Female circumcision in Eritrea Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is indisputable that a woman is a very much disadvantaged and oppressed part of today's society. The degree of her oppression might differ with the socio-economic development of any one country. In the Third World, where peasant economy dominates, and feudal relationships form the dominant socio economic mode, the oppression of women assumes a crude form and is obvious, while the oppression of women in the developed world is more subtle and systematic.
One of the ugly and cruel practices of women's oppression is circumcision, practiced in a large part of the third world. That circumcision is ugly, cruel and totally inexcusable in indisputable, and has been described as so in many of the papers presented by all the delegates who have spoken here is in the seminar. Many books have also been written recently exposing the ugly features of circumcision.
In Eritrea, too, circumcision of females in its various forms is practised widely. The issue is not whether it is practised, but how to eradicate it. Can you attack circumcision alone without attacking the root cause and the foundation of the practice?
Circumcision of females is rooted in centuries-old tradition, and is given a positive interpretation by a backward society dominated by the male. We in Eritrea have said that without attacking the root cause of our problems we can only make some reforms and treat symptoms without solving the main problems, and this can be ever on going
and expensive practice. We have said that unless we bring about a fundamental socio-economic transformation in Eritrea, unless we change our society from being a backward and highly traditional one into a progressive, enlightened one, which has access to free education, health services, and is independent economically, we shall not achieve our aim, however good we might be at identifying our problems, be it hunger, circumcision, or disease.
Eritrea is a Third World country which has the unfortunate history of being a victim of colonization for centuries. Because of its strategic location on the Red Sea Coast, various powers have tried to occupy it, starting with the Turks in the 16th century; followed by the Pharaenic Egyptians; modern colonizers, the Italians and the British; and after them, the current colonizers, the Ethiopians.
Throughout the centuries then, the Eritrean people have been fighting for their freedom and independence both peacefully and for the last 23 years by armed warfare. In 1970 when the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) was formed, it clearly identified the cause of our people's misery and backwardness to be not only colonialism, but also feudalism, and declared that we cannot wait until we win the war to do away with oppression and backwardness, but that the process of social change must begin now. It declared that women's liberation and equality is an indispensable part of our freedom and liberation.
Thus, the EPLF set about to organize the population, to educate them and to make them masters of their own destiny. `One of the important mass organizations in Eritrea today is the National Union of Eritrea Women (NUEWMN). Unless the attitudes of our society change unless women are given an equal chance in the economic and social factor in our country, women are now given their equal share of land, which was not the case before. Women are now participating in the arms struggle without any discrimination based on sex; women are participating in education, health services facilities and in organizing their people. Through their organization, women can now fully participate in the affairs of their village, can vote and be voted into the Village Assembly or any other local administrative body.
The NUEWMN maintains and pushes forward all the advantages gained by our struggle. It is within this context that circumcision is fought in Eritrea. It is one aspect, though ugly and cruel, of our oppression, and by handling it within the socio-economic context by discussing its uselessness and negative effects in our women meetings throughout Eritrea, it has started to diminish and will eventually disappear as a practice. Again, what we want to stress here is that unless we change the socio-economic situation of our country and people, we shall never be able to change all the backward negative and
harmful traditions, practices and values of our people.
The NUEWMN, together with the EPLF and its mass organization the NUEW, NUEP and NUES is committed to bring about a socio-economic transformation in our country and thereby eradicate female circumcision and its ugly features. We will continue along this road, despite the Ethiopian military government's efforts to wipe us out by military force, from the face of the earth and we shall succeed. Because what are trying to do is just and correct and our people are only trying to practice their human right, the right to be free and independent, to live in justice and peace, we shall succeed.