Following is an interview with Mrs. Tekea Tesfamicheal, president of the National Union of Eritrean Women, on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day.
Let’s start with this year’s national theme under which International Women’s Day was celebrated?
This year’s theme, “Eritrean women — unwavering to undertake and sweating to cultivate,” was selected to express the exact picture of Eritreans today and yesterday. In the 30 years of armed struggle Eritrean women fought not only for political emancipation but complete transformation of their society. They played their vital role by participating in the struggle for independence. And after Eritrea’s independence, they became key drivers in the nation’s pursuit of inclusive national development and socio- economic progress. The “Warsay’’ (the young generation), in their turn, preserved the sovereignty of the nation and are participating in the development programs, including greening campaigns.
Why do Eritrean women commemorate March 8 with great dignity?
We always celebrate it with great dignity because it is a very special day. We try to make it as colourful as possible to show its purpose and value to the next generation. We use it as an occasion to reflect on the contributions of our martyrs and to set our future strategies. The empowerment of Eritrean women is the result of huge sacrifice, and that’s why March 8 is worth celebrating with dignity.
What kind of activities do you organize on March 8?
The NUEW organizes seminars and takes initiatives to empower marginalized segments of the society by giving loans under a micro-credit scheme and to assist families of martyrs. Although March 8 is commemorated at a national level in Asmara, it is celebrated at all levels, including regions, sub-zones and villages.
Please, give us highlights of NUEW’s achievements?
Eritrea ratified and signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1995, and it has established national laws and firm enforcement measures to help protect women from harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and underage marriage. The NUEW implements gender equality programs and initiatives to empower young girls and women. We worked hard to help make basic education accessible, and, as a result, the substantial disparities in enrolment and literacy improved considerably. The national labour and land reform proclamation gives legal protection for women in work places and guarantee to inherit and use land.
Every year we examine and set our priorities and engage in development programs. A good example of our recent activities is the efforts we have made to bring together exemplary female farmers. They are organized in to groups where they can help one another and work with our partners to give them assistance to be effective at their farms and to have a market for their products. NUEW also gives training to women in all six regions by taking into account their age, capability and profession. The training helps women to be aware of their potential and to make conscious effort to develop.
How about the rehabilitation program?
It is a very important part of our strategy. We identify needy women who are heads of families and martyrs’ families and support them financially and materially. This enables them to take care of their families’ needs, particularly that of children. We also have micro credit and interim poverty reduction programs.
What have you done to ensure gender equality?
The government’s policy supports equal participation of women in all aspects of life. We focus on education because we believe that women must be educated in order to transform the society. A lot has been achieved in making schools accessible although schools aren’t yet evenly distributed in all the regions.
One of the big challenges that has been preventing girls from continuing their education in the past has been underage marriage. So, we organize campaigns to bring about behavioural change in the society. We also endeavour to ensure that women are not discriminated based on their gender and are given equal opportunities as men in terms of employment and the economic sector as a whole.
What do you think about FGM?
FGM is a crime and a violation of women’s rights. Today, it is seen as a taboo by a big number of our people, but this doesn’t mean we have totally eradicated its practice. That’s why we still need to make efforts to increase awareness of the society about its harmful effects.
The NUEW has built many training centres. What is their main purpose?
Their main purpose is to equip women with skills and technology so that they can earn a living and become productive citizens.
One of the biggest projects that we have invested on is the building of training centres. The NUEW is a big organization with membership at home and among Eritrean communities in the diaspora. We’ve reached an agreement with our members in the diaspora so that they could help in building training centres. As a result, training centres have been built in Barentu, Adikeih, Tesenay, Massawa, Senafe, keren, Tio, and Haikota.
Tell us about the NUEW initiated greening campaign?
Greening projects have been implemented in Maekel, Southern, Anseba and Gash Barka regions, and so far about 30 thousand trees have been planted in Serejeka and Galanefhi subzones, Maekel region. The main purpose of the greening campaign is for soil conservation and to promote the production of honey by creating a suitable environment for bees.
What do you think about the proclamation that protects the rights of women?
In Eritrea, women’s rights are protected by law, which helps them against discrimination in all aspects of life, politically, legally or socially. This proclamation is our main drive for equality.
Any other remarks you would like to make …
I wish all Eritrean women a happy International Women’s Day. We are here as an independent nation because of our noble culture that we’ve developed throughout our existence as a society. This culture is the culture of sacrifice, resilience and self-reliance, and this noble culture must be embraced by the young generation. On International Women’s Day let’s renew our pledge as women to develop our nation and safeguard women’s rights.