A handful of means are used to discredit women in the deep-rooted patriarchal system of Ethiopia. All around the world, this system manifests itself in different ways. For the cleansing to begin, it is crucial to look closely at our own back-yard.
There are a handful of infuriating phrases that Ethiopian people use to make women feel like they are responsible for men’s unchecked masculinity.
Recently, a law university student was turned back from a library at Addis Abeba University. The reason being that the guard felt her attire would distract the male students. This guard at that moment was made her judge and jury as he tried to impose upon her what he deemed was rightful.
Through the confidence of said student who stood her ground while this older man tried to body shame and humiliate her, she walked in. And hers was not an isolated incident.
Nonetheless, not all young women are as well versed and strong-willed. And not all women have to be, as such public universities and everything it has to offer is theirs as much as the other gender’s. Women’s presence should not be seen as a declaration of defiance. Our complaints are not suggestions; they are demands that deserve quick attention.
Pronouncements such as, “it must have been what she was wearing”, or “if the purpose is to study, why put on such an outfit?” are not reasoned arguments, but patriarchy wrapped in a cosy blanket.
I read somewhere, “oppression can feel like equality to the oppressor”.
It is important to check where our compliance to a jaded system lies, especially those of us who are panicked by strong-willed women.
A young woman once told me, “men in this city aggressively harass me. Then I started to wear traditional dresses, and the attitude of those men changed”.
This evidently is not a fix to the inherent problem at hand. The fix is a grassroots work that has to be carried out on behalf of women. We need to address the myths behind treating men like caged animals who will only act as such, as they deserve more respect. But women too deserve a world without violence.
There is no amount of clothing a woman can wear that would save her from a misogynist. Women walk the streets knowing they would have to defend themselves from vulgar comments, unwanted physical contact and, at times, downright violence. This fear and self-preservation stem from the many struggles women have faced in their day to day lives.
And toxic masculinity is the cause. There are not enough men trying to change this, or even mindful of the phenomenon. What we have to fight is not just the physical violence, which takes place all too frequently. It is also the unsafe environment for women.
As I was standing in a line for a minibus taxi to Megenagna, Addis Abeba, I let my mind wander. A few guys were passing by, and one of them made an unprovoked, unwanted physical contact. I was brought shockingly back to reality. And before I had time to react, the guy had left, smiling.
I teared up at the mere frustration of the moment. I was mad at myself for not being vigilant enough, for not having a quicker reaction, a sharper tongue, but most of all for letting my mind wander and not being able to protect myself. This is the consequence when a woman lets her guard down.
For far too long have we continued as a society that makes excuses for a patriarchal state of mind. It does not help that the majority asks the wrong questions in addressing such incidents.
I have heard one too many times people ask, “Why does she not leave him?” in cases of domestic abuse.
I once read in a local magazine, in a section where spouses are interviewed, an interviewee asks a wife if her husband, in moments of anger, has ever slapped her. This is a naked admission of contentment with a system that fails to hold women to a higher regard.
How is it that we do not question if there is a part we have played in perpetuating inequality?
A functional society needs to create a healthy environment for both women and men to thrive. No-one benefits when we neglect either one.
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