According to the UN, Ethiopia has some of the lowest gender equality performance indicators in sub-Saharan Africa (UN Women 2013). Ethiopian women’s rights are being violated in almost every sphere of their lives. This was recently confirmed in a survey conducted in 2016, at the time of which only 1 in 3 of the women who responded were employed (compared to 88% of men); almost half of the women who took part had received no form of education (marriage meant leaving school for 75% of them); and it was found that husbands still largely hold control in terms of how a woman spends her earnings (especially for those living in rural areas), as well as more intimate decisions such as condom use. This survey also highlighted that most married women felt they had no right to refuse sex to their husbands, and that more in 1 in 4 women aged 15-49 had experienced physical or sexual violence (Central Statistical Agency 2016). Pervasive violence against women and girls remains a major barrier to Ethiopian women’s empowerment and dignified, independent living.
Why is women’s empowerment important?
Women compose half of the world’s population. They are the second wing of the bird, they are an indispensable half of the world’s balance. And in many parts of the world, including Ethiopia, they are systematically oppressed. How can we progress as a species if such a large part of the population is prevented from fulfilling their true potential? Women raise children – empowering a woman means empowering a whole family; and in many cases, a whole community. As stated in the first Annex of the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the empowerment of women is central for eradication of poverty.
What’s the solution?
The right to education is fundamental for the empowerment of women and the positive development of society. A study across 65 low and middle-income countries found that doubling the proportion of girls educated at secondary school level would reduce the infant mortality rate by more than 50 percent. Moreover, the enjoyment of the right to education is the best means to empower women to use their rights in other areas of their lives (Terry 2007). Finally, employment gives women the opportunity of living independently of men, free of violence and being able to make decisions regarding their own lives. However, the chances of employment are low without an education.
What PROJECT-E is doing about empowering women:
PROJECT-E’s overall goal is to strengthen the role of women in Ethiopian society to support gender equality and to give women the chance to become active parts of the economy and ultimately decrease risk of personal dependence and poverty. PROJECT-E provides not only a platform for personal development and networking, but also practical skills and a qualification which will increase women’s chances of obtaining meaningful employment in an industry that demands highly qualified staff.
Many of our extra-curricular activities aim at strengthening our students’ self-confidence and independence: they develop self-defence skills in taekwondo lessons and attend meetings of the Association of Women in Business (AWIB) where they get introduced to strong and successful Ethiopian women. Workshops on financial education, self-confidence or a healthy lifestyle are organised on a regular basis to make the students benefit from broad knowledge. In our integrated life-skills training, we raise awareness of women’s rights and the importance to stand up for those while always encouraging our students to spread the word about what they have learned among their families and communities. Finally, the students build up their confidence and self-reliance through living autonomously on their own compound.
So far, 100% of our graduates have found employment in the hospitality sector– this is the perfect encouragement for our efforts and the motivation to keep on working towards the ultimate goal of women’s empowerment and an equal society in Ethiopia.
Central Statistical Agency (2016): Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey, [online] https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR328/FR328.pdf [09.11.2017].
Terry, Geraldine. (2007): Women’s Rights, London: Pluto Press.
UN Women (2013): Ethiopia. Leave No Women Behind, [online] http://www.unwomen.org/mdgf/B/Ethiopia_B.html [09.11.2017].
Written by Lorenza Arnaboldi.