Women's empowerment in Ethiopia: new solutions to ancient problems.
In Ethiopia, women traditionally enjoy little independent decision making on most individual and family issues, including the option to choose whether to give birth in a health facility or seek the assistance of a trained provider. Harmful traditional practices, including female genital cutting, early marriage and childbearing, gender-based violence, forced marriage, wife inheritance, and a high value for large families, all impose huge negative impacts on women's Reproductive Health (RH). Today, Ethiopia has the second largest population in sub-Sahara Africa, and the average woman bears 5.4 children, placing an insupportable burden on families, communities, and a country facing chronic food shortages and environmental degradation. High maternal and infant mortality rates are inevitable results. Since 2003, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has leveraged its support to ongoing RH and Family Planning (FP) Pathfinder projects funded by USAID. Two such projects have focused specifically on the empowerment of women and girls in Ethiopia, improving the social, religious, and economic climate for females to be able to shake off damaging Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) and begin assuming responsibility for and control of their reproductive lives. Focusing in the regions of Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and SNNRP, where we have worked for many years, Pathfinder has challenged traditions through trainings, workshops, public meetings, dramas, and long hours of collaboration with national, regional, and community leaders, as well as financial contributions in the form of scholarships to keep girls in school. The beliefs and behaviors of community and religious leaders, husbands and wives, adolescent girls and boys have been examined and challenged in a spirit of understanding and respect for people's traditions, as well as a comparable respect for the power of knowledge to bring about changes in ideas and behavior. (excerpt)