There is an unavoidable connection between gender equality, stability and prosperity.
Understanding this, Eritrea has been working tirelessly for the realization of gender equality. This article gives a bird’s eye view of Eritrea’s efforts to improve women’s status and how far it has gone towards achieving gender equality. Starting from the last week of November, Eritrean women have done a nationwide work of activism under the theme ‘end gender-based violence in the world of work,’ and the National Union of Eritrean Women celebrated its 40th anniversary by organizing a variety of programs.
Human kind’s greatest paradox is manifested in the negative attitude toward women, who actually are the prime movers and real architects of society. Nation building requires the participation of all citizens regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion and gender. Gender is a development issue and development is a gender issue. Prosperity is affected by gender relations in a society, and there is a strong relationship between gender equality and prosperity.
The Government of Eritrea encourages women to come out of their subordinated position. It demonstrates its firm belief in the importance of women in maintaining social harmony and prosperity by introducing policies to accommodate women and enjoy equality of opportunity. The national charter of Eritrea stipulates that “the issue of women is a major social issue. A society that does not respect the rights and equality of women cannot be a truly liberated society.” Similarly, the educational policy of Eritrea states that “sustainable socio-economic development cannot be realized without the full participation of women, which comprise half of the population.” The National Policy on Gender aims to create a society in Eritrea where girls and boys have equal opportunities, rights, benefits and obligations in all sectors and areas of life in a way that enables them to achieve sustainable livelihood.
Many proclamations granting women equal access to state-funded services and restricting harmful practices like FGM and underage marriage were also issued with the objective to eliminate any form of discrimination against women. The government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and has worked diligently to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. As part of the integrated efforts to bring about a positive change in the society, the government has effectively ended the old negative cultural factors that limit women’s rights and participation. Underage marriage and many forms of violence that had limited women’s role have stopped by law. According to Article 522 (1), “A man and a woman who have not both attained the full age of eighteen years may not contract marriage.” Also, a person who is guilty of committing rape is punished with a definite term of imprisonment ranging from seven to ten years. Thanks to the strictly observed laws and preventive measures taken by the government, Eritrean women are living in an atmosphere of security. In Eritrea, the National Labor and Land Reform Proclamations secure legal protection for women in employment and guarantee them equal access to land without discrimination. All the affirmative actions and positive measures taken before and after independence have made Eritrea a country that treats men and women equally.
Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process. Eritrea has achieved tremendous success in closing the gap at all levels of education. Thousands of Eritrean women who have completed their education are now playing proactive roles and present themselves at the forefront of the battle to eliminate any form of discrimination. Last week a group of young, energetic and enthusiastic girls who have finished college education and assigned to different posts organized a panel discussion about the ways to advance women’s right. The papers presented by the young girls reflect how bright they are. The presenters were Haben Tekle and Amira Alamin, graduates of Political Science and International Relations, Stel Mussa, a lawyer, and Lwam Tekle, a graduate of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Historically, Eritrean women have fought and achieved spectacular victory against colonization and patriarchal chauvinism. Their role in the creation of an environment of equality, liberty and peace was fundamental. They have gained respectable position with the right to live in dignity, without discrimination, and to have access to education, healthcare and employment. There is a growing belief that the fastest way to change society is to mobilize women. Eritrea knows very well that it cannot modernize without the full participation of Eritrean women, just as it did during the independence struggle.
The trajectory of Eritrean women towards the attainment of the resources and means of power is pronounced. Eritrean women have access to education, health care, employment and opportunity to take decisions. The enrollment of Eritrean women at all levels of education is widening their opportunity and area of participation. This guarantees the Eritrean society stability and prosperity.
Marginalization and exclusion of women is the greatest threat and hindrance to social, economic and political development. Relating gender equality to sustainable development is important for several reasons. The Government of Eritrea is committed to integrate gender into policies and strategic planning instruments. In addition to the development imperative, moral and ethical imperatives are sufficient reasons to give women equal opportunity. Eritrea is one of the few countries that have become successful in gender-related areas envisioned by the Millennium Development Goals, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.
Prosperity without equality and stability is not worth celebrating as a success. In Eritrea, equality, stability and prosperity are all equally important. Development should not be measured only by GDP. Human beings want, above all, to be respected on an equal basis with other people. Apart from material self-interest, human beings are motivated by dignity and equality. Eritrea is striving to become a country of justice and equality where dignity and basic human rights are respected.
In Eritrea, the idea of upgrading women’s status dates back to the period of the country’s independence struggle that successfully challenged colonization and gender stereotypes. The Eritrean revolution has brought about independence and a radical transformation of the Eritrean society. Eritrean women are today better placed to control their own destinies and effect change in their communities. They are active and productive in many ways, playing a crucial role in the ongoing development projects.
The task of nation building requires the participation of all citizens regardless of their gender. The participation of women is vital for the transformation and development of the country. It is impossible to build a nation worthy of the heavy sacrifices leaving women behind. Although Eritrea’s achievements in the area of gender equality are great, it has a long way to go to fully realize the revolutionary aspirations.