Being and Pushing Together

The two associations, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations (NEWA) decided to fall under the new proclamation of Ethiopian Societies 2009 whose members are all Ethiopian in order to advocate for women’s rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Ethiopian women’s lives can only get better as their economic, political, social and legal rights are respected.  Financial benefits and funds could have been obtained from bilateral and multilateral organizations if registered as Ethiopian Resident but the whole concept of advocating for human rights would have been watered down.  What benefits would these associations gain if they secure money but lose the basic element of human right they stand for?

AWiB invited these two courageous associations’ directors, which contributed immensely to dealing with hundreds of thousands Ethiopian women’s cases, to share their experiences with the audience.  Nebat Abbas, the President Elect, introduced Ms. Zenaye Tadesse, Executive Director of EWLA and Ms. Saba Gebre Medhin Executive Director of NEWA.

The first speaker, Zenaye Tadesse, Executive Director of EWLA said, “Initiated by a few concerned and innovate women lawyers, EWLA was established on May 3, 1995 and now has 200 members operating in six regions: Amhara, Southern Nations Nationalities and People, Benishangul, Oromia, Dire Dawa and Gambella headquartered in Addis.

EWLA has three strategic aims: Empowering women and girls; strengthening the capacity of legal and moral duty bearers and advocating for better policy.  These three strategies are backed by three major programs: Legal Aid Program that assist women who are mainly disadvantaged and victims of gender-based violence (GBV) by providing legal advice, writing court briefs, do mediation and representing clients in the court.  Thus far, more than 113,000 women and girls have been served. According to Zenaye, EWLA is a place where tortured women with immense pain are allowed to grieve bodily and psychologically, vent their pent up feelings out to process it and seeking justice for their violations.

The second program is Public Education and Capacity Building Program that raises the awareness of society about women’s right by providing training on legal, social and political rights of women to different section of societies such as council members, schools, law enforcement body, and others.  Different mass, print and electronic media were used such as information, education and communication materials, movies, TV drama spots, radio shows, workshops, conferences and community conversations to build the capacity of the grass root community. Through this program, about four million people have been reached.  In the last ten years, 140,000 materials were distributed.

The third program is Research and Law Reform Advocacy that conducts researchat community as well as national levels on women’s rights issues to identify gaps and discriminatory provision in policies laws and practices and use the findings to advocate for law reform and educate the public. Thus far, amendment of family law, relevant criminal law, provisions on labor law have been done.  70% of women are said to be victimized with domestic violence; hence, at present an act on domestic violence is being revised.

The Association’s 10 million birr has been frozen since 2011 adding financial challenges to its lack of strategy for local resource mobilization.  On one hand, there is very high public expectation to provide services in a larger scale, on the other hand, the attitude of the society about donation especially for the cause of women’s equality and GBV has not satisfactorily improved.  In addition, the Association is highly misunderstood being considered as political party and male engagement is also yet to be enhanced.

EWLA devised to mobilize resource locally through donation, membership fee including corporate membership, case sponsorship and public collection.  The Director encouraged the audience to be advocate of women rights by being a regular (for lawyers), associate or corporate members and support the cause for working with EWLA gives us the privilege to be change agents.

The second speaker, Saba Gebremedihin, Executive Director of NEWA, referred by AWiB as “The Determined Soul,” described NEWA as the first association in the country registered as a national network of NGOS and women’s association in 2003 that worked towards women’s advancement.  However, the 2009 new Charities and Societies law forced NEWA to be restructured and they took a new path to focus on advocating for gender equality and creating space for improvement of women’s lives and status in Ethiopia.  That decreased the number of member organizations from 42 to 10 also limiting funding sources.

NEWA is created for collaboration to give space for dialogue, networking and partnership to have common voice.  Its members may be professional associations such as EWLA, FAWE, Midwife Association, or those who work on women economic empowerment, Addis Ababa Women Association, and so forth.

Saba described that NEWA has four strategies: Capacity building of member organizations; Networking which is being realized by conducting bi-monthly gender talk forums during lunch time with civil societies, government organizations; Advocacy by selecting teams for GBV; and Monitoring – Producing shadow report to the United Nations on Convention of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW.)

Apart from bringing women together to deal with common goals, NEWA’s major achievements include soliciting big funds for women organizations, which work on harmful traditional practices, in Amhara, Tigray, and Benishangul; and documenting 64 Ethiopian model women’s stories in a book called, “Temsalet” and distributing to high schools, so that girls in Ethiopian have Ethiopian role models whom they look up to emulate the ways of success.

At present, NEWA is building Ethiopian Women’s Center to continue working together.  A new culture of philanthropic support for advocacy work among individual and business women is ventured. This is meant to sustain its work, the Ethiopian Women’s Center to serve as a center for organizing across regions and the nation for women’s rights and as vehicle for income generation for NEWA and its member organizations.

