Let’s remember the first EPLF women fighters

This informative article supplements the information in the previous post.


Worku Zerai
Worku Zerai

Aida Kidane, 02 March 2005

March 8 is celebrated in Eritrea as International Women’s Day as well. Women of Eritrea have played a major role in the liberation struggle of our country, making up one-third of the military force.

They endured difficult and sometimes unbearable obstacles but persevered strong and defiant. They
transformed our cultural perceptions and served as examples for men and women alike that women too can fight like a man and at times, better than a man. They were able to cut loose from old and repressive traditional customs that denigrate women and forcibly won their rights to equality.

Women flocked in to meda; city as well as rural women of all class levels.
Many died defending their country; many others were maimed but remain to
tell about their horrific experiences.

The first female fighters who joined the liberations struggle are, sadly,
not remembered and hardly mentioned. Though International Women’s Day has
been celebrated for decades in Eritrea, it was impossible to find any
mention of the three giant heroines who were the first to join the struggle.
Time and again, history writers remember Hamid Awate as the first fighter to
lead the struggle for independence, but none mention the women who were the
first.

The three women are: Dehab Tesfatsion, Aberash Melke and Werku Zerai. In
1973, they were students at Haile Selassie University (currently Addis Abeba
University) who chose to leave their comfortable lives to join their
brothers in the armed struggle to liberate their country and themselves.

These amazing women were intellectuals who soon became involved in the
policy debates over the nature and direction of the armed struggle known as
“MenkE”. Along with their mates, they suffered the consequences of their
democratic and open actions by being put in prison; in separate cells from
their male comrades.

The women were never charged in an official capacity but were treated with
suspicion and were accused of being spoilt on upbringings and of unknown
origins according to “Destructive Movement of 73”, Tigrina. Some of the
students survived the “MenkE” accusations by recanting their testimonies
while, while six of the others were executed, two of whom were women. The
numbers of the MenkaE who perished are larger than the said 6.

“Menkaay” in 1975 documents the humiliation the women fighters suffered by being jeered at and accused of coming to meda looking for husbands! Not only did they have to endure harsh climate, difficult living conditions and risk their lives, but had to put up with accusations from their chauvinist counterparts who did not give them the
respect they deserved.

As far as records show, at least one of them, Dehab Tesfatsion, was not
honored with a Martyr’s Certificate, which she and all the others deserved
for their duty and sacrifice to their country. And the same to their male
compatriots. Giving them no recognition is like treating them like they
never existed. One of them, Werku, still lives.

On International Women’s Day, let us take the time to remember and thank
them. It is high time they are honored alongside all other Eritrean martyrs.

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