‘Their Suffering Breaks My Soul’: A Tigrayan Woman’s Pleas for Change

                  —by Feyre Gezahegn

© WFP/Leni Kinzli

I recall when Abiy Ahmed was appointed as Prime Minister in April 2018, Ethiopians, including Tigrayans, at home and abroad rejoiced. At that time, no one had reason to suspect that his government would be leading a violent campaign on Tigrayans two years later. Even when he deployed troops against Tigrayans, I still believed it was only political posturing. Thinking back now, I realize the war on Tigray commenced years before its official launch on November 4, 2020.

With every passing day, the stories and images coming out of Tigray continue to traumatize us even further. Atrocities of unimaginable proportions are still being unleashed against Tigray, as the world watches with seeming paralysis. Equally shocking has been the speed with which Ethiopia and Ethiopians, the nation, and people, I once saw as my own turned against Tigrayans. We were one people. When did this shift happen? And why did politics come between us?

Some friends cheered, denied, or rationalized all atrocities including the horrific weaponized rape of Tigrayan women by Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean troops. I struggle to describe the personal and collective grief and trauma at the unprecedented level of violence as we are witnessing indiscriminate destruction, mass starvation, systematic weaponized rape, and more.

Estimated tens of thousands of our sisters and mothers, ages 8-80 years, have been targeted with state-sanctioned weaponized rape aiming to break current and future generations by irrevocably rupturing the social fabric. To add insult to injury, survivors are met with orchestrated skepticism, ridicule, and threats of further harm for daring to report these inhumane crimes.

Tigrayan society is very communal – each attack on a Tigrayan woman is a brutal violation of this big family. When people inquire about the well-being of my family, it feels reductionist — the safety of my family does not guarantee the safety of my community. When they rape one woman, it is an attack on all Tigrayan women.

In one attack, a rapist told his victim that they plan to “erase the Tigrayan bloodline” or “Amharanize” our women. In another attack, troops inserted various foreign objects including nails and rocks into the genitalia of a Tigrayan woman. The invaders also burnt the womb of our sisters as they believe “a Tigrayan womb should never give birth.”

Like my fellow Tigrayans, I struggle to grasp how human beings can be capable of employing such evil acts. The suffering of the women of Tigray is beyond words. Their pain breaks my soul and fills my heart with immense anger. I know my fellow Ethiopians have already failed them and the world is also failing the women of Tigray. Thoughts of what I can do to help end their suffering and how I can be there for them keep me up at night, and away from my daily duties and responsibilities.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official view of the organization.
Feyre Gezahegn

The Author

Feyre Gezahegn is pursuing a combined bachelor's degree in Canada and is a human rights advocate focused on Tigray. Feyre is co-founder of Women of Tigray, a movement that is dedicated to amplifying the voice of Tigrayan girls and women, and a founder of TYCalgary a local city-based organization that aims to connect, empower, and educate Tigrayans.