The 40th anniversary of the foundation of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) was commemorated with great enthusiasm under the theme “fighting against gender-based violence in the world of work”.
The celebration, which was attended by ministers, diplomats, high government officials, members of the NUEW and other invited guests, was officially opened on 25 November at the NUEW’s Headquarters in Asmara. In her opening speech at the ceremony, Ms. Zaid Mesfin, head of NUEW’s finance and administration, stated that the forty years of honor being celebrated is the result of efforts the government made during the armed struggle as well as the result of the hardship and brawl that Eritrean female fighters went through to assure their rights and equality.
Ms. Zaid also noted that without the active participation of women, the Eritrean struggle for liberation and the national development programs would not have been successful. To this end, women were encouraged, mobilized and organized to participate and enjoy their equal access and opportunity. During the armed struggle women made up 30% of the freedom fighters. Overall, today more than 45% of the students in Eritrea are girls. Women’s right to land use has been guaranteed by law.
She also highlighted that the implementation of policies on gender equality and women empowerment is not only left to women. To fight discrimination against women and girls, men and boys need to be involved. As part of measures to redress gender stereotypes in all spheres of life, massive awareness raising and sensitization programs have been conducted in government institutions, national civic associations and the communities at large. Administrations at national, regional and local levels are involved in organizing campaigns through drama, parades, cultural shows and other activities and have helped in challenging the existing attitudes and stereotypes.
This year’s theme is “fighting against gender-based violence in the world of work. The 1994 Eritrean national charter explicitly states, ‘In Eritrea there shall not be any position exclusively reserved for men that cannot be attained by women’. This shows that at policy level there is no segregation. Similarly, the labor proclamation has provided protection with a view to avoiding discrimination in giving access to employment and occupation on the grounds of gender. But for better and lasting results, the implementation of policies and proclamations needs to be continuously assessed and monitored by institutions and individuals. Ms. Zaid concluded her speech by calling on the government and the NUEW to strengthen their efforts in reducing female illiteracy rate in all ethnic groups and regions.
Ms.Shaheen Nilofer, UNICEF representative in Eritrea, said in her brief speech that she was very glad to be part of the commemoration and expressed her admiration for the NUEW for their strong organization as well as their effort to ensure women’s equality and other rights. She also applauded the victory in reducing maternal mortality rate and the significant reduction of FGM.
Finally, members of the NUEW who graduated from different colleges shared their educational and work experiences. Ms. Sitel, a lawyer, Amira, a political scientist, Lwam, a journalist, and Millen, a marine engineer, all said that education is the base for a nation’s development and an educated woman is the backbone of a civilized society. They called on the society to give all the support they can for girls’ education.
As part of the celebrations to commemorate NUEW’s 40th anniversary, there was a carnival that included a parade from Martyr’s Avenue all the way to Bahti Meskerem Square. On the parade were young women in military outfit, women in colorful chiffons (traditional clothes) representing different regions of Asmara and women from different governmental and non-governmental organizations.
As is the tradition, the ceremony at Bahti Meskerem Square began with a moment of silence in honor of Eritrea’s fallen heroines and heroes. In an opening speech, Ms. Alem Belay, head of Maekel region’s NUEW, said that the NUEW, with its strong organization and enlightened vision, played a big role for independence. During the struggle for independence, armed with the slogan “we want peace but peace with justice”, the Eritrean women’s organization participated in international conferences, including one in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985.
There were women in the ranks and files of many revolutionary movements in Asia and Africa, but they were not comparable to that of Eritrea both in number and potential. Ms Alem underlined the success made in reducing maternal mortality, which in 1990 was 1590 per 100,000 was reduced to 250 per 100,000 in 2019. She also highlighted that the ceremony is not only meant to glorify the achievements of the women’s organization but also to reflect on what has not been done. She made a pledge that improved policies to allow full participation of women in policy making and in work places will be drafted and ratified in the future. The event was made colorful with music, poetry recitation and other performances.
In socioeconomic activities, women’s participation in Eritrea has grown over the years. Women made up 55% of those who benefit from in microcredit programs. The role of women in politics has also risen. Almost a quarter of the ministerial posts in Eritrea are occupied by women. On average, women constitute 34% of village level leaders, 11% at subzones (kebabi) and 31% at regional assembly. Thirty seven percent of the community court judges and 14% of the regional court judges are women.
Major strides have been made in the fight against all harmful practices including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and underage marriage by raising people’s awareness of the effects of the harmful practices and by drafting laws. A law was ratified to punish those who practice FGM. A study has shown that FGM on young girls aged 15 to 19 was reduced from 68% in 2002 to 33% in 2010.
The celebrations to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Eritrea’s women’s organization came to a close on Friday, 29th November, at an event held at the Expo hall. In their speeches on the occasion, Ms. Alem Belay, Major General Romodan Aweliyay, governor of the Central region, Mrs. Abraham Semere, chairperson of Maekel region’s assembly, and Mrs. Samsom kifle, chairperson of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Studetnts, paid tribute to the Eritrean women for their role in achieving Eritrea’s independence as well as for safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty. They also expressed their respect for all Eritrean women who are doing their part for the development of their nation in different sectors. At last they forwarded their best wishes to the NUEW on its future work.
Eritrea ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, immediately after its independence 1991. The convention was adopted by the United Nations on December 18, 1979.
Glory to Eritrean women for achieving freedom and equality