“Who would hear My Silent Cry: Violence against the Female Population” The Case of AWSAD Shelter

Violence against women and girls is related to their lack of power and control, as well as to the social norms that prescribe men and women’s roles in society and condone abuse. Inequalities between men and women cut across public and private spheres of life, and across social, economic, cultural, and political rights; and are manifested in restrictions and limitations on women’s freedoms, choices and opportunities. These inequalities can increase women’s and girls’ risks of abuse, violent relationships and exploitation, for example, due to economic dependency and limited survival and income-earning options, or discrimination under the law as it relates to marriage, divorce, and child custody rights. Violence against women and girls is not only a consequence of gender inequality, but reinforces women’s low status in society and the multiple disparities between women and men. (UN General Assembly, 2006)

Abuse comes in many forms: physical, sexual, FGM that compromises severely women’s health, human trafficking for the purpose of sex slaves, early marriages that hinders a woman’s earning capacity hence becoming dependent on others, and many harmful traditional practices and a man’s ill habit of having multiple partners with no regard to the health compromised of the wife sexually transferable diseases such as HIV-Aids.

40-50% of women in developed nations experience sexual violence in their lifetime and overwhelming majority of this despicable violence is committed by husbands or partners. Because of the economic status of developed nations being a bit higher than the developed nations, the statistics for such abuse would be higher in the developing nations.

The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women is forced. The percentage is higher 45% among those who are under 15 at the time of their sexual initiation. The Physical and psychological abuses resulting in permanent damages that incapacitates women to independently take care of themselves is in billions.

Violence against women has enormous direct and indirect costs for survivors, employers and the public sector in terms of health, police, legal and related expenditures as well as lost wages and productivity. According to a study in India, a woman loses an average of at least 5 paid work days for each incident of intimate partner violence, while in Uganda, about 9 percent of violent incidents forced women to lose time from paid work, amounting to approximately 11 days a year.

The costs and consequence of violence against women last for generations.Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, low-self- esteem and poor school performance, among other problems that harm their well-being and personal development and that boys who witnessed their father using violence against their mother were 3 times more likely to use violence against their partners later in life.

Sexual violence deprives girls of education.School-related violence limits the educational opportunities and achievements of girls. In a study in Ethiopia, 23 percent of girls reported experiencing sexual assault or rape on the way to or from school. In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases. In South Africa, 33 percent of reported rapes of girls were perpetrated by a teacher. Many girls changed schools or left school as a result of hostility after they reported the violence.

Violence harms reproductive, maternal and child health. Gender-based violence severely restricts women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights, with grave consequences for sexual and reproductive health. As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy. This increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion, as well as premature labor and low birth weight. Women who experience violence tend to have more children than they themselves want. Child marriage resulting in early and unwanted pregnancies poses life-threatening risks for adolescent girls: pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for 15-to-19-year-old girls world-wide.  (The Facts: Ending Violence Against Women and Millennium Development Goals, UNIFEM)

Decades of advocacy efforts led by the women’s movement and grassroots organizations across all regions have led to the recognition that violence against women and girls is a manifestation of systematic gender discrimination and inequality, a violation of human rights and detrimental to development.

While an increasing number of countries have adopted laws and policies, they are rarely backed by adequate budget allocations, nor the requisite institutional, staffing, infrastructural improvements and other supports that may be needed at the national and sub-national levels to implement them. Skills and knowledge on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, including in evidence-based programming, is often limited, particularly in resource-scarce settings. This is also compounded where high staff turnover poses additional challenges in retaining a skilled and experienced cadre of individuals. Long-term and sustained resource investments, including for strengthening expertise and building ‘critical masses’ of expertise in key areas and sectors, and improvements to remove service delivery bottlenecks are critical across sectors, in order for ‘governments to deliver on their commitments to ending violence against women and girls.

In Ethiopia, where violence against women is enormous and the unreported and underground crime is mindboggling, some conscious members of society strive to delve into this huge and seemingly insurmountable phenomenon with all their might. This month on our Focus, we feature Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD).