If we want to make changes in the system, we can only do it by coming together, said Saba. One pillar of the Growth and Transformation Plan is women, children and youth.  They talk about empowerment but neglect to raise issues about violence.  Hence, using the forum and speaking out to deal with issue is important.

The presentation was followed by question and answer session moderated by Nebat.

  • How are you recruiting the women you reach out?  How do you reach to those who are not educated at the grass root level?

Since EWLA has very limited resources, its scope is also very limited.  In order to reach out to grass root community, messages are transmitted through the media programs such as “Berchi on Sheger”.  Second, through volunteers, community conversations are taken place, facilitated at the zonal level.  Third, word of mouth is how the service is advertised.

  • What types of challenges do you face in your daily activities?

Lack of information is a big challenge.  Women would not know what type of evidences they can bring, hesitate to speak about problems, being shy and not willing to talk about deep issues, families not being supportive, are some of the problems with individuals and immediate supporters.

As far as institutions are concerned, different institutional mechanisms are in place but those implementing bodies are not gender-sensitive.

Money is another big challenge not to hire employees and deploy them in different activities to advance the work.

  • How do you protect the retaliation of husbands when their wives go back to them?

EWLA has not been very effective in dealing with domestic violence except warning women to find other protection.  There is no institutional supportive mechanisms such as shelter for those who escaped violence.  They can be victimized again and again. We entertain 7000 people/year and 80% are gender-based violence.  We use mediation training to bring out all the issues that affect spouses.  In urban settings it is usually related to income and household management.  EWLA could only be informative about the risks and tell victims to look for other supports.

  • EWLA – How can we bring attitude change on GBV?  Any experience?

In trainings and awareness creation programs, the target is not only information dissemination but also attitudinal changes.  The strategies may need to be revised to have better outcome.  At times, the attitudinal change is not just for men, it is also for women.  For example, three women judges passed verdict against three GBV cases and the higher court judges, who happened to be men, reverted the women’s decisions.  Hence, greater efforts need to be exerted to sensitize the whole society about GBV.

  • Knowing your stand for collaborations and achievements, what have you learnt about your leadership?

Media advocacy, training of journalists, the white ribbon have been done in the first two years of NEWA’s establishment; however acceptance was not automatic.  People are not reactive of physical abuses but nowadays some are willing to wear the white ribbon to commemorate women days.  Not many organizations are allowed except few like NEWA to work on advocacy.  So we need to use whatever spaces given to push it.  It takes persistence and push until people are sensitized.

As far as leadership lessons are concerned, Saba responded, “Going the difficult route and standing for what I believe and sticking to it is made me feel like I am living a purposeful life.  For example, the whole purpose of NEWA was the right of women and gender equality, but taking that route cost a lot of members and corresponding funds.  So clarity of what is the right thing to do does not necessarily translate to making life easier but increased my purpose for living.

  • CEDAW has not been domesticated and contextualized.  The Government has signed the conventions.  Where are we standing in the implementation?  Is giving shadow report good enough?  When you take the path of advocacy, it means that you push it.  Why can’t you be pushier after you chose your path?

For NEWA, it demanded time to adjust to the new reality.  Internal problems such as hiring adequate staff, fund raising to do its operations are the immediate concerns that burden the organization.  Hence, strategic directions are delayed to be implemented.  Saba said, “For example, though NEWA gave a shadow report in previous years, we did not manage to present one last year due to fund requirement to do research and back the findings with evidences.  Hence, resource limitations limited the achievements.”  That is why the women center was envisaged to enable to use local resources to do what we stand for.

  • What are your organization’s succession planning to interject new blood other than using volunteers.

EWLA engages law students in legal aid service.  They use that opportunity to develop their careers and do internship.

In the educational programs, high school students are trained so that they understand the issue and support the cause.

Students are invited to be regular members to engage.

75% of the volunteers and staff are young people though no clear strategic mechanisms or document in place to have succession plan.

The different edutainment programs bring young people to engage in the activities but formal plan may need to be designed for succession.

  • What percentage of your work is dedicated to prevention?  Many women tolerate physical domestic violence.  What shall we do to help women to recognize signs before being victimized?

Much of the work of EWLA is legal aid service.  It is through this that information is gathered. 50% is education.  However, due to lack of resources for the media program, which is very expensive, the work could not be expanded.

  • Do you have conflict management procedures in place for your organization or for the members of your associations?

For EWLA, there is informal mechanisms such as talking through problems every day, but has never had any conflict among members.

For NEWA, as a networking organization, conflict arises.  There are different interests and disagreements in allocating money.  The government structure of the secretariat is in place to deal with that.  It happened twice when it was large but now with only 10 nothing much is going on.

AWiB would like to take this opportunity to appreciate its sister organizations’- EWLA and NEWA directors for sharing their experiences, challenges and opportunities.  The power of association lies in being and pushing together until the desired gender equality comes by bringing structural, systemic and attitudinal changes.

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