Rape Culture in Tigray region of Ethiopia



Rape is a phenomenon that was rampant in the Tigray region, so rampant that the international community had commissioned and funded several studies in the last two decades. 


The UN agencies such as WHO, UNFPA, and NGOs operating in the Tigray region, as well as various European states that fund their operations, have known about the rape crisis in the Tigray region.


Yet, today, they pretend it is an issue that is related to the law enforcement operations by the central government. Worse, they point fingers at Eritrea, a nation where rape is practically non-existent.


Ever since law enforcement operations began in Tigray region, following the TPLF attack on the Northern Command, TPLF apologist have been crying foul and one of the things they have elevated to the international level is the issue of rape.


Accusing Eritrean and Ethiopian forces of rape. Although it is not a surprise to those who know TPLF and its propaganda tactics.


 The TPLF’s propaganda is not surprising to many, but what has left many baffled is the denial and desire of some in the international community to impugn others when they know fully well that rape crisis has existed in the Tigray region long before the law enforcement operations began. 


Studies show that gender-based violence, including rape was rampant throughout Tigray, including in its Universities, and predates events that have taken place after November 2018. In addition to the attack on the Northern Command and the massacres and MaiKadra, the TPLF’s release of criminals, including rapists, is said to have exacerbated the violence against women and children in Tigray.


Unfortunately, TPLF supporters have denied that a rape culture exists in Tigray. Despite the denials, however, that defines the Tigray region in Ethiopia and Tigrayan society.


Rape culture is a sociological concept for: “…a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.  Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these. Sociologists also suggest that rape is less likely to occur within cultures that are peaceful with low rates of interpersonal violence.


Some of the studies conducted in the Tigray region revealed as follows: 


In 2014, a study on “Sexual Violence and Associated Factor among Commercial Sex Workers in Mekelle City, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia”, was conducted in Mekelle city. According to the report: “…The city is divided in to seven sub cities, 32 Kebeles. There are 2190 bars and146 hotels in the city…There are a total number of 2868 commercial sex workers residing in the city. The study was conducted from April 1-18, 2014… A total of 250 commercial sex workers participated in the study. This study revealed that the prevalence of sexual violence among commercial sex workers was 75.6%...”


Several studies on Tigray Rape Crisis and GBV have been conducted by outsiders, very well known to the international community. While many other studies have equally been conducted by Tigrayans and other Ethiopians.  


In a study, “Prevalence and Factors Related to Gender Based Violence among Female Students of Higher Learning Institutions in Mekelle Town, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, Gebreyohannes, Yaynshet writes:  “…Cross-sectional institution based survey, using self-administered anonymous questionnaire and focus group discussion, was conducted among college female students found in Mekelle, Northern Ethiopia in March 2007 to determine the prevalence and associated factors of gender based violenc. A total of 1024 female students were involved in the stud, the overall prevalence of GBV in lifetime and in the current year was found to be 62.1% … Current year GBV was associated with female students who witnessed parental violence as a child, having boyfriend currently, who were sexually active at the time of the survey, with history of alcohol consumption and having drunken peers (males or/and females), whose childhood residence was in rural area and having poor school performance. Following discussions both in female and male groups, it was underscored that officials tolerance, traditions rewarding manliness and females’ loss of confidence as how to negotiate about sexual relations were exposing girls to gender based violence even in higher learning institution.


Based on the findings of the survey, it is concluded that gender based violence is common and a serious problem among college female students in the study area. …”


In a January 2020 study, “Factors associated with sexual violence among female administrative staff of Mekelle University, North Ethiopia”, authored by Sara Bahta Galu , Haftu Berhe Gebru , Yohannes Tesfay Abebe , Kahsu Gebrekirstos Gebrekidan , Atsede Fantahun Aregay , Kidane Gebremicheal Hailu , Gerezgiher Buruh Abera, the researchers illustrate the prevalence of gender based violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. They wrote:


“…As part of Ethiopia, in Tigray, sexual violence is still high, for example, a research done in Adigrat hospital shows 60.2% of rape cases occurred among children and adolescents…”


Their study at Mekelle University showed the extent of the problem: 


“…A total of 356 female administrative staff of Mekelle University participated in this study. From the total participants, 174 (48.9%) of them were in the age group 26–35 years, and 171 (48%) of the participants were married….About half 180 (50.2%) of the participants face sexual violence. The study found that sexual violence was committed against half of the female administrative staffs of Mekelle Universitythat with typical perpetrators being bosses and workmates, and the common areas of violence were workplaces.


