Women’s Committee and the upsurge of a women’s movement

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Chapter 2 Theoretical framework

Ideology and feminist leadership

A decades- long welfarist approach through micro-credits and relief aid continues unabated as the official mantra for women’s emancipation in Ethiopia. In fact, these are still actively promoted as priority issues by the state. This stance, however, erodes any alternative calls for gender equality. A common argument used by officials in the country to justify this approach is that the alleviation of poverty precedes gender equality issues and therefore deserves priority. Such positioning, regrettably, fails to acknowledge that the issue of the rampant feminization of poverty illustrates the immediate need for a gender approach as a significant part of a broader approach to the alleviation of poverty in Ethiopia. It also fails to realize that women’s economic empowerment is not a prerequisite for their overall emancipation. The government’s perception of poverty is also questionable where it assumes micro-economic solutions to suffice in the mitigation of poverty, including among women. It refuses to recognize that women’s poverty is not only linked to their lack of resources, but to a combination of deprivations in the fields of rights and freedom that inhibit their capability and agency development and which are social products. As Zygmunt Bauman (1976, p. 112) indicates: “The liberation of man can be promoted only in conditions of liberty.” This implies, to a certain extent, that the emancipation of women can only be effective in conditions of freedom and liberty. The persistence of a welfarist solution to achieve women’s equality reveals that there is something amiss here. There appears to be a deliberate omission of the more crucial issues that could enhance gender equality more effectively. These include women’s legal and political empowerment and their freedom. Given the historical, political, social and economic culture of Ethiopian society, it is important to analyse this particular stance.Because that may help to find out what is holding educated women captive to such an extent that they are either not able or not willing to take up a more radical position on the agenda of women’s emancipation in the country. More precisely, it will assist in understanding why educated women are not able to assume a more proactive feminist leadership role. This is linked to a historical accumulation of perceptions that fail to budge from their rigidity. These will be critically analysed in this chapter in order to reveal the sources of women’s agency formation that inform their actions. The underlying assumption is that once women understand and realize what the problems and obstacles are in their emancipation they can strategize for concrete actions to overcome those. It is crucial that women themselves, as major actors of change in their own situations, become the owner of their emancipation. That is why it is important that they should recognize and accept critical reviews that can serve to enhance their understanding and help them in challenging the factors hindering their advancement.This chapter starts with a critical reflection of the theoretical and empirical understanding of women’s movement and feminism against the current prevalent EPRDF programme on the “woman question”. Critical sociology is used as the basis for this study questioning all that is taken for granted and used as common sense. From a critical sociological angle, women’s and feminist movements are stressed as social movements emerging from society in conflict with existing societal frameworks aiming for change and transformation. These social movements, as Giddiness believed, offer the “utopian” possibility of changing the fabric and texture of human relationships (Tucker 1998, p.148). On the other hand, the “woman question” paradigm among the students emerged from a political school of thought, Marxism, that was connected to the revolutionary calls to liberate the working class, including women. It did not get the opportunity to mature and become internalized as their own. And revolutionary actions implied that they would be sudden, carrying the risk of not including structural changes. The “woman question” from both the Derg and EPRDF did not emerge from society, but from their political framework. Such a top-down approach certainly was not geared towards changing anything.As a conflict theory, feminism aims to explain the position of women in society, focusing on the causes of women’s oppression and the superiority of men. Feminists’ challenge to patriarchy and the taken-for-granted brings them into conflict with the status quo where they concentrate on changes that can take on revolutionary form, such as their demands for cultural reforms that negatively impact on women. Feminism is thus an important school of thought in critical theory because it is interested in the emancipation of women and men from the constraints of society and domination (Horkheimer cited in Held, 1980,p. 192). It aims to understand, analyze, and enact in its very structure the subjective ground of society; since society is not an objective entity (Held 1980, p. 217). Through the challenging of the taken-for-granted and givenness of issues, feminism has opened new ways of looking at society and life as a whole. It raises some of the most fundamental questions about contemporary societies (Tucker 1998, p. 187). Its method includes focusing on factors that hinder self-consciousness and the free development of people (Held 1980, p. 224).However, the “woman question” of the recent past and current regimes in Ethiopia was not aimed to distance itself from the dominant political systems but, in fact, emerged from within those. It was created to monopolise women’s emancipation after the repressive rule was established and looked for a fitting approach on women within the political system. It is thus not in conflict with the social order, but mainly serves the ideas of the ruling party. In this, women are surrendered to the state that claims to advance their emancipation. As a building block of this research, this chapter starts with a discussion on the importance and need to bring about gender equality. The chapter concentrates on the crucial components that are central to women’s movements and feminism, because these are important indicators of critical consciousness development. The aim is to provide clarity on these and link them to the Ethiopian context through an analysis of the emerging women’s movement in the 1970s there. The link will also be extended to the present EPRDF/TPLF rule, which will be discussed in Chapter 5.

