Religious leaders at the forefront of ending gender-based violence in Ethiopia
Archbishop Abune Markos from East Gojam Zone Diocese in Ethiopia believes in gender equality. He is committed to end child marriages and all forms of violence against women and girls in Ethiopia. “Education is power and the key to freedom,” he says. “Marriage should only happen when people are ready…. You can only marry when you are an adult, at least at 18 years old.”
Archbishop Markos has trained more than 300 religious leaders in the East Gojam Zone, Amhara region to influence their communities in preventing harmful traditional practices and violence against women and girls. He trains religious representatives at all levels, particularly, community priests from the rural areas, where such practices are most prevalent.
In Ethiopia, 40 per cent of all women in their early 20’s are married before they turn 18. Six of the top ten ‘hotspots’ for girls married between ages 15-17 are in the Amhara region . Of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years, 74 per cent have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) .
Ababa Enbakom Chanie Workineh, General Manager of the East Gojam Diocese Office and coordinator of the training, notes that even priests misinterpret religious principles and sanction or condone harmful practices that have nothing to do with religion. “We preach equality in religion. We condemn violence and crime,” he adds.
At the end of the training conducted by UN Women in February 2016, religious leaders developed a 13-point call for action to end harmful traditional practices and gender-based violence in the region, including rejecting violence against women, child marriage and the practice of FGM. They are now preaching to prevent such violence in their congregations.
Archbishop Markos’ vision is to establish measures, such as institutionalizing the trainings in theological schools, which can be easily replicated throughout the country. Following the training, religious leaders and community members were able to prevent almost 470 child marriages in Guzamn and Sinan districts, according to interviews with the workshop participants.
“Religious leaders are fundamental allies in driving the advancement of women's rights in Ethiopian society,” says UN Women Ethiopia Deputy Representative Funmi Bologun. “Where patriarchal traditions and cultural practices condone discrimination against women, true interpretation of religion has the power to break the barriers and unlock human potential. Programmes such as this, aiming to build the capacity of religious leaders on women’s rights, is critical in order to reduce the social acceptance of violence against women and to change discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.”
The trainings were undertaken as part of UN Women’s programme on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in Ethiopia, which first carried out outreach activities in Kobo and Weldia of the Amhara regional state. UN Women aims to continue expanding the programme to reach more religious leaders in grassroots communities and to pilot “SASA! Faith”—a community-based methodology to change attitudes and behaviours—in the region.
 UNICEF (2016). UNICEF Data: Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women, Ethiopia