Greeting the New Year

Whether the change in the digit at the end of the year on your laptop screen has any significance for you or not, you would have noted that most of the world has just ushered in a new year. A year that sounds to me, straddling as it does the middle of our first decade of a new century, like it comes with promises of change, a watershed year.

I wish you, Dear Reader, a wonderful year ahead but that is not the focus of this entry. Many people use the end of one year and the beginning of another to reflect on their achievements and realign their hopes and dreams. Making a new year\’s resolution that doesn\’t usually last into the second month of the year is also a common undertaking at this time of year.

That’s not my thing. As far as I’m concerned, my year starts on my birthday, and so I tend to not make the beginning of any calendar year about me, reflecting instead on how the outgoing year has treated my community (my city, my country, my world) and my hopes and wishes for us all in the brand-new year.

In many ways, 2014 was a terrible year. Boko Haram kidnapped 200 girls from their one safe space, a boarding school, and in the face of global outrage, kidnapped scores more. The militant leadership has claimed that it has sold the children as ‘wives’. Also in Africa, Ebola continues its terrible traipse through communities, tearing up the lives of thousands of women, men and their children.

In the Middle East, ISIL or whatever it calls itself this week as well as the Syrian conflict, now in its fourth year continue to claim lives and has resulted in the highest number of civilian refugees in decades. As always, the vast proportion of refugees are women and their children.

Closer to home, an Ethiopian girl was gang-raped for five days in 2014 and died from her wounds. Those of us who had thought that such things only happen out there had to face the bitter fact that we are in the midst of a quiet crisis. Hanna’s death opened an ugly can of worms, and within a few weeks, we learnt that there are many other Hannas, including another 15-year old who was recently paralyzed for life after an attempted abduction by three men who are still on the loose.

Despite all this bad news, 2014 was also a wonderful year. Malala Yousafzai, (born in 1997!) became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and our own Dr. Catherine Hamlin was a nominee.

Technology makes our lives easier and more entertaining, allowing us to make sense of our world on Twitter.

Our country continues to earn accolades for impressive gains in development, with its accompanying growing pains.  Finally, those of us who have long espoused a feminist approach as the key to justice and equality have been gratified by the the rise in feminist-infused grassroots groups that have emerged around gender-based violence, most excitingly, by men allies who are challenging aggressive masculinity.

I don’t bring up these comparisons to make any particular conclusions about the year we have just left behind and the new one we are welcoming; all years bring with them their own tragedies and wonders. Instead, what I’m trying to do with this exercise is engage you, Dear Reader, to recognize that what is happening out there, in our communities and in the world at large should impact on our own lives, if there is any hope for the world we live in to be a better place.

The banner of AWIB for this year reads ‘Responsible Leadership, and I understand that to mean that we work for something much bigger than ourselves. For instance, 2014 may have been a good year for our families, with our children thriving, but while its important to be grateful for our blessings, we should also remember all the girls and boys who face unimaginable danger just walking to school and back, and commit to be part of the change that is sorely needed in this country.

If your business enjoyed a sound profit in 2014, perhaps 2015 is the year in which you develop a strategy for giving back along a Corporate Social Responsibility model.

If you earned a degree in the outgoing year, perhaps you can pay it forward by mentoring a younger woman or man. If you’re blessed enough to know that your next plate of food is taken care of, the holidays offer plenty of opportunities to  extend the same courtesy to our many, many sisters and brothers who are not as privileged.Thinking in the plural, as a member of our collective humanity, can start very locally, with you deposing of your trash responsibly, being considerate of the unseen garbage collector.

When I accept friends good wishes for the coming year, I also redirect them to my community, to my city, to my world. I wish us all a year of peace and joy in abundance. I also hope this is the year in which the me is replaced by us and we. We need to feel more of the pain of the world around us and act as if we belong to the same family, which we do.

As Zemi Yunus, AWIB Women of Excellence finalist for 2014 put it if not us, then who? I will add to that, if not in 2015, then when?

Sehin Teferra
January 2015