My cousin is getting married this summer. And in following with the Ethiopian norm and tradition of asking for her hand in marriage, her husband-to-be organized for a group of elders to visit with her side of the family and discuss the viability of this marriage. While I am not a traditionalist and traditional forms of marriage ceremonies do not appeal to me, nevertheless I can see some merit in an event organized to bring together two sides of the families in formal introductions. What I vehemently disagree with is the composition of the representatives of the bride and groom.
It has been the norm for the gender composition of both sides of the “negotiators” to be male. I find it quite astonishing that even in urban settings where ideals and concepts of gender equality have been at play, this tradition which I perceive to be segregationist remains at work. Why is it that only the men are the ones to sit together and discuss whether this union is in the best interests of both concerned parties? Why is it that women allow themselves to “take a back seat on this one” all in the name of a tradition that is waning in its meaning? And why is it that only the father’s blessings are sought after in this formal ceremony? With the responsibility of providing free lodging for nine months in the womb where after child sees world at the cost of trauma to a certain part of the mother’s body and then having to feed and clean every unpleasant deposit a child chooses to part with, it’s more than fair to ask that the mother of the bride be given just as much grandeur as that given to the father during these ceremonies.
Wishfully thinking that my cousin’s sister-in-law will at least make up the representatives from the groom, I was quite dismayed to find that the group of five that showed up at our house to seek my father’s blessings were all male elders. At our end my father and two uncles stood guard as the discussion between eight male elders began. “This is just a formality that needs to be fulfilled” some may say and find meaningless the symbolism and significance that such an image carries. But I am of the belief that every non-liberating power dynamic that we choose to condone and pass off as just “tradition” has generational consequences which hinders where women and girls can use their voice.
To the astonishment of the eight men in our living room, I walked in mid-discussion, pulled up a chair and sat down one leg crossed over the other as confused shifting heads and eyes found sight on me. I defiantly held each stare and let them know silently that I was going nowhere and was definitely going to be a part of this. I smiled imagining how they were explaining this to themselves. My behaviour will get either the “she’s not been living in Ethiopia” justification or the “improper lady” accusation. Either way, setting in momentum an evaluation of tradition relative to women’s status is of more importance for me than preserving a “proper” reputation. After all, it is in such moments and individual resistances where norms begin to end.
Love & Light