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“Surviving R. Kelly” Kicked Off A #MeToo Movement In East Africa

New emotions crept up inside of S. following her realization: a renewed sense of anger and hatred toward her cousin, loneliness at never having had a chance to process her molestation, and shame.

“No one ever sat me down and talked to me about it, or told me that I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said. “Sex is so taboo in our community. They basically made like it never happened.”

#MeTooEthiopia organizers have said that the lack of open discussion within the community around sexuality, much less sexual violence, adds another layer of difficulty to speaking up about abuse.

Tiemert Shimelis was one of the people M. asked to help her launch the @MeTooEthiopia Instagram account and website. A longtime @ShadesOfInjera follower, Shimelis, who is in her thirties and lives in DC (home to the largest Ethiopian diaspora community in the US), was one of the hundr of people who responded to M.’s question with a story of her own experience of being sexually abused. She told BuzzFeed News that the feeling of shame is the “main evil that women fight when it comes to sexual assault stories in Ethiopia.”

Shimelis, who works as an English interpreter for speakers of Amharic (one of Ethiopia’s most popular languages), wrote about her own experiences with sexual assault — once by a relative in Ethiopia when she was younger, and once by an acquaintance in DC when she was older — which has been published on #MeTooEthiopia’s site. She said that other cultural factors, like a deeply ingrained respect for elders, discouraged victims of sexual violence from speaking out.

“Most of the time, it’s older men who do this to you, so you won’t be believed,” she said. “It’s more likely that your parents would move towards shushing the whole thing because they’re going to be outcast from the community if they dare question the integrity or morals of a certain elder.”

Shimelis added that economics also plays a role in preventing people from coming forward. If a woman is financially dependent on her abuser — which could easily be the case in a country where women are unemployed at twice the rate of men — accusing him of being sexually violent could affect their livelihood.

There’s another major obstacle that activists in Ethiopia and the diaspora face: Ethiopian culture regularly dismisses anything considered a product of the West, like feminism.

The denigration stems largely from the fact that Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world, and the only country in Africa, that was never colonized, though it was invaded and occupied by Italy from 1935 to 1936. It serves as a huge point of pride for Ethiopians, and for many Pan-Africanists, but also fuels the critique that any attempt to address issues within the community, like sexual violence against women, simply comes from a desire to emulate the West, and to drag down Ethiopian culture.

It’s a characterization that Hilina Berhanu, cofounder of Ethiopia’s first official feminist organization, the Yellow Movement, thinks about constantly. Berhanu, 27, earned her master’s degrees in Europe, and helped establish the Yellow Movement on the campus of Addis Ababa University in 2011.