When the Personal Becomes Political: Using Legal Reform to Combat Violence against Women in Ethiopia


Burgess, Gemma Lucy. 2012. “When the Personal Becomes Political: Using Legal Reform to Combat Violence against Women in Ethiopia.” Gender, Place & Culture 19 (2): 153–74. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2011.573142.

Author: Gemma Lucy Burgess


This article focuses on Ethiopia's first civil society organisation, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), which has been campaigning for legal reform to secure women's rights and address violence against women. Implementing legal changes to benefit women in Ethiopia is impeded by difficulties in using the formal legal system, by poverty and deeply embedded gender inequalities, by plural legal systems, and by entrenched cultural norms. However, the article argues that the most significant challenge is the increasing degree of authoritarianism in Ethiopian state politics, that this is crucial in determining the space for activism, and that this shapes the successful implementation of legal change. The research shows how women's activism around personal rights challenges public/private and personal/political boundaries and can be seen as a political threat by governments in contexts where democracy and rule of the law are not embedded, leading to repression of women's activism and hindering the implementation of measures to protect women's rights when states become more authoritarian. Little is known empirically about the impact of democratisation on the implementation of measures to protect women's rights in Africa. This article shows how the emergence of democracy and legal reform intersects with the emergence of women's rights, especially with respect to gender-based violence. It shows how trying to secure women's personal right to be free from violence through the law is profoundly political and argues that the nature of democratisation really matters in terms of the implementation of measures such as legal changes designed to protect women's rights.

Keywords: Ethiopia, legal reform, women's rights, violence against women, activism

Topics: Civil Society, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, SV against Women, Violence Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Ethiopia

Year: 2012

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.