The Awra Amba Experience


March 23 , 2019
By Tsion Fisseha ( Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at tsion.f.terefe@gmail.com. )


In an interview conducted two years ago, Zumra Nuru, founder of the Awra Amba community in the Amhara Regional State, said that at a very young age he began to sincerely observe his community. It was one infested with gender inequality.

With that in mind - and with some other societal concepts he believed needed altering - he introduced a highly progressive idea that is still far from what most societies in and outside Ethiopia understand to be true. He founded the then-19 member community in the 1980s.

This evolved community did not feel the need to assign gender roles or box people into pre-determined social functions just because of the way they were born. It was and still is a firm believer in gender equality, the rights of children and helping the less fortunate and the ill.

Recently, certain activist groups in Ethiopia have tried to follow in the footsteps of Zumra and have attempted to tackle the parity that is lacking between female and male roles. More often than not, these groups have been called out for their “extremist” views and have been shunned for trying to change the societal structure that has been there since the beginning of time.

Gender roles are assigned through the societal assessment of what femininity and masculinity mean. On the occasion of International Francophonie Day, Alliance Ethio-Francaise organised a poetry platform curated by a poetry group to address femininity and masculinity.

The poems were presented in front of an audience enthusiastic with the exploration of the concepts. Both men and women felt the need to dig deep within themselves and to the people around them and understand what it means to be a female with masculine characteristics and vice versa. It was about what these characters are and how they are manifested throughout one’s life.

In the first stage, the poems attached weakness and fear to the feminine character and strength and insensitivity to the masculine. But the poems evolved. They started pushing the limit of societal beliefs in gender roles and assignments, in being far from male or female but a human being first.

They are grounded in the understanding that both sexes are entitled to characteristics of the opposite sex, how the assignments of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, do not have a clear cut law on role allocation. The poems addressed how having done this does not necessarily lead to the destruction of a system that has been working for aeons but makes it less dangerous and more comfortable.

The session came to a close with a group poem that entailed that the women and men knew each other, and this knowledge would somehow lead to understanding one another and ultimately changing the way everything and everyone in the vicinity functions.

Zumra understood that either males or females could prepare meals and clean houses. He also believed that farming and carrying did not necessarily require a man. He thought that the cross-over would not make society crumble.

He understood that men could be nurturing, sensitive, vulnerable and tolerant just as much as women could be protectors and providers with the will and the strength to carry burdens. Because of this belief, he built a community that flourishes every passing year.

One cannot help but wonder if this concept and ideology of the Awra Amba community can spread across the globe and what would change as a result.

What it would be like to live in a world where gender equality is a concept that was taught in history classes as a notion of the past?



PUBLISHED ON Mar 23,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 986]



Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at tsion.f.terefe@gmail.com.





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