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Claiming Public Spaces

\”Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you\’ll be criticized anyway. You\’ll be \’damned if you do, and damned if you don\’t.\’\” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Do Not Panic: This post is not about starting the long feared process of dismantling the institution of marriage or family. It is more about elegantly uprooting the patriarchy as only a woman can.

\”Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.\”―Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

End of January and I have made it through a month of AWiB leadership unscathed and calm. I consider the second part a particularly personal victory on my part, even though I did not go through it alone but that is a conversation for another blog. Sometime this month, my fabulous team put together a membership drive early this month. It was sort of an orientation for new members where we got to meet and network with the latest additions to the AWiB family. I was asked to make an impromptu speech to introduce new members to our leadership booth-camp. The entire time I was waiting to make my speech, trying to structure my thoughts, an Ethiopian wedding song kept going through my head, drums, ululation (እልእልእልእልእልእልእል) and all.

ታሰረች አሉ በትዳር
ታሰረች አሉ በትዳር
ከንግዲህ ቀረ መሽቀርቀር
ታሰረች አሉ በትዳር

ታሰረች አሉ በቆርቆሮ
ታሰረች አሉ በቆርቆሮ
ከንግዲ ቀረ ያ ቀጠሮ
ታሰረች አሉ በቆርቆሮ

Loosely translated, it goes like this:

I hear she has been jailed by marriage (x2)
No more of that being chic
I hear she has been jailed by marriage

I hear she has been jailed by sheet steel (x2)
No more of that rendezvous
I hear she has been jailed by sheet steel

I had a very vivid recollection of hearing that song at my auntie’s wedding around the age of 5 or 6. Listening to that song, I remember that I kept thinking my favorite aunt will no longer be bringing me strawberries from Piassa after she is married. I remember feeling sadness at the loss of the strawberries and her loss of freedom behind the corrugated iron walls, the sheet steel, which I recall my aunt’s house did not have. I remember thinking it was odd.  As childish ponderings go, this was very deep but my love of music had soon taken over and I had joined the group of dancers and drummer to sway along with the music, clap my hands and listen to the clever lyrics. That was my first memory of a wedding, an experience that ignited my love of dancing, yes, but also questioning certain norms.

Anyways, back to the present, on our membership orientation. When I spoke, I told our members that AWiB ensures that our members are #ሽቅርቅር- Chic by inviting them to public spaces they would normally not claim. Married or not, gender roles are the long assumed roles within our cultures that systematically exclude women from key social, economic and political spaces. Exclusion from public spaces does not just happen after marriage, as the song suggests (although, marriage does work to tighten the proverbial ropes). Women and girls are excluded from public spaces from the get go, ie. Birth, when we are told thus.

ወንድ ወደ አደባባይ
ሴት ወደ ማጀት

Men to the public
Women to the kitchen

Relegating women to the home, ensuring that we feel out of place in public spheres, at best feeling apologetic or labeled for pushing ourselves there or worse, buying into the dogma we have been drilled with and never venturing far from home. Mind you, I know how much happens in the home that enables all that is going on in the public spheres. After all, it is the invisible hand of women that makes the world go round even if we get no credit for it. Still, it remains invisible, with very little beyond sentimental value attached to it.

So, when I keep getting the question, why the UNECA, why Sheraton, why so many fancy places? I say, because, as women leaders with the ambition to lead so many male dominated spaces and perhaps even challenge norms, you start by claiming the public space you have been denied. That is what AWiB does by ensuring familiarity with all that is unreachable and remote, all the while doing it with substance, excellence and elegance, AWiBers are unapologetically #ሽቅርቅር- Chic and armed for change.

\”In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.\” — Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Convention