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Eritrean Women Fight Gendered PovertyThe Eritrean War of Independence oversaw a liberation on two fronts. The first was a divergence from Ethiopian colonial rule and the creation of a free Eritrea. The second was a women’s emancipation from culturally embedded subordination and the development of a semi-feminist state. The women’s movement began alongside the Eritrean War of Independence in 1961. It was quick to gain support and traction. The movement allowed women freedoms they did not have pre-revolution. However, as the state transitioned its focus towards a restructuring of administrative processes, the women’s movement lost steam and support. Now the Eritrean women fight gendered poverty. They are fighting issues such as malnutrition, the pan-African AIDS epidemic and limited access to education and health resources.

Poverty and Eritrea

According to the World Health Organization, 53% of Eritreans are living below the poverty line. Further research conducted by UNICEF reported that female-headed households in Eritrea tended to be the poorest. Many long-standing traditions in Eritrean society, pre-dating the civil war, are sources of this income disparity between male and female-headed households. An example of these gender norms is the fact that Eritrean women were not allowed to own property; this often led to unemployment and as a result, a lower income. These outdated expectations cause female ex-combatants a great deal of difficulty in readjusting to gendered cultural norms.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW)

Poverty hit the women of Eritrea women hard, but that has not stopped them from fighting. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is a direct response to the feminist movement born out of the liberation war.

As an organization, the NUEW works with communities of women, including demobilized women fighters. The organization lifts women out of poverty through a combination of literacy programs, vocational training, income-generating activities and micro-credit schemes. In addition, another big part of the NUEW’s mission is promoting women’s participation in local and national government. In working closely with the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE), the NUEW secured a hold on 30% of elected positions for women. After additional advocacy, the NUEW is working with the GSE to increase that number. The NUEW provided more than just relief programs to women in poverty; it created a space where women were able to have their voices heard.

While Eritrean women have had to overcome numerous hurdles in post-independence Eritrea, they did not do so alone. Eritrean women are fighting gendered poverty. The NUEW provides an invaluable service to Eritrean women through advocacy, education and relief programs. Today, the NUEW is working towards the total emancipation of women and continuing their efforts to raise their country up one woman at a time.

Elizabeth Price

Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Eritrea
One in three people, or 2.4 billion of the world’s population, don’t have access to sanitation facilities. This number equates to about 946 million people who still defecate in the open. Health problems intermix with poverty to create havoc in some of the poorest regions of the world, and such circumstances become prevalent with sanitation in Eritrea, Africa.

Eritrea

The World Health Organization reports that Eritrea remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. The country has experienced independence from Ethiopia for only 16 years, and with this separation comes some developmental setbacks.

In 2018, 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and there remains an extreme lack of resources and poverty alleviation programs.

State of Sanitation

In 2008, Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) was adopted by the government of Eritrea. The goal of the program was to end open defecation — a practice that leads to a variety of health concerns such as diarrhea, intestinal worms, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and polio trachoma. To be open-defecation-free, each household in a community or village must have their own latrine.

In 2010, only 3.5 percent of the rural population of the country had access to a latrine. This meant that over 96 percent of the population continued to practice dangerous hygiene, including open defecation. UNICEF, along with the Ministry of Health, devised a plan to help aid the country’s poorest gain proper sanitation in Eritrea.

Program Design for Proper Sanitation in Eritrea

Education and communication were the program’s two objectives in the effort to disperse proper sanitation in Eritrea. To do this, they first had to alter the taboo tied to talking about the bathroom and toilets.

Additionally, the design took into consideration the Millennium Development Goal of 2015 to have 54 percent of people able to access proper sanitation.

The program evaluated the country by six regions, or zobas, in which reside nine ethnic groups of indigenous people. To best address the concerns of each region, a case study was performed within each ethnic group to discover the specific morals and barriers in accessing sanitation.

In 2012, 52.8 percent of the population within these regions used unimproved water sources, which includes unprotected public wells or rivers and streams. Additionally, sanitation access was scarce, with only 47.3 percent having access to a latrine; in fact, over 75 percent of the rural population defecated in the open.

