Organisation Intervenes to Rescue, Empower Kembata Women

"Thanks to this and some other similar forums, we are now enlightened on how harmful traditional practices (HTP) prevalent in our area have been hazardous to health of females.

"This and other similar sensitization workshops held in the past have showed us which custom is harmful and which one useful.  But these workshops were just transitory and, hence, they lacked persuasiveness.  What we need at t his point, therefore, is a body or association that stays amidst us to guide and help us do away with harmful traditions and nurture our useful and harmless customs."

This point was made by a elderly man, who participated in a sensitization workshop on Gender and Development and Harmful Traditional practices recently held in Durame town of Kembata Alaba Temaro zone, in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples State.

The three-day workshop was organized by Kembatti Gezzama - Type (KMG) - Kembata Women's self-help Organization an indigenous NGO devoted to nurturing the talent and intelligence of women as a means to improve the quality of the livelihood of locals.

In its effort to assess traditions negatively affecting health, socio economic and other conditions of women in particular and that of the community in general, KMG had conducted a baseline survey in Alaba and Kembata woredas of the zone.

There were about 21 kinds of harmful practices deeply rooted in the survey area that the workshop brought forth for analysis and procurement of appropriate solutions by community members.  It is to be recalled that a recent symposium held in the area has identified 200 harmful practices exercised in the state.

Among the major HTP thoroughly discussed at the workshop were female genital mutilation, which is practiced by 100 percent of the locals of the two woredas according to the survey.  Unlike in many areas, female here are "circumcised" when they are 12 to 15, some time before their wedding.  Parents throw a big feast in festivity of the circumcision" of their daughters that relatives, friends and peoples in the vicinity are invited to be part of the 'happy moment'.  The girl who has gone through the practice is kept in the house, fed very well and taken good care of for about two months.  The issue therefore, is a common knowledge and it is hereafter that a girl becomes relatively prestigious.

There are many wrong beliefs like that a girl who has not been circumcised smashes more dishes, that she is unclean and many similar sayings hurting the feelings of girls who resolve not to be circumcised.  Further more, traditionally no man asks such a girl's hand for marriage.  For these and other reasons, girls in the area inquire for their circumcision lest they are looked down and teased on the way to and form school, in the neighborhood and every where.

Speaking on the seriousness of the problem especially at this period when HIV is spreading unchecked, a participant said, "a woman circumcised over 30 girls a day, usually using a blade that she carries from one home to another and one can infer the connection between FGM and the spread of AIDS."

Group rape committed on a bride by the groom and two of his best men was another practice vehemently cursed by the conference.  This kind of rape, according to the study, is sustained because men who had given their brides over to their friends in order "to strengthen intimacy…" demanded the same practice in return.  Denial by the indebted groom may lead to a fierce quarrel or even more serious consequences.  This practice was said to have been less prevalent and subtle according to the study.

"As to the merits of educating girl-children, we need no one to tutor us.  The achievements of our own educated females including those who facilitated this forum for us is self explanatory and quite convincing.  It has shown us that it was we ourselves who have been incapacitating our daughters.  I am sure had these successful females had the chance to be born again, birth attendants and women who witness their second birth would have said the "elilili elilili…" (a traditional expression of joy women utter at the arrival of a new baby) twice the number they say it for male babies.  Usually, it is said four times if the new born is a female and eight times on the arrival of a baby boy.

Abduction makes up 89 per cent of the marriages in Alaba area according to the study.  The practice has also been identified as another feature darkening the future of many females.  Among the reasons the participants said have perpetuated and aggravated this social evil were the every escalating price of dowry, denial by parents to give their daughter's hand and to some one from a lower economic status and girls' failure to keep their promise to marry some one and so on.

What makes this problem even serious is that a girl adducted is obliged to remain with the abductor.  An abducted girl who managed to go back to her parents place is not accepted by the community.  People, including her parents' think that she has already been spoiled and was good for nothing.  Hence, many prefer staying with an "enemy" - the abductor rather than being outcasts.

Marriages by confiscation, the tradition which forces a woman who lost her husband to marry her brother-in-law, irrespective of his age or any other criterion, polygamy which again was noted as one of a means of spreading of AIDS and feeding discrimination against females of all walks of life were also among the THP which took considerable period of the discussion session of the workshop.

Interesting about the workshop was that the participants, over 200 community elders, representatives of various evangelical and the Ethiopian Orthodox churches, mosques, woreda, zonal and state administrations, law executing bodies as well as representatives of other governmental and non governmental organizations, young women who accounted for over half of the participants were very enthusiastic to seek solutions to the already mentioned and many other HTPs.  Their concerned participation and sincere suggestions were the expression of their  crave to abandon the malpractice.

The participants who had finally been parted to smaller discussion group, agreed that enlightening the community against the HTP, and convincing them to turn away from the practices were the leading measure that should be taken towards rescuing at least the new and future generation of females.  They said that changing the attitude of local women was mandatory towards the desired goal.

At the end of the workshop, the participants also pledged to enhance efforts their institutions and organizations have already been forging against the HTPs and to seek other possible ways to work in close cooperation with KMG towards mitigating the scourge.

According to the executive director of KMG W/ro Bogalech Gebre, since it secured its work permit, about a year ago, the association has been facilitating the ground for embarking upon its wholistic development venture.

"The construction of four buildings which are instrumental to the associations goal of addressing the community through women have been in full swing at the cost of over 1.6 million Birr since the end of March", Bogalech said adding that the training centre is expected to reach completion the coming December.

The training complex includes a women's dialogue house' where female community members will gather to discuss and seek solutions to their common problems, a vocational training hall and a gust house, according to the executive director.

"In the meantime," Bogalech said, the association has been financially assisting 50 young female residents of Durame town.  The young women had been organized under a self-help association by the woreda council and were engaged in basketry, embroydery and similar activities to sustain their and their family's lives.

On what initiated her to establish the organization Bogalech said that over 15 years ago she and her sister, both were residing in the USA, shared their visions of lightening the burden of women in their birth place.

"We thought of relieving our women from walking kms, with big water posts on their backs."  She said that they also dreamt of creating a kind of fora for the women to bring their talents, skills and intelligence for so as to contribute forth the advancement of their community as well as to seek common solutions to their common problems.  "What is going on is just the beginning of the realization of that dream." She said.