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UN: Domestic Violence 'Rampant' in Ethiopia

Domestic violence is so rampant in Ethiopia that it is accepted as part of daily life, according to a United Nations study. Reproductive health and equality indicators for Ethiopian women rank among the worst in sub-Saharan Africa.

The gender and advocacy program officer at the U.N. Population Fund's Ethiopian office, Helen Amdemikael, tells VOA, 85 percent of Ethiopian women polled for the study say that male partners are justified in beating women for one or more reasons.

These include: neglecting children, leaving the home without permission, talking with other men, not preparing food, and refusing sexual relations with their partners.

"In the Ethiopian context, women and young girls are socialized to be submissive, to be passive, to be seen as unequal vis-à-vis boys and men," she said. "So, part of the problem is your own self-perception and your own self-image, which is internalized through years of socialization and upbringing."

Ms. Amdemikael says, exact statistics on the incidence of domestic violence in Ethiopia are hard to come by, because the issue is not openly discussed. But the problem is "rampant."

Domestic violence is one of many hardships women face in Ethiopia and around the world, says the U.N. Population Fund's annual report.

The report calls on governments to end discrimination against women, and to increase spending on health, education and other programs for women, as a way of reducing global poverty.

According to the report, reproductive health and equality indicators for Ethiopian women rank among the worst in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the area of maternal mortality.

In Ethiopia, more than 25,000 Ethiopian women die during childbirth each year, and 50,000 women are disabled after having given birth.

Ms. Amdemikael explains a key reason why this is so.

"So, in some of the regions of the country, you have statistics where you find that median age of marriage is below 15 years of age," she said. "It's basically about a young girl getting pregnant and being ready to have a baby when her pelvis is not mature enough to deliver a baby. Early marriage, early pregnancy, early births also consequently leads to maternal deaths and maternal morbidities in Ethiopia."

Ms. Amdemikael says another reason for the high death and disability rates is that barely 10 percent of Ethiopian women deliver with the help of a skilled birth attendant.

Ethiopia's maternal mortality rate is 871 deaths per 100,000 births. The lowest rate in sub-Saharan Africa is to be found in Mauritius, with 24 deaths per 100,000 births, while Malawi has the highest rate, with 1,800 deaths per 100,000 births.

Ms. Amdemikael stresses that Ethiopian girls and young women are also very vulnerable to being infected with HIV-AIDS from older husbands, and to being exposed to harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, trends present in other sub-Saharan African countries, as well.