Women and Conflict in Ethiopia

Women and men have different access to resources, power and decision making before, during and after conflicts. The experience of women and of men in conflict situations is significantly different. While entire communities suffer the consequences of conflict, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex. Women are thus caught in a vicious paradox: while they are the main civilian victims of conflicts, they are often powerless to defend themselves, they are excluded from the negotiations during the resolution process, and they are confined to a marginal role in the conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts. The general exclusion of women from decision-making positions prior to, during and following conflicts reinforces their victimisation.

In November of 2020 conflict erupted in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This soon spiraled into a multidimensional conflict with both international and domestic stakeholders. Women have been at the forefront of this conflict since its inception and have faced disproportionate levels of persecution as well as the brunt of the violence. With the narrative of the conflict constantly evolving with the addition of new actors, both the violence against women and their role in the conflict are being silenced.

Rape and violence against women have been seen in increasing levels in Tigray, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Oromia regions in the past six months and more so since the conflict began in the Tigray region. Ethiopian forces have been accused of rape in Tigray and Amhara regions of the country as a weapon of war. Reports of dozens of innocent civilians, primarily women and children, being murdered in Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia has reached international news. Many reports have been published by Amnesty International, New York Time, Foreign Affairs, AL-Jazeera, and other notable news sources about the horrific gender-based violence.

It is important to recognize that gender-based violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, forced marriages, kidnapping, displacement, and gender inequality are big problems that exist in Ethiopia before the war in Tigray began. In fact, after the pandamic, there has been lots of reports from different regions in Ethiopia that shows increase in sexual violence mostly toward children. #MeTooEthiopia covered it here. The war on top of Covid-19 and all the other issues that came up with it, has only further exposed and exacerbated these issues.

Infrastructure providing healthcare and education for women was threatened because of COVID-19 and displacement from the conflict has continued to destroy accessibility to these critical resources. Women also often bear the brunt of conflict, with many men recruited to fight in physical combat women take over the role of head of house. Absorbing the responsibility of primary financial provider, caretaker, and domestic care.

When women are involved in negotiations and peace talks there is a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least two years and a 35% increase in the probability in the agreement lasting at least fifteen years, and overall makes them 64% less likely to fail. The focus should remain, creating and sustaining platforms for advocacy and decision making that 100% of the time include women. Without the direct voices and involvement of Ethiopian women, there can be no sustainable Ethiopia.

There are great barriers still ahead before peace is reached in Ethiopia but also great hope. The goal should be an Ethiopia that includes women in its political processes, provides equitable access to education for women and girls, and a reconstructed healthcare and healthcare access for all women.