Introductory note by Ayantu Tibesso
A little over a year ago, while doing research for a term paper, I came across the following article by a woman named Sabbontuu Jiilcha. I first found an excerpt of this piece cited by John Sorenson in Ghosts and Shadows. I was greatly interested in the work and sought to learn more about the piece and the author. Upon doing further research, I was able to locate the full document online (I cannot remember where now). Unfortunately, I was only able to locate the piece and almost no information about the author. From what I have read in other places, I believe the author was a former OLF freedom fighter.
What she describes in this piece is an unfortunate predicament in which Oromo women found themselves after having fought Abyssinians alongside Oromo men in the 80s and 90s. Much to their disbelief, former women soldiers in the OLF found themselves being pushed back into the background. After what they had thought to be a fight for Oromo liberation (of both Oromo Men and women) had ended, the women found themselves fighting a different kind of battle. This piece speaks great volume of early Oromo women’s attempt to engage in an all-encompassing liberation undertakings–political, economic, social and cultural. They envisioned a liberation that would free all Oromo from shackles of both colonialism and patriarchal oppression. I will not go into further analysis as the piece eloquently captures what remains to be the reality for Oromo women. The progress made thus far, however meager, was possible because women such as Sabbontuu Jiilcha, fought vigorously for liberation of all Oromo people. We republish this piece to salute Jiilcha and call those who stand on her back to reengage in a domain that is increasingly becoming exclusive to Oromo men – the struggle for Oromo freedom.
The Voices of Oromo Women–A whisper into the Soul of Oromo Men
The womb that carried you is convulsing with fury. Blood is dripping from the breasts that once suckled you with milk. You have changed our necklaces into chains and our bracelets into handcuffs. Our wedding rings have become tormenting, sharp hot irons that burn and cut into our flesh. Instead of a home, you gave us a prison which has become a living hell. The heart that once loved you passionately now aches with deep pain when you, Oromo men, call yourselves liberators. Can we, Oromo women, agree with you, knowing what you are doing to us? How are you different from the Tigrean “liberators”? You point to them as enslavers, but remember the other three fingers point at you. If you are to throw stones, don’t live in glass houses.
You may say you are different in that you mean well. But we know that even “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We have been fooled and cheated too often. Give up deeds, not words. You call yourselves liberators, but you are enslaving Oromo women! Or did you think slavery is a delicious dish when the cooks are Oromo men? Well, we don’t buy that. For us, oppressors are oppressors, whether they are Oromos or not. Think of what you are doing to us. Soul-search yourselves. Sneaking a peek into your inner soul once in a long while won’t hurt.
We have taken all the pains of the struggle along with you, and equally if not more so. But you strive to snatch the pleasurable part of it from us. We are whipped and driven like animals. We are burned like dry firewood. WE have fought Abyssinian wars with our flesh and bones. Dacchii Oromia was soaked wet with our blood which mingled and flowed with yours in the wars of liberation. We were jailed and beaten until our flesh was like ground meat and left rotting. We were raped -body and mind. We have taken up arms and fought to free ourselves from the harsh grip of enslavers. Yet, all this notwithstanding, we are cast aside like broken and useless pot.
Whatever lame excuses you may give us, we can tell the end by the trend: Where are Oromo women? Where are we? What is our role? Of course, we make your homes and bear your children. Of course, we die on the front lines equally with you. But are we in the leadership? Do we make decisions? “Oh God forbid!” you say, “This is heresy! How can it be? that is not for women!” We are not supposed to work with you as colleagues. We are to be your ‘women’. We are to be organized separately. We are supposed to be lagging one step behind even when we are capable of forging far ahead.
It is unfortunate that we have to engage in yet another struggle with you – from within. This perhaps, is the subtlest and most difficult struggle we have ever undertaken. Taking up arms and fighting with the enemy may have been easier task than delicately battling with the person we love. Changing governments and systems is not easy, but changing the attitudes of our men (and women alike), we believe, may be the toughest of all struggles. But we are determined to carry on.
You have burdened us with your share of responsibilities to add to ours, often crushing us under the weight, both physically and morally. For every great step you have taken forward, all too often, you have mercilessly thrown us back ward. Our shoulders became ladders on which you climbed to the peaks of your ambitions and dreams. Whatever you gained was gained with our support. We suffered in your stead. We paid your debts and carried your burdens. We were blamed for your failures, but were denied the opportunity to share in the joys of your success – success which was brought about by heavy expenses on our part. We became your springboard from which you jumped, and the farther ahead you leaped, the farther behind we were pushed. If ever we broke out of this hold and excelled, we were rarely given due credit. We were referred to simply as your mothers, daughters or wives – always under your shadow. For how long should this grand injustice continue?
You have done everything possible to crush us as though we were your enemy. But we have persevered. WE may have been burdened, humiliated, deprived, imprisoned, tortured – some of our sisters were even killed – but through struggle most of us have survived. WE are not going to give up until total liberation is a reality for all of us. We Oromo women will fight oppressors of all kinds to the end of time, and our struggle shall continue until every Oromo home is rocked by the blast of our voices; until every Oromo heart is alive with the flames of the fire we are determined to spread.; until every male chauvinist attitude is eradicated. You may try to fight back, but don’t slap water! It will only splash on your face. Leave your illusions behind! For goodness sake, liberators! Liberate your minds first!
This is an appeal to your conscience. After all the struggles we have been through, we are still left with one more. We should warn you that failure to change your attitudes toward women could turn this whisper into that familiar thunderous voice, and lightning might strike any moment!