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The inequalities of gender in ethiopia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2791 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Formerly the Abyssinia empire, Ethiopia is filled with a rich ancient history. Ethiopia holds strength as the eldest and noteworthy African country that has never been colonized by European nations (Ethiopia Review, 2011, p.8). The large population is comprised of 77 ethnic groups such the Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans which makes up three-forth’s of the country’s population. However, despite the country’s resiliency, According to the CIA World Factbook, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s poorest states (2011). As the nation continues to face extreme poverty, Ethiopian women have even more barriers to overcome as the country as they face economic, educational and social inequalities.

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Towards the end of my secondary education, I became interested in world development issues and took action to contribute in my small environment while hoping that it would have a world of impact. I took part in many health projects that assisted in aid to several African nations. One project in particular that I was involved in was called The SWEET project (Students for Women Exporters from Ethiopia to Toronto), which left a lasting impression on me. This project demonstrated Ethiopian women liberating themselves by taking economic independence by utilizing their skills in woven textiles that allowed them to provide for themselves and their children.

Ethiopian society keeps women in a subordinate position, using traditional values as an excuse. The discrimination that Ethiopian women continue to face has hindered the nation’s development as it disables almost half of the population from participation and the country remains underdeveloped. This paper will discuss the barriers of traditional values in Ethiopia for women such as equal economic participation, the opportunity to obtain an education and the social determinants that perpetuates the present role of women in Ethiopian society.


Women in development (WID) addressed the oppression of women from “traditional” economic and social relationships in society ( Martinez, 2009, p. 184). The principal means used were education and skills training for women and improving their access to credit and advantage agricultural techniques. The purpose of WID was to integrate women into the workforce and increase their productivity in order to improve their lives. Women and development (WAD) sought to explain the relationship between women and the process of capitalist development in terms of conditions that contribute to their exploitation. Material conditions refer to the economic structures that underline the social organization of capitalism, such as mode of production, the primacy of private property, unequal interactions between classes, and the international division of labour. WAD offers critical analysis of the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. This analysis argues that women have always contributed economically to the development of their society, whether they are productive in the paid or unpaid labour force such as housework, food preparation and child care, they are an integral part of the economy ( Martinez, 2009, p.184).

Feminist Loudres Beneris (2003) argues that analyzing women in international development and globalization contributes to a better understanding of an underdeveloped country’s situation. She points out that development can not simply be reduced to economic and financial aspects but must be considered as a whole. The process of equality in development as she quotes French prime minister Lionel Jospin, cannot be reduced to a “universal model”. Development strategies must be tailored to the history and social reality of each country (p. 23). This notion pertains to the gender inequality in Ethiopia. Women make up nearly half of the population in Ethiopia yet they do not share an integral equal part in the country’s economy . Looking specifically at Ethiopia’s past and the perception placed upon women will determine the proper implications that aid to bind the gender equality gap. Looking closely at patriarchal forms, gender inequality and women oppression can be embedded in many different ways in societal institutions. Referring to Ethiopia’s economy, men and women have been given distinctive labels and respective roles as to what they can and cannot do. In fact, women are an integral part of the agricultural sector. These women experience physical hardship throughout their lives, carrying loads over long distances and other agricultural practices to ensure a prosperous livelihood, hoping to avoid a drought and inevitably famine. Over 85 % of Ethiopian women reside in rural areas. ( CIA World Factbook, 2011). Rural women are integrated into the rural economy, while fulfilling traditional roles as a mother and a wife. With their limitations, they remain economically dependent upon men. Social programs are needed to properly introduce women into the paid labour force in order to gain economic independence.

