society. Too many Ethiopians think of feminists in our country as sell-outs to foreign values who despise men. Many online activists, including Jordin, do their best to explain that feminism is a fight against patriarchy, not men in particular, but many people choose to ignore this. “I’m often told I don’t have the right to speak on women’s issues because I’m not married or have children, as if being a wife and a mother is the pinnacle of being a woman,” Jordin says. “Some people only recognize married women with children as true women, and they are more often heard. When confronted with married feminists, some respond with disbelief, implying that the husband must be transgender or homosexual, as it is easier for them to deny the existence of the husband than to acknowledge that a feminist can be a married woman who does not hate men.”
The fight is indeed against the patriarchy, as women are also enablers of gender inequality due to the deeply embedded social construct and internalized sexism. Despite progress, the need for feminism remains as prevalent as it was 50 years ago. The rate of gender-based violence remains too high, and the frequency of femicide is a persistent issue. It is imperative to transform the justice system and shift society’s mentality away from blaming victims. And what better way to advocate for gender equality than feminism, the belief that men and women, regardless of gender, should be given equal opportunities and should not face discrimination. Feminism is crucial in the pursuit of gender equality and shouldn’t be seen as foreign. The village of Awramba in Ethiopia is a shining example of what can be achieved when people come together to promote gender equality, resulting in a society that is harmonious, where both men and women are able to reach their full potential.
In conclusion, feminism should not be a foreign concept in a country that is still working towards gender equality. The progress made so far is a testament to the power of the feminist movement, and with continued effort and commitment, we can achieve a world where gender equality is the norm, not the exception.