Glass Ceiling that Remains

Like the previous year, at the end of this Ethiopian year, movements advocating for equal gender rights have taken to social media to share experiences and stories of sisterhood, positive masculinity and menstrual stigma.

Movements like these are gaining momentum in Addis Abeba, yet it is crucial to recognise how far behind gender equality is in other cities.

Research findings have shown that feminism was not imported but has deep roots in different cultures of Ethiopia. Even though there are many harmful practices toward both genders in our own cultures, we can learn to be better from within without the need to reference Western experiences.

There are plenty of activities that take place around the country regarding women. Too many though are disconnected from addressing the issues related to gender and equal rights.

Too much has been deprived of women because of circumstances that are not our choosing, yet women are told to make the best of each situation.

The candid truth is that women have been accommodating and continue to be. I realise this more while trading ideas with members of my family. They do not feel the need to talk about situations from the woman’s perspective.

Gender does not come up unless a woman feels the need to share her experiences. Her mention of the many social problems related to womanhood is usually met with comments that she should triumph through it all. Issues related to socially constructed gender rules she may find harmful or does not conform to are dismissed. Patriarchy has tied the fate of men’s social standing at the denial of women’s equality.

Even though patriarchy casts a large shadow over societal relations in Ethiopia, there are stories of the opposite. There are men who are vocal about their privileges they are afforded as a result of their genders but would prefer to live in a world where everyone has an equal voice.

But beyond their activism, what is most encouraging is that they listen and are conscious of the realities women are faced with. They understand that the world is not simply as men experience it. They recognise that society for ages has been biased in favour of its male components, and the vestiges of that unfortunate turn of events continue to haunt us to this day.

It is not merely the presence of women in leadership roles that matters but men and women with an entrenched agenda for the equality of the sexes. Sendu Gebru, the first-ever female member of parliament, was one of those women. Surrounded by men and in a country that has rarely known women in positions of decision making roles, among her many achievements was her resistance to the suggestion that women assume the last name of their male partners after marriage.

She argued how demeaning it would be for a woman to change her entire name, robbing her of an identity and branding her as a property of her mates. She was a lone female voice in parliament but one that spoke with authority and grace.

In many ways, the dysfunctional development our society embodies continues to break down what we build, what rightfully was, what could and should be. Our past can teach us plenty if we are willing to listen.

I wish us all the humility, in 2011, to hear and empathise with a reality that may not be our own. The new Ethiopian year is filled with promises we have yet to work to keep. We can and shall be better for the generations that will follow.



By Hanna Haile (
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Sep 15,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 959]



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