Construction Literary Magazine

Winter 2015
Winter 2015

Inside Displacement Settings

Inside Displacement Settings
Ethiopia – 6

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The above images were taken this January inside the Shimelba and Addis Ababa refugee camps in Ethiopia as part of a research project that examined the link between economic livelihood activities and gender-based violence (GBV) risks among women and children in displacement settings.

My group conducted individual interviews and larger focus groups that would allow us to recognize which, if any, components of formal and informal money-making strategies inside the camps increase female vulnerability to GBV. Risk-creating situations are jobs that require women to walk through isolated locations and inconvenient and sometimes dark pathways, as well as involvement in projects that concern sensitive and culturally taboo topics. Our goal was to establish some means of protection for these risk-ridden situations.

A law enacted by the Ethiopian government in 2009 that limits the activities of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Ethiopia has made our work very difficult. Many NGOs working inside Ethiopian refugee camps have been eliminated because of a measure packaged in the “Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies” (CSP).

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law website, CSP restricts those NGOs working in Ethiopia that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from international sources from “engaging in essentially all human rights and advocacy activities.” The limited NGO presence greatly diminished any formal income-generating opportunities in the camp, and we had limited opportunities to observe them and thus study their links to GBV. We found it difficult to obtain information because the humanitarian practitioners who are still working on the ground in these camps are hesitant to speak openly about work pertaining to GBV, women, and human rights.

Most of the refugees portrayed in these photos come from Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991. The Eritrean government functions without a constitution and has instilled a system of compulsory military service for all men between the ages of 18 and 54 and women between the ages of 18 and 47. The length of one’s military service is arbitrary and indefinite, and those caught trying to avoid it (or those deported while seeking asylum from other countries) are imprisoned, tortured, and eventually executed. Freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion do not exist in Eretria, and hundreds of citizens have been persecuted for their political views or activities. In Ethiopia, these refugees are not allowed to work and have limited support from humanitarian organizations.