ETHIOPIA: Condoning Crime Against Women

Friday, December 7, 2012
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Gender equality is an issue that is afforded a significant amount of attention right now in Ethiopia. Many facets of public policy are designed to ensure the representation and benefit of women. For these reasons and many others, including the scores of exemplary women who have taken the lead against all odds, women are today offered more opportunities and are represented in every field.

All of these positive gains however add up to much less when put on the balance opposite the ever escalating trend of domestic violence being perpetrated against women. The escalating nature of the horrifying acts of violence committed against women are cataloged in all their heart breaking detail in this week's issue of ‘Addis Guday' magazine. From beating, to stabbing, to burning, eye gouging and shooting the variety and inhumanity of the violence committed against Ethiopian women is frightening in its scope.

The latest amongst the untold many of Ethiopian women who have fallen victim to abuse by a male partner is Frehiwot Tadesse. The mother of two was shot eighteen times and killed by her ex-husband on a public road in front of several witnesses including her own mother and police officers. This story has gained the attention of the public and has been covered widely by the media.
Understandably this crime has incited outrage and sympathy from all sections of our society in the past few weeks but experience forces us to conclude that this attention will be fleeting and too no lasting effect. Like other high profile crimes committed against women in the past decade the sad story of Frehiwot can be expected to fade from the public consciousness without contributing anything significant to preventing such crimes in the future.

The short lived impact of these stories is felt in the very first weeks after the story breaks as people try to make sense of why such evil happened in the midst of what they would rather believe is a safe and kindly society. The criminal receives the brunt of our dislike and is labeled with vile epithets all as part of the first round of efforts to distance us from the criminal and the society from the crime. Even when the cases of violence are escalating and increasing in their intensity we still rush round to justify the incidences that we do hear about because so far it has seemed easier than asking why?

Why are women being abused to increasing degrees and we are unable to do anything about it? Is this just one ugly aspect of our social make up brought to light by the harsh glare of modern media, or is it a new factor that we have to learn to live with? Is our justice system too lenient to on the criminals? Are We as a society too lenient on the criminals and the crime?

With a heavy heart I think that my answer to this last question is a sad yes. It seems that in spite of the uproar that initially follows a crime such as that committed against Ferehiwot the lethargy that immediately takes over is a product of a general tolerance afforded those who commit domestic crimes. The accepted view seems to be that the victims must have brought the crime on themselves in some form or another and the rumor mills work over time to supply the reasons why the abusers were driven to such crimes.

If we take just two of the most publicized cases of abuse that of Kamilat Mahdin whose upper body and face were burnt with acid and Aberashe Hailaye, who had her eyes gouged out as examples we find that the abusers themselves publicly attacked the characters of the women they had injured so terribly.

Both attackers claimed to have been driven to such acts by the injustice they had suffered from the hands of these women and sadly for many their crimes were mitigated by these allegations. The trend of men who attack women redeeming themselves by slandering the characters of the women they had already incapacitated by claiming exploitation and other injustice leads us to anticipate that Frehiwot's alleged murderer will follow suit.

Indeed the rumor mills have already begun making the case against his victim and this character assassination will no doubt figure significantly in his defense. He, like those who preceded him in maiming the defenseless women who had trusted their lives to them will probably face the court with long and convoluted tales of all that his victim had done against him finally causing him to temporarily lose control and to commit such an act. These stories will probably be all the more convoluted and damaging considering that unlike the other women who were at least able to defend themselves in court Frehiwot will never have the chance to deny his charges.

There is something inherently wrong when we allow so much pain and even death to be so easily excused. It should never be a matter of what these women did or did not do, the truth of the excuses brought forth by the perpetrators can never validate the actions they took and its speaks volumes to what our society is willing to condone when it comes to abuse against women that such excuses are even allowed a decent hearing.

The women that have suffered so cruelly deserve the utmost respect and consideration from a society that failed so terribly in putting up the structures to prevent the attacks against them in the first place. The last thing that they need is for us to condone the crimes perpetrated against them by allowing their attackers to add insult to their injury.