All space is shared. We have to care for others as well as ourselves. But as women, we do more of the former than the latter. However, some cultures and traditions are the exceptions to this rule. Some holidays come around and give young women the chance to shine and breath. Ashenda (also referred to as Shadey or Ashendey in different parts of the country) is one such holiday. Celebrated in Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia and many parts of Eritrea, Ashenda is a three-day women’s festival running from August 23-25. Ashenda is celebrated following the Dormition of the Mother of God, a two week long fast.
On these three days, young women come together in groups of 7-10 of their closest friends, divide responsibilities and perform. They go from one house to the other performing traditional songs, mixed with lyrics they came up with to address their particular host. Hosts give these young women money, candy, and bread as a way of encouraging their creativity and confidence to perform.
Ashenda attire is taken very seriously, women prepare their outfits for weeks, and family and neighbours ensure that all young women have the appropriate clothing and no one feels left out.
Many women, describe Ashenda as three days of freedom. An Ashenda girl is not asked where she is going? When will she be back? She is told to perform, dress and express herself.
Ashenda is also a day of freedom for other reasons. Traditionally, young men are warned against harassing Ashenda girls. Even in times where rape and sexual harassment have been a common phenomenon, young women are protected in the week of Ashenda. (Goes a long way in telling us how much control we have as a community to mandate and enforce justice when we put our minds to it.)
I was in Tigray last year to celebrate Ashenda with the young women of Mekelle, Ethiopia. It was so beautiful to witness having the big roads closed down so women can come together and celebrate. Women screaming on the streets, claiming space, no one to tell them to be quiet or appropriate. The police, the city, the entire system working to ensure that women can express their joy.
One such event in Addis Ababa, is the Womens’ March, held every year on the Sunday following March 8. The big ‘important’ roads closed so women could run, sing, dance and celebrate the day. Women consciously supporting each other as they run, picking each other up when they fall and appreciating how each one designed their T-shirts.
All spaces should be shared, they should be inclusive and considerate to all that are present. This is the rule. But I appreciate that women need such exceptional space, to breath, to defy expectations, to practice freedom and to learn how to claim space, where we can practice to live the values we want to spread.
To all other African women, i’m curios to learn about the different spaces your communities have for women. Let me know about the celebrations that re-flame your passion for justice. And wish me a Happy Ashenda; join me if you can.