Preventing violence against women in Ethiopia's refugee camps
Challenging violence against women
Eric was the International Medical Corps Gender Based Violence (GBV) Programme Manager in Dollo Ado refugee camp, Ethiopia.
As a child growing up in Sierra Leone, I watched many women and girls be battered every day by their male counterparts, including husbands, uncles, fathers and brothers.
My mother also lived in a very violent home where she had suffered both emotional and physical violence regularly for not performing her daily tasks, such as cleaning the home, cooking, doing manual laundry. I was overwhelmed by her sorrows every time I sat down and watched her cry out for help when being beaten, but no one in the community could help her.
As an older child, I always cuddled my brothers and sisters to cry along with our mother. In some instances, we were also beaten by our dad in the process. Having lived in this home for years, my mother died in September 1990.
In 1991, I fled to Guinea as a refugee, where I remained and completed my secondary studies. After my graduation from high school, I became a teacher for a few years. At the end of 2000, a refugee camp in which I was living was attacked by armed men and we fled to another camp in Guinea. During the early days of this camp, refugees from different countries and families were placed in common communal shelters, each hosting about fifty men, women and children without any privacy. Women and girls were subjected to a wide range of abuses including sexual violence, physical violence and emotional violence from their family members and other refugees. Watching women and girls go through such abuses and reflecting on what my own mother went through gave me the desire to help.
In 2001, I mobilised seven other community members as volunteers to support activities in the camp in Guinea that would reduce violence against women. Since then, my passion to protect women and girls grew. Now I am no longer a refugee, but my experience of these circumstances means I understand the needs and dangers for women in refugee camps. That is why I chose to work for International Medical Corps as the GBV programme manager in the Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia. I train and support our staff and volunteers to provide the Somali refugees with the services they need to prevent and respond to incidents of violence against women.
The work can be very difficult. Every day, violence against women and girls continues because of power inequality, social expectations and cultural practices.
"Being laughed at by other men for the work that we do is very common."
Challenging those practices difficult, particularly for the men in the camp. In most instances, men feel that they are losing their position of power and status which makes them very resistant to my work. Being laughed at by other men for the work that we do is very common.
Listening to the experiences that women and girls share with us every day can be overwhelming. But I am motivated to continue this job because of the “smile” that I sometimes see on the faces of women and girls when they have recovered from their difficult experiences and regained the courage to live a normal life once more. Seeing other good men challenge their own perceptions towards women and girls and making efforts to end violence against women makes me feel motivated as well.
I feel that my job, no matter how it is perceived by other men, is saving lives and restoring dignity for women and girls.