Amhara is a regional state located in North Ethiopia. Home to over 25 million people, the Amhara are primarily agriculturalists and 83% live in rural areas, and historically speaking, the area has been affected by “chronic drought,” and “wars that adversely affected the natural and human resources development in the area” (Amhara Development). Ongoing abuses include early marriage, female circumcision, domestic violence, and blatant disregard for women's basic rights. Although, in the town of Bahir Dar individuals in the Amhara Women’s Association (AWA) are working hard to battle the atrocities facing women within Ethiopia. This non-profit, non partisan, and non governmental volunteer based organization was founded in May 1998, and is comprised of a general assembly, a council, and an executive committee. Maritu Fentahun, Chairperson of AWA, says, “20 years ago, we noticed that women had been considered as the second citizen in political, social and economic affairs,” yet Fentahun believes that, “educating females has to be recognized as educating the whole society” (Amhara Women’s). AWA is determined to organize in strength to combat prevailing problems such as the disruption of equal opportunity to their counterparts by providing socio-economic and political assistance, enhancing women’s reproductive rights, and combats traditional practices of gender based violence and exposure to HIV/AIDS.
This multifaceted association works with a number of other organizations in order to gain exposure and solve different problems for women in Ethiopia. Some of the organizations AWA works closely with include Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, Network of Ethiopian Women Associations (NEWA), Alive and Thrive Ethiopia, and Save the Children UK. In 2010, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a U.S based non governmental organization, hosted a study tour that followed three state legislators to Ethiopia in order to learn about the role and impact of U.S foreign assistance. According to the Center for Health and Gender Equity, the Amhara Women’s Association focused on tackling unwanted child marriage in the town of Yigage in the Libokemken Woreda District canceling a whopping, “135 early marriages” (Women’s). The individuals involved in AWA are relentless and will stop at nothing to give Ethiopian women a better way of life. The Ethiopian Journal of Health Development conducted research in 2003 in the areas of women’s health and life events in rural Ethiopia. Over 3000 women were systematically selected with results showing, “that 59% of women suffered from sexual violence, and 49% from physical violence by a partner at some point in their lives”, and during 2003 respectively, “44% of women reported sexual violence and 29% suffered partner violence” (Gossaye). While women’s rights have progressed over time, it is still evident that there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in Ethiopia. Furthermore, women’s health suggests needing more improvement. Jemal Haidar, wrote in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, “One in every three [Ethiopian] women had anemia and deficiency of folic acid while one in every two had iron deficiency, suggesting that deficiencies of both folic acid and iron constitute the major micro-nutrient deficiencies” (Haidar). The health of Ethiopian women is not only important, but crucial to the well-being of Ethiopia itself. A nation rests of all of its citizens backbones, including women. AWA continues to fight in order to protect the rights of women in various fields including education, economics, politics, and health.
An ancient tradition in large parts of Africa, including Ethiopia, is female genital mutilation. This practice is performed mostly by traditional/local healers with no professional surgical experience, and its purpose most often as a means to “safeguard against premarital sexual activity”, and to “preserve virginity” (Yirga). Amhara Women’s Association works to prevent this unnecessary procedure and offers their programs for gender mainstreaming which offers counseling and planning awareness for young girls continuing education, women in need of income-generation, and health extension works to ensure women have safe births. A woman in Ethiopia is expected to do a lot of labor. Research done by journalist Emily Frank, suggests that a rural woman spends between thirteen and sixteen hours a day working, which is twice that of men. She says that the, “Amhara Region is one of the four primary agricultural regions and at the same time has a large portion of the most chronically food insecure population in the country” (Frank). This notion is troubling because of how overworked women are to their male counterparts. One woman interviewed by Frank said, “Everyone expects women in Ethiopia to sweat from six in the morning until midnight. This is just her lot and she is supposed to accept this” (Frank). AWA is working with communities on gender mainstreaming, including counseling couples on how to reduce women’s work load.
In recent years, Amhara has been the epicenter for political tension due to the claim of ancestral lands being taken by the government and “allocated to Star Agricultural Development Plc, an Ethiopian company owned by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi” (The). According to the Minority Rights Group International, “Human rights violations against the Amhara and Oromo people are happening against a backdrop of a highly restrictive environment. Civil society activists find difficulties to reach the worst hit places to access information, and risk arrest and persecution” (The). Current events in Ethiopia are equally as damaging as the abuses women face daily. The Amhara Women’s Association works to prepare and promote women in becoming a bigger part of the political sphere in which change needs to take place. On October 25th, 2018, Ethiopia’s first female president Sahle-Work Zewde delivered a speech in which she states, “We cannot achieve the 17 sustainable development goals without the full participation of half of humanity,” Sahle-Work said. “So today, gender equality and women's empowerment is at the core — should be at the core — of our activities” (Women). The Amhara Women’s Association has been working on a variety of different women’s rights issues since 1998. With help from governmental and non governmental agencies, AWA has been able to take strides in putting an end to the discrepancy between women and men. Hopefully someday most Ethiopian women find it easier to take part in political affairs like Zewde because of the Amhara Women’s Association.
- “The Agony of Silence: Ethiopia's Recent Human Rights Violations against Amhara and Oromo Peoples.” Minority Rights Group, 13 Oct. 2016, minorityrights.org/2016/09/28/agony-silence-ethiopias-recent-human-rights-violations-amhara-oromo-indigenous-peoples/.
- “Amhara Development Association.” Amhara Development Association /ADA/, UN Volunteers , www.onlinevolunteering.org/en/amhara-development-association-ada.
- “Amhara Women's Association.” AWA-Messages, SaveTheChildrenUK, www.amharawomenasso.org.et/en/awa_message.php.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amhara.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Oct. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Amhara.
- Frank, Emily. “ Gender, Agricultural Development and Food Security in Amhara, Ethiopia: The Contested Identity of Women Farmers in Ethiopia.” Gender, Agricultural Development and Food Security in Amhara, Ethiopia: The Contested Identity of Women Farmers in Ethiopia, Oct. 1999, pp. 1–20., doi:https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACG552.pdf.
- Gossaye, Yegomawork, et al. “Butajira Rural Health Program: Women's Health and Life Events Study in Rural Ethiopia.” Ethiopian Journal of Health Development, vol. 17, no. 5, 2004, doi:10.4314/ejhd.v17i5.9856.
- Haidar, Jemal. “Prevalence of anaemia, deficiencies of iron and folic acid and their determinants in Ethiopian women.” Journal of health, population, and nutrition vol. 28, 4 (2010): 359-68. doi:10.3329/jhpn.v28i4.6042
- “Women Take Top Posts as Ethiopian Politics Evolve.” Voice of America, www.voanews.com/africa/women-take-top-posts-ethiopian-politics-evolve.
- “Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Ethiopia: The Role of the National Government and U.S. Foreign Assistance.” Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Ethiopia, Center for Health and Gender Equity, www.genderhealth.org/files/uploads/change/publications/CHANGE_Ethiopia_Study_Report_web_FINAL.pdf.
- Yirga, Wondimu Shanko et al. “Female genital mutilation: prevalence, perceptions and effect on women's health in Kersa district of Ethiopia.” International journal of women's health vol. 4 (2012): 45-54. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S28805