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Fundamental Right, Moral Imperative, and Powerful Driver of Positive Change

By :- Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and a powerful moral imperative. Equality and non-discrimination are core principles of the United Nations Charter, which was adopted by world leaders in 1945, and gender-based discrimination is prohibited under almost every regional and international human rights treaty existing in the world today. In addition, a large body of empirical work conducted in settings and contexts around the world attests to the fact that gender equality and empowerment go closely hand-in-hand with reducing poverty and income inequality, stimulating economic growth, boosting private and public sector performance, and promoting broad-based development. Not only do women and girls who have agency, are ensured of equal access to opportunities, and are empowered significantly contribute to the overall health, well-being, and productivity of their communities and nations, they also greatly improve the prospects and outlook for future generations.

It is undeniable that over many decades, and particularly in recent years, considerable progress has been made in securing the rights and protecting the dignity of women and girls worldwide. An array of global facts, figures, and anecdotes bear this out. At the same time, however, it is also true, sadly, that millions of women and girls in countries around the globe continue to experience terribly high levels of discrimination, misogyny, and violence, and are still being denied of their equality, dignity, autonomy, and even lives.

In Eritrea, like much of the rest of the world, it has historically been the tradition, indeed rule, that women and girls are regarded as inferior and considered as having little of tangible substance to contribute to their communities or wider society. Among the most powerful reflections of this is an old, backwards saying which states that “like there is no donkey with horns, there is no woman with brains.” However, from the days of the protracted armed struggle, led by the EPLF, and in the years since the achievement of independence, Eritrea’s girls and women have proven themselves to be strong and resilient exceptions to outdated, patriarchal rules and barriers through their indefatigable resilience, multifaceted excellence, and substantial contributions.

For example, as Eritrea has registered a number of impressive achievements within the health sector in the years after independence was won, young Eritrean women of all backgrounds have stood tall on the frontlines as medical and health professionals and community healthcare workers. Of course, during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the country, like the international community, to a literal and extended standstill, Eritrea’s female health professionals were again positioned front and center, daily serving as a crucial plank within the nation’s multifaceted response and general success.

Additionally, in their roles as educators, peer mentors, and counselors, serving in institutions that are now located across the length and breadth of the nation, young Eritrean women have been providing others, especially young people, not only with practical lessons, vital support, and an abundance of wisdom and knowledge, but also with the inspiration, encouragement, and confidence needed to take their destiny into their own hands and fulfill their potential.

As students, young Eritrean women and girls continue to shine and excel, in the process serving as a powerful demonstration that education truly has no gender. In this, they quietly send a strong riposte to the restrictive, regressive beliefs of bygone decades. Now, when you go into any educational institution in any community within any of the regions in Eritrea, you will invariably find that a large percentage of the students that are enrolled are female. What is more, scroll through the cumulative reports of regional and national academic achievements or performances and what you will quickly come to recognize is that females remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Meanwhile, young women play an active, important role within numerous sectors, such as agriculture, engineering, and various others, while within Eritrea’s nascent mining industry, which increasingly represents one of the nation’s most important and productive, they perform a variety of construction, driving, administrative, technical, and managerial functions.

Another showcase of young Eritrean women’s talent, resilience, and substantive progress is their sporting participation and excellence. Although sports, like education and many employment sectors, have historically been regarded as inappropriate or unfitting for girls and women in the country – beliefs deeply rooted in centuries of backwards traditions and norms – Eritrea’s young girls and women continue to smash those barriers. In athletics and cycling especially, the country’s young female stars are blazing a trail of success and putting the country on the global sporting map. Hardly a week goes by without coming across a new report about them setting some new record or winning some competitive race.

And, of course, alongside everything else that they have accomplished and contributed to the nation, young women in Eritrea have remained at the forefront of defending the country’s territorial integrity and protecting its hard-won sovereignty. Following in the footsteps of past generations of Eritrean women who played a critical role in helping to win freedom, today’s generation of young Eritrean women have remained doggedly committed to their sense of patriotic duty. They have stood up proudly, heroically foiling years of external aggression and various efforts that aim to roll back the country’s independence.

Overall, across the past three decades, Eritrea’s young women and girls have come a long way. Reflecting agency, empowerment, and initiative, they have been tangibly contributing within all areas of society and in many diverse, important ways. Breaking historical barriers and shattering regressive, outdated norms and beliefs, they have played a crucial role in their communities, the country’s socio-economic improvement, and the nation’s general development.

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