“Before, if I saw a woman being abused, I did nothing. It was not my business, but now I tell the man to stop”
With little education, young women and girls in rural Ethiopia are often lured to the capital city Addis Ababa to compete in the labour market. They come with the expectation of getting work, and being able to send money back to their families. However, the harsh reality of Addis Ababa, a sprawling and fast moving city of more than four million people, often steals away the dream.
Many find that the realistic opportunity is to be domestic workers, a continuation of what they were already doing back home. The wages are low; sometimes not even enough to buy food and personal items. These young women and girls become vulnerable to violence, but they do not return home – there is usually little to return to.
So Askale’s case is not uncommon. Orphaned when she was a toddler, at the first opportunity, aged just 12, she travelled to Addis Ababa. With only four years of school and no real family ties, this was one option to escape poverty. In the city, she worked as a domestic worker for six years. Then one day she was raped by a stranger on the street. She couldn’t identify the man and police gave up the investigation. Her employer didn’t want to keep her, so suddenly at 18 she found herself alone and pregnant.
Like many girls in her situation, Askale was supported through our partner, the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) She stayed in AWSAD’s safe house for six months, where she received counselling and medical care. She gave birth to a son and is learning to deal with the trauma of rape. She said:
“For a long time, I felt isolated. I thought I was the only one. AWSAD helped me to assess my experiences. I am positive about my future”.
One safe house in a city of 2 million women and girls
In Ethiopia, the safe house is an important institution where women and girls affected by violence, and whose situation worsened by poverty get immediate protection. Although it is located in a secluded area of Addis Ababa with a thick high wall, it is testimony that violence against women and girls cannot be treated as a private or cultural matter hidden from public affairs and responsibility.
But AWSAD’s safe house is the only one in Addis Ababa and can only accommodate 50 residents at a time. In a city with a population of 4 million, it is hardly adequate to meet the need. When Womankind visited a few months ago, it was full to capacity. AWSAD has to improvise and many women and their children sleep on makeshift beds on the floor. As in many parts of the world, the Ethiopian government does not fund the establishment and running of safe houses. It is left to women’s organisations to secure resources and staff to run these institutions.
The reality is that women and girls who come to the safe house represent only a small proportion of women experiencing violence and in need of protection. The safe house provides insights into the support women need to end violence in their lives. It is a constant reminder of the need to tackle unequal power relations between women and men and deeply embedded discrimination and subordination of women and girls.
So, AWSAD is educating women and men in communities around the city, community leaders and boys and girls in junior schools in order to change attitudes on women and women’s rights. Assafe, a young man who is a member of a youth association has benefitted from the education and is making a difference in his community. He said:
“Before, if I saw a woman being abused on the street, I did nothing. It was not my business, but now I tell the man to stop. I have reported cases to the police”.
AWSAD recognises that government officials such as the police operate in the same culture and mindset and educating them as well to support survivors is part of the chain to ending violence against women.
How you can help
- It costs just £8 a month to give a woman like Askale the emotional support of a counsellor.
- £12 a month pays for a nurse who’ll make sure a woman gets medical attention.
- You could give her two crucial things: the skills she needs to support herself or self-defence training for £4 a month.
Please set up a regular donation today to help make sure the safe house is there for women and girls who need it.