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How Tigrayan women are surviving war and Covid-19 in Ethiopia

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Food is almost non-existent for tired and terrified civilians in war torn Tigray

This conflict has had a devastating effect on the lives of women in particular who have been been subjected to sexual violence, forced to leave their homes and left for days without food to feed their children.

Lem Lem and Gidey are two brave Tigrayan women who have been battling to survive the war and food shortages.

Lem Lem Mebrahtu’s (40) husband died 8 years ago, leaving her a single mother to six children.

She really struggled to support her family before joining the Women’s Empowerment project supported by Trócaire local partner Daughters of Charity Tigray (DoC-T). The programme empowers women to exercise greater control over their lives. Through the project, Lem Lem developed the skills and self-confidence to set up her own business and has even become a community spokesperson for her area.

Since the conflict started last November, Lem Lem has not had regular access to electricity or water and lives in constant fear that her shop, that she worked so hard to get off the ground, will be looted. Before the conflict, Lem Lem’s shop was full of conversation and laughter. Now, the only sound is rain on the corrugated roof as she struggles to keep her family safe and fed.

The conflict has had a catastrophic effect on Tigrayan women’s lives and for Lem Lem and her family the future is uncertain but one thing she is sure of is, “we need peace to survive”.

Like Lem Lem, 42-year old Gidey Gessesse is a participant in the Women’s Empowerment project. With support from Trócaire and DoC-T, Gidey started a business selling Ethiopian flat bread (inerja). When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, it affected both women massively. The market where Giday sold her flat bread was closed down and the lockdown prevented customers from coming to Lem Lem’s shop. Gidey says she used up all of her savings trying to survive.

Overnight, their lives changed as conflict erupted in Tigray

Overnight the situation for Gidey and Lem Lem worsened as conflict erupted back in November. Lem Lem was forced to close her shop and worries daily for the safety of her daughters and the risk of sexual violence. “Before the conflict, it was possible to walk around our neighbourhood 24/7. But now, we have to be inside almost all the time for our safety. We are worried our daughters will be raped, our belongings stolen, our livelihoods destroyed,” she told Trócaire.

Gidey agrees; not only can she no longer generate an income, but she feels her family is no longer safe.

The shocking impact of the conflict remains unclear but it’s estimated that 5.3 million men, women and children are in urgent need of humanitarian support to survive.

The Women’s Empowerment programme in Africa

Many women in Africa carry the responisbiity of provider and protector so programmes like these are vital in empowering women in countries like Ethiopia. Through this initiative, Trócaire CST and its partners enhanced the lives of 8,573 women in 2018 alone.

The Women’s Empowerment programme aims to provide women with the knowledge, skills and technology needed to increase and diversify their income.

The programme also focuses on the social empowerment of women, increasing their confidence, self-esteem and decision-making ability. The Women’s Empowerment programme also targets male community members, allowing them to proactively support their partners in participating equally in household level decision-making including access to and use of household incomes.

Equal rights for wormen in Africa on every agenda

Since 2017 Trócaire and its partners have made every effort to integrate a Women’s Empowerment agenda into all projects, especially in our humanitarian response programs. Women affected by natural and human made disasters are the primary targets of the program. Within partner organisations, there has been an increased drive to hire female staff to act as liaison with these women.