Their Story:

AWSAD initially carried out its program with volunteer individuals. They had been working with the aim of forestalling the prevalence of Gender Based Violence in Addis Ababa. This led to the establishment of “Tsotawi Tikat Tekelakay Mahiber”.  In Jan, 2006 AWSAD established safe house in Addis Ababa and in 2011 in Oromia regional state, Adama town. This has enabled AWSAD to broaden its services and to reach more women who are survivors of physical and psychological harm. Currently, 46 technical and supporting staff members are engaged in various activities of the organization.

Mission: To promote the socio-cultural wellbeing and economic independence of women by providing psycho-social support and by strengthening the economic and social independence of women.

The main functions of the safe house are: safe home, food, medication, counseling, basic literacy,  and skill development trainings. The shelter also supports survivors with psychological counseling, free legal services and reintegration of survivors to the society.

Certain criteria for eligibility to be part of this shelter are set. These are: women / girl survivors with low income who don’t have identifiable support from family or friends who have been survivors of repeated and severe violence.

Most women survivors who come to the safe house require medical support due to their physical injuries resulting from the violence. In addition pregnant survivors are provided with pre and post natal medical care.

Type of Violence

  • Early marriage
  • Battery
  • Expulsion from home
  • Attempted rape
  • Trafficking
  • Labor exploitation
  • Domestic violence
  • Abandonment by husband
  • Vulnerable to violence
  • Child prostitution
  • Attempted murder
  • Property case
  • Abduction
  • Spilling acid
  • Child abuse 

The majority of the survivors who come to the safe house have low educational background. Most of them are illiterate. AWSAD provided different trainings with the aim of reducing gender based violence and harmful traditional practices. The types of trainings given by the Association includes: Awareness creation on Human rights, different laws in GBV, and harmful traditional practices. After the enactment of the new Civil Society Organization Law which states only local NGOs can work on advocacy, the trainings given are focused only on reproductive health, life skill, peer education, team building, counseling, survivors case handling, parenting skill, communication and burnout management.

Professional skill development program targets women with low or no income and survivors of violence that are residents of the safe house. The objective of providing skills training for the survivors in the safe house and economically disadvantaged women in different selected sub-cities is to enable them generate their own income and economically empowered by providing them with seed capital. AWSAD is supported by International Donors, UN agencies such as UN Women and individuals.

The following narrations are from those who have been given a second chance because of the Safe House!

Her Story:

