Ethiopia: JRS marks International Women's Day
11 March 2009

Women at the JRS Refugee Community Centre in Addis Ababa celebrate International Women's Day with dancing and performances. (Mulugeta W/Eyesus/JRS)
"These women are not big shots, not authorities or rich women but simple women who made a difference."
Addis Ababa, 11 March 2009 JRS Ethiopia planned a half-day event this March for refugee women in Addis Ababa to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). The event was organised by urban refugees coordinated under the Urban Refugee Committee and the Refugee Women’s Association.

In her welcoming address, Ms. Meron Mengesha, representative of JRS Ethiopia, recalled that IWD had been observed since the early 1990s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. Ms. Mengesha said that however, the signs of attitudinal changes regarding women’s equality and emancipation are not yet sufficient. “The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally as their male counterparts; women are still not present in equal numbers in businesses or politics and women’s access to education and health is not as good as for men.” She further pointed out that huge numbers of women are victims of violence. “However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers. Schoolgirls are welcomed into universities. Women can work and have families. Women have real choices. The tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.”

Ms. Mengesha underlined that JRS would like to seize the opportunity to inspire and motivate refugee women and to celebrate their achievements. In view of the IWD theme for the year “Sharing the caring for the future” she encouraged everyone to make everyday IWD. “Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding. Whenever you raise your voice for refugee women, you make a difference.” she concluded her speech.

Making up for lost time

Speaking on her part, the chairperson of the Association of Refugee Women in Addis Ababa, Ms. Beza Claudete, noted the significance of the establishment of the Association, which is an important component in the lives of refugee women. The Association is a forum for refugee women to come together and to discuss issues of common concern, identify problems in their day-to-day life and seek solutions. She pointed out that considering the ever increasing prices in Ethiopia, the most common problem is related to the insufficient financial assistance. “Women who have children cannot satisfy the needs of their offspring. Others are obliged to engage in unsafe activities, which result in accidental pregnancy and deadly sexually transmitted diseases.” she said.

Ms. Claudete also mentioned the problems related to the resettlement process. Often the reasons for the long duration of the process are not clear. “We understand that this cannot be solved in one day but we hope that eventually, good solutions will be found.”

She further mentioned that the subsistence allowance for refugees had been increased by 15 percent during the last months and expressed her gratitude for the gesture as well as to all those involved in providing training and services for refugees. “It is a very important step to improve the lives of refugees, as it provides the chance to cover up for the opportunities refugees missed while back in their countries of origin.”

The representative of the UN Refugee Agency’s Regional Liaison Office (UNHCR/RLO) , Ms. Laura Buffoni, recalled the panel discussion held among refugee women on March 3, 2009 as part of the event. “It demonstrated how men and women can come together to share the caring.” She also read out parts from the message of the High Commissioner on the occasion of IWD. “No one is spared from the hazards of refugee life. However, women and children suffer the most.” it said.

Also speaking on the occasion was a first year Sudanese refugee student from the Addis Ababa University, who was named and awarded as “Refugee Woman of the Year.” She outlined her experiences as a refugee girl at university and encouraged refugee girls. “Do not give up when you face problems. I do not want to be the only refugee girl at university.”

Simple women with extraordinary perseverance

A representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance (UNFPA) informed the gathering that during an event organised by UNFPA the previous day, women with extraordinary performances were honoured. “These women are not big shots, not authorities or rich women but simple women who made a difference. They are examples which demonstrate that women can overcome the challenges they face," she said.

The occasion was highlighted with a series of events, including music played by the BOMPIA and Concrete Survivals refugee bands. There were poetry recitals and dramas depicting the problems faced by refugee women and the need to share the caring. Games, cultural dances and an exhibition of food from different cultures as well as craft work also took place. As part of the event, prizes were awarded to refugee women of the year, best women students, library users and sports competition winners.

Present at the event were urban refugee men, women and children, representatives of UNHCR/RLO, DICAC and the Refugee and Returnee Affairs Department (RRAD), the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) as well as the JRS Ethiopia country director and project staff. The participants’ applause and dancing was an expression of their appreciation of the various events on the occasion. Journalists were also present and the government-owned ETV2 channel broadcasted the event in the evening programme on March 14, 2009.

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