The road to equality begins when women raise their voices.
At the Women Deliver conference, I met a university student from Ethiopia. Describing herself as an emerging feminist lawyer, she talked about the Yellow Movement at Addis Ababa University. This student led movement works to engage students, faculty and the community around issues of violence against girls and women. They hold weekly open discussions to create awareness, fundraise scholarships for female students, host an annual blood drive for maternal health and lead an orientation for female first year students at the university. They visit women’s shelters, offering support to local organizations while wearing bright yellow t-shirts; yellow represents the sun and a promise of a new day. The Yellow Movement is pushing back the darkness created by inequality and oppression.
The Yellow Movement emerged in a country where violence against girls and women is so common that it’s largely socially acceptable. Research from the Population Council found that 23% of female survey participants reported that husbands have the right to beat their wives if they burn dinner. Ethiopia ranks 127 out of the 142 countries ranked in the 2014 Gender Gap Index, making nearly no progress in the past nine years.
I began following the Yellow Movement on Facebook this fall, when the group posted about a 16 year old girl, Hanna Lalango. In early October, Hanna didn’t return home from school. 11 days later she was found on the street. After being gang raped and held captive by a group of young men, Hanna died in the hospital on November 1st.
I checked the Ethiopian papers and found nothing about Hanna. I checked the international papers and still, nothing. There was silence, except for a social media campaign supported by the Yellow Movement. The group called for justice while calling to question the silence of their own society. #JusticeforHanna became a popular hashtag as outrage spread. Two weeks after her death, Ethiopian and international papers started covering the case.
I had mixed emotions as the #JusticeforHanna campaign grew. On one hand, I was horrified at the blatant apathy of the media and authorities. On the other, I was grateful to that group of young Ethiopians for breaking centuries of silence in their country and mobilizing outrage.
Just last week, the Yellow Movement brought another situation to light. During a formal classroom conversation on gender and law, a male professor implied that marital rape is acceptable. A courageous female student raised her voice, calling the professor out on supporting violence against girls and women. The Yellow Movement spread the conversation on social media, using a classroom comment to raise consciousness on the prevalence of rape culture.
On social media the Yellow Movement has been serving as the conscious of a society. The members of the group speak about their experiences as young women in Ethiopia, awakening their communities to the reality of violence against girls and women. They are bravely, boldly and unabashedly opposing norms to create a better future for girls and women, as well as boys and men, in Ethiopia. Today their work is a first step; tomorrow we may look back on it as a foundation for change.
Photo Credits: Yellow Movement Addis Ababa