Ethiopiaid Monitoring Trip Diary 2016 - AWSAD

Posted by Liam on Wednesday 16th March 2016

I’ve just returned from visiting our partner the Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) in Addis Ababa. Set up in 2003 by the incredible Maria Munir, a former Ethiopian High Court judge, AWSAD tackles the issues of gender based violence (GBV) and abuse head on. For all the fantastic progress that Ethiopia has made in its recent history, GBV is still a problem for the women and girls of the country. AWSAD have three safe houses in Ethiopia, safe spaces where women and girls are provided with the psycho-social support that they need to survive their traumatic experiences.

The safe house in Addis is alive with noise and colour, with young children laughing and music playing. Dancing seems to be a common occurrence judging by how good the residents were at it, with my own skills being put to shame! All this colour and joviality is testament to the impact that AWSAD is having on these young women’s lives. Each and every girl with a space in the safe house is only here because she has suffered an unimaginable trauma. The harsh reality is that many of the girls here have been subjected to a level of violence and abuse that is difficult to comprehend. In some cases, girls are referred to AWSAD pregnant, conceived by rape. A young girl, a resident in the Addis safe house, has been left paralysed such was the ferocity and viciousness of her attack. It was hard to reconcile these facts with the smiling faces that greeted me in the compound, and the playful shouts and shrieks from the children who, like all kids, saw the adults were distracted and took the opportunity to run riot.

We were treated to a lively and traditional coffee ceremony, served (very strong!) coffee, freshly baked bread and popcorn before the dancing began. The ceremony is a symbol of the welcoming nature of Ethiopia, but here it also served another purpose. Part of AWSAD’s programme is to provide skills training to the residents, and food preparation and service is a part of this effort to build the capacity of residents so that when they leave they have a route to self-sufficiency and financial independence. On site we were also shown the beauty salon, where residents were taught hairdressing and beauty therapies. There was also a classroom where younger residents were taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

I asked Maria what made AWSAD such a unique and special organisation. “We focus on all aspects of the problem”, she said. “The victims, the criminals, the government and authorities. Everything. We provide the counselling and the skills training to the residents, consult with the community, and also help improve the capacity of the authorities”. This last point is crucial. In 2015 AWSAD provided counselling training to 146 police officers. These police officers will often be the first point of contact for a girl who has been subjected to a violent attack, and can have a profound impact on a girl’s ability to recover from trauma. AWSAD are also trialling a programme in prisons, providing training to prison counsellors working with perpetrators of GBV to improve rehabilitation. Although it is too early to tell how effective this programme is, it is indicative of AWSAD’s holistic approach to the issue of GBV and demonstrates just how clearly they understand the issues facing the women and girls of Ethiopia.

At the end of my visit I spoke with Ezu, an 18-year-old girl who had gone through the AWSAD safe house and was now back living in her community with her 16-month old baby. I asked her what AWSAD had meant to her, and how it had affected her life. “I feel like I have been given a new life” she said. “I feel like have been born again”.

 

 

 

This is the first of several reports I’ll be sharing after each partner visit while in Ethiopia. To learn more about the work AWSAD does please follow this link. If you wish to make a donation click here.

 

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