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Chapter 1
1.1 Background
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Hypothesis
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Structure of the study
Chapter 2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 Ideology and feminist leadership
2.1.1 Women’s movements
The base of women’s movements
2.1.2 Feminism
The ideological base of feminism
2.1.3 Feminist leadership and vision
2.1.4 African Feminism
Ideological differences between Western and African feminism: link to Ethiopia
2.1.5 Feminist subjectivity, agency and experience
2.2 Ideology and control: A feminist approach
2.2.1 The dominant ruling ideology and political culture influencing the position and status of women prior to 1974 in Ethiopia
Illusionary gender ideology
2.2.2 The state and women
Women, the state and representation
2.2.3 Education
Modern education
Role of educated women
2.2.4 Media and literature holding the key to women’s emancipation
The strength of the media and women’s representation
2.2.5 Religion and women
Religious and political ideology and women’s rights
Religious indoctrination and women’s agency
2.2.6 Freedom
2.3 Conclusion
Chapter 3 Historical overview on the status background of women in Ethiopia: locating women’s agency
3.1 The pride about Ethiopian history: The legend of a female queen
3.2 Empress Taytu’s leadership roles
3.2.1 Empress Taytu’s stance on women’s rights
3.3 Modernization in women’s lives
3.3.1 Empress Zewditu’s short-lived legacy
3.4 Women’s Associations and Leadership
3.5 First female students
3.5.1 The road to (female) students’ radicalization
3.5.2 Student movement abroad
3.6 The ‘Woman Question’
3.6.1 The ‘woman question’ in Ethiopia: The first wave
3.7 Conclusion
Chapter 4: A New Political Era 1974-1991: the end of a beginning
4.1 ‘Zemecha’: An instrument to advance the ‘woman question’
4.2 Women’s Committee and the upsurge of a women’s movement
4.2.1 The end of MEISON and EPRP: Red Terror and its impact on the women’s movement
4.3 Associations as social control agents
4.3.1 Ethiopian Women’s Work Association during the Derg
4.3.2 Ethiopian Mother’s Association
4.3.3 Revolutionary Ethiopian Women’s Association-REWA
4.4 A critique of Derg’s policies and REWA
4.4.1 International Women’s Day in Ethiopia during the Derg
4.5 Women’s leadership in REWA and the Derg
4.6 Conclusion
Chapter 5 A new political era: A new discourse on ‘gender’
5.1 The Transition: 1991-1994
5.1.1 Background to TPLF/EPRDF
5.2 Encroachment on civil society
5.3 A new discourse on ‘gender’: The rhetoric of state-defined ‘woman question’
5.4 National Machinery for the Advancement of Women or instruments of control?
5.4.1 Problems with the NWM
5.5 The National Policy on Ethiopian Women (NPEW)
5.5.1 Critical review of the NPEW
5.6 The Constitution, international treaties and affirmative measures
5.6.1 A critical review on legislation regarding women’s rights
5.7 The myth about decentralization and women’s emancipation
5.8 Women’s organizations and NGOs
5.9 Conclusion
Chapter 6 Overview of the status of women in Ethiopia between 1974 and 2005: What are the changes?
6.1 Child marriage
6.1.1 Child marriage in pre-1991 era
6.1.2 Child marriage at present
6.1.3 Single women’s status
6.2 Division of labour
6.2.1 Division of labour in pre-1991 era
6.2.2 Division of labour at present
6.3 Health
6.3.1 Health status of women in the pre-1991 era
6.3.2 Health status of women at present
6.3.3 HIV/AIDS: further crippling women’s fragile status
6.4 Education
6.4.1 Education of women in the pre-1991 era
6.4.2 Education of women at present
Education curricula and state indoctrination
6.5 Employment
6.5.1 Women’s employment in the pre-1991 era
6.5.2 Women’s employment at present
6.6 Gendered poverty
6.7 Violence against Women
Magnitude of violence in Ethiopia
Social and economic costs of violence
Response to violence
6.7.1 Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
6.7.2 Rape
6.7.3 Abduction
6.7.4 Domestic violence
6.7.5 Trafficking in women
6.8 Women in leadership and politics
6.8.1 Affirmative Action in politics: will that bring out feminism?
6.9 Conclusion
Chapter 7 Problems of educated women’s leadership and actions in their quest for emancipation and change
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Leadership problems among women in Ethiopia
7.2.1 Symbolic leadership
7.2.2 Problems of perceptions
7.2.3 Authoritarian tendency and hierarchy
7.2.4 Need for acknowledgement
7.2.5 The generation gap
7.2.6 “Gerontocracy” syndrome
7.2.7 Lack of organization and networking
7.2.8 Co-optation and submission
7.2.9 Depoliticization and deradicalization of the gender agenda
7.2.10 Tokenism vs. vigilance
7.2.11 Competition, schism and demise
7.2.12 A deficient intellectual base
7.2.13 “Suitcase” feminists
7.2.14 Careerism and the issue of relinquishing one’s principles
7.2.15 Brain drain
7.2.16 Advocacy and intellect
7.3. Conclusion
Chapter 8 Conclusion
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Women’s movement and feminism in Ethiopia at present
8.2.1 The academic level
8.2.2 The ruling party/political level
8.2.3 The NGO/civil society level
8.2.4 The grassroots level
8.3 Feminism in Ethiopia
8.4 Importance of leadership


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