Empowering the Eritrean Woman
Photo: Computer Science graduates from the Eritrean Institute of Technology in Mai Nefhi.
By Sophia Tesfamariam
In an era of globalization and heightened competitiveness in the pursuit of national interests, no nation can develop effectively without implementing a clear strategy that seeks to harness the potentials of a majority of its human resource, including its Diaspora.Eritrea is one of a handful of African nations that has a strong link with tis Diaspora, a link cemented in the era of the liberation struggle. Today, the Eritrean Diaspora plays multiple roles as senders of remittances, investors, philanthropists, innovators, exportable labor and first movers in the growth of important sectors such as tourism, health and in the development of human capital. The role of the Eritrean women inside the country and in the Diaspora remains indispensable.
At the 24th Summit of the African Union, held on 23-31 January 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, African Heads of State and Government adopted Agenda 2063, the continent’s ambitious 50-year transformative development agenda. The Summit, convened under the theme “2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”, recognized the important role of women and girls in achieving Agenda 2063’s wideranging economic, environmental, social and political goals.
UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon in his speech said:
…Women must be at the centre and front of all our lives…I applaud your proposal at this summit: Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. Africa is home to Parliaments and Cabinets with the world’s highest percentage of women members…We have much more work to do to unleash [their] tremendous potential. They need better access to secondary education, decent work and economic opportunities. They need more help to combat maternal mortality and poverty, and genital mutilation. They need more protection from the scourge of violence at the hands of men and boys…
The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) encouraged the participation of Eritrean women and they played a vital role in the long struggle for Eritrea’s independence. In addition to their contribution in the struggle for self- determination, women fighters took the lead to fight the deep-rooted patriarchal and gender inequalities. Sondra Hale writing about the Eritrean women in 1994 said:
…Women transformed themselves “in the field,” developing/ creating free association in marriage, free social relations, relaxed social customs and habits, revolutionized ideas about childbearing and rearing, realizing changes in the gender division of labor, land ownership, and greater political participation…the EPLF is said by nearly everyone to have moved beyond the tokenism of viewing women as merely the supporting chorus. In the field women were not only 40 percent of the fighters and 30 percent of the combat force by the 1980s, they were over 80 percent of the dentists; some 30 percent of the transportation electricians; and 43 percent of the barefoot doctors. There were women commandants, political educators, and representatives on the Organizational Congress
Since its founding in 1979 as one of the EPLF’s mass organizations, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) was empowered to mobilize women to participate in the independence struggle, raise awareness for the elimination of traditional harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), advocate and lobby for the issuance of proclamations and policies on gender equality, thus laying the foundation for social justice and gender equality in Eritrea.Today, NUEW has over 300000 members in Eritrea and in the Diaspora and continues to make great contribution to Eritrea’s economic, social and political development.
Ms. Tekea, President of the NUEW said:
…The NUEW played an important role in formalizing equal rights and recognition of the decisive role of women in social, political and cultural transformation of the Eritrean society in national policies and legal documents. These include: the Eritrean Macro Policy (1994), Land proclamation 58/1994, Labour Proclamation (2001: Legal Protection of Women in Employment), National Education Gender Policy (2004), National Gender Policy (2004), A Proclamation to Abolish of Female Circumcision 158/2007), National Education Policy (2010) and National Health Policy (2010). Similarly, the Social Welfare Policy (2005) promotes legal protection from all discrimination, exploitation of children, youth and women…
In post-independence Eritrea, repeal and reform of the colonial, civil and penal code abolished all prejudice against women and established the legal guarantee of equality between men and women under the law. Notable changes include, the rights for women to inheritance, land ownership, abolition of underage marriage as well as the provision of divorce initiation to both men and women, and providing women legal
protection in employment including equal pay for work of same value. Internationally, Eritrea ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995 and is a signatory to several International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions.
Since independence in 1991, Eritrea has made notable progress towards political, economic and social development, especially in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals that greatly benefitted Eritrean women and girls. Eritrea has made strong progress towards gender parity in education, rapidly closing gender gaps in primary education. Eritrean women at home and abroad are an important asset of this country. The collective ability to effectively harness human resources and capital, both at home and abroad, for national development remains the key to Eritrea’s advancement as a nation. Establishing close and productive partnerships with the Eritrean Diaspora continues to inure to the common good.
From supporting the families of Eritrea’s Martyrs, to providing books, computers, and raising funds for various libraries across Eritrea, the Eritrean Diaspora has always maintained a close relationship with the motherland. The main purpose of the Diaspora engagement is to enhance the capacity of Eritreans to effectively participate in national development in a structured way through the channeling of their remittances to foster entre preneurships, support innovation, and develop priority sectors of the economy and the establishment of the Diaspora Commission and establishment of links with the various Ministries has given even more impetus to Eritrea’s relationship with the vast Eritrean Diaspora. One of the strongest links is with the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW).
The National Union of Eritrean Women has several Chapters in Canada, the United States (at least 35), in Europe and the Middle East and its members remain the backbone of the Diaspora Communities. During the war for independence, the NUEW Diaspora provided funds, clothing, and contributed to the establishment of underground factories in the liberated Eritrea.
Today, with even closer ties with NUEW-Eritrea, these UEW-Chapters in the Diaspora have invested in building the physical infrastructures needed for vocational training centers which have been instrumental in promoting training and placement of women in non-traditional jobs, increasingtheir employability and reducing poverty.
Members of the NUEW in the Diaspora have constructed a total of 11 Training Centers since Independence and are raising funds to construct more. NUEW Germany in Barentu, NUEW-Jeddah in Elabered, NUEW-Italy in Keren, NUEW-Riyadh in the sub region of Asmat, NUEW-UK in Mendefera, NUEW-USA in Massawa, NUEWUSA in Senafe, NUEW-Norway in Haikota, NUEW in San Bernandino in Afabet and NUEW-Sweden in AdiQeyih and NUEW-Switzerland in Tessenei. In addition, the NUEWDC Chapter constructed the Denden Day Care Center found in Asmara. The availability of such centers is making significant impact in raising the production capacity of Eritrea’s women.
By empowering the women of Eritrea through training and education, providing health care and maternal care, providing opportunities to participate fully in the economic life across all sectors, Eritrea is not only accelerating its economic development, it is also achieving internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for all Eritreans. Through its work and that of its Diaspora constituents, NUEW is also strengthening its organizational capacity for even greater role in ensuring gender equality and empowerment of Eritrean women in the country and in the Diaspora.
So while the rest of Africa searches for ways to harness the potential of its Diaspora, Eritrea is strengthening its existing ties and working to enhance the participation of its Diaspora-and the women are the forefront. [left_sidebar]
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