Indian feminist Chandra Mohanty (2003) advocates, “the theorization of the common interests, historical location, and social identity of women workers under global capitalism”(p. 12). Mohanty looks closely at the relationship between a woman- cultural and ideological composition, constructed through diverse representational discourses in science, literature, politics, linguistics and cinema. And women being real, material subjects of their collective histories ( p. 19). Nonetheless, the perception of women in Ethiopia, presents a connection between women in historical contexts and the representation of woman produced by discourses. These images, referring to Orientalism, mythifies woman in the Global South as exotic, vulnerable and weak, differing them from woman in the Global North. Mohanty presents political presupposition underlying the model of power and struggle; a notion of the oppression of women as a group that is assumed “Third World women” (p. 22). Women she describes, who strongly resemble the traditional taboos Ethiopian women face, lead distinctive lives based on their feminine gender and being of the Third World, they are regarded as “ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound and victimized. (p. 22). These women in developing countries are compared to women from developed western countries who are examples of educated, modern, have control of their bodies and sexuality and the freedom to make their own decisions. ( p. 22). The distinction between the western and the Third world women presents the characterization of the Third World as being engaged in the lesser production of ” raw materials” oppose to the “real” productive activity of the First World. This notion brings about a question of “women as a category of analysis; or we are all sisters in struggle?”. ( p. 23). Regardless of location in this world, when women are granted the opportunity, primarily within institutions, women demonstrate self- determination and are equally able to gain economic independence. As a ” category of analysis” women, across classes and cultures, are assumed to be socially constituted as a homogeneous group identified prior to the process of analysis. This notion is problematic, as the effects of preconceived negative perspectives of a women’s economic capabilities has hindered Ethiopia’s development.

Modernization theory correlates to Ethiopia’s gender inequalities. The theory exemplifies, that traditional values are barriers towards development. (Canada and the ” Third World” p. 26). This theory presents images of the Global South as ” backwards and economically poor” ( p. 26). Modernization demonstrates the need for evolution within a state, however they are usually based on Eurocentric ideas of progress. ( p. 26). It calls for a country such as Ethiopia which development has been static in a primitive stage and traditional values are practiced within an economy. ( citation). It is important not to associate traditional values directly to religious practice. Many countries in the Middle East, most notably the United Arab Emirates, have used their oil wealth to fund infrastructure projects and to develop industrial and service industries to generate economic wealth. ( p. 27). Despite this economic prosperity, the UAE has held strong to their Islamic faith within the state. The utilization of modernity has not shifted their political belief towards social liberalism or political democratization, rather ” a form of modernity which maintains moral codes”. ( Adelkhah, 2000).


Ethiopia has an agricultural based economy and it accounts for the livelihood for most of the population that resides in small rural towns. Almost 45% of the country’s GDP lays in the agricultural sector and accounts for 85% of the total employment (Cherinet, H and Mulugeta, E. 2002). Women play a large role in agriculture yet they are represented the least. Traditionally, men have all the control in decisions related to land distribution and agricultural production. Coffee is critical to the Ethiopian economy with exports of $ 350 million in 2006. ( CIA World Factbook, 2011). Under Ethiopia’s constitution, the state owns all of the land and provides long-term leases to the tenants. The system continues to stagnate growth in the industrial sector as entrepreneurs are unable to use land as collateral for loans. While the GDP growth remains high, per capita income was amongst the lowest in the world at $1,000 in 2010. (CIA World Factbook, 2011). Only 17% of the estimated roughly 88 million people live in urban areas, notably the capital of Addis Ababa.

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The economic determinants within Ethiopia has presented an unequal platform for women to become economically independent. As traditional taboos have been placed upon women, their labour is under-appreciated and the magnitude has gone unnoticed. ( Tadele, 2001). There is a high prevalence in informal jobs such as childcare and household work within Ethiopian communities while these women continue to be underrepresented in the formal sector. ( Tadele, 2001). Stevenson,(2003) demonstrates Ethiopian women are highly concentrated in the routine type and low paying jobs. Domestic jobs within the household relates back to the notion of traditional values placed upon Ethiopian women as they have the abilities to gain economic independence if these traditional barriers did not lay in their way. Ethiopian women in the capital city of Addis Ababa are slowly aiding in changing the national picture of widespread gender inequality in regards to women. In the capital city, there are almost an equal number of male and female government employees (50.13%) , while the rural regions in Ethiopia among all government employees, women constituted for only 30.75% (Grey,1999). This demonstrates the Ethiopian women as capable of being in leadership roles when traditional ideology is replaced with more accepting ideas of the role of women. One important economic activity currently involving thousands of women in the capital, Addis Ababa is the provisioning of fuel wood. The only work that focuses on these indispensable suppliers of energy to the nation’s capital is Fikerte Haile’s 1984 sociological study. It is estimated that around 73,000 women were involved in gathering and transporting wood, branches, and leaves (principally on their backs) and selling them. She pointed out that slightly over 60 percent of these women were migrants from rural or semi-rural areas who in most cases came to the city “leaving their families behind to look for better lives.” ( Bizuneh, 2006, p. 9).

