My Valentine’s Day is usually very special but not for the reasons you might think. As a volunteer for the Yellow Movement, I spend my Valentine’s Day selling roses, candies and cards to fundraise and support students at Addis Ababa University that can’t afford stationary or sanitation materials. This fund supports female students that can’t afford the high cost of sanitary pads. This becomes very basic cost as tertiary education in Ethiopia is free and students are provided accommodation and food are provided for on loan, expected to be repaid upon graduating. We have made it a point to spend Valentines Day looking less than impressive and absolutely uninterested in romance for the good of those less advantaged in our society.
The Yellow Movement is a youth lead initiative in Addis Ababa University that works to encourage discourse on the issue of gender based violence.
On a weekly basis, we prepare questions we hope encourage deeper analysis on cultures and attitudes that support gender violence. Our campaign is limited to the campus and our online activity, valentine’s day is the only day of the year we get to leave our campus and take on the city.
For the first time in six years, I wasn’t able to physically participate in the fundraiser because of my travel schedule but there were ways even those away could support teams on the ground like media and publicity work which I took part in. Like feminism many in Ethiopia consider Valentine’s Day ‘western”, something that is encroaching on our culture and should avoid at all costs. So naturally, many media companies wanted to present our initiative as that one good thing that came out of Valentine’s day.
While, at least I believe, they should have taken this time to discuss our cultural perception of romantic love. Seriously, eliminating gender based violence should not only be a discussion on what we’d like to prevent in relationships, it should also be about the thing we’d like to encourage.
We should seriously analyse what our culture of romance is like? What do we do to lighten the weight of adult life that is best described as ‘the routine’? How open are we about our struggles? Is how uncomfortable we are having this discussion publicly a reflection of how uncomfortable we are having this discussion in our private lives?
I wish we had more studies to understood what our culture of romance is like, what we could learn from each other, how we communicate with our loved ones on a daily basis and how we can help it evolve. Because understanding relationships is also an important aspect of understanding how we can rebalance the dynamics in the household.
The most basic struggle for equality starts in the home; where women either find the support they need to have a shot at a career or they don’t, where they find characters that teach them about their value as individuals or they only teach them their value in terms of what they mean to men, where men learn the basics of their relationship with the women and each other. This may also help us understand how we can reduce domestic violence and reframe our education system to include important lessons in adult character.
My day ended with a call from my mom in the evening, she called and I picked up, I mean she sounds okay but you know her heart is crying out at the confirmation that grandchildren are nowhere in sight. Yes, mom I’m not having a secret love affair, I’m just single.
Hope you all had a lovely month full of love and kindness, I hope you remembered your home is the cornerstone of your nation and continent. You must be able to find equality and justice at home before you can find it anywhere else. Happy Women’s Month!
Mehret Berehe is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow and currently a Civic and Ethical education instructor. Mehret’s journey as an activist for women’s rights started in 2011 when she joined the Yellow Movement AAU, a youth led initiative in Addis Ababa University.