In a forum I attended early this year, a woman I highly respect and admire, Selome Tadesse, coined the ingenious term “Menilikish Men” in reference to men in our community who are enablers and not hinderers of women’s personal and professional development in the country. She pondered upon what a progressive man Emperor Menilik must have been in that day and age to not stifle the space for Empress Taitu, where she showed generations ahead of her the tenacity and strength with which she existed. Since then, the term has been a designation highly used among the women I frequent when talking of Ethiopian men who are not threatened by the many Taitu’s around them and are in fact their number one supporters. I know a few such Menilikish men and so honored to have crossed paths with them.
As I interpret it, a Menilikish man is one:
- who is not bound by cultural valuations of a woman’s worth
- who is not threatened by the advancements a woman in his immediate environment has made
- who is not struggling with his ego to accept a woman’s leadership
- who believes women can hold any role and space in society
- who owns the courage to speak out against discrimination and violation of women’s rights
So my dear Menilikish men this open letter is addressed to you as I know many of you exist out there. This letter goes beyond acknowledging and honoring you. It goes towards inviting you to not shy away from speaking your truth as you know it to be, even in the face of stigmatization by your other male peers, who may not be as enlightened as you or sympathetic to the women’s movement in the country.
Of perpetuating “insecurity” through silence
I’m sure many of you have heard of yet another tragedy that fell in our capital. It has been a few weeks since the incident and I had not the strength or the courage to write about, for in such moments one wonders if writings ever really inspire people to move them beyond emotionalism. Sometimes I wonder if our men are destined to stand on the sidelines in times when it matters most for them to show up. To show up, not only physically, but show up by daring to be different and publicly speaking out against atrocities being committed against women. To show up not only when a crisis emerges, but because you realize that one day it could very well be your sister, your cousin, your friend – your own daughter!
Frehiwot Tadesse was the recent fatality at the hands of her ex-husband, who rained several bullets on her in broad day light, in a public space (Bole Olympia to be exact). She was his wife at some point. She was the mother of his two children. She was a friend to many and to him at some point. She was a daughter. She was a co-worker to many. And in the young life she lived, perhaps an inspiration to many as well, whose life was still unfolding in front of her to impact many in small and big ways. She was a woman!
I cringe at the thought of what sense of self and identity her ex-husband must have to impose the judgment of death upon someone who he had chosen to be part of his life.
I am puzzled by the sense of entitlement he thought he had over her person, over her life.
I am sad that the will to sustain ego overcame the will to sustain the two young lives he had created with her.
Your responsibilities as Menilikish Men
As Menilikish men you have social responsibilities that transcend your own interests. As the enlightened few and progressive thinkers you have the responsibility to be change enablers within your spheres of social influence.
To take a lead in tackling the diversifying forms of violence being committed against women.
You have the responsibility to start a conversation with your male peers about what a Menilikish man is and what he exemplifies.
It’s not about pointing fingers at higher-ups, at laws, at systems, at gaps, etc. It’s about you and how you personally have the responsibility to safeguard and maintain what exists to defend the security and progress of women in the country.
It becomes your personal responsibility because it is at the hands of your male peers that women in the country experience the most horrendous experiences. The Frehiwot’s, Aberash’s and Bethel’s are but a few of the many.
Of enabling “change” among your peers
We are in a period of great transformation, especially witnessed in urban cities. Our growth comes with social transformation as well where we see the changing roles of women. Female bread winners abound tasked with a professional life and the double-burden of being a home care-taker. The Menilikish men I know are not threatened by such a transformation and in fact are fluid enough in their making to be flexible in accommodating the changing role of women in the country. I know such rare gems of men who are not constrained by the so-called “culture trap” and do not engage in a power struggle with changing times.
If you are a Menilikish man, you understand that change is inevitable. And you don’t attempt to resist it but work with it. You are confident in your male identity which is devoid of traditional gender prescriptions and stereotypes. And because you have reached such an enlightened state of being a man, that’s why it is your responsibility to enlighten your male peers. A few suggestions on how to:
- write and share your experiences of masculinities
- challenge your male peers who speak and act in misogynistic ways (hateful towards women)
- volunteer with local youth centers and become role models for young men
I can’t emphasize enough how you have a key role to play in positively shaping young male minds if you wish to see your daughters and sisters live in a safe and just environment.
For those interested in attending, the legal case for Frehiwot Tadesse’s homicide trial will be heard at the Ledeta Supreme Court – 3rd criminal bench on Wednesday morning – December 19, 2012.
This time last year we had all said enough after experiencing Aberash Hailay’s case.
What have we done to keep our word?
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