Happy International Women’s Day!

Hello bloggers and friends,

I have been an MIA for the past few days. It has been a bad/hectic time for me as I am trying to make some adjustments in my life. And I wasn’t in the mood to write and even to check my blog. I shall respond to your lovely comments and messages soon; however, you should know that I am always thankful for your unconditional support!

Few updates:

1. The Ethiopian Social Assistance Committee (ESAC) panel discussion on Ethiopian/foreign domestic workers in the Middle East went quite well. Soon updates will be posted on the temporary website; the main website unfortunately has been having some technical issues. Since volunteers, who have busy life/work/study schedules, run this organization, it may move slowly, but surely. To give you some idea, here are some questions that were raised by audience members during the panel discussion:

—Can ESAC act as an Emergency contact organization for those women who may want to reach out to someone?
—What are ESAC’s strategies to deal with this issue, does it have clear-cut plans?
—How can we help?
—Can ESAC organize a protest march in infront of the Arab countries’ embassies in NYC?
—Is ESAC going to pressure the Ethiopian government as well where the root of the problem exists?
—Can ESAC expand the organization’s scope so that it can include the Horn of Africa region?

ESAC, a nascent organization, has learned important lessons from this first event, lessons that will help it make itself better, I hope.

2. I have been reading this book: Breaking up with God by Sarah Sentilles. I will post my reflections on it soon. But for now I must say am enjoying it a lot because it deals with issues that I too struggle with daily.

3. I recently discovered EthioLGBT.com, a website dedicated to the Ethiopian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community. I was never aware of it. As you may or may not know, being a homosexual is illegal in Ethiopia, where the majority of people are conservative Orthodox Christians and Muslims that consider homosexuality a sin, a crime, a heinous act; and homosexuals inside the country have to wear a mask to protect themselves from attacks.

I was raised Orthodox Christian, and I too at one point believed that homosexuals were criminals that God will burn in hell, just like what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. And I only understood homosexuality as sodomy between male persons, as it was described in the Bible. In all honesty, I discovered words like gay, lesbian, transsexual, and bisexual once I left the country as a teenager; that may have to do with the fact that I grew up in a small town where my exposure to the outside world was quite limited. When I entered high school, I did hear about women having sexual or romantic affairs with other women in the West, but I didn’t know they were called lesbians, and the possibility of Ethiopian women being homosexuals had never crossed my mind.

The reality is that being gay or lesbian cannot be limited to one race, region, or country. Wherever there are human beings, regardless of their race or location, they are going to be faced with the question of sexuality. We Ethiopians, are not special creatures, we are not unique from the rest of humanity that we too cannot be affected by issues that other humans experience.

Having said that, one thing that Ethiopians can’t deny today is the fact there are a lot of homosexuals both inside and outside of Ethiopia. It has been reported frequently that clandestine homosexual groups exist in Addis Abeba, many of whom lead double lives, since being openly gay or lesbian could cost them their lives. Meron Tekleberhan discusses homosexuality in Addis Ababa in an interesting article entitled Revelation of Homosexual Life in Ethiopia (Tekleberhan 2011).

I question: Is it too early or too late for Ethiopia to address homosexuality? I do acknowledge that Ethiopians in Ethiopia may not be ready to face it, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. I can just imagine how my parents would react if I were to tell them I am homosexual. My father would surely disown me, no doubt. And I don’t think I would even tell them if I were one; I wouldn’t expect them to understand or tolerate it. I would just want them to pass away with a peaceful mind, without bitterness against me. Let alone the people in the rural areas; even those in larger cities are not yet ready. Forget homosexuality, even sex itself is such a taboo subject in almost 99.99% of Ethiopian households. It is a very difficult position to be a homosexual in Ethiopia. But when will it be a good time? 50 years from now? 200 years? And till then these people have to live in shame for being who they are?

On the Ethiopian LGBT community website I discovered, the author makes a claim that the Agaw people of Ethiopia had a history of same-sex marriage way back in time; even before the West began to tolerate homosexuality, which obviously is a statement made to contradict the general belief in today’s Ethiopia that homosexuality is an imported, Western idea. But can the author back it up? What is his source of information? I don’t know. If you are Ethiopian or a foreigner who knows Ethiopian history, are you aware of this part of the country’s history? Are there any historical documents that can attest to the claim?

With the growing LGBT community in Addis, there is also a growing concern that has become a major headache for the general public: the growing sex industry and sexual exploitation of young boys (and girls), often by Westerners or foreigners who use their dollars as a buying power. And poverty is the primary reason for such prostitution.

Before Ethiopia becomes the next “Thailand in Africa”, do you think it’s better for it to acknowledge the existence of the minority LGBT community and protect their civil and human rights, thereby averting or reducing crimes that happen in their names? For how long can Ethiopia ignore the existence of the elephant in the room while the problems that are related to it multiply each day? Can the government crack down on illegal child prostitution without addressing the LGBT concern? What has the government done so far to aggressively fight the increasing exposure of boys and girls to prostitution and HIV/AIDS?

As Tekleberhan outlines in her article, even some of the LGBT members don’t want homosexuality to be legalized in the country, at least in the near future (Tekleberhan 2011); but they do want society to accept their existence and help them out of homosexuality—they apparently believe they can be cured from homosexuality since they relate their homosexuality to being abused or raped (when they were young boys) and to their premature exposure to the internet and Western media. But is that the reality for all the homosexuals in Ethiopia? How about the women? What made them become lesbians or bisexuals? Is it only rape, premature exposure to the internet, Western porn movies and magazines, or curiosity? What if they never had any interest in the opposite sex to begin with, and if that is the case how are they going to be “cured” from it? In a country where the information on homosexuals is so scarce, it’s really hard to make any kind of statement about their case. And society can only accept them if their sexuality is legalized. Otherwise, it’s naïve to expect that people will just accept them and will help them out of it.

