New Roles for Women in Eritrea
Canada became aware of the Horn of Africa in 1984 when searing images of famine were televised throughout the world. Many of these images simply portrayed Africans as victims and obscured the real causes of hunger in the region. Hidden by these images of suffering was the struggle of Africans, and especially African women, to transform the conditions of their lives.
In Eritrea, the former Italian colony on the Red Sea, the struggle has taken a dual character and has achieved remarkable success. On the one hand, Eritrean women are part of the gene struggle for independence from foreign domination. But they are also attempting to change the traditions which have relegated them to the status of second-class citizens. Twenty years Eritrean women lived a miserable existence: illiterate, barred from education, denied the right to speak in public and to own property, women were confined to domestic chores and back-breaking agricultural labour.
Over the past two decades, in the context of Africa's longest war and devastating drought and famine, Eritrean women have begun to change their own lives. Literacy programs have been central to this change, for they have enabled women to meet together and articulate their common concerns. While women have taken up arms in the liberation struggle, they have also participated in educational programs geared towards the total transformation of the traditional patriarchical society in the Horn.