Tigray_Woman sitting in front of tent made of dry straw on the floor
Photo: Tesfaye Hussein/CARE Sudan

World Humanitarian Day: “Stand on the side of Tigrayan women”

Even as women are disproportionately impacted by crises, they continue to be central in leading efforts for sustainable solutions to their compounding effects. In the lead up to World Humanitarian Day on August 19th, we are shining light on the role of women in humanitarian crises around the globe. 

Through their work at CARE, our partner organizations, and communities around the world, womanitarians are empowering women everywhere and amplifying their voices in the fight for a world of hope, inclusion, and social justice. 

Join us in learning about Abeba's amazing journey! 

Abeba Hailesilassie: “Stand on the side of Tigrayan women” 

The 3-year conflict between the central government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front caused a huge impact on women and girls in northern Ethiopia. As well as largescale displacement and insecurity, reports of gender-based violence (GBV) - including conflict-related sexual violence - have skyrocketed. In her work at the Women’s Association of Tigray (WAT), a CARE partner NGO, Abeba Hailesilassie helps to support survivors of GBV and promotes women’s leadership in decision-making. 

How and why you did start working for WAT? 

It was several years back, while I was a government employee. I had observed the work of WAT towards improving the lives of women, and especially its work to ensure gender equality by avoiding the old traditions that hindered women’s participation and empowerment. Over the past 40 years, WAT has helped women overcome issues and enhance their positions through intervening in different activities that slowly but surely helped improve women’s lives. Thus, it was my strong belief that my membership in the organisation would contribute towards helping WAT meet its mission. 

The atrocities faced by WAT members have resulted in moral damage that will take years to heal.

How has the conflict impacted the work of WAT? 

Undoubtedly, the war has deeply impacted the work of WAT and our members. Many members of WAT are survivors of the GBV perpetrated during the conflict. This has resulted in psychological and physical damage not only to the survivors, but the community at large.  

WAT properties were looted and damaged. Women were deprived of all their material and financial assets, leading to a daily struggle to find food for themselves and their children. Husbands and children were massacred in cold blood in front of them. The atrocities faced by WAT members have resulted in moral damage that will take years to heal. 

Why does WAT focus on increasing women’s participation in political decision-making in Tigray? 

To put it simply, it enables women to freely express their views so that they can enhance their positions in the societal structure. Furthermore, their presence at various levels of political structures will enable them to bring women’s issues to the table and to the attention of government authorities. 

You work with CARE on Women Lead in Emergencies, a project which supports women’s groups to take a lead role in responding to crises. Can you tell us about your efforts in this project?  

The problems encountered by women throughout this emergency require concerted efforts and collaboration from all stakeholders, and WAT is at the forefront of this. WAT has a large presence at the community level as well as well-established structures at all levels. So, WAT utilises this position to help women mobilise and take part in the project, and to have their voices heard in humanitarian decision making in Tigray.  

"The presence of women at various levels of political structures will enable them to bring women’s issues to the table and to the attention of government authorities."

Thinking about the communities you work with, is there a particular person that you will always remember? 

There are numerous families and individual women I could talk about. One is a woman who had her own restaurant and employees working there. During the conflict, her restaurant and at her home were looted, and she both witnessed and was subjected to horrific atrocities. With all these problems, she visited the WAT office for support for herself and her children. The WAT office worked with Tigrayans in the diaspora to deposit 50,000 Ethiopian Birr to her account. She used the money to start a successful bakery making injera (Ethiopian bread) to supply to hotels. She’s now on her way to supporting her family through this business.  

Finally, if you have one message for the world on behalf of the women in Tigray, what would it be? 

One important message that I want to convey to the rest of the world is that Tigrayan women have faced unimaginable atrocities, which will take years to recover from. But despite this, we’ve seen what Tigrayan women can do if given support to start their own business and stand on their own feet. 

So, the most important message I have for the global community and humanitarian groups is to stand on the side of vulnerable Tigrayan women and to provide any support that can towards rebuilding the economy of Tigray.   

Read more stories of women leading in crisis