We visited the South Omo Zone, a place of spectacular natural beauty! God did not hold back his gifts endowing this area with beautiful people, natural resources, and wildlife. For a non-tourist traveler looking beyond the breathtaking beauty and colorful cultural scene, it is disheartening to perceive this magnificent scenery camouflaging the suffering of women and girls. Compared to the picturesque nature and decorated people that make South Omo a tourist magnate little is said about the brutal traditional practices, economic exclusion, and harsh poverty women and girls of South Omo are subjected to in their everyday life.
Ethiopia has made significant progress in achieving social and economic development milestones. The spillover effect of Ethiopia’s social and economic advancement has indeed reached the South Omo Community in terms of basic access to services. Nevertheless, these marginal gains of development are not equally shared by men, women, and children of South Omo.
Contrary to the national law that proclaims equal property ownership rights of women and men, women and girls in the traditional communities of South Omo are still denied their right to inherit, and own property and land. Girls are deprived of education; blocked of their only pathway of escaping poverty and abuse. Harmful traditional practices such as mutilation, whipping, and early marriage are rampant subjecting women and young girls to inconceivable physical and psychological abuse. What is even more alarming is the tendency of associating harmful traditional practices against women and girls as the cultural identity of the South Omo community and its commercialization through well-intentioned tourism that has detrimental sides for women and girls.
Cognizant of the complete and unjust exclusion of women and girls in the South Omo zone from all economic development and self-advancement opportunities, the Hailemariam & Roman Foundation has partnered with the Finland Embassy in Ethiopia to advocate for social transformation of the South Omo community and the economic empowerment of women in particular. The partnership aims at reducing gender disparities in the economic status of women and girls by harmonizing efforts with the community, local authorities, and like-minded stakeholders. Backed with evidence-based advocacy we will initiate a community dialogue to break social, economic, and institutional barriers of women and girls. Economic integration of women and girls and eradication of harmful traditional practices are at the heart of our intervention in the South Omo zone. The Hailemariam & Roman Foundation and its partner the Finland Embassy in Ethiopia believe educating girls is the most effective and reliable path to women economic empowerment and thus, changing the status quo that downgrades and exploits women.
During our stay in the South Omo Zone, we had a series of consultations with the leadership, community, and stakeholders of South Arri and Hamer woredas and the zone. Together, we identified the core problems facing women and girls in South Omo communities and discussed measures to overcome them. Equipped with the information from our fact-finding mission and stepping on the partnerships we built we will soon embark on a collaborative initiative towards a social transformation that will contribute towards the equal social and economic status of women and girls of South Omo.