I met Eden in my uncle’s house serving coffee while I was having a serious conversation with my cousins about early and arranged marriage. We did not know Eden was paying attention to our conversation until she sat beside me and told me, she had ran away from her birthplace because her parents forced her to marry an old man at the age of 8. I was shocked. In the meantime I thought this story can provide insights to most people about early marriage if it’s written properly. I told her about the HERStories series where we feature the untold stories of women and I asked for her consent. She said ‘why not, if you think my life story is imperative.’
Eden was born in Wollo of the Amhara region of Ethiopia. She is the second born child from a family of 12. Her childhood was the same as every Ethiopian child who is born and raised in the rural part of the country, helping her mother do housework chores. She always wanted to keep cattle since the age of five she shares, but her father constantly informed her to not even consider it, since as a young girl, her role is to do the housework and not desire boys’ work. She still cannot forget how her father reacted when he caught her keeping cattle at the age of seven. She says he got angry and punished her by making her stay home and do all the housework. Her father later in the week came up with a big punishment which according to him was sending her to school. She says, “my older neighbours who went to school never told me good things about school so my thoughts about it was horrific; I cried for a week after my dad said that.” Eden then shares that school was a bit hard for her at the beginning but she began to enjoy it later on.
As we continued our conversation, I asked her to explain the arranged marriage. I can tell from her facial expression that it’s still a traumatic memory for her. She continues, “my friends used to mock me about marrying him and I used to cry. Then i began to see a festive spirit taking place at our house towards the end of the year. The neighbours started bringing liquor, cattle and gifts for my father and mother. I thought it was for Christmas but the gifts left me curious. My mother then notified me to select bridesmaids since I am going to be given to a rich man after two weeks. I cried all day and night and could not think of a solution. However, my older brother told me to go to my uncle’s place, which is far from our house, and gave me 50br that he saved for school materials. Then I run away the next morning and I have never returned to my birthplace.” As Eden shares, life was not that easy at her uncles house but it saved her from the greatest dismay in her life. She came to Addis 6 years ago and began working as a housemaid.
As we continue to chat, Eden shares with me that she thinks it is a good start that women’s role is starting to change slowly. Nevertheless, in her point of view, society still needs to work on building women’s confidence and self-esteem when raising them. The other thing she emphasizes is that gender based violence starting from small unintentional actions persist in formal and informal jobs.
In wrapping up our conversation, I asked her, what in her life has brought her the greatest satisfaction. She replied: “deciding for myself. If I didn’t decide to run away when I was 8, I wouldn’t be here. The other one is my education. I will be in 10th grade next year. I’m working very hard to become an engineer.”
We’re very grateful to Eden for giving us consent to share HERStory and image.
This HERStory #ስለሷ has been captured by Selamawit Tezera, an economics student concentrating on development economics with a particular interest in health and gender economics. Growing up in Ethiopia and observing society’s attitude towards women has shaped her to be a feminist at an early age.