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Ethiopia: saving lives with ‘safety nets’

Aisa is sitting quietly in her hut. The only light comes from the tiny opening I’ve just crawled through, and my eyes struggle to adjust. Heavily pregnant and in full Muslim garb, Aisa is beautiful.

“I am nine months pregnant and I know I will give birth here in this hut,” she says.I glance around, at the mud floor and the pots and pans lovingly cleaned and stacked on the side. There is no bed.

Aisa sees me looking and says quietly “there is nowhere else. The local old women will help me – they know what they are doing”. I ask about her baby, and how she is feeling about the future.

Groundbreaking project

Smiling for the first time, Aisa tells me “I already love my baby, and I am glad to have it – I have felt it moving within me for several months, and every day since. I hope that this child will go to school, and learn as my children now are doing”.

I have seen the local schools in the area, built with Save the Children’s support as part of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) – a groundbreaking initiative which provides a figurative ‘safety net’ to stop families falling into hunger, and being forced to sell their last animals to survive.

It also provides to help the community thrive – providing education for children and adults, which teaches them new and sustainable ways to farm.

Rape common

I ask what impact the PSNP has had on her life, and on women in the village. Her answer surprised and saddened me. She tells me that the women are safer now, now that their men do not need to travel so far, or so long, to find pasture (Save the Children has taught new farming techniques including the use of pasture reservation areas).

“It is not safe to sleep alone, or travel alone for water or firewood – rape is common here. In our tradition, males cannot gather firewood – this is seen as a woman’s work and embarrassing for a man. We usually go out after it is cooler, which is towards the evening. I have heard many reports of rape here.”

Aisa looks down and shakes her head. “Some women are brave and will complain to village leaders, or to government in bigger towns. But some women are so ashamed they do not tell anyone.

Providing a safety net

“One woman came back with bruises and cuts on her arms where she tried to fight off several men. Sometimes it is pointless to fight back – if there is a group of men, what can you do?

“This woman said nothing, but we all knew what had happened. She just sat in her hut and didn’t speak for days. When we see these injuries we know what they mean.”

Save the Children works hard with communities and government to reach women like Aisa, including through safety net programmes that support families when they need it the most.

As part of our drought response, Save the Children has reached more than a million people in Ethiopia already, and the number increases every day.

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