Life, Africa

Ethiopian women brave hardships abroad to aid families

Roughly over 100,000 Ethiopian women migrate to Arab countries to alleviate their financial problems

Sadik Kedir Abdu   | 08.03.2019
Ethiopian women brave hardships abroad to aid families

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

Faces cheering with genuine smiles, eyes pouring rays of joy, hearts longing for the motherland are what characterize this journey from Cairo to Addis Ababa. 

"We are enjoying our freedom," says Amelework Asnake who left Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia from the "overwhelming poverty" that she faced with her family when she lived in Bahirdar, a northern Ethiopian city.

There are over 100,000 Ethiopian migrant workers in Arab countries, according to a 2014 report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an international U.K.-based think-tank. According to the report, migrants often return home with frightening traumas.

"I have five little brothers. My father is dead, so the whole responsibility comes down to me" Asnake said, lamenting her mother's deteriorating health.

Asnake, 28, distinguished herself as a student with her high grades, though she was forced to drop out of high school due to her family’s predicament.

"My dreams were big, but sometimes, your priorities might be reshuffled due to [difficult] situations and I prioritize my family," she avowed.

"We are not frantic women or women without dreams, but braves who give [a] chance for young brothers’ and sisters’ dreams to come true," said another migrant in Dubai who requested not to be named.

With most being from the northern part, many Ethiopians are sacrificing their prime years in what may be seen as modern slavery.

"[The] aspiration to work abroad is pervasive in Ethiopia," says Mohammed Ali Mussa, an expert on migration in Ethiopia. 

He added that the main reason for this was high unemployment that pushed Ethiopians out of the country for jobs to support themselves and their loved ones.

One migrant worker, Semira Detemo who left Ethiopia for Bahrain, underlined that it was also critical to address basic human rights violations.  

"Getting [a] proper meal might sometimes be just a dream," she said.

"They told me I will be teaching language there [Bahrain], but I was a mere housekeeper," lamented Detemo, who earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Addis Ababa University.

Mulu, who came back to her country from rural areas Lebanon after two and half years, shares a similar story as Detemo.

She told Anadolu Agency her employers deprived her of her salary until she threatened to return to Ethiopia.

"I only spoke to my family two times since I left Ethiopia," said Selamawit, who was among the women who made the arduous journey to Lebanon only to find herself in a job with an average monthly wage of $150 -- less than the minimum in most countries.

She said she could not bear to witness her parents’ "continuous" and "unbearable" struggle in the country's current economic climate, and so left home to help shoulder the burden.

Only a teenager when she left, Selamawit was eager to pursue her schooling in hopes that the situation in her country and family would be more favorable.

According to the ODI study, human trafficking and illegal employee agencies have long existed in Ethiopia. Women, in particular, leave the country through traffickers hoping for improved lives through work outside the country.

The study suggests that setting up rehabilitation centers, and opening employment options for those who are returning to Ethiopia could help mitigate the problem.

While some are indeed able to return, many are lost in the desert while trying to alleviate the difficulties faced by their families.

"Let’s make sure women and girls can shape the policies, services, and infrastructure that impact all our lives. And let’s support women and girls who are breaking down barriers to create a better world for everyone," UN Chief, Antonio Guterres was quoted as saying on his International Women's Day address.


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