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Not Yet Safe

April 9, 2009
These girls hope for a brighter future (courtesy: Ahron de Leeuw)

These girls hope for a brighter future (courtesy: Ahron de Leeuw)

After a progressive law change in 2004, safe abortion in Ethiopia should be accessible for many women.  But it’s not, and women are still dying and getting seriously injured as a result.   “Not Yet Rain” is a new documentary by Lisa Russell and Ipas, which shines a spotlight on this issue by telling the poignant stories of several women who have tried or are still trying to exercise their reproductive rights in an environment that is less-than-supportive.

We all know a law on the books can mean something very different on the ground.  And while sometimes that’s a good thing (until 2003, “sodomy” in Idaho was technically a felony punishable by up to five years in the slammer.  But was there really no “action” in Idaho before Y2K?), in the case of women’s rights and reproductive rights, it’s a very bad thing.

In the film, we meet Asnaketch, a 32-year old security guard and fierce rape survivor who endured numerous dangerous self-induced abortions before the law change.  Now she provides referrals for women who are pregnant and seeking abortions, so they won’t go through what she did.  Many women still don’t know that the law has changed, or face insurmountable obstacles to accessing services.

We also meet Asnaketch’s young son, a bright-eyed beacon of hope for the next generation.    Though it’s unclear whether he truly grasps everything his mother has been through as well as the plight of women writ large, he says, “I think I have a brave mother.  If this country would develop and then they were given education about women, women wouldn’t be oppressed.”  Out of the mouth of babes, but oh so true.

Ethiopia has taken several steps forward with a more liberal abortion law — extending rights to minors, incest survivors, and for a range of social reasons — yet its women are still struggling to catch up.  Or rather, society continues to fail them.  The low status of women, along with the related low education levels, lack of economic opportunity, and a prevalence of sexual violence, continue to make women at once vulnerable and defenseless.  So if a progressive reproductive health policy, like Ethiopia’s abortion law, is a brand new catamaran, we need the swells of support from society and the continued commitment of the government for the rights and empowerment of women to make this boat float.

You can view Ahron de Leeuw’s photos here.

J. Mack is a global feminist residing in Brooklyn.

2 Comments
  1. Thomas permalink
    April 11, 2009 6:29 pm

    Interesting post J.Mack. I am always suspicious of the gaze of the documentary filmmaker, which results in my unease with the descriptions such as “a bright-eyed beacon of hope for the next generation.” This speaks seductively in my First World Language, but I question whether it speaks adequately to the Ethiopian experience. However, my cultural illiteracy forbids me from moving further than this suspicion.

    • J. Mack permalink*
      April 17, 2009 3:15 pm

      Good point. This film has been edited and produced for a U.S. audience, with whom certain images and words really resonate. And this is very deliberate. The filmmaker and Ipas are re-producing it for an Ethiopian audience, which I imagine will look very different. Should be an interesting comparison. “Bright-eyed beacon of hope” is used with a touch of sarcasm. The sort of “uncertainty principle” of global development work is documenting it… things seen are not always as they are…

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