Tigrinya

The Tigrinya is the largest ethnic group in the country and makes up 55 percent of the population. In 2012, Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveyed the area on hygiene and sanitation and identified a variety of barriers in the group’s understanding of hygiene.

Firstly, the scarcity of water was a huge problem in the area. Not only did humans share water sources with animals, but also problems of distance and protection of wells raised health concerns regarding sanitation in Eritrea.

Culturally, Tigrinyan people felt that water was holy. As a result, most people felt there was no need to boil water before consumption; however, water can carry bacteria that can lead to such illnesses as schistosomiasis, giardiasis, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and vomiting.

Effective Social Support

To combat cultural and physical barriers within this group, UNICEF designed a plan specific to Tigrinyan. For instance, people were concerned that wood latrines would collapse if they used them, and thus preferred stone latrines.

However, stone materials are difficult to transport, so UNICEF educated the Village Health Committee on how to properly construct the latrines so there would be no chance of collapse. This social support provides the proper knowledge and motivation to follow through with the construction of latrines and sanitation facilities.

Successes

In 2015, almost 600 villages in Eritrea achieved open-defecation-free-status. This statistic represents 30 percent of the rural population of Eritrea — 586,000 people — who now have access to proper sanitation.

Additionally, since the adoption of CLTS the child mortality rate for children under five has dropped. In 2008, the inaugural year of the program, the child mortality rate was 89 percent. The World Bank reports in 2016 that the rate has dropped to 45 percent.

Although the progress is below the MDG of 54 percent with access to improved access by 2015, there have been significant strides in ending preventable diseases from improper sanitation in Eritrea.

– Taylor Jennings

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in EritreaEritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south and Dijibouti in the southeast. The country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and has been led solely by unelected president Isaias Afwerki since 1991.

Eritrea has isolated itself from other countries and become one of the poorest in Africa. The most recent data on poverty, from 2004, showed that poverty in Eritrea affects more than 50 percent of the population. Between 1990 and 2001, 44 percent of children under the age of five were underweight and nearly two-thirds of Eritrean families experienced food insecurity.

Conflict with both Ethiopia and Djibouti has consumed Eritrea for more than three decades. The threat of war with Ethiopia has led to a large amount of defense spending that leaves very little room for economic development. Additionally, 18 months of military service is mandatory for men and often takes them away from making a livelihood for their families.

According to the World Bank, two-thirds of employment in Eritrea is accounted for by rain-fed agriculture. Around 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 80 percent depends on the agriculture to survive. In 2011, the worst drought in 50 years hit the Horn of Africa and devastated the agriculture and increased poverty in Eritrea.

While humanitarian groups tried to help during the drought, there was only limited data and communication from the Eritrean government. “[The Eritrean people] most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region [and] are being left to starve because there is not access,” U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told the BBC. “There’s a clear-cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea of food and other humanitarian support for its people.”

A constitution was developed in 1997 but has not been put in place and other countries are unwilling to have diplomatic relations. The regime has shut down the independent press, limited civil rights and allegedly denied basic human rights to its people.

The government has placed restrictions on religion, speech, expression and association. According to the Human Rights Watch, there were 474,296 asylum-seekers in 2015 — this is 12 percent of the population attempting to escape poverty in Eritrea.

Many families and children traveling alone have begun the dangerous journey across the ocean to Europe. Many European countries have attempted to accept Eritrean refugees, while countries such as Israel have refused to take any. Refugees who make an unwilling return to Eritrea are met with imprisonment and sometimes torture.

While times have been tough in Eritrea for a long time, awareness of the issue maintains important. The Human Rights Council for Eritrea was created in May 2016 and has condemned the deplorable human rights violations and totalitarian practices. Reports like this are what can help reduce poverty in Eritrea and lead to a more democratic system.

Economic growth and food security have been a part of Eritrea’s political agenda since its independence in 1993, despite various setbacks. The government continues to work on eradicating poverty by improving the export markets for livestock and produce, increasing the productivity of the agriculture process and receiving investments from the private sector.

