As all people know, unlike men, women have been marginalized in all aspects of society. At home, here in Ethiopia and abroad, in more developed nations, the same holds true. Women have always been and still are among those who are often overlooked and shunned into obscurity. On the 9th and 10th of March 2018 a topic organized by the University of Gondar, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Gender and HIV/AIDS directorate entitled Women in Ethiopian Art is bound to, through incremental steps, shed light on this age old problem of women’s discrimination.
Those who were present at the Aluminum Hall in Maraki’s campus were, amongst others, Dr. Desalegn Mengesha, President of UoG, Dr. Gennet Zewdie, former Ethiopian Ambassador to India, Mrs. Brita Wagner, German Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Naudts Joseph, Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia and Dr. Julia Sattler, Director of Gothe Institute, Addis Ababa.
After the welcoming speech by Mrs. Tigist Petros that highlighted the role of women in Ethiopian society and the work UoG is doing to reverse inequality the President of the University of Gondar, Dr. Desalegn Mengesha, opened the event with words of encouragement. But he was sure to mention that there is still a long way to go for women’s equality.
“Females are not always represented positively in Ethiopian art” he said. Dr. Desalegn mentioned that positive or negative coverage of women in the arts has the ability to change society’s perspective on matters. Hence he shared that women need to be portrayed as heroes and role models because their life has shown in Ethiopian history that they have played a pivotal role (bringing up Empress Taytu).
From educational institutions, work places and even higher up positions in the government, the plight of women and their hardships is well known. Various movements attest to these discriminatory acts, but now in the 21st century it seems as if a new era is on the horizon.
The conference coincided with the overarching theme of International Woman’s Day that was held a day prior. International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year. It is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.
Dr. Gennet Zewdie, former ambassador to India, and education minister from 1991-2006, shared intuitive lessons on being a women in today’s stereotypical and sexist environment. Being a fighter for women’s rights since the Haile Selassie regimes government her current published work, “The Ethiopian Women’s Struggle” brings awareness to this lifelong struggle for equality. She has also recently launched a non-governmental organization called Women Strategic Development Centre which will empower women economically, socially and politically.
The day also saw some of Ethiopia’s distinguished artists coming together to express their thoughts on the theme women in Ethiopian art. Artists such as Tsedenya G/markos, Sertse Firesibehat, Michael Million, Tigist Girma, Shewit Kebede and Yigerim Dejene gave colorful and articulate statements during the discussion session of the conference.
One of the more emotional moments came about when Tsedenya G/markos shared with the audience her upbringing and eventual rise to stardom. Glitz and glamour may characterize her in today’s world but before the fame she expressed that life as a women was nothing less than daunting.
“When I wanted to tell my father about my plan to become a singer I thought he was going to kick me out of the house” she said. According to her family members did not encourage her, rather they found ways to ostracize her from the family because of their beliefs on women and their supposed ‘suppressed role’ in society. Her speech nonetheless brought tears to her own eyes which resonated with other people who were in attendance. The problems of women are universal and the atmosphere in the conference showed a camaraderie among females that is rare to find.
The 2 day conference focused on and discussed how women are portrayed in Ethiopian art, it celebrated their achievements and it also brainstormed on the way forward.
Shedding light on such a critical and touchy subject might be challenging because of the task that it entails. But with optimism the conference aimed at identifying how Ethiopian women are portrayed in Ethiopian art and how art could be used to change gender stereotypes in the future. The task is a monumental one, but nonetheless it can be achieved.
By Samuel Malede| Public & International Relations Directorate