Changing the NARRATIVE

March 8th 2018 marked the 42nd Women’s day in Ethiopia. The role of women in our country has been fairly muted compared to their male counter parts. They have been undervalued for their importance, underappreciated for their efforts and underestimated for their potential. Of course this is prone to exceptional instances, where women have been acknowledged and championed. But that has not been the case for most women who deserved the accolade coming their way.

About a month ago, a close friend of mine told me she doesn’t want to be labeled as feminist. “Whenever I say something about women or that we should get something in return to whatever we give, they label me as a Feminist. And I don’t like that term. It has this uncomfortable tone which is ineffable”, she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what that feeling is. It is the sense of marginalization, a sense of taking a side and neglecting the other end.”, I said to her. She nodded in agreement. In an attempt to escape the “heavy negative baggage”, as she describes it, the renowned Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie narrowed the term and at one time called herself a Happy African Feminist, who doesn’t hate men, who likes lip-gloss and who wears high heels for herself and not for men. This is the existing narrative.

Feminism, however is never a one sided concept. Yes, it does speak about the rights of women being protected. Yes, it does speak about women having an equal opportunity as men. But it never proposed dismissing men. It fights to end the oppression and suppression of women and to allow them to speak their truth, to laud their arguments and harness their potential. The international women’s day has been doing one hell of a job in getting the message across the globe. But the narrative, despite encouraging progress, still remains disappointingly perverse. Women are still subject to discrimination based on their sex, are still subject to violence (both physical and psychological) and are subject to lack of education. This is the 21st century, that shouldn’t be happening.

I have always been in favor of acknowledging our women and their achievements. Side to side with, however, there are women who are in need of our help, who still struggle from various societal narrative. There are women who struggle from fully expressing themselves, who struggle from speaking about the damages done to them by men (because the society will vilify them instead of the perpetrators), who struggle for access to education, work, opportunity to decide by themselves for themselves. These women need our help more. The work in our hands is never enough until there are no women who suffer from such institutional deficiencies.

Women, like my dear friend, who are afraid of being called “A Feminist” must not feel as such due to common misconception. I am a proud feminist, because I believe in the idea it stands for.  The idea of giving women equal chance, what is not there to support. And for all feminists out there, you must be crystal clear, being a feminist doesn’t mean being against men. It means you stand up for your rights and what you believe in.

Here it is also worth mentioning that, women who have made it to the top (it doesn’t only have to be women who are rich, famous or owners of businesses, but also women who have fulfilled their dreams, who have succeeded in achieving their life goals) have the duty to help as well. They are people whom our youngsters draw inspiration from. Go out and talk to girls and women who feel overwhelmed by their societies, speak out and tell your story of success. It is your duty to make sure that the coming generation doesn’t suffer from societal and institutional bias. That way you’ll dwarf any obstacle that comes gunning for our young generation. That way you can change and write a new narrative.

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Masculinity

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “MASCULINITY”? I am sure most of you would say STRENGTH. The masculine side of the human body is an embodiment of courage, leadership and fearlessness, that has been the conception. The myth as to which why such cognitive idea resides within all of the human race remains so. But, both the masculine and feminine sides have purposefully, forcefully or unknowingly protracted the inception of the idea “STRENGTH” within our minds when we hear the word “Masculine”.

Masculine, was derived from the Latin word, “Masculus” which is to mean “Male”. Since the beginning of time the term has developed through various traits associated with it. Despite the difference among places on how the specific traits are confined to the specific gender, most of the traits carried by masculinity tend to show superiority over that of feminine traits. Strength, independence, domination, competitiveness, conquest…are some of the traits associated with masculinity while traits like weakness, dependence, submission, subjectivity and emotionality are the “supposed to be” traits of femininity. These have been the traits on which the world has been operating on for many years.

Ethiopian men have been in the face of the nation’s history for a very long time. From the modern thinking Menelik II to Emperor Haile Selassie, from the barefooted runner Abebe Bikila to the record breaking Haile Gebreselassie, they have been writing history after history after history. They also have been right in the thick of every major events that shaped the nation. The Battle of Adwa, The Student’s movement in the 1960s, the Coup in 1974…all these have had men behind them. Thus the contribution of men in this country has been paramount.

All the above make the concept of masculinity a delicate matter in Ethiopia, to say the least. A century of perpetuated ideal masculinity will withstand any kind of alteration. In a country where religion and culture combine to a devastating effect and control how the society lives, the domination of masculinity have had little resistance. The two institutions, along with other factors, made sure that male and masculinity kept the upper hand over femininity.