I couldn’t help but think of such questions and thoughts when I came across the Ethiopian LGBT website. I hope you don’t mind that I shared with you my thoughts and questions. If you are wondering, no, I am not gay- and talking about homosexuality has never made any person a homosexual. But I do sincerely believe that Africans, and Ethiopians in particular, need to discuss this topic. You may not be gay or lesbian, but surely, you may know someone who belongs to the LBGT community (either by choice or not), who may be stigmatized because of his or her sexual identity, living a double life in order to avoid social ostracism, facing depression, self-hatred, guilt, worthlessness, blackmail, HIV/AIDS infection, or perhaps even suicidal.

Tackle this: What would you do if your (future) son or daughter declared he or she is a homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual?

If you visit Ethiopia or Eritrea and travel from region to region, you may come to the conclusion that these countries are a heaven for gays and lesbians, based on your pre-conceived notion of how same-sex couples display affection in public- by holding hands, hugging and leaning on each other.

In Ethiopia/Eritrea, it is common to see either young men or young women holding hands or hugging in public with other men and women, respectively. It is a way of expressing friendship, and has nothing to do with sexuality. But now not everyone does it, especially those who understand its sexual implication. How times/events

REFERENCES

1. Tekleberhan, M. (2011) (Part 1)
2. Tekleberhan, M. (2011) (Part 2)


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10 thoughts on “Happy International Women’s Day!

  1. Elyas…I’ve missed you! I’m glad to see you here!
    I’m also glad you posted the link to the ESAC, as I misplaced it and want to get back to the website again. Thanks for sharing the highlights from the meeting too. It sounds like the group is off to a good start, with thoughtful questions on helping women.

    I have no problem with you discussing LGBTs. “could cost them their lives”?? How horrible. People who are homosexual are people just like us. They just have a different sexual orientation. I think it would be a good idea for Ethiopia to recognize the gay community and protect their rights. But that has been a struggle for years here in the US, unfortunately. Old fears and ideas die slowly. I just signed a petition for LGBT rights last night. It’s time we moved into the future and let go of the past.

    1. Thank you Judy! I have missed you as well! It was just a bad time for me. So much going on in my head, and I just didn’t feel like visiting my blog, let alone respond to comments. I feel better now and I promise that I will catch up with the stuff I have missed on your blog and my other favorite blogs.

      The LGBT case in Ethiopia is really a tough one. I doubt it will have any chance at least in my life time. Let alone legalize homosexuality, you cannot even publicly criticize religion. One of my favorite young writers who wrote a satirical piece on one of the saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was beaten close to death several months ago. And a simple conflict between Christians and Muslims can usually lead to burning of churches and mosques including beheading of individuals; such violent conflicts can also happen even between Orthodox Christians and Protestants occasionally, with the exception of the beheading. That is how intolerant people can get when they think their religion is under attack. In general, however, there is a good culture of tolerance or coexistence among the different religions in Ethiopia compared to other places; and when it comes to sexuality (or whatever is considered sacrilegious) issue they all have one strong voice together, which is extreme conservatism just like the Bible Belt regions in the US.

  2. Raising awareness for important issues with every post, Elyas. I really admire that.
    Happy International Womens Day.

    If I had a daughter/son, I’d definitely love them regardless of what sexuality they chose. To be honest, they might not even have a choice. The powers of genetics…

    In any case, I hope you are faring well, Elyas.

    1. Thank you ‘Nessa! I hope you had a fun International Women’s Day. I know it can be hard for some parents to accept their kids’ sexual orientation, but they eventually have to let their kids live their lives. I too would do the same as you if I were to have kids in the future.

  3. Hello Elyas, Your post was thought provoking. If my son or daughter stated that they were going to live a different lifestyle…. I would love them completely just as I do now. Without reservation!! On the book Breaking up with God. I had not heard of it. I read the excerpt. My life long experience in church and being around conservative people has taught me a few things….and I can say that religion and a relationship with God are two different things. This is only speaking from my heart of course. Religion causes a lot of problems, but I have found that God cares without the rules. I couldn’t be perfect if I tried for eternity. No sermon here just sharing the struggles that I have felt myself!!! Always good to read you Elyas…..:)

    1. Thank you Terri! I agree with you that there should not be any reservation to love one’s kids! Why bring them to earth if we can’t love them regardless of what they choose to do with their lives? It does not make sense to me. Ultimately, every person is a master of his or her own destiny.

      About the Breaking up with God book, I really recommend that you read it. I think you will enjoy it based on what you have said here. She discusses everything you’ve mentioned here and that is why I enjoyed it. I am actually done with it now! 🙂 Thinking of what to read next …

      Always great to read your comments Terri! I really appreciate it.

  4. this is a great post my friend.
    thought provoking…
    and I totally agree with you – behind the banner of religion we often ignore things.
    sexuality is often a taboo topic. yet, it’s a fact that human are different …
    it will take a an awfully long time for countries like mine to get the minority groups any recognition whatsoever.

    1. Thank you mon amie! I only have a problem with religion when people use it to deny other people their basic human and civil rights! I have a problem with a religion that oppresses other people who choose a different life style. The personal God that every religion mentions, He or She gives a free will to every person regardless of their race, social status or sexuality. But in practice humans want to deny their fellow humans that very free will their God gives. And I am against that.

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