A 2018 study on, “Intimate partner physical violence and associated factors in reproductive age married women in Aksum Town, Tigray, Ethiopia, and community based study”  published in 2019:


“… Out of the 398 study participants, 112 (28.1%) and 27 (6.8%) married reproductive age women had intimate partner physical violence in their lifetime and in the last 3 months respectively, from the physically violence reproductive age women, 88 (22.1%) had conflict with their husband, 35 (8.8%) and 65 (16.3%) battered by their husband usually and sometimes respectively. A total of 48 (8.7%) and 27 (6.8%) respectively had conflict and battered in the last 3 month…”


A July 2015 study on  “Factors associated with intimate partner physical violence among women attending antenatal care in Shire Endaselassie town, Tigray, northern Ethiopia: a cross-sectional study”  is yet another illustration of the prevalence of gender based violence in Tigray. The researchers write:


“…Four hundred twenty-two pregnant women were involved in this study, yielding a response rate of 100%. Nearly one fifth of women surveyed experienced intimate partner physical violence during pregnancy. Early marriage, rural dwelling, intimate partner alcohol consumption, and educational status were associated with intimate partner physical violence during pregnancy. The researchers suggest that urgent attention to women’s rights and health is essential at all levels to alleviate the problem and its risk factors in Tigray regional state of Ethiopia…”


In another related study on, “Prevalence of sexual violence in Ethiopian workplaces: systematic review and meta-analysis”, the researchers write:  “…This review and meta-analysis indicated that the prevalence of sexual violence in Ethiopian workplaces is high. Of the types of workplace sexual violence, workplace sexual harassment is high. It is also exceptionally high among female university staff, commercial sex workers, and Tigray regional state workplaces…”


A study funded by the Government of the Republic of Ireland, through Irish Aid-the official overseas development programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland in Ethiopia-as part of UN Women’s programme on ‘Preventing and Responding to Violence against Women and Girls in Ethiopia’ says:


“…there was an incident in Tigray that outraged the community leading to street protests, where a 13 year old girl was subjected to sexual violence that resulted in the amputation of both of her legs. Not only was the girl subjected to early marriage but also to domestic violence, a common manifestation of VAWG in these societies….”


This study also said that Violence against women and girls (VAWG) were also recorded, with the prevalence rate in Tigray 34.1 percent. 


A September 2016 study on “Assessment Of Rape Victims, The Case Of Secondary, Preparatory, TVET, Adwa College Of Teachers And Educational Leadership, Education And Axum University, Central Zone Of Tigray, Ethiopia” published by the International Journal of Scientific and Technology Research Volume 5, Issue 09 said the following:


“…. This research work has been carried out by dispatching self administered questionnaires randomly among 643 students of secondary, preparatory, TVET Adwa college of teachers and educational leadership education and Axum university students…This research uncovered a series of rape incident as a problem of our female student. It is affecting their life and education process. Almost half (49%) of the sexually active female students revealed rape accident. Even (44%) of the rape victims encountered more than one rape incident which extend up to six time per one victim. Among the rape victims, 27.7 % claimed rape incident in their present Institution, mainly in university (46.2%) and secondary and TVET (23%) each. In these institutions the rape attack is carried by university instructors (66.7%) and secondary teachers (33.3 %/) by enforcing with grade (mark), which is related to academic corruption…”


In a 2015 study by three researchers from the University College Dublin in Ireland, conducted with financial support from the Vincentian Law Missionaries of Dublin focused on:


“HIV transmission as a form of gender-based violence: Experiences of women in Tigray, Ethiopia”, published by three authors, stated the following:


“…While some participants were of the view that attitudes towards rape were changing, others believed that rape was still not considered taboo. Several participants distinguished between rape in rural areas and rape in urban areas, saying that in rural areas rape was accompanied by force and often occurred when girls or women were collecting firewood or water, while in urban areas it is done in a modern way, through deception. When asked about the forms of violence that were experienced by women in both the urban and rural settings, the participants talked about physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse and coercive control. In addition, the women recounted experiences of more general oppression, they spoke about husbands having multiple sexual partners, about contracting HIV and living with the virus, about the unequal responsibility that women took for child rearing and household life, and about dependence on men, thus suggesting the general inequality and oppression that they encounter…”