The favoritism of masculinity by the society have helped men to a degree that cannot be fully stated on this article. Women have lost jobs because the jobs, as put by the employers, “are more suited to a man than a woman”. They were and still are being put out of work for being pregnant, they are still being targets of sexual harassment just because they are women. This is as a deeply shameful act,

Masculinity in Ethiopia, as it has its privileges, also has its downside. Financial prowess and independence is one of the ideal masculine trait in the country. Hence, men are expected to take care of any financial need that arises from their spouses or children. Also the degree of a woman being harassed on the streets significantly declines if she is with a man. This is a sign that the man will act as a shield and aggressive individual if she was to be harassed, hence he is bound to protect her dignity.

As the nation is becoming educated and developed however, the big line of difference between what masculinity traits and what feminine traits must mean has reduced. Softness, calmness and obedience, which were once unacceptable under masculinity have become often, particularly in the urban setting. The incessant policy structures laid out by the government have enabled women to come to the forefront of several significant sectors. Hence the number of women in decision making have increased.

To keep this trend therefore, we must dismantle the myths associated with the traits of ideal masculinity. A middle ground, where children can say NO to traits they consider inappropriate and still live within the society without being an outcast must be provided. Only in doing so can we reduce the stress male youth face in terms of unemployment and pressure of becoming a breadwinner.

Ethiopian or African first?

“What are you first??” A friend asked me last week, “an African or an Ethiopian?”. “An Ethiopian of course” I replied. Since it is not often that I am asked this question, I was bemused by my own quick response. As the question began to sunk in however, the feeling of certainty has slowly eroded and replaced by the feeling of incertitude. Who am I first? REALLY?

Since the age I considered myself mature, which by the way is not that far long ago, I have studied my environment with verve. I try to see the things around me from different perspective. The human behavior and its reaction to the environment surrounding it have been an area of curiosity to my critical mind. I have always found it extremely amusing that how we human beings are so distinct from each other in various different things.

Here in Ethiopia, religion and culture, which in their own way are highly intertwined, shape the way we grow up and the way we perceive things and how we reflect on them. These institutions, in most cases, define our identity as a person. They also made sure that there exist harmonious relationships among different religions and cultures. For instance, a while back I have a read a story about a Christian Priest and a Muslim woman. It was season of Ramadan (a holy month of prayer and fasting in religion of Islam). They were both on a queue waiting for a taxi. The priest asked the woman, “are you not fasting my child?” “Yes” she responded. “Then I know the time to eat is very near, why don’t you go on in the front of the queue and head home? I am sure they would all understand”. And the woman was able to get to the taxi quickly.

Such kind of stories are reflections of how our society view and revere religion as an entity. It is very refreshing to see we are very far ahead in terms of religious harmony, especially in time where people are vilified for the religion they follow. In the Western world, this is far from being the case. Being a Muslim in the USA for instance, is becoming unpleasantly difficult. The new Commander in Chief’s recent ban of denying Muslims from selected countries to enter the USA can attest to that fact. But here in Ethiopia we don’t have that. The discord among religions is of pure belief and faith of the deity they follow. This is a trait that needs appreciation.

On the flip side of the coin however, when you consider religion, you will also ask what happens to people who do not follow them? Or may be more importantly, how are people with no religion perceived in our society? Well, I can tell you for a fact, this is not a position you want to be at. Not having a religion will make people think of you as someone who is touched by the devil. They will outcast you, systematically. Parents will be ashamed to call you their child. Because the society will revile them as raising a child who worships the devil, or who questions the existence and identity of the creator. In some areas this might get malicious and brutal. All these, just because you deviated from the societal norms and failed to accept their religion as your own. All these, just because you asked WHY?

Many children grow up following their parents’ religions. If you are a Muslim, there is almost high certainty of your offspring also being a Muslim. Same goes for Christianity and other religions. Most children tend to follow religion without even really understanding it, just because their parents did, and the society said so. Zooming this to the bigger scale of the continent, Africa, it is the same if not worse. There are many African Nations that have the most extreme devotion to their religions. Casting away people just because they do not follow your religion is totally absurd. This is the front where I really envy the West. You believe in God, good for you. You don’t believe in God, not a problem. This is not an issue of concern. This is what I consider as advanced way of thinking.

So, what makes us Ethiopians different from the rest of Africa? When we answer this, one of the first things we mention is the fact of not being colonized. But other than that we are left with few other differences. Apart from that, we are less developed and traditional societies. The whole continent depends upon sectors which are virtually the same. We all search for better lives in the western world, we all are mental slaves of the west. We all are self-centered and do not think ahead for our children and the next generation. The similarity goes on and on and on.  So the question remains are WE that different? It is hard to argue WE ARE, it is hard to argue WE ARE NOT.

