A Further Look Into The Law, Women's Rights

Over the past few years, gender issue has been getting higher attention of the government and other concerned bodies than ever before in the history of this country. The FDRE constitution which entitles women to equal rights, and opportunities with male counterparts and the Ethiopian women's national policy as well as other positive steps taken to improve women's life are among the landmarks in the process towards the ultimate goal.

The attitude the public holds towards women as well as towards their rights and roles in the society is, however, another thing that calls for concerted efforts of pertinent bodies. Many members of the community do not have even the slightest idea about things like women's rights. They never know that women are equally entitled to all benefits as citizens of the nation. This is the reason for many to grossly violate women's human and other rights. Teaching such people and the community at large about what is crime and what is not could, therefore, be a more effective remedy to the problem, This may be even more effective than imposing more serious punishment on those who violate women's rights.

These were among the points forwarded at a workshop organized by the Women's Affairs Department of the Ministry of Justices, recently. The workshop was designed with a view to facilitate for women heads of women's affairs bureaus of all the states and departments of government organizations and law executing bodies to exchange experiences on violations of women's rights and to bring about lasting solutions.

The participants listened to a paper on, "The Question of Gender Equality in Ethiopia: Legal Perspective" before they parted into smaller discussion groups. The paper revealed how discriminatory articles of the over 40 years-old penal and civil codes of the land coupled with the culture and beliefs of the society have been per petuating deprivation, discrimination and violation of women's rights. During their discussion, the participants suggested that articles on marriage by abduction and those on abortion should be amended to include more provisions. Some of the participants said that marriage by abduction should be totally banned. They said that legalizing marriage between an abductor and a victim encourages the malpractice. "Therefore, abduction should be dearly punished and should never be accepted as one way of marriage, "they argued.

They said that the constitution makes it clear that, "Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses." Marriage by abduction, which is done against the will of one of the couple-the woman, therefore, contradicts with the constitution and, hence, would never be practiced.

Others argued that marriage by abduction was okay as far as the victim of abduction consents with the abductor. They said that prohibiting a woman to remain a wife of her abductor, (her preference after the abduction takes place), has serious consequences on he career of the victim, who in most cases is reliable to lose esteem and acceptance among her community. Many victims of abduction remain unmarried for the rest of their lives unless their remain with their abductors. This coupled with neglect by their respective communities damage the economic and other life conditions of the victims. "Taking the stage of the socio-economic development and other conditions of the society, therefore deciding otherwise would incur more serious damages," they argued.

The participants also suggested that the law on abortion should include more provisions to include cases, like when the mother is HIV positive, when a woman becomes pregnant from rape and when the mother is below the legally accepted marital age.

Marital rape was the other topic that arose heated debate among the participants. Some of them suggested its inclusion in the law and others opposed the view. Those who said that marital rape should be included as violation of rights of women and, therefore, a crime, said: "The problem is prevalent except that many victims believe bringing the issue to the open was a taboo." Many a women plea for divorcee under some other pretexts while the real problem was marital rape, which they believe should never be brought to the open.

Those against the view said that marital rape was not the problem of Ethiopian women at present. Including the issue as a reason for divorce discourage spouses tolerance towards one another. Most of the rural women have no idea about marital rape. They said that women think that it has nothing to do with violence and was just normal and there is no need of mentioning it as additional reason for divorce. "We should rather seek ways of maintaining marriage," they said.