In another research paper, entitled, “Women’s Experiences of Gender Based Violence in Tigray, Ethiopia” reads:


“…The findings make for grim reading. The women who participated in the focus groups spoke openly about the issues they and their counterparts faced in their localities. As has been described, these included rape, physical and emotional abuse, unequal division of labour, unfaithful marriages, the transmission of HIV, poverty, unfair legal proceedings, lack of support from their communities, families and church if they wish to divorce their husbands and lack of education. The impact of these issues range from the economic and physical to the emotional and psychological, with all members of the family being affected. The women attributed the causes of violence and oppression to a myriad of reasons including lack of education and awareness, and inequality. The role played by poverty was particularly noteworthy. It was evident that many women became caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and abuse, whereby their efforts to meet their children’s basic needs meant that they felt unable to leave abusive men on whom they were dependent…”


In a 2017 study, “Rape and related health problems in Adigrat Zonal Hospital, Tigray Region, Ethiopia” published in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Development reads:


“…Within the study period, 181 victims reported to have been raped. Children and adolescents comprise 60.2% of the cases. Majority (91.7%) came from urban areas, about 70% were students and 76.8% were single. About 20% of the victims said they were raped before and the other 20% reported attempted rape. Forced sexual initiation was reported by 67.4%. Gang rape was reported in 6% of the victims who reported previous rape cases and 8.8% of the victims reported in the current one. Only 42% of the rapists were arrested even though the patients identified 90% of the perpetrators. About 30% of the patients had physical injuries to their bodies and 40% had minor and major genital findings. The victims also reported contracting sexually transmitted diseases, sexual and psychiatric problems and unwanted pregnancy…”


The two researchers thank Tedros Adhanom who was head of the Regional Health Bureau, now heading the WHO, and Dr. Karen Witten, an American internist, for their “assistance and encouragement” in writing the paper. 


For example, the African Child Policy Forum in collaboration with Save the Children Sweden, conducted a study to generate national information on violence against children. It acted as a contribution to the global UN study on violence against children. Violence comes in all shapes and forms including rape, beatings, bullying, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, abduction, early marriage, female genital cutting, committing children to abusive and exploitative labour, trafficking, and the use of children as weapons and targets of war. The study by Save the Children showed the following:


“…All types of sexual violence including abuse, exploitation and harmful traditional practices were committed against children at all study sites, with little variation between urban and rural settings, and between different groups of children. In the study, 52.2 percent of children reported knowing about cases of rape and 42.5 percent said they knew of cases of “seduction.” Sexual harassment and rape were more widespread than other forms of sexual violence. Street children and children with disabilities represented the group most at risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence…”


• “…Some forms of violence against children are tolerated by most community members. More serious acts of violence, abduction for example, are considered culturally acceptable – sometimes even perpetrated by the family of the victim. In such an environment it would be difficult to expect children, who do not enjoy a dignified status in the family nor in the community to report such cases to the police in order to change their own fate…”


In another study, “A Study on Violence against Girls in Primary Schools and Its Impacts on Girls’ Education in Ethiopia conducted by Save the Children Denmark, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Women’s Affairs”, reported the following: 


• “…All types of sexual violence including abuse, rape, sexual harassment, exploitation and harmful traditional practices such as abduction, early marriage, and FGM are committed against children at all study sites. Girls are the primary victims… The data also indicates that sexual harassment and rape are more widespread than other types of sexual violence…”


• “…A wide variety of perpetrators of rape occurring on the way to/from school were identified. These included old men, truck drivers, civil servants, individuals renting rooms in girls’ parents’ houses, friends/friends of friends, rural merchants who shuttle between towns and villages, police officers and soldiers, and farmers. Perpetrators of rape in the home are reported to include uncles/male cousins and step fathers/fathers…”


It should be noted that these studies were commissioned during the TPLF’s rule in Ethiopia and involved many researchers, including foreigners from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and the United States. There include many studies conducted by foreign NGOs in Tigray.


Analyst suggests Tigray society needs to impart changes in the social structures and practices that sustain this cultural acceptance of gender-based violence. Instead of pointing fingers at others, TPLF supporters, including the international community, must address the problem for the sake of the people of Tigray and not try to politicize the issue and divert attention elsewhere.

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