In August of 2023, a sixth-month-long state of emergency was declared and government curfews were enforced as more conflict in Ethiopia erupted, only nine months after the end of a devastating two-year civil war. As a result of turbulent political conflict, more waves of violence have broken out in the northern Amhara region.
With the second largest population in Africa, the country is still feeling the effects of the initial conflict that began over two years ago. At least 5.1 million people were displaced in 12 months, which is “the most people internally displaced in any country in any single year.”
Two years on, in 2023, the U.N. requested $4 billion to provide aid to twenty million people still affected by the conflict, including more than four million internally displaced people.
The Impact of Conflict on Women
With such destructive conflict there always comes a surge in gender-based violence. In the last civil war, nearly 26,000 women and girls reported experiencing sexual violence. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic as well as powerful social stigma, the majority of cases are not reported meaning that this number is thought to be much higher.
With the absence of strong welfare services and the intense conflict in Ethiopia aggravating this need, many women rely on nonprofit organizations that are committed to helping women and girls affected by the violence.
Ethiopia Aid and AWSAD’s Safe Houses
Ethiopia Aid is dedicated to “breaking the cycle of poverty by enabling the poorest and most vulnerable to live with dignity,” as stated in their mission. Over 80% of the adults that they help are women, and their projects have aimed to tackle the lack of education for girls, poor menstrual health resources and female genital mutilation (FGM).
The organization’s current appeal is focused on ensuring the maternal health of the thousands of women who have been displaced by the conflict in Ethiopia and are living in crowded camps with too few resources.
The organization has partnered with The Association for Women’s Sanctuary (AWSAD) which provides nine safe houses for women and girls at risk of violence or who have fled and suffered traumatic experiences. These safe houses not only provide a space for women and their children to recover but allow them to socialize with others whilst also providing quality care, support services, therapy, basic literacy and numeracy classes and legal follow-up.
U.N. Women have partnered with Norwegian Church Aid to address social attitudes and norms that contribute to gender-based violence. The initiative was started by Tegenie, a gender-based violence expert in 2021 after he saw the impacts of child marriage on his sisters. He explains how such violence “has spiked amid the brutal two-year conflict, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have trapped women and girls in vulnerable conditions.”
To tackle this spike, the initiative aims to social norms at the roots by holding community conversations led by trained facilitators, where the ramifications of child marriage and violence against women are discussed. They have also made it their priority to rally community leaders who have a significant social influence, as well as faith leaders to ensure that they are not promoting harmful practices. By creating open conversations, Tegenie and his team hope to engage all members of the community with these issues, and insight meaningful, long-term social change.
Women for Women’s Conflict Response Fund
This organization’s Conflict Response Fund (CRF) worked with three other organizations: Agar Ethiopia Charitable Society, Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development and Mums for Mums. Each works to support survivors of sexual violence as a result of war and the conflict in Ethiopia and has reached thousands of women, providing safe housing, psychological support and health care.
While there is no immediate end to the turbulence in Ethiopia in sight, these organizations and their dedicated members will continue working tirelessly to support the women affected and continue to have an immense impact on the lives of thousands.
– Maia Winter