Women’s Participation in the National Service and Nation-building

Articles - General

Eritrean women have fought for the respect of their rights.

They demonstrated excellence in various fields. Their participation in the struggle for independence is a strong evidence of their capabilities as fighters and leaders in all areas of work that had been traditionally dominated by men.

They gained independence in all socio-economic activities and secured their rightful place in all domains. The EPLF’s strong principle of respecting women’s rights and its strong support for their participation in all socio-economic activities ensured their equity. The EPLF understands that women make up 50% of the Eritrean population and sustainable development could not be realized without their participation.

How does women’s participation in the struggle for independence correspond to their participation in the National Service Program in the last 25 years? Ms. Askalu Menkerios, Minister of Tourism, recently gave a seminar in Sawa in connection with the 25th anniversary of the launching of the National Service Program. At the seminar, the Minister made comparison between women’s role during the struggle for independence and their role after independence in the National service and their contribution in safeguarding the national sovereignty and in nation building.

“Eritrean women have realized their equality through hard work, determination and selfless sacrifice for the common cause,” Ms. Askalu said.

Eritrean women got organized in various associations -- workers, processionals, scholars and students-- in rural and urban areas in the liberated areas as well as in the areas that were under colonial control. This was a new development in the rural areas. Their determination in the fight against the colonial power and EPLF’s commitment to respect women’s equal rights enabled Eritrean women to secure their rightful place. Thus 11% of the women fighters were elected as members of the leadership. In 1977, all associations of Eritrean women inside the country and abroad participated at a congress to found the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW).
The establishment of NUEW paved a way for the reinforcement of women’s participation. Women started to participate in political activities, literacy programs and administrative tasks among others.

There was a rise in women’s participation in the national service staring from the 20th round of National Service. The opening of Warsay-Yekealo Senior Secondary School and Sawa Vocational Training Center in Sawa played a role in raising the number of women. By extension, these developments have also increased women’s enrollment in higher education. In 2004, out of a total of 5000 students at Eritrea Institute of Technology, 1100 were women. Today, women make up 40 % of the students in colleges.

Around 85% of women members of the National service have completed their secondary school and above 12% are at a tertiary level. This academic status shows the journey so far traveled in educating Eritrean Women.

“Participation of Eritrean women in all sectors, including all tasks of national service, has enabled them to have their own say. They have secured their equality through pragmatic works both during the struggle for independence and in the post-independence period,” Ms. Askalu said.

The opportunities created for them and their determination has been the reason for sustaining the rightful place they have secured. Through the national service, they got chances to upgrade their knowledge and skills. This in turn gives the society strength.

Their participation in the struggle for independence and in the National Service Program is evident in the transfer of experience from generation to generation. Women members of the national service have become commanders, pilots, divers and professionals in various sectors. They have acquired skills that boost their confidence. A good foundation has been built for them to make contributions to the national economy.

Eritrean women in the national service have made remarkable achievements. There is no doubt that the more they are trained and educated the more their contribution will be. As members of the national service, they have been working as combatants, teachers, doctors, administrators, engineers and operators of machines.

Ms. Askalu said that the National Service Program has boosted women’s physical and psychological strength and reinforced their confidence. So, the national service has double benefit at individual and national level.

Through her briefing Ms. Askalu highlighted that Eritrean women are still securing their rights through equal participation in all sectors. They are benefitting through their hard work.

“Women’s participation in schools, public institutions, women’s and youth associations need to be reinforced. The more we travel together the more our achievements will be,” Ms. Askalu emphasized.