Additionally, when poverty problems arise, Eritreans hold a strong sense of community. If the government solutions fail or are set back, wealthier people often loan livestock and money to poorer relatives and neighbors to keep them afloat.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Eritrea
Poverty in Eritrea remains a problem. While the country’s economy was doing well from 1993 to 1997, Eritrea was suddenly thrown into turmoil both by nature and politics. Due to challenges like drought, famine and recurrent war, poverty in Eritrea is on the rise and doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Eritrea fought with Ethiopia for 30 years before winning its independence. As any new country would, it had to deal with socio-economic hardships of a newly forming nation. Agriculture is its major source of income as well as food, as is the case for many African nations.

While Eritrea may be known as one of the world’s youngest countries, it is also one of the poorest. In 2005, the annual per capita income was $150. Out of 175 countries in the Human Development Index, Eritrea is ranked 155th.

Poverty and food insecurity in Eritrea are widespread and increasing. According to the Rural Poverty Portal, “even in years of adequate rainfall, about half of the food that the country requires has to be imported.”

While Eritrea’s government has implemented some poverty alleviation measures, these attempts have not mitigated poverty as they should have. This is partially due to the lack of resources and overall poorly implemented programs. Poverty in Eritrea has become rampant, and more than 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Access to sanitation was only available to 13 percent of Eritreans in 1997, and only 22 percent had access to clean water. Widespread malnutrition and inadequate healthcare also result in high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy.

Poverty in Eritrea barely allows its people to survive, let alone receive a proper education. The literacy rate is estimated at 49 percent. In addition, a weak education system does not help to relieve the issues associated with poverty.

While Eritrea still lacks resources and foreign aid, it will not be able to support itself after natural disasters and an ongoing war have ravaged the country. This young nation will require aid and guidance as it seeks growth and prosperity.

Karyn Adams

Photo: Flickr

Fleeing EritreaSince 2012, one in every 50 Eritreans (nearly twice the ratio of Syrians fleeing from civil war) has sought asylum in Europe. According to the U.N., 5,000 Eritrean men and boys are leaving their families and fleeing Eritrea each month.

High Rates of Fleeing

The U.N. estimates that 400 thousand Eritreans, or nine percent of the population, have fled in recent years. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly one-quarter of the 132 thousand migrants arriving in Italy between January and September of 2015 were Eritreans.

Poverty in Eritrea is extreme. The CIA World Factbook reports the nation’s GDP purchasing power as $8.7 billion, ranking Eritrea 162nd in the world. Unemployment in the country is estimated at just 8.6%, but the poverty rate is estimated at 50%. More specific numbers are nearly impossible to acquire due to Eritrea’s secretive nature.

Reasons for Leaving

Why are people fleeing Eritrea? In June 2015, the UNHCR released a 500-page report detailing the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations going on in Eritrea, violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled. The report found that a large proportion of the population was being subjected to forced labor and imprisonment.

According to the report, the people of Eritrea are not ruled by law, but by fear. The Eritrean government denied repeated requests by the commission for information and access to the country. To gain insight into the situation, the commission conducted 550 confidential interviews with Eritrean witnesses in eight countries and received an additional 160 written submissions.

Conscription for 18 months is required of each Eritrean adult but is often extended indefinitely and carried out for years in harsh and inhumane conditions. Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labor that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them.

According to the UNHCR’s report, women conscripts are at extreme risk for sexual violence during national service. All sectors of the economy rely on forced service, and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at some point during their lives. The commission concluded that, “forced labor in this context is a practice similar to slavery in its effects and, as such, is prohibited under international human rights law.”

Mandatory conscription has not remedied poverty in Eretria. Instead, it has exacerbated it. Commission chair Sheila B. Keethrauth urged commitment from the international community to end the climate of fear in Eritrea.

“Rule by fear — fear of indefinite conscription, of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and other human rights violations — must end,” said Keethrauth.

Aaron Parr

Photo: Flickr