If you have followed my travels or have read my blog over the years you know that Ethiopia is my favorite country in the world. There is something about the people, the culture, its beauty and the sheer size of the country I love. Even though I love Ethiopia I have never been under a grand illusion that it is a unified country. There have been mass arrests and killings in Oromia, journalist and freedom fighter imprisonments, and now a civil war with mass atrocities and forced starvation against the people of the Tigray region. In fact, just this week reports of an airstrike on a market near Tigray’s capital Mekele killed at least 64 people and wounded over 100.
Even as war is still happening in Ethiopia’s northernmost region, its national election officially wrapped on Monday without voting in Tigray, of course. Now, ballots are being tallied across the country with the likelihood that the current prime minister Abiy Ahmend will be reelected.
It was a sunny afternoon as most days are in Ethiopia in April. I was taking an individual tour of a large hospital in the middle of Addis Ababa where I got to talk to doctors, nurses, and see waiting rooms and even patients who were recovering from care.
I distinctly remember the room of women who had recently had abortions or were awaiting one. The room was eerily silent despite the number of patients in the large recovery room with few windows and no air conditioning. Personal effects were on all of the beds: blankets, purses, food, extra clothes . Some of the women had female visitors, others did not. While the Ethiopian abortion law on the books is considered “semi-liberal” by African standards, there is some pushback on abortion services although in practice if a woman wants an abortion she can most likely get one. This is mostly to help decrease maternal mortality rates and to curb the rates of unsafe abortions.
As I concluded my tour, the last room I saw was where the abortions took place with all of its machines and lone hospital bed. At that moment I was glad that despite the law, these Ethiopian medical professionals along with the hospital’s policy allowed women to have a choice about their own bodies and reproductive rights.
These trainees are at a project known as “Connecting 1,500 Women and Girls to the Export Market”. The project was created in 2014 by Ethiopia’s First Lady, Mrs. Roman Tesfaye and trains women and girls to develop skills in industries such as leather, weaving, basketry, embroidery, gemstones, and spinning and connect them to global markets to increase the trade of their goods.
“Ethiopia has ambitious visions and dreams for women,” said First Lady Tesfaye. “We want to see women not only come out from the shackles of poverty but become the engines and drivers of our development.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visited the project during the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.