Movement to help girls marks Ethiopia Valentine’s Day

Yellow Movement creates awareness about plight of female students at universities and schools in country

By Munira Abdelmenan Awel

The color red is usually associated with Valentine’s Day, but in Ethiopia, a Yellow Movement to raise awareness about the plight of female students and their lack of basic needs such as sanitary pads is creating waves on the occasion.

Members of the movement are raising money by selling flowers at makeshift stalls on the streets of Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, which will be used to help women. Members, who are mostly volunteers, bring flowers from a farm, turn them into bouquets and personally delivering them to people.

Blen Sahilu, a legal professional who lectures at the Addis Ababa University and is one of the movement’s co-founders, explained the motivation of the campaign, explaining that some female students who could not afford to get sanitary pads are forced to skip classes, which in turn “directly impacts their educational performance”.

Sahilu said around 150 students were being currently supported through the annual Valentine’s Day fundraising proceeds.

About why the color yellow was chosen for the movement, she said yellow represents “the future we are trying to create. Yellow represents a rising sun and a rising yellow sun is the best sign of a new day-- a better future for all of us.

“Once we made yellow our theme uniform, friends and supporters began calling us ‘The Yellow Movement’.”

Sahilu said the movement intends to become a “constant voice for gender equality. Our main goal was to take responsibility for the space we occupy -- the university. And ask relevant questions on gender equality, justice, GBV [gender-based violence], cultural practices and the way towards social change.”

“We do that by organizing weekly events we call Table Days. We take out a table and set up under a tree or at a location accessible to students and engage students in one-on-one or small group debates on issues we deem crucial,” she said.

The money handed out to female students allows them to afford basic sanitary materials and stationary materials.

However, the number of students who need support is far larger than the initiative is able to address.

The first Valentine’s Day fundraiser organized by the movement had yielded just 4,000 Birr ($147) and supported only two students. But in the fifth year, the group was able to raise 301,000 Birr ($11,086).

“We hope to do more but also campaign for more sustainable solutions by demanding that the university allocate funding for this and other essential causes. Especially supporting students with a disability,” she added.

- Cultural challenges

Hawi Geleta Deksisa, a third-year law student at Addis Ababa University and Yellow Movement volunteer, said: “Our biggest challenge is that most people think we are promoting western culture.

“But I want people to understand that we are doing this to help students who have financial challenges.”

Valentine’s Day is an event alien to most Ethiopians. But of late, the day is being cherished increasingly by urbanites. It is popular mostly in some plush quarters in the cosmopolitan city of Addis Ababa.

Biniam Alemayehu, a donor for the movement, said he was backing the Valentine's Day initiative because he knew it would help young women to stay in school.

“I heard about the Yellow Movement four years before on Twitter and felt to take part in this good cause. And I am very proud to be part of it.

“The specific reason makes me closer to the cause is in a country like ours you hear and see that many girls are missing schools because they couldn't afford basic needs which will affect their future achievements,” he said.

“Gender equality and women empowerment could only be achieved if men take part alongside with women, so men need to be engaged as an advocate to speak up against discrimination and imbalances.”

*Addis Getachew in Ethiopia contributed to this report.

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