  1. I am lucky I survived!  I was born in Oromiya region  in a rural area. My parents are farmers and I am the eldest daugther in the family. I studied until  grade 10 and had to move to another area to continue my education. I rented a house in the near city to continue and I completed grade 11 and 12. When I was in grade 12, a man who had a wife asked me for a marriage and I refused but he did not accept my refusal.  One day when I was going back to my family, he waited hiding in the farm and tried to rape me. But I shouted loudly and resisted. He cut my throat with a knife. He ran away thinking that I was dead. People passing by found me, called the police and they took me to the nearby hospital. But my case was beyond the capacity of the hospital so they referred me to Adama hospital which couldn’t help me either other than applying basic stiches.  My father spent all he had and couldn’t help anymore so I was taken to women affairs to get support and they referred me to AWSAD in Adama. Because of the seriousness of my case, I was transferred to AWSAD Addis. I was helped getting the proper care which took two years of continuous medical care, surgery, many counseling sessions. The perpetrator was finally sentenced to 21 years in prison. It was only then that I could go back to my family.
  2. What is happening to me is happening to many other women!I am 22-years old. I attended school up to sixth grade in Amara region in the rural area. At the age of 15, I was told to get married to a man age 45 and we lived together for about six years. My husband convinced me that we should move to Addis and that he had a house of his own in Addis. Even though I did not have power to decide, I believed him and we moved to Addis. After we moved I found out that my husband had lied. I was pregnant and was about to give birth. I begged my husband to return to where we were before. He refused and started beating me up daily. One day he kicked me hard on my belly and threw me out of the house. I was very sick, too weak and bleeding when a woman found me on the street. She took me to the health center. I gave birth to a still born and stayed at the clinic for six days. After leaving the health center, I did not have anywhere to go to. I decided to spend the night in a nearby church. In the evening the church guard raped me. I could not defend myself as I was very weak. I was screaming when another guard of the church approached and caught the perpetrator. He then reported the matter to the police.  The police brought me to the safe house. When I came to the safe house I was severely injured and was highly traumatized.  I was admitted to a hospital and back to the safe house.  During my stay in the safe house I was provided with food, shelter, counseling, medical treatment and self-defense training. I was given food preparation training. Since house rent in Addis is very expensive I decided to go back to my birth place to live with my family and work there with the training I got. When I left the safe house, I was healthy, empowered, assertive and ready to face life. I even plan to support other women like my situation. If I was not admitted in the safe house, I could not have made it this far. What has happened to me is happening to many women
  3. We can change!I am 16 years old. I attended school in the rural until 3rd grade. When I was 10, my mother died and my father remarried immediately. Because of my stepmother’s cruelty, I was moved to my aunt who lived in Addis Ababa. Staying at my aunt’s house, I attended School until 7th grade. Because of disagreement between my father and my aunt, I was told to leave. I got a job as a domestic worker , and a month into my employment I was raped by the son. When I told my employer and their neighbors, none of them believed me and I was fired. I managed to get a similar job through a broker not knowing that I was pregnant and worked for 6 months. When my pregnancy became recognizable, my new employer fired me. I had no one to turn to and was left out on the street. I thought it was the end of the world and I wanted to commit suicide but I did not know how to so I went to the shop and asked but they laughed at me. As I was crying on the street   a young man asked me what happened and took me to the women’s affairs and I was referred to the safe house.  I hated myself, wanted an abortion; sometimes I hit my belly thinking that I would abort my kid. At the safe house I saw girls younger than me with so many complications.   I received individual as well as group counseling. I also received appropriate medical follow up for expecting mothers and delivered a baby boy safely.   Even though I wanted to file a case against the man who raped me, I realized I did not have strong evidence and the rapist had changed his address. I wanted to forget my past and continue. I received all the services in the safe house including the empowerment sessions and the self-defense training. I also trained in embroidery and sewing. In addition to the training, AWSAD provided me with living expenses. I found a job and rented a house with other women who left the safe house. I left the safe house equipped with better communication skills, confident and ready to face life and was very positive and energetic in my attitude towards my future. And say we can change!!!
  4. Violence darkened my Dream!I am 12 years of age and have 4 sister and 2 brothers. I went to school until the 5th   grade. I was an outstanding student.  I had to travel a long distance to go to school and since my dream was to be an athlete I always ran going and coming back from school. One day after school, I was told to bring back the cattle to the barn. That was when two men, one was my relative, found me and raped me. I was unconscious for one week and severely injured, my right leg was dislocated and broken and I was unable to walk. The Eastern Shoa women affairs brought me to Adama hospital for treatment but my family did not have any relative or money to take care of me while I was in the hospital. The Misrak women affairs then contacted AWSAD’s safe house in Adama and I was admitted there. I was also following my legal case. Since my injury was severe I needed MRI examination and further examination and was brought to the Addis Ababa safe house. AWSAD then started taking me to different hospitals to get help. At last I was admitted to Cure Ethiopia children hospital and had surgery. After the surgery I showed an improvement even though my dream to be an athlete is darkened! I will be a medical doctor.   I started to walk after 2 and a half years of medical treatment.

It is society’s duty to fight this hideous crime against women. Many more shelters like AWSAD are badly needed to help these countless victims.  AWSAD is a start and your generosity will move many to be healthy and productive citizens that would raise healthy boys to be gentlemen who could be supportive to Women as partners in every aspect of life. Let’s stand by AWSAD. www.awsad.org Phone: 011 667 2290 E-mail:awsadwomen@gmail.com

Who’s responsible for women’s silent cry that never gets answered?  Silence makes us all complaints. Let’s act! Let’s become leaders of change!

The AWiB Team

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