Education is very important in Ethiopia’s development. The World Factbook estimated in 2003 that 42.7% of Ethiopia’s population is literate. 35.1% of women were women compared to the 50.3% of men. The Gross Enrolment Ratio for primary schools, grades 1 to 8 exemplifies that a significant number of Ethiopian children do not have access to education. In 2008, educational expectancy for was 8 years (CIAWorld Factbook, 2011). Sexual education is a major issue in Ethiopia with women being more susceptible to diseases due to the lack of proper healthcare and sanitation. Diseases that present high risks for the Ethiopian population are malaria and bacterial Diarrhea. Sexually transmitted infections in general (HIV/AIDS in particular) compromises the health of women with serious consequences. According to the 2004 report on the global AIDS epidemic, Africa is the epicentre, with 25 million HIV-positive adults worldwide (Martinez, 2009, p. 178). In Sub-Saharan Africa, 57 % of HIV- positive individuals are women, and 75% of the youth affected by HIV are girls (Martinez, 2009, p. 178). As of 2007, Ethiopia was estimated to have 980,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and an estimated 67,00 known deaths from this disease (CIA World Factbook, 2011).

Education is an important means behind economic, social and cultural development at a national level . Developing countries put strong emphasis on education in order to accelerate the development process . It is apparent that women’s education is closely related to development issues, such as their participation in productive activities, population growth, reproductive health and the education of children in general especially in regards to daughters. (Mekonnen, E., 2009). Women are not favourable in terms of education, a number of economic, social and cultural problems constrain women from attending and succeeding in education. The statistics show the increasing division of gender inequality in education in Ethiopia. Indrawaite, B. (2008) and Dugassa, B. (2005) relates the lack of basic education to sanitation concerns, widespread poverty and a perpetuating cycle of serious problems as young girls continue to be deprive of this need elaborate, this is too vague and confusing. However, it is known that there are several female students who succeed overcoming the problems using their own personal and social resources. (Synder,1995). Therefore, measures should be taken that focuses on creating favourable social environments and inculcating a different ideology that help women become strong to overcome the present problems. One gets a sense of what a dedicated female could do from the activities of Sylvia Pankhurst, the founder of the Ethiopian Observer, a journal that replaced the famous New Times and Ethiopian Times. Pankhurst was a feminist who was concerned about women’s issues; this concern was clearly reflected in the articles that were published in the journal she edited. The first issue, which appeared in December 1956, had an article that reported on the activities of the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Association, an organization that engaged in welfare work and education. ( Bizuneh, 2006, p. 12).

Ethiopia is a patriarchal society (Henze, 2003). The attitude by the majority towards women holding a high position, the way society and the workplace are structured and the gender division of labor all pose a serious challenge. These values and beliefs are formulated and promoted by cultures, religions, families, school, media and advertising among society’s outlets. Within the patriarchal society that has a system which values men’s activities and achievements over those of women, which reflects in all aspects of life. (Kedir and Adamasachew, 2010). In most cases, the cultural values and practices favour men which leaves women without a voice in Ethiopian society to address these discriminatory issues. Many of the socialization agents including family, school, church and the community perpetuate the unfair gender relationship prevalent in Ethiopian society (Kebede and Butterfield, 2009) and (Bizuneh, 2001). The media is full of stereotypical portrayals of men and women, and the art reflect what is in the culture. The gender imbalances are relevant to the practices and cultural beliefs in Ethiopia.


Ethiopia’s development has been hindered due to the inequalities that women face. Because of this oppression, many women have not been able to reach their full potential and gain self-determination. Traditional barriers have oppressed women economically, educationally and socially. This inequality has hindered Ethiopia’s development as nearly half of the population has not participated to their best of their ability.


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