The shocking and shameful story of how a 16 year old Hanna Lalango who died after been gang rapped by five men should be a wake up call for Ethiopia’s male population who perpetuate gender violence either through direct participation or willful ignorance. This is not isolated criminal case committed by lawless gangsters but something that happens quite routinely.Many of you might have heard horror stories of men throwing acid and gasoline on women who rejected their advance or a husband gunned down his wife in broad daylight. In my view, what feeds into such outrageous violence is the unbelievable level of objectification of women among the rising middle class men working the bureaucracy and the private sector. let me explain.
When I was growing up, we were thought that rural society is cruel to women because it is backward. Urban men were portrayed as modern and civilized who treat women as equal. These urban men were said to cook for their women and clean the house etc. Hence, young girls often migrate to towns preferring to work as housemaids rather than housewives in rural areas. This myth of civilized urban men might have been true perhaps during the heydays of the progressive politics of the 60s and 70s. This is not the case anymore.
I saw the hole in this myth of the civilized urban man when I was a high school student in Asala and Adama in early 2000s when I observed many of these men beating their supposedly ‘equal’ wives.’ Later on I began to realize the urbanized and educated men have a very peculiar and systemic resentment and disrespect for women. From 2005-2008 I had the opportunity to mingle with the political and business elites of the country. In these circles women were openly portrayed in such a demeaning manner as if its a normal. Many of these mid and upper class men consider verbal and physical harassment against women in buses, restaurants and streets as part of being cool. Men of power and wealth would openly talk how they groped a secretary or even their female supervisor. Hearing how Professor so and so awarded ‘B’ to his young student in exchange for sex is part of regular conversation. The professors, managers and business owners would laugh with pride while their exploit is discussed by their colleagues. Therefore, it should not surprise us when young thugs commit such horrendous crime against victims like Hanna. They are just imitating what’s an accepted form of violence perpetuated by the elites within closed circulate shielded by power and privilege.
We must ask why we are hearing more of such cruel often usual forms of of violence in urban areas and perpetuated by the middle class in recent years. I have a theory and I urge specialists to investigate this. I believe one factor that might explain the rise of gender violence against women in urban area is the shifting balance of power. Historically and traditionally men were the breadwinners of the household. Although we know women worked way harder than men on any given day, tradition and the economic condition has made her subordinate and dependent on the man. This hierarchy of power is being eroded in recent years. With expanded access to education and business women are no longer bound to household activities. Wives become braid-winners in some cases bringing in more income and holding higher positions than their husbands. This is antithesis to the husband-wife relation that exists in minds of most men in that country.
Now with growing empowerment of women, this mental equilibrium is being disturbed threatening to emasculate the male population. It is the fear, envy and insecurity created by such shift in power that could explain the frenzy of jealousy and rage expressed through such horrendous verbal and physical violence. Its not just the violence that should be carefully studied but also how the male population actually responds to such news which explains the situation. What can we say about several newspapers describing an acidic attack on young lady as evidence of ‘true love?’ Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying violence against women is new in Ethiopia. We know men beat their wives, young girls are forced into underage marriage, and abduction is common. However throwing acid on women with intent to deform her and gang rapping young girls seems to me a strange and a recent phenomenon
The transition of the urban middle class men from being cool to being cruel is an alarming development. The attack on Hanna should not be taken as isolated incident committed by hooligans. Its part and expression of the wider social disease that needs greater attention and systemic response.Campaign must focus on changing the mindset of men within the school system and the bureaucracy. Predator teachers and managers who abuse their power to exploit women must need to be weeded out of the system.system. People don’t have to wait for the law enforcement to act on this. I doubt they will as its controlled by the same predators. Exposing key perpetrators could be a good starting point.