Have you seen this slogan written above on giant banners? You probably did! Indeed, during the month of November, numerous banners, radio and TV programs focusing on gender-based violence were held in the country. Indeed, as part of the international campaign, reaching the general public and raising awareness was the aim of these 16 days of activ¬ism against women’s discrimination held nationwide by the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) and its partners.
Initially, the campaign called ‘16 days of activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ was introduced in 1991 at international level.
This program is observed each year in more than 180 countries by organizations, policymakers, governments and UN agencies. Through these campaigns, different issues undermining gender equality and the issue of gender-based violence are highlighted.
In Eritrea, this year’s activism program was held under the theme of ‘Equality starts at home’, in order to emphasize on the unfeasibility of attaining women’s equity and equal participation without ensuring equality within the household.
Hence, it is the pioneer place where all harmful practices, burden and gender biased attitudes and discrimination are present, thus, the need of a key focus within the family. Henceforth, the issue of women and their equal rights need to be viewed through this lens.
This campaign was vividly held throughout the six administrative zones/zobas and all NUEW’s branches were dedicated in having a major impact within the society.
In doing so, sensitization programs were organized through extensive seminars and trainings, panel discussions but also through media channels, parades, cultural activities, and general knowledge contest reflecting the purpose of the responsiveness campaign. For more effective feat of these awareness programs, the campaign was conducted effectively in all sub-zobas.
Further, extensive seminars and panel discussions focusing on the challenges within the Eritrean society in regards to gender-based violence, mainly FGM and under-age marriage, were held nationwide. During the seminars, administrative bodies, religious leaders, women and concerned stakeholders were among the participants. Accordingly, creating a safe livelihood for girls and women by abolishing all types of discrimination and abuse were intensely stressed.
Taking maekel Region as an example, I had the chance to interview the NUEW’s head of the Region, Ms. Alem Belay, on the impact of the program. She strongly emphasized on the impact of the extensive trainings given in every sub-zoba in which FGM Committees of zobas and sub-zobas, administrative officers, religious leaders, influential elderly of villages and committees of partnership of the Union were among the participants. These bodies were the main target of the trainings for their capability in implementing gender-related policies on the ground through their influence in sensitizing local communities.
These trainings were provided by medical and law experts on the health hazards of FGM/C and under-age marriage in one hand and on human rights violation in the other hand. Another challenging issue, which was a concern during the trainings, was the practice of ‘virginity check’ on young girls. This matter has been critically campaigned by NUEW members and trainers.
Trainees strongly recommended monitoring an effective enforcement mechanism of legislation of the proclamations against FGM/C and under-age marriage. They also suggested implementing a system of age control of young brides as a reduction system of child marriage.
The greatest impact of these programs is the sense of ownership by every individual on these issues in relation to their practices within his or her community and their responsibility in raising awareness thanks to the extensive panel discussions, trainings, parades and all the banners employed throughout the country.
The closing ceremony of the overall program was held on the 20th November at NUEW headquarter in Asmara. Government bodies, ambassadors, representatives of UN agencies and NUEW officials were among the participants.
During the ceremony, Ms. Tekea Tesfamichael, president of NUEW, highlighted the Union’s engagement in an intensive awareness and behavioral changing activities on FGM and under-age marriage for the last ten years.
To implement this successfully, a nationwide campaign is organized through the establishment of committees from the zoba level to kebabi (lowest administrative unit) level. In achieving the target of eliminating this practice, strong partnership with international partners, UN agencies in particular, are ongoing. In legal terms, Proclamations No. 158/2007 was issued against FGM/C practices.
Moreover, NUEW’s strive for social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls can only be achieved by focusing on education as a core strategy in sensitizing and raising the general public’s awareness.
Mr. Dan Odallo, UNFPA representative, during the closing ceremony of the 16 days of activism underlined the role of education as one of the most powerful instruments in reducing poverty and inequality and lays foundation for sustainable economic grounds.
Ms. Rose Ssbatindria, senior deputy of the UNDP representative in Eritrea, also stated UNDP’s 18 years-long partnership with NUEW on tremendous strides in the areas of advocacy, awareness raising, economic empowerment, social cohesion, human and institutional capacity building. She expressed her admiration on the tenacity and determination of the Union on its struggle to defend, protect and promote the interest of women and girls. She assured for more strengthened partnership between UNDP and NUEW for further accomplishment in these assignments.
A presentation reflecting the achievements and challenges of the Union was also presented. The paper reflected the core success of the Union in mitigating economic empowerment, promoting women’s participation in education, and endorsing health access and its empowerment programs on young women. It also underlined the challenging constrains of the Union in implementing its goals.
At the end of the program, different cultural activities reflecting the aim of the campaign were performed by Asser cultural group. One of the activities which astonished me was a solidarity dance. It is a contemporary dance which, is now recognized as a symbol of chain breaking against kinds of discrimination and the breakthrough of women. It was an artistic finalizing highlight to the overall widespread activism held during the first two weeks of November