One must have in mind that the categories to be considered for comparison is not only religion. Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Wealth and Authority are among the few that make us treat each other differently in different places. But they are topics for another time. But what we must know is that, we are all here for a brief sojourn. Whether you are religious or not, no one is guaranteed a permanent stay in this world. Living this short life of ours with scrutinizing each other is truly waste of energy and time. Let us try it the other way and let us see where that leads us, because either way we won’t be escaping the inevitable end.

Better Education for a Better Nation

A few years back, I was at my home with family. All family gathered to celebrate Christmas. I was a fresh man Economics back then. I fail to recall the genesis of the conversation but my uncle was talking about the Chinese and USA economy in comparison. In the middle of the argument, he posed a question. Does anybody know anything about Purchasing Power Parity? He glared at me. No answer. He then looked away, with an exasperation on his face, as if to say “You should know this by now, and you say you are learning economics”. I was disappointed by my incapability to answer such a basic term in modern day economics.

Coming to think of it now, however, I have come to realize that it is not that I did not know the term or it was not new to me, but that I failed to remember what I have learned. And I queried myself, whose fault is that?? Well, this question appears to be straight forward and simple to answer. But, the answer is anything but simple. Lots of factors contribute to the pupils’ remembering or memorizing abilities of the subject they conduct.

Most students of this generation, my generation, in my view, ignore meticulous learning and hence studying. We just study to pass exams, and then pfff… most of the subject goes along with the exam. And another exam approaches, same thing will follow. We will do this over and over again until we graduate. To my knowledge this is not a wonder. It has been happening for quite a couple of years now. Due to this many graduates, appear to have little or not sufficient knowledge about what they have just graduated for.

While I was a fresh economics student, Macroeconomics was one of the courses I was taking. The lecturer came three weeks or a month after the class start day. I was amused in the first week since I have not come across such laziness from teachers in previous institutions. Day by day that amusement has turned into confusion. Macroeconomics is one of the core courses in Economics. It is a huge influence for us economics trainees to know the core courses. But that was not the case. After the lecturer appearance, which was around mid of the first semester, we were given a large pile of hand out and were expected to cover almost all of the chapters by ourselves. One thing that should be known here is that, I am not, by any means, saying that teachers or instructors should do the hard work for the students. Students’ main job, and their only job, is to learn. And as such the students must do most the heavy lifting by themselves. The instructors’ job however is to show the way how to do the heavy lifting, to guide and to pave the way for the students in understanding the subject.

Another instance and more surprising one happened in the last semester of my graduating year. There was a course. Public Finance was one of the few courses we were taking. If I am to be really honest, the day the instructor has attended class is not more than 5. Outrageous laziness or may be disinterest which heavily affected us in how we percept the subject as a relevant course. If the instructor fails to show up, why do we presume to do as such? We were given a huge handout on final day of the semester and we were to appear on the final exam with that in mind.

As an avid lover of Economics and what it encompasses as a vast field of study, I was keen to nurture and develop my knowledge about it when I joined campus. But that was far from what actually happened. Handful of handouts coupled with inconsistent class schedules and lack of any Economics related projects or assignments hampered my appetite for the field. This was not happening not only to me. Although I have been watching the media and read the newspaper to keep myself updated for regarding economic related issues, this information appeared to have little or no use when it comes to my course. Then what is the use of education if I am not able to put it on the ground when I graduate or leave campus? I have asked this question myself a thousand times, but I still couldn’t figure out an answer to it.

The education system, here in Addis Ababa has been championed for a long time now. Wherever you go in the country side many parents would tell you that they would love their children to go to schools in Addis Ababa. They would want their children to attend Addis Ababa University (AAU) than any other higher institution. As a long-time resident of Addis Ababa, I am glad that our main University attracts top class pupils from all over the country. But the fact of the matter remains, the institution should be able to (beside aiding top class students in their way), provide a sound, rigorous and compatible education to average students. During my stay at what is now called College of Business and Economics (the then Faculty of Business and Economics), I have witnessed, at first hand, the failure to do what is expected of an Institution like Addis Ababa University. As I stated some instructors were absolutely lackadaisical. They showed no will nor the desire to lecture the field they were given. and worse, almost all of them opt on giving a sole final exam (taken out of 100) instead of giving assessments and assignments. Us the students therefore were required to go all through the various chapters of various course to sit for that final exam. A tormenting scenario for some students, a breaking point for some. During my stay I have witnessed two students in my class who blacked out during the finals, without even starting them. It appeared the tension was unbearable to those students.

We say we are developing and we are going in the right direction. But we still need improvement, we still need conviction. Conviction towards what we want our nation to be. It is nobody’s responsibility to take care of our youth but ours. It is never late for good changes. Mentally we are far behind what we need to be. Selfishness and greed have impeded our growth. For that to change we need an apt education and we must, all of us, work hand in hand to drag ourselves, and our nation to the light of success. Because believe it or not, success of a nation cannot be achieved alone.