National Union of Eritrean Women

ERRA Aug-Sep 94, p. 9

From The Horn of Africa Bulletin, Vol. 6, no. 5,
September-October, 1994

Under the standard bearer of "Emancipation through equal participation", the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEWmn) emerged onto Eritrea's tumultuous, revolutionary landscape in 1979, as one of the national, mass organizations of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)... Not content to rest on the laurels of wartime progress towards gender equality, the NUEWmn have remained highly active since Independence.

In fact, at its Fourth Transitional Congress in September 1992, the NUEWmn officially declared itself an indigenous Eritrean Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and therefore independent of the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) and the EPLF (since renamed the People's Front for Democracy and Justice). The Fourth Congress marked not only a physical rebirth for the NUEWmn as an autonomous organization, but a renewed symbolic and philosophical commitment, beyond war-time necessity, to the improvement of women's lives in Eritrea.

The NUEWmn's Central Headquarters in Asmara is the locus for ten provincial offices and numerous field workers across the country. With roughly 200,000 Union members from all walks of life (including the Eritrean Diaspora in Europe, the Middle East and North America), the NUEWmn pursues gender equality on village, district, sub-regional and provincial levels. Contesting the traditionally subordinate position of women in Eritrean society, the NUEWmn works extensively at a grassroots level to promote the establishment of women's fundamental rights to land, political participation and influence over family and marriage practices. Additionally, the NUEWmn strives to ensure women's equal access to education, employment and skills development, as well as health and child care services. Although most of these efforts are staged at a rural level, the NUEWmn also lobbies persistently for women's interests at a national level and forges international ties with sympathetic organizations around the world.

Eritrea's period of post-war reconstruction presents a crucial juncture in the lives of Eritrean women, as reactionary social attitudes and customary laws frequently threaten to unravel women's hard-fought progress...

Currently, the NUEWmn spearheads numerous such progressive projects. The NUEWmn's literacy campaign, for example, targets the estimated 85-90% Eritrean women who are functionally illiterate. Under the logistical auspices of the Education Department of the NUEWmn the literacy effort seeks to develop language skills which would in turn foster business and management skills and aid women in pursuing productive employment. The literacy programme for women in Barka and Gash & Setit, for example, combines qualitative and quantitative research to best gauge the needs of women and help the NUEWmn design appropriate training structures.

The literacy campaign is complimented by vocational training programs in the areas of tailoring and typing with future efforts to aim at such non-traditional areas of work for women like carpentry, masonry, electrical and plumbing service.

The NUEWmn's rural credit program in Barka and Gash & Setit stands out as a bold pilot project geared toward providing women, many times recently resettled refugees, with a sound economic support structure, thereby opening opportunities not previously available to women in Eritrea. Research and data collection on the women within these provinces will provide a foundation for this project and will eventually assist re-settled and de-mobilized women to develop a strong economic base for themselves and their families...