I recently met Zertihun Tefera who is the founder and director of a women’s development association in Ethiopia that has organized up to 10,000 women as self-help groups and supported their micro-enterprise development initiatives. Zertihun’s organization assists impoverished women to take part in income generating activities and promotes girl education as a means of empowerment. She shared the story of the association’s humble beginnings to where it stands now making a great impact on the lives of the women who benefit from it and the lives of those who are under their care. While the work the association is engaged in impressed me, I was even more taken by the meaning behind the name of the association, which in full is Siiqqee Women’s Development Association.
The word Siiqqee is an Oromo word which, as explained by Zertihun, means a stick. Tradition has it that among the Oromo (largest ethnic group in Ethiopia), mothers gave this thin decorated stick, Siiqqee, to their daughters on their wedding day as a symbol of their ongoing support and female solidarity. The Siiqqee was also an icon of opposition to male domination and oppression. If a woman experienced abuse or any sort of oppression at the hands of her husband, she would simply walk out of her home holding the Siiqqee high which indicated that she needed council. All the women would then also walk out of their homes with their Siiqqee’s, heeding her call, congregate and stay outside of their homes until a remedy is found for the problems experienced by the one who initially called the Siiqqee council.
Asafa Jalata in an article explains, “during the gadaa era, Oromo women had the siqqee institution, a parallel institution to the gadaa system that functioned hand in hand with gadaa system as one of its built-in mechanisms of checks and balances. If the peace between men and women was broken, a siqqee rebellion was initiated to restore the law of God and the moral and ethical order of society.” He further explains that this siiqee institution enabled Oromo women “to have control over resources and private spaces, social status and respect, sisterhood and solidarity by deterring men from infringing upon their individual and collective right.”
I am unsure of to what extent this siiqqee tradition prevails today and whether it still has the same influence. Yet I find it a powerful expression of female solidarity and clearly a wonderful form of non-violent resistance at the community level to bring to public awareness, domestic oppressions that are deemed private. Beyond the Oromo married woman, I think every Ethiopian woman needs and deserves a Siiqqee to call attention the various forms of oppression she experiences because of her sex identity. While still maintaining that mainstream methods of addressing women’s issues should continue to be strengthened, I think bringing back a dose of the traditional practices that empower women and girls, alongside other mechanisms, will allow women and girls to have various avenues of redress for problems experienced.
- Asafa Jalata, The Struggle Of The Oromo To Preserve An Indigenous Democracy, 2009. http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=asafa_jalata
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