Monday, March 5, 2012

Fleeing Eritrea: The risks for women

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Eritrean refugees at Shimelba refugee camp, Ethiopia.
©UNHCR / F. Courbet / December 2008
Eritrean refugees at Shimelba refugee camp, Ethiopia.
Women in Eritrea are at risk of genital mutilation, sexual abuse and daily discriminations, according to a number of reports on human rights violations in Eritrea. But compulsory military drafting could be deadly for many of them.

Some of the sexual harassment and abuse happens to women drafted for national service with some contracting HIV/AIDS. "Paradoxically, childbirth provides the only release from national service into a socially and economically rejecting society. Some Eritrean women marry early simply to avoid the national service. Many victims of rape in the military, contract HIV/AIDS and end up as single mothers," a 2008 Human Rights report said.

Aster*, an Eritrean refugee women in Malta, recounted to UNHCR Malta her experience of living in Eritrea: "I was so worried about being taken for national service that I stopped school when I was 16 and hid at home with my mother. I dreaded the day that I would receive a letter from the authorities sending me to the Military Training Camp but eventually it came."

"I remember thinking that I would never see my home again or be able to start my own family. I was also very worried that my family would be ashamed of me for being associated with military activity. So I decided that the only solution would be to escape Eritrea" she told UNHCR Malta. Eritrea today constitutes the second largest, after Somalia, refugee community in Malta. Over 20% of those granted international protection in Malta hail from Eritrea.

cutmyfeettextForced military drafting and sexual abuse is one of the issues faced by women in Eritrea, According to a 2009 The United States State Department Human Rights Report :"...Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widespread, and societal abuse and discrimination against women...were problems."

Finding comfort at home is not always an option. A 2004 World Organisation Against Torture report in July 2004 stated that Violence against women is widespread, particularly domestic violence and wife beating.

"My marriage was arranged for me by my father when I was 17 years old. I had a child soon after but the man died a few years later. My father tried to arrange a second marriage for me but I kept refusing the men who were introduced to me. My father was vey angry and frequently beat me," another Eritrean women told UNHCR Malta.

"Before I decided to escape from Eritrea he told me that if I refused any more men he would cut off my legs so that I would have to remain in the house. I was a possession that belonged to my parents. Now I just want my daughter back."

It was estimated in 2001 that more than 65 per cent of women in the Asmara area had been victims of domestic violence.

*Name changed

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