It was a no brainer. We were onto something good. The Instagram account run by one of our co-founders was flooded with story after story of sexual assault from Ethiopians all over the world. The realization that there existed no platform for people to share their stories of traumatic pasts and courageous survival hit us and we wanted to do something about it.
#metooEthiopia was brainstormed into existence.
Co-founded by three women including myself, #metooethiopia aspires to be a hub where we connect Ethiopian victims and survivors of sexual assault world wide to one another and with the resources available to them in areas of legal help, mental health and spiritual guidance while providing a safe space to share their stories anonymously. It's been barely two months since we launched and In such a short amount of time, the cause was able to inspire and mobilize a team of volunteers nearly 50 strong, a @buzzfeed news article and a @BBCafrica podcast soon to be released. Gut wrenching stories continue to inspire others who in turn make a decision to share theirs and take back the power shame had taken away from them for far too long.
The energy of doing something bigger than ourselves is invigorating. We take valuable time from our jobs, spouses, kids and personal needs to devote to it. Having been affected by sexual violence ourselves, its a mission close to our hearts. We are committed to taking it far and staying true to it's mission throughout the way. While we have received a lot of support from many people and organizations who see the need to start and build such a movement, It's been disheartening to find out that some are displeased with what we have set out to do and how we went about it.
We did anticipate pushback from naysayers, leave-it-alone-ers and those who think gender based violence is not an issue worth highlighting. While the reality begs to differ, we have encountered comments that were shocking in nature and reveal that many deny such rampant sexual assault happens in our communities.
What I'm writing about today isn't that kind of pushback. It's from people and organizations fighting the very same fight.
A vivid sentiment and quoted words from a woman who is affiliated with a movement that has been offering similar services in Addis Ababa, The Yellow Movement, communicated to us something profound. Young activism requires approval from it's seniors in the cause.
We strongly disagree.
While it's smart to learn from those who are pioneers in this mission, which is what we set out to do when communicating with two of such organizations soon after launching, we are firm believers in newly seized momentums bringing much needed attention to the issues of gender violence and inequality as a whole.
"It's a hard earned space" she said, speaking to the @buzzfeed reporter who informed about the movement she founded while interviewing our founders, "If you don't understand the community you're working with, then whatever you're offering isn't going to be genuine"
She touched on the demands of standing for this cause in a country saturated by the patriarchy while making an assumption that we had to be the disconnected diaspora type who don't feel the heartbeat of the average women of our birth country.
While we appreciate the social norms and roadblocks sister movements on the ground have to face on a daily basis , we were displeased by the attitude of alienation that was communicated to a foreign news media who set out to encourage such movements.
In addition to reaching out to the same organization to formally extend our solidarity, we also urged them to correct the image of division and competition the reporter picked up and mentioned in a follow up interview with us.
A paragraph in that email reads, "As we are certain you agree, gender violence issues are rampant in our communities and the more light we bring to this issue, the merrier. We have every intention and the readiness required to learn from you, work with you and push our collective agendas forward. We appreciate if you are also willing to do the same."
It's alarming to notice that the fight against the patriarchal systems that make Ethiopian women everywhere subject to trauma , while still at it's infancy, also faces challenges of fragmentation, a question of ownership and credit.
It's true that organized movements mobilizing like-minded people on the ground and effecting change need to be recognized and appreciated for what they do. What is equally important is to acknowledge and encourage when a new movement with a similar mission sets out to seize a momentum and build something profound with it.
We may be living thousands of miles away from the country and people we wish to serve but one thing is for sure, we have taken our womanhood and Ethiopian roots with us. In this day of connectedness made possible by the internet women back home and those who belong to the large population of Ethiopian diaspora worldwide can and will benefit from such services.
Why write this? You may ask.
We see great harm in failing to harmonize, at least in not toning down the rhetoric of 'us verses them'. If we don't fight against labeling, promoting a split and 'other'ism' amongst good intentioned activism, we risk repeating the mistakes the patriarchy itself has made. We need to do better than what it's shown us and remove any ego from a mission thats in every aspect of it, selfless.
Deeming every effort made by Ethiopians located or educated abroad 'western dilution' and 'disingenuous' is exactly what we shouldn't do. We can and should be selective about the methodology we adopt and tailor it to fit our unique cultural climate. What's also true is that we take blueprints left by activists and movements in the western world and we need not demonize it's leadership by example nor should we shy away from fighting to change cultural norms that don't serve us altogether.
To be a voice for the voiceless and work towards effecting tangible change is a privilege. We feel that as we nurture our movement to grow and spread. It is our hope that we will never lose the curiosity and readiness to serve and do so alongside those who has the same privilege. All for the betterment of the lives of Ethiopian women everywhere.