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Online abuse silences women in Ethiopia, study finds

Organizations working on the protection of human rights in Ethiopia showcase their projects to attendees at the launch of research on online violence in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on May 9, 2024. (Maya Misikir/VOA)
Organizations working on the protection of human rights in Ethiopia showcase their projects to attendees at the launch of research on online violence in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on May 9, 2024. (Maya Misikir/VOA)

ADDID ABABA — Research into online abuse and hate speech reveals most women in Ethiopia face gender-targeted attacks across Facebook, Telegram and X.

The abuse and hate speech are prompting many Ethiopian women to withdraw from public life, online and off, according to the recent research.

The Center for Information Resilience, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization, spearheaded the study. The CIR report, released Wednesday, says that women in Ethiopia are on the receiving end of abuse and hate speech across all three social media platforms, with Facebook cited as the worst.

Over 2,000 inflammatory keywords were found in the research, which looked at three Ethiopian languages — Amharic, Afan Oromo and Tigrigna — as well as English. The list is the most comprehensive inflammatory word lexicon in Ethiopia, according to the researchers.

Over 78% of the women interviewed reported feelings of fear or anxiety after experiencing online abuse.

It is highly likely similar problems exist in areas of society that have not been analyzed yet, said Felicity Mulford, editor and researcher at CIR.

“This data can be used by human rights advocates, women’s rights advocates, in their advocacy,” she said. “We believe that it’s incredibly impactful, because even though we’ve only got four languages, it shows some of the [trends] that exist across Ethiopia.”

Online abuse is so widespread in Ethiopia that it has been “normalized to the point of invisibility,” the report’s authors said.

Betelehem Akalework, co-founder of Setaset Power, an Afro-feminist movement in Ethiopia, said her work has opened doors to more-serious, targeted attacks.

“We [were] mentally prepared for it to some extent,” she said. “We [weren’t] surprised that the backlash was that heavy, but then we did not anticipate the gravity of that backlash. So, we took media training, and we took digital security trainings.”

The Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center, established three years ago, offers protection for human rights defenders and social media activists in the country.

The center’s program coordinator, Kalkidan Tesfaye, said there must be more initiative from the government in education and policymaking to help women protect themselves from online abuse.

“In our recommendation earlier, we were talking about how the Ministry of Education can incorporate digital safety training ... a very essential element to learning about computers or acquiring digital skills,” Tesfaye said.

The researchers also investigated other protected characteristics under Ethiopian law, including ethnicity, religion and race. The findings showed that women face compounded attacks, as they are also often targeted for their ethnicity and religion.

Committee to Protect Journalists calls for Ethiopian journalist prison release

Committee to Protect Journalists calls for Ethiopian journalist prison release
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Clashes displace over 50,000 in northern Ethiopia

FILE—Map of Alamata in northern Ethiopia.
FILE—Map of Alamata in northern Ethiopia.

NAIROBI—Over 50,000 people have been displaced by clashes in a disputed area in northern Ethiopia, the United Nations said, as the international community expressed concern about the violence involving fighters from rival regions.

"The humanitarian situation is dire, with thousands of women and children in need of broad humanitarian support to survive," the U.N. said late Monday, citing local authorities in the disputed area, which is claimed by Tigray and neighboring Amhara.

The global human rights body noted the number of people displaced by the armed clashes in Alamata Town and Raya Alamata, Zata and Ofla since the weekend has passed 50,000.

Amhara forces occupied Raya Alamata in southern Tigray during a two-year war between Ethiopia's government and regional Tigrayan authorities.

Under a peace deal between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and Tigrayan authorities, Amhara forces — which backed federal troops during the conflict — were due to withdraw from Raya Alamata after the agreement was signed in Pretoria in November 2022.

Neither the federal government nor Tigrayan authorities responded to AFP requests for information and the identity of the fighters involved remains unclear. It is impossible to verify the situation on the ground independently as media access to northern Ethiopia is heavily restricted.

Reports of the fighting have sparked alarm among the international community, with the embassies of several nations including the United States, Japan, Britain and France on Saturday calling for dialogue and urging the "de-escalation and protection of civilians."

The Amhara regional administration last week accused the Tigray People's Liberation Front party, which controls Tigray, of "invading" Raya Alamata and other areas "which have identity questions."

"The Amhara region administration asks TPLF and its supporters to... fully adhere to the Pretoria agreement and hence to swiftly vacate from the areas it currently controls," it said in a statement issued last Wednesday.

"If this doesn't happen the Amhara region administration will be forced... to protect our people from attack and save the country from destruction."

Getachew Reda, a senior TPLF member who heads the Tigray regional administration, said on X last week that the recent developments were "the work of diehard enemies of the Pretoria agreement trying to take advantage of real or perceived differences to derail" the peace deal.

$3.2 billion needed to provide humanitarian aid for Ethiopians

$3.2 billion needed to provide humanitarian aid for Ethiopians
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