To revive a dying tradition

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.

Love & Light

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  1. Awesome idea. I love it! If you want to explore it a little more as a form of SNVA I’ll cross-post it on my blog too. <3

  2. thank you for sharing a beautiful story. the Oromo tradition is very diverse in its own way, do you know which area the siqqee is practiced?

    1. Hi, Tomas!
      Siiqee is still practiced in central Oromia and Arsi region and in Borana area in Ethiopia. It is also practiced among the Borana Oromos of Kenya.

  3. ” Siiqqee” is an Oromic word meaning rod. It is attributed to one of the symbolic components of the Oromo culture denoting a sign of protecting one’s own right among the Oromo women. In traditional Oromo culture, a mother gives the ” Siiqqee” to her daughter on her bridal departure to use it as a ” shield” to protect herself from any kind of mistreatment that she might encounter in the new community and family she would join. Possession of a ” Siiqqee” demands respect within the Oromo community; in case if a woman is mistreated, she would take her ” Siiqqee” and cries out for companion of her procession. Neighbors and other villagers heard her cry, would join her holding their ” Siiqqee’s”. The number of the processionals grows until they find a tree, where they would sit under the shade and wait their husbands come to look for them. Then the guilty husband should apologize his wife for his mistreatment in front of the assembly of the neighborhood’s elders. In this traditional African form of democracy, the elders hear issues raised by the women and mediate through the traditional council. The women holding siiqqee are not limited to solely fight against domestic violence; they also had strong voice in the governance of the Gadaa system. They pass decisions to cease fire (whatever stronger the battle was); they engaged in diplomatic issues to arbitrate clans and tribes even other states;
    SWDA took this ” expressive” word to nominate itself acknowledging the wonderful Oromo women’s symbolic element, ” Siiqqee” with which they react at any mistreatment to claim their own rights. The name is believed to symbolize the traditional empowerment initiatives used to be a form of advocating for women under the yoke of malty suppression
    Siiqqee Women’s Development Association (SWDA), founded in 1997 by a committed Ethiopian woman Mrs. Zertihun Tefera, with the strong conviction that poor women can control their livelihoods and their futures when assisted in their self-help efforts and ultimately empowered. Through time, other men and women sharing the same vision voluntarily joined the Association.
    SWDA aspires to see women live with dignity and security. SWDA is a secular non-for-profit organization working for the welfare of marginalized women and Children.

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