Awra Amba, an Ethiopian village where gender equality is real

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Gebeyehu Mesghana from Awra Amba 300x187 Awra Amba, an Ethiopian village where gender equality is real

Gebeyehu & Mesghana from Awra Amba

If I were an alien visiting our planet this week I’d think, “Whoa, how’s that for a mess, one half of the species trying to annihilate the other half!”

We on earth don’t see it that way ourselves; or we would be in revolution against misogynist warfare. Yet an eye that has not been conditioned to normalise the widespread, centuries-long abuse of women would be thoroughly shaken by all the vitriolic news this week where, to name a few incidents, hundreds of girls remain in the custody of Boko Haram; a woman was stoned to death by her family because she married someone of the wrong – wait, yes – religion (religions that are supposed to be about love, peace and tolerance, mind you); another woman gave birth to her child in a prison she is being held in because the father of the child does not refer to god as Allah; two girls were raped, killed and HUNG on a tree like trophies by a group of young men; and, as if that was not enough for the womenfolk of earth to bear this week; a young privileged asshole went on a killing spree because no sane woman – surprise, surprise – wanted to have sex with him.

So when I met filmmakers Serdar Ferit and Paulina Tervo to watch their interactive documentary about an egalitarian village in Ethiopia, Awra Amba, I witnessed a story that was not only fascinating and well-made but also restorative and encouraging amidst the gloomy news. 

There are numerous incredible things about Awra Amba, a rural community in Northern Ethiopia. It is a society where democracy prevails, where poverty is overcome, where the elderly and the young are looked after by all and where religion is “not about building churches and mosques but about seeing God everywhere”. As one of the villagers puts it, “Education is our faith”. Yet it was Awra Amba’s views on mutuality and social relations – men and women are viewed as 100% equals in the village – that particularly brightened my week. 

Awra Amba, which roughly means ‘city above a hill’, was created forty years ago by Zumra Nuru, a visionary farmer who since childhood had questioned why men abused power against women. When Nuru founded Awra Amba, he was led by the simple conviction that things needed to change. He could not read nor write, but he was very much able to think, and above all, dream. And he dreamt of a world where men and women were equal and where people together actively sought to build harmony. Armed only with big ideas, he gathered nineteen like-minded young people and together they created a manifesto for a new way of life and founded Awra Amba. Today the village has nearly five-hundred inhabitants, work is distributed according to skills rather than gender, women’s and maternal health is respected and protected, marriage below the age of nineteen is not allowed and girls are encouraged and supported to go to school. Decision-making, work and profit are distributed equally and progressive democratic values underpin the community’s day-to-day life. 

As one might expect, the journey has not been easy. Challenging deeply engrained traditions in a patriarchal society, Zumra Nuru and his friends quickly became unpopular with surrounding villages and the government. They’ve been subject to attacks, driven out from their village and Nuru has been imprisoned. Despite these challenges, he remains committed to fulfilling his dream and forty years later the progressive ideas that started as the product of his wildest imagination now form the foundations of a thriving community. One where women are viewed as equal to men and are involved in every element of decision making both in the home, work and the community.

The Awra Amba documentary is being finalised but when it launches it will be of much value. People around the world can learn a lot from this small yet revolutionary community where education, healthcare, elderly care and equality are actively encouraged. Its interactive format brings you as close to the village as you can get virtually. You can ‘enter’ huts and meet some of the residents of the village, chat with them and learn about the community’s way of life through clips, interviews and infographics.

Find out more here, including how to support the Awra Amba project here: http://www.visitawraamba.com/ and share thoughts below, what do you think of Awra Amba? 

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  • Oak & Alder

    Can my partner and I move there? It sounds paradise.
    Is there freedom from Abrahamic totalitarianism?

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com/ MsAfropolitan

      That’s a good question – if anyone can move there… bet many would like to :)

  • Efrutik

    I literally balled with tears of joy and hope for humanity when I read this post and watched the video yesterday. next time in ET this is where I will be going. Thank you for sharing positive news about otherwise very grim world. This community is beyond inspirational.

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com/ MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you found it encouraging and inspiring too.
      P.S. If you do go PLEASE share your experience with us.

      • Efrutik

        Absolutely!

  • Medusa

    In addition to the other horrific events you mention, a Chinese girl was bludgeoned to death in a McDonald’s because she declined to give a group of guys her phone number. *Trigger warning* http://www.chinasmack.com/2014/pictures/chinese-girl-bludgeoned-to-death-in-shandong-mcdonalds.html

    This village sounds amazing; like a feminist utopia. It’s interesting to me (read: scary) that surrounding villages and governments literally attacked them for not following patriarchal ideals- I guess the fact that they were functioning without oppressing women in all sectors of life was such a threat to the patriarchal structures, and they weren’t even living in the same village! I definitely needed to hear about this, I feel sick to my stomach after everything that’s being reported in the news the past week.

    I wonder what it is about Zumra Nuru, and so many other people who are unwilling to blindly follow rules that we are taught since high school. One of my professors once said to me: “You’re not that remarkable, so how were you able to escape the patriarchal indoctrination?” I have no idea the answer to that question, but I’m really relieved that I have, and really glad to hear about Awra Amba.

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com/ MsAfropolitan

      There are no words for what happened to that girl in China, it’s so heinous, nor any of the heartbreaking crimes we’ve been hearing about, and yet we need to somehow try to find them.

      Awra Amba is a ray of light. Another thing I found out in the documentary was that the citizens of Awra Amba are healthier in average than those in surrounding areas. Also children that don’t live in the village come there to go to school and had some warming things to say about it. So they are definitely functioning and yet (or perhaps therefore) they got attacked.

      I have to disagree with your professor, you are remarkable, anyone who escapes patriarchal indoctrination is. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in a hyper patriarchal world. I’m glad to read that and for your visit. Thanks.

  • inubiyamarsha

    I have to visit Awra Amba, and if possible live and contribute to such a movement. Thank you for sharing this