BRIDGE Report 22: Gender Profile of the State of Eritrea

Author: S. Baden, C. Green
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Feb 1995
What does Eritrean independence mean for gender equality' Can wartime advances for women be sustained into the new era' Eritrea has emerged from a 30-year war, faced with the huge task of reconstruction and development. This report argues that women's widespread involvement in the military and political struggle led to positive advances in gender equality during war. The potential for strong participation of women in independent Eritrea is high. However, a resurgence of more traditional and conservative attitudes and a preoccupation with reconstruction rather than social change during this post-independence period may endanger gender equality gains. An essential challenge for post-war development is how to maintain and build upon the advances already made in gender relations during wartime.

Large-scale family breakdown and separation during wartime lead to rapid transformations in gender roles and responsibilities for both those within the country and those in exile, with women taking over traditionally male tasks. Considerable advances were also made in gender equality and women's rights due to radical social and political reform programmes introduced into liberated zones by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). Current processes of change such as resettlement, family reunification and national legislation mean that the post-war era is a crucial period for gender role renegotiations. The Eritrean government and donors engaged in reconstruction programmes must ensure that gender equality is not overlooked in this process. A gender analysis of the current situation in Eritrea shows: . Gender relations are geographically different, as progressive EPLF reforms that favour women's advancement are limited to their areas of influence, and have yet to be formalised by national legislation. . Gender gaps still exist in areas such as education, employment and health, with women still being subject to female genital mutilation. . Growing tension and divisions between EPLF radical reform of women's rights and more conservative sectors of society may hinder the advancement of the women's movement. . Efforts to pursue gender equality along with other forms of social and political change may become subsumed by more immediate and pragmatic priorities of reconstruction and rehabilitation. . The shift to a multi-party democracy and the separation of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEWmn) from the EPLF/Government can either lead to increased women's political participation or reduce the influence of women's organisations over the mainstream politics. . Large numbers of women EPLF ex- cadres, with a variety of organisational, military, management, technical and political skills, have potentially positive employment opportunities, if they do not face discrimination. To promote gender equality during the crucial period of reconstruction: . Provide gender specific counselling and support services for post-war rehabilitation (e.g. for widows, victims of torture or rape). . Support the NUEWmn in developing its capacity to influence the policy making process in light of its new relationship with government, to keep gender issues high on the political agenda. . Promote the participation of ex-EPLF women cadres as vital trainers and organisers, to ensure that earlier gains in gender equality are strengthened and built upon. . Retrain and employ women in non-traditional areas of work to transfer and utilise skills gained from EPLF involvement during wartime to the civilian peacetime context. . Train and recruit female personnel in specific sectors such as education, health and water, where the expansion of provision is needed and specific needs of women need to be addressed. . Provide agricultural training and credit facility support, assistance to small-stock and vegetable production, and access to ownership of land and livestock to women during agricultural rehabilitation. . Increase research into gender issues in Eritrea to inform future interventions, with priority on the collection of sex- disaggregated baseline data, especially relating to education and health, against which progress can be compared.