Women’s bodies as battlefields
The initial phase of the work concerned the documentation of Eritrean women fleeing from one of the most repressive regimes in the world and seeking
refuge in Ethiopia between 2017 and 2019.
Then, after the Ethiopian federal army invaded Tigray with the support of the Eritrean military and Amhara militia on 4 November 2020, the project’s focus has broadened to include Tigrinya women joining Eritrean women in their flight from North Ethiopia to the capital Addis Ababa or Sudan mainly in refugee camps.
United Nations human rights experts have denounced all the forces involved in the Tigray war (2022) for crimes against humanity, particularly the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) and the Amhara militia (Fano) for their use of sexual violence.
The Eritrean army used sexual violence as a weapon of war against both Eritrean and Tigrinya women: on the former as punishment for fleeing their country, on the latter to exterminate them.
Their bodies became battlefield on which there were no sides.
Soldiers and militias subjected Tigrinya and Eritrean women to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation and other forms of torture, often using ethnic slurs and death threats. Survivors still suffer significant physical and mental health complications (Amnesty International, 2021).
After two years of conflict, a truce is being enforced in Tigray, but peace is a long process which cannot disregard the necessity of affirming human rights without gender discrimination. The violated bodies of these women demand ethical, juridical and historical care, for a better future
Women experience conditions of extreme vulnerability linked to their own gender. They are subject to sexual violence, but also to the danger of dying in childbirth or losing their children.
Among the most atrocious acts that women suffer is that inflicted by the Eritrean soldiers who shoot girls at the stomach, as a punitive act preventing them from having children.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Tigray, 917 unaccompanied and 4,056 separated minors have been registered by the United Nations (“Emergency site Assessment Northern Ethiopia Crisis 4”, IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, 2021). The Tigray conflict is having a devastating impact on children. Health facilities have been damaged and there is a shortage of medical supplies and drugs, leaving children, pregnant women and those who have suffered sexual violence without access to vital healthcare. Children have also been out of school for months, putting them at risk of exploitation.
Entering Asmara, a peaceful atmosphere reigns: streets are clean, the Italian architecture gives the city a European flavor, and police are nowhere in sight. Everything seems in strong contrast with the stories of migrants fleeing this country. The espionage network is so widespread that it does not need policemen on the street and the prisons are hidden holes within the city.
A Report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, published 4 June 2016, denounced the Eritrean government for its pervasive espionage system, its control and repression both within the country itself and among the Eritrean diaspora communities around the world. This regime has not only arbitrarily arrested, tortured and disappeared people but has also executed them without trial.