Sweet lemon scent scattered between the drops of rain and the green forest canopy welcomes us to Kaffa Region. Kaffa is to the southwest side of Ethiopia, approximately 600 kilometres from Addis Ababa (a journey of about 8 hours). ActionAid Ireland, in partnership with ActionAid Ethiopia, is currently implementing the Irish Aid funded Women Rights Programme here.
Two billboards outside Bonga Town
About 50 kilometers into the all-weather road, from Bonga Town, towards Decha district, where the Women Rights programme operates, we see a big billboard, one of the many billboards we later learn are erected in the district.
The billboards are part of the behaviour change approach that we are using within the Women Rights Programme. The billboard provides a way to reach the wider community. One side of the billboard has a picture of a husband and wife, with the message “a good husband doesn’t not isolate his wife during menstruation period”. The other side of the billboard contains the message, “I will prioritize my girl’s education”. A case of killing two birds with one stone.
Banished outside, in the rain
I arrive in Decha and meet with the local women’s group implementing the programme. But before we can settle in, it starts to rain. I am therefore curious to ask how often it rains in this area, given how green it looks. To which the response is that it rains in 10 months out of the 12 months in a year.
That, unfortunately, is how many times in a year that too that a woman must face the elements. Women in this community are isolated during the menstrual cycle. Meaning the husband, if only one house exists in the compound, must let his wife or daughter spend the night out in the cold. Menstruation is a less understood phenomena among men here. And has seen men continue to subject women to untold suffering and inhumane treatment. Yes disheartening, but true. Who would think this is still a possibility in this time and age?
This is only one form of gender-based violence, among the many, that the Women Rights Programme is grappling to address using the behaviour change approach. So, is our behaviour change approach working? During the discussions with the women’s group, I am told that the use of billboards as a form of persuasive communication is bearing fruits. Two women confirm to me during the discussions that their husbands no longer isolate them during menstruation. While this still seems like a drop in the ocean, it is encouraging progress. Nevertheless, more still needs to be done to rid the society, especially men, of the beliefs attached to menstruation if we are going to end gender-based violence.
Photo caption: Women from the women’s group in Decha. Photo by ActionAid