Ethiopia: Urban refugees learn about issues affecting women in developing countries
27 January 2011

Refugee women in Addis Ababa. Forcibly displaced women often become victims of sexual violence. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
"We will make sure that we will protect women's rights every day. To protect women means to protect society."

Addis Ababa, 27 January 2011 – As part of its mandate to empower refugees through the provision non-formal education, this year’s JRS annual trip focused on raising their awareness of obstetric fistula (or vaginal fistula), a disease affecting women in developing countries largely caused during child birth, as well as sexual violence, particularly gang rape.

The fistula usually develops when a prolonged labour presses the unborn child so tightly in the birth canal that blood flow is cut off to the surrounding tissues, which eventually rot away. Another significant cause of obstetric fistula is sexual abuse/ rape, especially within conflict/post-conflict areas.

Towards the end of last year, 85 five refugees visited a rehabilitation and reintegration centre for fistula victims near the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The refugees were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, countries which have known conflict in recent years.

“Sexual violence is not only a major cause of forced displacement among refugee women, it is also a significant problem for women during flight from their home countries, as well as once they arrive into their new host communities”, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer, Angelika Mendes, said.

“These trips are part of JRS projects in Ethiopia as they seeks to build awareness about human rights to help refugees protect themselves, their families and the societies they live in”, added Ms Mendes.

Understanding the importance of respecting women’s rights

During the trip to “Desta Mender” centre, about 15km west of Addis, refugees learned about the causes and consequences of fistulas. The centre accommodates mainly young girls who were forced to marry and give birth at a premature age. Since they had no access to an obstetrician they developed fistulas. 

“Once the girls’ husbands, families or friends learn about the fistulas, they reject and abandon them. Our centre also facilitates income generating activities to help the women become economically independent”, the vice director of the centre, Ms Zuriyash Belay, explained

Refugees had a chance to visit the various activities such as growing vegetables, poultry farming and training of midwives. The centre also offers non-formal adult literacy. 

“Today, I came to know the consequence of early marriage and the suffering of our sisters. We have to stand against the culture of early marriage,” said a refugee from Eritrea.

“We now see the extreme need to protect women from dehumanising acts and to stand for their rights,” said another refugee. “We will make sure that we will protect women’s rights every day. To protect women means to protect society,” he added. 

All refugees who participated in the trip have completed JRS-certificated courses in English, computer and IT skills at the Refugee Community Centre in Addis.

Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
+254 20 3874152