Around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. Reflecting on the women of my country, Eritrea, several words quickly come to mind. First, blessed – as in I am blessed to be able to call them sister, mother, aunt, cousin, and friend. Inspired expresses how inspirational it is to hear or learn of their bravery, courage, fortitude, and persistence in the face of daunting odds during decades of war. Humbled expresses how humbling it is to see the ongoing relentless, immense contributions and sacrifices they make to Eritrea’s developmental pursuits. Thankful and appreciative expresses how highly thankful and appreciative I am to them for providing such amazing, awe-inspiring examples to aim to follow. And fiqri or love conveys the unfaltering love they show us, our families, our communities, our villages, and our country – and we must always love them.
Last, and possibly most significant, is obligated. International Women’s Day serves as an important reminder of the current generation’s obligations to the women heroes and martyrs that sacrificed everything so that we could have a country to call our own. Not only must we proudly cherish their memory, we are obligated to strive to fulfill their dreams of a prosperous, harmonious, and equal Eritrea.
Further reading and materials:
- Recall that for Eritrea, which had the longest African independence war of the 1900s, the long struggle was about far more than just political emancipation; rather, it sought to usher in a complete and radical transformation of society. An important part of the latter agenda – giving special attention to egalitarian, popular democratic principles – was a particular focus on women’s and gender-related issues. No longer would women be viewed narrowly as secondary, subordinate figures within society; instead, they would stand proudly as full equals to men. Embodying the notion of equality through struggle, valiant Eritrean women served honorably, fought bravely, and sacrificed greatly alongside men in the labyrinth-like trenches, on the battlefields, and across the frontlines. Ultimately, women would prove absolutely critical to the eventual achievement of independence. In a similar vein, since independence Eritrean women have been key drivers of the nation’s pursuit of broad national development and economic progress.
See here for a brief snapshot on their role for independence and development: http://www.myth2014.com/2014/05/13/breaking-barriers-eritreas-exceptional-women/
- Eritrean began fighting in the independence army in 1973. Soon, they totalled greater than 30% of the fighters in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). They fought in trenches, went on guerrilla raids, drove tanks, and fired other heavy artillery. Importantly, they also served as the vanguard in the country’s attempt to change the attitudes throughout society. Here’s an enlightening documentary on Eritrea’s awe-inspiring women fighters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsoanSyEmnM
- The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) was established in 1979 with the support of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (NUEW). The focus of NUEW is to improve the status of Eritrean women. Over its 35-year history, NUEW has grown considerably and conducted numerous initiatives to improve and support the special role of women in society. It is wonderful to see the ongoing focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and it is clear that NUEW efforts have led to so many positive developments. Moving forward, we should continue to follow their lead to support women and girls in all aspects society. For more on NUEW history, achievements, and challenges, read here for the UNDP’s recent 10-year report: https://fiqre4eri.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/undp-and-eritreas-women-nuew-highlights-and-brief-thoughts/