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NUEW Symposium: assessing Opportunities and Challenges

Mrs. Tekea Tesfamichael
The national union of the Eritrean women (NUEW) organized a two-day symposium at it’s headquarter in ASMARA. The symposium which was held on 29th and 30th June, was declared open by a young members of the NUEW, Ms. Winta Ghebre. After a minute of silence in remembrance of Eritrean fallen heroes, Mrs. Zaid Mesfin gave an opening speech on behalf of the organizing committee.

In her speech, she highlighted that the symposium was made possible through the partnership and hard work of seven ministries and four firms that produced ten research papers to be presented and discussed during the course of the two day event.

With more than 300 participants at this national event, it was clear from the beginning that it would be filled with lively debates and discussions. Mrs. Tekea Tesfamichael, Head of NUEW, gave a keynote speech welcoming all participants and stakeholders. The Head of the Union went on by stressing the long struggle of independence in which Eritrean women played a great role and gained their equality within the society by fighting alongside their male counterparts. Women continue to play important roles in Eritrea’s path for sustainable development and to advocate against cultural beliefs and practices that harm women and girls.

Assessing the achievements of women in the past 25 years will allow stakeholders to identify the challenges and come up with new favorable policies which can benefit women and the society as a whole. Woman is the backbone of society. This motto was continuously repeated and, thus, through this symposium, it will give a glimpse and recommendations on how women can better contribute to Eritrea’s economic development and increasing productivity.

Dr. Tesfay Haile, managing director of SMAP, gave a glimpse of the program presentation through a synopsis. According to Dr. Tesfay, the research papers and the organization of this event took two months to finalize, and all stakeholders greatly appreciated the event and the big work done in a short period of time.

Thursday morning the research papers began to be presented. Mrs. Senait Mehari, Director General of NUEW’s social services, opened with her paper looking at NUEW’s achievements in a historical context which included challenges and opportunities of the Union from now onwards. The paper explained briefly women’s activities at work, education, their participation in peace and security, politics, health and economic empowerment, amongst others.

As she continued, Mrs. Senait said that NUEW is a legal and Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) active on international platforms. For instance, NUEW is a member of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and has been a member since 1995. It has led NUEW to participate and report its activities and achievements at various United Nations meetings and is working in parallel with the government to implement the drafted policies enabling NUEW to assess its achievements and challenges in the past 25 years.

Mrs. Senait’s presentation led to lively discussion in which many recommended focusing the discussion on challenges and solutions for the next 25 years. The importance of engaging further the youth within the Union as well as campaigning against traditional beliefs and gender-based stereotypes and harmful practices were highlighted. In fact, many expressed concern about the return to negative practices in many regions of the country. Senait explained to the gathering how NUEW as a grassroots union makes it efficient to organize awareness and sensitization campaigns by the creation of committees from bottom up. As a matter of fact, NUEW has branches nationwide but also enjoys a transnational network with branches in all continents. In the last 25 years, NUEW has conducted 65,779 conferences within the country including seminars and trainings to over 3,717,453 citizens, from 90% of whom are women.

In today’s Eritrea, despite many major achievements such high female participation and gender-friendly policies in all sectors, including equal access to education, health, work among others, women continue to face numerous challenges, especially in relevant to maternity, child bearing and rearing.

Mr. Hagos Mebrahtu, Director of the Employment Division at the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare (MoLHW) followed with his presentation entitled “Growth and Development of Women in the World of Work”. His interesting research looked at the discrimination, opportunities and challenges women face in the professional world. He focused his presentation on occupational discrimination and the difficulties educated women, are facing in moving towards managerial positions and how the lack of social services such as daycare at government institutions and lack of maternal benefits often influence women to leave the workforce and instead take care of the household.

After lunch break, presentations continued with Mr. Kflay Andemichael, Mrs. Senait Alazar, and Mr. Samsom Eskndir representing the Ministry of Education.

Their research looked at the achievement of the Ministry and of women and girls in education. They presented the challenges of women in the past 25 years in relation to education some of the challenges mentioned are like poor economy and lack of transportation in remote areas pushing girls to drop out from school. Topics of discussion continued throughout the day with a focus on health where Dr. Mismay Ghebrehiwet, Dr. Habte Hailemelekot and Dr. Tsegereda Mehari gave briefs of the work of the Ministry of Health in promoting women’s health with a specific focus on reproductive health and harmful practices as well as the creation of waiting home for pregnant women in all corners of the country, the importance of continuing work on sensitizing women on the importance of giving birth in health centers to avoid complications such as fistula, prolapse and death as Dr. Habte, head of the Fistula Centre in Mendefera explained. Dr. Tsegereda, on her part, stressed how women starting from the lowest health related profession to the top continue to be significant and there is a need to push women to enhance their skills to be promoted to more managerial levels.

Others research papers focusing on women within the agricultural sector were also discussed. A paper on access to micro-credit scheme under the SMCP was presented by SMCP’s Acting Manager, Mr. Tafla Asmerom, which was appreciated by the audience as this area is not very well known to many. Further studies on women in trade by Mrs. Zeferworq Fessehaye, and informal sectors by Dr. Fitsum Ghebregergis also raised questions on social protection and how to ensure safety for those women as well as understanding the trend. Lively debates followed under the theme of “Dynamics of Network and Growth Women Owned firms in Eritrea – Opportunities and Challenges” by Dr. Abel Tedla. After passionate comments and questions, time for a tea break where participants continued discussing topics informally. The symposium came to an end with a last presentation on “Development of Eritrean Women in Ministry of Defence” by Mr. Araya Ghebregziabher and Mr. Daniel Araya. Their paper focused on the role women played during the armed struggle, the border war and today in ensuring peace and security nationwide.

As all participants agreed the topics of discussion moved the audience and pushed discussions further by engaging all under one umbrella. The organizing committee and its rapporteur gave a wrap up of these two-day event which gave an important insight to stakeholders and policymakers on areas for improvement and the way forward within the new phase of development that the nation is engaged in placing gender and women within this new path towards prosperity.

The conference was attend by Ministers, high ranking officials, PFDJ officials, representatives of national civil societies from all regions, representatives of the police and defense forces, intellectuals, the media and invited guests. The symposium was concluded with handing awards of recognition and appreciation to seven ministries and three firms for their contribution in making this event fruitful.

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