Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Women Gathered


When purposeful and well-prepared women gather, the outcome is usually phenomenal. To quote from poet, Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman,

“Now you understand,
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

The Network of Ethiopia Women Association (NEWA) gathered women from various walks of life, institutions and inclinations at the Alliance Ethio-Française in commemoration of International Woman’s Day on March 8th. The venue, known for its wide range of arts activities did not fail, with walls filled by the contemporary art of eight Ethiopian women and signage with bold messaging including “AMPLIFY WOMEN’S VOICE FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE”. Several spoke on the history and development of the women’s movement, combined with accounts of current efforts, sponsored by the Embassy of France, to strengthen civil society. Nutrition 4 Education & Development, Eurika, and Temran Association shared trials and triumphs of their respective NGO’s work across Ethiopia. The African Union special envoy office on Peace and Security; Addis Ababa University, Gender Expert; and French Embassy Gender and Development Office, supported the panel discussion with policies, statistics and strategies addressing girls’ education, peace and security, violence, and the protection and promotion of women’s rights. The diverse and colorful audience included Elders and youth, academicians and artists, activists and politicians converging on the state of Ethiopian women.
The tone for the discussion was set with opening speeches by representative of Ethiopia’s Minister of Women and Social Affairs, H.E. Dr. Ergoge Tesfaye; Embassy of France, Ambassador H.E. Mr. Remi Marechaux, and European Union in Ethiopia, Ambassador H.E. Mr. Roland Kobia. Kobia emphatically stated, “Attacks on democracy and freedoms anywhere in the world are always attacks on women’s rights. We should be quick and loud to protect the rights of women and girls, and gender equality”. While the speeches were a snapshot of respective government positions; a desire to work together and across sectors was clear. The refreshing caveat from both France and the EU, ‘we are not here to tell Ethiopia how to fix the important issue of Women’s rights’ was well received as they recognized women’s issues are yet to be fully achieved in France and Europe, in general.
Three highlights of the NEWA program which evoked a sense of pride and relatability were presentations by guest artist and activist, Ugandan Singer, Mrs. Suzan Kerunen; Addis Ababa and Wolkite Universities, Ms. Netsebrak Tamene and the introduction of the newest Alliance Ethio-Française President, Capital Managing Editor, Teguest Yilma. For many of the women in attendance, who sat patiently and silently through myriad statistics and international data, Songtress Suzan’s 10-minute share was uplifting. Her Pearl Rhythm Foundation, a Uganda based NGO, caters to local musicians and creatives while her passion for mentoring women through the arts is a priority. One valuable take-away was the role of artists and the use of their public platforms to spread the word on urgent social issues.
Ms. Netsebrak took us back to the basics recalling Ethiopian traditional practices in “Glorifying Womanhood”. The PhD candidate, though the last presenter, received resounding applause for her offering of Ethiopia’s best cultural practices through various “Mother’s Day Festivals” including the case study of Sebate Bet Gurage, one of the many indigenous groups in the Southern Region. Antrosht is a Sebate Bet Gurage term for a Mother’s Day commemoration said to have been celebrated from “time immemorial”. The rationale for the event is to acknowledge “women in their every day’s life are involved in several productive and reproductive roles…in relief from these tiresome and redundant roles they created a big ceremony, Antrosht,” said Ms. Netsebrak. She then spoke about the Kembatta People who host qeneffa and heffecho, similar to a baby shower, in honor of those entering motherhood. Not to be left out of her study are the women warriors, Ethiopian females have historically been at the forefront of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and hence protection of culture and tradition. The Yakka among the Sidama people, is a Sidama women’s protest tool.” The Yakka Punishment system basically uses social tools, in this case, embarrassment, to deter and punish negative abusive words or deeds deemed harmful to women in their society. Bravo!
Finally, it was the words of Ms. Teguest Yilma, ours truly at the Capital Clan, that sealed a six -hour event. As the first female to serve as Alliance Ethio-Française, she reassured of the importance of the Alliance Ethio-Française, literally, committing to building, energizing and strengthening the relationship with emphasis on the arts. In usual Teguest style, her resolute yet warm words invited us all to be part of the progress. Then she introduced the 8 artists who works pulled our eyes throughout the day. Mixed media images of womanhood, power, identity, struggle, success and more lined the walls. Until March 15th the diverse works of Artists AJ Silistrie, Birhan Beyene, Meron Ermias, Selome Getachew, Selome Muleta, Selome Sibhatu, Tirsit Mulugeta, Yemisrach Mulu will be on display at the Alliance. In closing, I share the traditional Sebate Bet Gurage poem chanted during the feast for Mothers.

“For whom delivered a son
Suet for your neck
For whom delivered a daughter
Butter for your bosom.”

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum

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